65. Fuck your debate double standards, larpers

Clickbait! But also exactly what I mean.

The (many and varied) larp communities are collectively becoming more socially aware, and that’s awesome. We’re learning, growing and changing, and what was totally ok ten years doesn’t automatically get a pass anymore.

More and more larpers (and people in general – it’s not just us) are learning about things like representation, cultural appropriation, token characters, Mary Sues and a host of other expressions and concepts that were alien to most of us ten years ago. Missing stairs, intersectional feminism, micro-aggressions, MRA, SJW. I didn’t know what all that meant in 2007.

Sure, there’s struggle and anger and backlash and bitterness, but the fact that we’re now talking about these things is a step in the right direction. And that’s good!

One thing that’s not necessarily good – but quite human – is that we get flustered when people don’t know, don’t understand or don’t care. When people spout falsehoods about feminism due to lack of research, it annoys me. When I talk about culural appropriation in a simplified way, I have friends who get mad at me.

Discussions online are subject to all sorts of simplifications, misinformation and people simply not caring enough to even google a term. And that makes others mad. VERY mad.

Here's where the double standards come in.

Because the same people, who will gladly go on a rage because someone misunderstood what third wave feminism is, or didn’t get the premises of the Bechdel test… they will talk about larps they know very little about with authority. Proudly and confidently.

It’s pretty wild, when you think of if. And, being a social justice warrior myself, I’m very much shooting at “my own” here.

That is a quote from an article on an American website. It’s wrong on so many levels it’s hard to grasp them all.

Don’t be like that article. Check your facts.

The amount of stuff I’ve heard about larps I’m part of organising, that is blatantly untrue, is crazy. Stuff I’ve read and heard DIRECTLY. Not even counting things I’ve heard secondhand.

A few recent examples:

“All the Professors at College of Wizardry are NPCs” (never have been – they’re players)

“The road trip larp is sold out!” (not yet, but it’s a nice thought)

“People don’t get written characters at Convention of Thorns.” (they do)

And when I expand that circle to larps and larp cultures that I am reasonably knowledgeable about, it gets even worse.

“In Scandinavia, all larps get government support.”

“American larps all have heavy rules systems. And boffer weapons.”

“Most larps in Finland are Harry Potter larps. And girls always play Harry Potter himself.”

When people have played the megalarp Conquest of Mythodea, they’re suddenly experts on German larp, notwithstanding the fact that there are hundreds of larps run every year in Germany besides Conquest. Someone who was at Knutepunkt ten years ago will gladly talk in detail about how KP is.

Not how it was – but how it IS.

I’ve been guilty of this myself, but have gotten better at not falling into the trap as often. But it’s still very much a thing. Less from newcomers and people who travel a lot, but from veterans? Oh, yes.

Agata Swistak – who has been part of the College of Wizardry team from the start – has encountered this on a massive scale.

“You’re Polish? Oh, so you organise College of Wizardry!”

Not like this:

“You’re Swistak! Are you the same Swistak as the CoW organiser one, or is it a common name?”

Not like this:

“You’re from Poland. I know the CoW organiser is partly, but don’t know any of them. Are you one?”

Nope. Just this:

Polish = CoW organiser

It hasn’t helped matters that she actually IS one of the key people and has been from the start. And this is just an example. Nuance dies a quick death when it travels – and that’s also true in larp circles.

Now, I wouldn’t mind that so much, if that was all it was. It’s human, and even our vampires and orcs are human inside. But it annoys me that what’s seen as a heinous crime when it has to do with social issues (not knowing stuff or having understood things wrong) is seen as perfectly ok, when dealing with larp.

From the same bloody people!

And to make it doubly weird, larp is what binds us together as larpers. We may not all have an interest in the same social issues (in fact, it’s quite clear that we don’t, and why should we?), but we ALL have an interest in larp.

Then why do we come down so hard on incorrect (or just lacking) understanding of the former, while we regularly speak with confidence about larps and larp cultures and traditions that we know very little about?

Well, you can do two things. Both will help.

  1. Be a little more forgiving about people who don’t know the lingo or understand social issues as well as you do. It’s not that long ago that someone offhandedly referred to me with words along the lines of “When a straight guy like Claus uses the term ‘gay’, it’s problematic”. I still honestly don’t know what that was about, but maybe some day someone will tell me, so I can learn.
  2. Be a little less certain about your own expertise when you talk about (other) larp cultures, unless you actually happen to have solid info. And most of the time, people don’t.

“You weren’t there, man!” is an old joke-quote about Vietnam, but it’s quite fitting for many larp discussions. Research. Be humble. Acknowledge that it’s harder to discuss larps than many other media, due to their very nature. And stop telling me what Warner Bros told the CoW people. I was on that phone call. You weren’t. :-)

If you’re already doing both, then that’s cool. Then you get to flash a #notalllarpers and feel good about yourself. But you’re a rare breed right now. Let’s change that.

Thank you.

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Director at The College of Extraordinary Experiences, Coach at McKinsey & Founding Partner at The Global Institute For Thought Leadership. Author of 31 books.

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