Just watched an episode of some Disney channel children’s sitcom, Good Luck Charlie, featuring LARPing. (Wikipedia claims the show is supposed to be aimed at all ages, but it seems squarely aimed at 12 and under, to me.)
Basic premise of the episode- main character, Teddy (cliche blonde teenaged girl) has a crush on a guy (forgot his name), then discovers he’s a nerd and tries to get into his interests. It doesn’t work out.
Most people outside of the LARPing community aren’t familiar with the concept, so I’m always curious to see how LARPing is portrayed in the media. I would brush this offensive portrayal of the hobby off as just shoddy writing, but since there’s so little visibility, every little bit actually matters. However many viewers this sitcom has, I’d guess that’s the only source for understanding LARPing the vast majority of them have.
The LARPer seems like a cool guy at the beginning of the episode- he’s kind enough to give Teddy a ride home every day. And apparently, even looks quite good in a bathing suit. He seems fairly socially competent, and it’s by chance Teddy finds out he’s into “pokio” (ersatz Pokemon) from her nerdy little brother. She asks her little brother to teach her the game, and he displays a short tempered, obsessive side while immersed in his nerdy hobby. It’s played for laughs, of course, but this behavior is clearly the mark of a nerd in this sitcom.
Teddy gets invited to the park, where her crush springs a pokio based LARP on her. The entire scenario reinforces the idea of LARPers, and all nerds, lacking basic common sense when it comes to social interaction. They don’t pick up on her discomfort with the costumes (or do and choose to ignore it). They don’t explain anything about the premise or the basic rules (granted, she’s been purporting herself as someone well versed in pokio, but knowing the card game doesn’t mean one can instantly pick up the rules of a LARP version.) And they get extremely annoyed and treat her unfairly when she gets confused.
Side note, the costumes are designed specifically to be ridiculous and pathetic, though I still kinda thought they looked like fun. (So long as the costume wearer was on board with the humor of the designs.) Then again, I like wacky costumes.
It’s a repeat of the little brother’s attitude when trying to teach his sister the rules of pokio cards- nerd hobbies are either enjoyed by people who are obsessive, emotional, and socially incompetent- or else they bring that side out of seemingly normal people.
Teddy storms home in a huff, then delivers the aesop of the episode- don’t change yourself to impress a guy.
When I saw the preview of the episode, I’d been kind of hoping for some kind of “don’t knock it ’til you try it” or “don’t judge someone because their hobbies seem a little odd.” Too much to hope for, I guess.
I would guess the writers don’t know anything about the hobby beyond the definition and maybe the “Lightning Bolt!” video, but they still manage to include three nasty stereotypes of LARPers.
One, that they just want to disconnect from reality- (yes, it’s true for some LARPers, but it’s important not to pigeon hole all LARPers as such because it comes hand in hand with the notion that nerd lives are inherently sad and pathetic and require escaping.) At one point, the LARPer boy whines during a pause in the LARP, “we’ve been in reality too long!”
Two, LARPers are immature (grown ups playing pretend! How sad, right?) Teddy wants to know if they can call “backsies” (to undo an action) and one of the LARPers snipes back, “backsies? What are you, five?” with the implication that this is humorous because it’s ironic.
Three, LARPers are mostly males who are desperate for dates but too pathetic to get one. A particularly stereotypically nerdy character says, after Teddy has stormed off, “you brought that girl here on a date… so it’s almost as if I were on a date.” Later he gets Teddy’s father to roleplay out his fantasy of the father approving of the nerd and Teddy being in a relationship.
I know I’m over-analyzing a cookie-cutter children’s sitcom, which is intended to have overly simplistic storylines and sappy humor, (and I’m sure there are negative stereotypes of plenty of other groups in this sitcom) but with LARPing being a fringe hobby with so little exposure in the media, I can’t help but wish for portrayals that were a little more positive.
Way to pick on nerds, Disney.