Tag Archives: LARP

The Out-Of-Character LARP

(No one in this picture is an asshole. At least, that I know of.)

One of the more popular sections of my presentation on LARP playstyles “Your Game Sucks” is my slide on assholes. Some of the reason, I suspect, is because it’s funny to use profanity in a serious presentation. But some of it is because….

Can we be honest here? I mean, just between you and me? Live-action organizations… they can get a little dramatic. And I think there’s a reason why. It’s because of the Out-Of-Character LARP.

You see, I have a hypothesis that arguing OOC is indicative of a “corrupt” version of a LARP playstyle. Specifically, there are people who find the OOC infrastructure as or more fascinating than the in-game one.  Perhaps it’s because the stakes are higher: not actually life-altering, because the “players” could (theoretically) leave at any time. However, they get a level of “real” intensity they don’t get inside the game. This could be why some of these players seem like they play OOC organization politics better than in-game politics.

Edit: Since I posted this, it seems I was a little unclear on this point (as I mention at the end, this was a bit of a kludge of random thoughts), so let me clarify here: I position “arguing” here in it’s destructive, non-cooperative form. The people who spend time, energy, passion, and money to run our games are amazing. Some people aren’t amazing and make things worse. These are the people I’m largely talking about here.

I call this “corrupt” because, because this level of OOC politics is ultimately a destructive playstyle, not a constructive one. At its core, it’s not one that lends itself to collaboration, and it’s part of the sweeping area of destructive playstyles I labelled in my presentation under the heading of “asshole.”

If we take the idea that some players are playing the “OOC game” as a working hypothesis, some interesting conclusions result.

  • If some players are actively playing this OOC game, other players aren’t. In fact,  not everyone is even aware of this game.
  • Those players who aren’t are therefore losing, and possibly couldn’t engage in it if they wanted to.
  • The OOC game naturally impacts the IC game, so even players who don’t know or play in the OOC gamer are impacted by the consequences.
  • Ergo, you either have to engage the OOC game, or you burn out because you’re trying to fix something in the wrong arena.

When I discussed an early version of this hypothesis with some friends, it was pointed out that only officers and other authority figures can play. However, I disagree — even untitled “trolls” are playing the game. The most vocal asshole makes a noteworthy impact on the game, and changes it due to his toxic presence.

It’s easy to see this at a local game (as people slowly stop showing up due to that guy), but I think it can extend beyond the local. As you introduce communication systems to communicate between games, those forums can (and often do) project those toxic elements. At some point, it becomes common wisdom to avoid certain email lists or Facebook groups. Communication between games breaks down as these avenues are made unattractive or unavailable, and the games all suffer, even in a small part.

I originally entitled this post “assholes are ruining your LARP,” but I decided against it because that’s not helpful. Rather, it’s good to understand that when you have an organization devoted to putting together a game, sometimes there is bleed between the two. Some people can find it hard to keep the two separate. Some may end up “gamifying” the infrastructure. And, just with the game itself, there are a few who will be assholes about it. Being aware of the potential for bleed, and being aware of toxic elements within that, can do a lot to keep each side of politics where it needs to be.

Just some random thoughts I’ve been kicking around for a while now.

It’s okay to like things that I hate

I am continually surprised that I have to defend things I don’t like to people that do, or vice versa.

Here’s an example. A lot of my friends are really interested in the Dystopia Rising LARP. I’m sure it’s really awesome, but for a variety of reasons, I’m just not interested in it. I want people to enjoy their enthusiasm of new things, even if I occasionally need to mute email threads or posts on my social media feeds just so it stops popping up. And yet, once in a while I’ll get someone new who doesn’t realize I’m not interested, and I have to politely inform them.

This is where it gets awkward, because sometimes, people want to know why. And conceptually, I understand it — perhaps if there’s some misunderstanding I hold as to why I don’t like the game, it can be addressed. People want to share something they enjoy with people they like, and really enthusiastic fans want to remove barriers from people who could be fans. I understand all of these motivations, and I respect them, but sometimes it feels like I need to justify why I dislike something. I end up needing to articulate exactly why I hate it, and if that reason is not somehow sufficient, I am not “giving it a fair chance.”

Let’s try a different example. Something that will shock no one is that I like Elementary, but once in a while I’ll run into a rabid fan of BBC Sherlock who feels the need to explain in vitriolic terms why they hate the show. Again, aside from the irritating tendency to thread crap, if people want to hate something, feel free. But once in a while, I get put on the spot to justify liking the show, implying that somehow I cannot possibly like Sherlock if I like Elementary. (And let’s face it: I like Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century. If liking bad Holmes media is a crime, consider me guilty.)

For a while, I chalked a lot of this up to misplaced enthusiasm. It’s natural to share things we like and find people who hate the things we hate, and the simple mantra of “we don’t have to like the same things” seemed sufficient. But over the years, my stance on this has gotten muddier. Let’s take, for example, Orson Scott Card. He is an influential science-fiction writer who has “highly polarizing viewpoints” (which is a nice way of saying he’s a bigot). Without getting into the various debates on Card himself, the result has been a lot of very conflicted people who sincerely liked Ender’s Game but feel uncomfortable supporting Card in any way because of those opinions. The same thing happened when it was discovered that Jack Kirby wasn’t getting anything from The Avengers or that buying Chick-Fil-A made you hate gay people. These days, something you like could send a message you don’t intend, and people end up justifying their position more or not even talking about things they like.

I generally believe that it’s okay to like problematic things. You aren’t required to defend something that you had no hand in creating simply because you like it. Neither are you required to defend hating something that everyone around you loves if it bothers you, upsets you, or simply bores you. Let’s face it — there’s so much cool stuff in the world to experience, and life’s too short to spend arguing about which bits of it are more awesome than other bits of it. Certainly, let’s spend some time talking about problematic bits and how those bits impact larger culture so we can all make it better — popular culture as a spark for social dialog is important and useful. However, let’s stop trying to force people to like something they don’t, or make them feel bad for enjoying something you hate. Because if you don’t like Doctor Who, we can still be friends, and maybe we’ll bond over a mutual love of The Transformers instead.

AbN LARP Presentations Now Online

Yes, I talk in public a lot. (Photo by Ned Coker.)

At Atlanta by Night I ran a new version of one of my LARP theory presentations (“Your Game Sucks”) as well as a brand-new presentation building off of the previous three (“Playing to Lose”). After a couple of weeks of dodging sickness and generally not having time, I’ve finally edited the recordings and posted the PDFs of the Powerpoint slides I used on my Free Stuff page. I also left the YouTube version of “Your Game Sucks” from last year up for people who like moving pictures.

What I Learned from OWbN Girls

Permission to use granted by OWbN Girls and Meredith Gerber

No, it’s not a game. It’s an organization. But I still learned a lot about game design from OWbN Girls.

Over the past few days, I’ve been getting a trickle of drama in my various social networks around the group. For those not in the know, OWbN Girls is an advocacy group within the organization One World by Night that strives “to play fair in the gaming community, educate those that believe in the stereotype [of unempowered female gamers], and engage non-gamers in joining the community.” I admit that I’m not entirely sure what the drama is,1 but it brought me back to a particular thing I keep picking at: sexism (and really, many different “isms”) in gaming.

The conflict for me is that the extremes are disagreeable. It seems like whenever things like sexism comes up, the two options float to “suck it up and deal with it” or “turn into a politically correct wasteland.” I don’t agree with either option, so I keep picking at it because it’s important to me as an artist and a game designer. It’s a more complex problem than it appears on the surface, which is true of any important problem, and there isn’t a simple, tweet-sized answer. In talking on Twitter to the OWbN Girls account and admitting that it’s a bigger problem, I came up with some ideas on how to extract some of these threads.

Continue reading What I Learned from OWbN Girls

  1. Nor do I want to dig into it — I’ve had too many years of LARP drama in my past to actively look for it, thanks.