132. Ten things larp organisers have to face that I find deeply problematic
Being a larp organiser (whether as a volunteer or as paid work) is tough work. You need to have a broad skill set, deal with many different kinds of people and navigate a field that’s still very much “coming into existence”. It’s also immensely gratifying, but there are some parts of it that rub me the wrong way big time. Some of these, I’ll share here.
- As a larp organiser, you are judged on a final experience that you don’t control. This is both good and bad, but extremely frustrating. If you go to the cinema, of course your experience will be coloured by many factors: How nice were the seats? Were the toilets clean? Was the ticket-buying smooth? Who did you go with? These all matter, but at the end of the day, a LOT depends on the movie you’re watching. In larp, so much more is dependent on factors beyond your control as an organiser, and hearing someone lament something you didn’t have direct influence over is very tiring (at best).
- You’re expected to solve all the world’s problems at once. We live in a deeply imperfect world, and when we judge our fiction, we of course find faults with it. Not enough people of colour. Weak female characters. Cultural appropriation. Tired tropes and negative stereotypes. Too much of this and too little of that. One thing is different, though. As a larp organiser you are seen to control everything, so you’re responsible for everything. And of course, you fail at some things (maybe even many). But having to answer for all of them at the same time is pretty exhausting.
- Your private life is now public domain. Were you once an asshole to someone at a party? Then you can’t do a larp about bullying ten years later, can you? Did you make a nazi joke in a safe space where everyone thought it was funny? You’re obviously anti-semite. In Hollywood, there’s no doubt that too much shit needs to go down before something happens to the powerful, but in the larp community, even rumours of wrongdoings by arbitrary moral standards can get you in deep trouble. And if you actually fuck up and do something that’s not ok, heaven help you!
- People may say they value your work, but they don’t want to pay for it. Our company produces spectacular blockbuster larps in wild locations. Due to using locations that are cheap and leveraging income disparities between countries, we manage to do things at an affordable price. That price is only possible due to us getting shit pay ourselves, though, even though we “overcharge” for the production value. In general, people will gladly pay extra for the food and the cool location, but aren’t willing to pay for the actual larp work. Or in other words, it’s much easier selling a 300€ cost larp at 500€ than selling a 100€ cost larp at 300€, even though the amount of salaries it pays for us is the same.
- Everyone thinks they’re a bloody expert. There’s some merit to this, since many larpers are also larp designers. But it can get a tad frustrating having to sit in debates with people who have played three larps and organised none, who proceed to tell you how you’re doing things WRONG. I’ve been organising larps since 1995, and am arguably one of the most well-known names in the community. It’s only within the last couple of years that I’ve gotten beyond the “Who do you think you are?” stage, and while that’s lovely NOW, I recognise that it’s a rare privilege.
- Larpers universalise their own tastes and traditions. I’ve met people who have sworn that a larp where everyone can read everyone’s character is not a larp, but theater. I’ve met people who wouldn’t dream of playing any other way. Both are fine preferences to have, but when you deny that something is a preference and treat it like a fact (or a moral norm), then it gets tricky. It’s totally fair to say “I don’t like this personally, but that’s ok”. Sadly, we often have to deal with “This is not what I like, so it’s WRONG.”
- People make outrageous assumptions about inspiration. Do a larp about wizards and witches and someone will be sure that you’re inspired by College of Wizardry. Who cares if you have been running Harry Potter larps since 2002, and have your own strong tradition? Make a larp about a rock band? Everyone else who has ever done a larp about a rock band will be sure that you’re not only ripping off their precious idea, but you should — preferably — credit them for it and mention it whenever you can. Ideas come from many sources? What? No. How can you say that?
- The new is worshipped in an unhealthy way. I’m no angel here, since I’ve actively done projects based on being able to say “Nobody has done this before!”. Of course, we then realised, that some French organisers had done a pirate larp with three ships fifteen years ago, but since it was in French, few people outside France had heard about it. Confessions aside, it’s grotesque how much we value “cutting edge”, while still wanting to have smooth, well-tested productions. Convention of Thorns 2 just ran ten days ago, and it was a much better larp experience than the first run (which was a smashing success). CoT1 sold out in two hours. Number two? We managed to sell only half the tickets in 10 months. Even though it was objectively a better larp and people had very much enjoyed the first one.
- We’re becoming global, but are still very, very local. Show someone a video of a Polish larp and you might hear the words “Why is only white people playing?”. One reason is that Poland is extremely white population-wise. A random larp in Switzerland can be criticised by concerned American larpers who don’t even know where Lausanne is, let alone dream of going. Some people will argue that an international 200€ larp is evil, because it excludes people from poorer countries (true), while ignoring the fact that even if it was a 5€ larp, it would probably still exclude those people (due to travel costs).
- We spend more time fighting each other than fighting the world. When I look at what brings me down and sucks my soul dry, it’s not capitalism, Trump, global warming or the challenges of daily life. It’s having someone go banzai over something that we both care about (larp) and agree 90% on. The people who I get most shit from are people with whom I share 95% of my values, not those where I share very few.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s by no means all bad.
Organising larps is awesome and I’m grateful that I get to do it, but it’s also fucking exhausting in a way that few other things in my life are. And while I can’t get rid of Trump, destroy capitalism or fix global warming (if I am responsible for even a little impact, that’s a miracle), the global larp community is more accessible to me.
I just think that there are things we should improve, and behaviour that could be changed for the better. Not just for my sake, but for all of our sakes. We’ve got something beautiful and amazing and powerful, and I sometimes feel that we’re pissing on it in our ridiculous squabbles.
If we want to change the world, then maybe we should look inward more.
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