I’ve been working my way through the WyrdCon Companion book. (Wyrdcon is the Interactive Storytelling convention in California). The book is a collection of essays on role-playing games, larps, interactive storytelling, MMORPGs, etc., and it’s available as a free PDF.
I got part way through Evan Torner’s “Futurity and Larp” essay and clicked on a link for “the increasingly positive portrayal of niche larp culture in mainstream media”. This surprised me- it’s been my experience that LARP is portrayed fairly negatively in mainstream (and non-mainstream) media.
The so-called “documentary” Monster Camp portrayed LARPers as obsessive losers- I consider it an extremely biased portrayal of LARP. (I’m currently reading reviews. To be fair, many reviewers seem to think it was even-handed, though I’d like to note that one positive review includes the line “For the majority of audience members, these people will seem like social misfits and nerdy outcasts.” That’s “the truth and nothing but the truth”? Personally, I get the strong impression the director chose the most sensationalist bits of interviews- nobody shrugging and saying “my life is fine, this is just a hobby” because that’s not interesting. They focus on awkward people talking about how they spend more time thinking about their fantasy life than their real life, (because that makes for better sound bytes, I suppose?)
LARPers are even portrayed as obsessive crackpots by fellow roleplayers- The Wild Hunt (a movie about a LARP with a cult-like feel where violence crosses over into real life) was written by a tabletop roleplayer, though in an interview, he doesn’t seem to think this is problematic.
I consider Role Models to be one of the better portrayals, and even though it doesn’t really reflect my experience in LARP. While the main character who LARPs is portrayed as a hopeless geek, he’s still likeable and gets the girl. (Also- best moment of the film is the first 45 seconds or so here. The line, “Come back next year! We need people. Give me your email!” makes LARP seem remarkably normal.)
And then there’s “Reality!” the episode of Good Luck, Charlie– a saccharine Disney sitcom where the main character learns that LARPers are wild-eyed, obsessive and lacking in common sense and common courtesy, and she should never have given it a try. (Instead of learning that not every hobby is for everyone, but she should keep an open mind and if she doesn’t like something, oh well, to each their own. You’d think Disney would be eager to jump on the recent anti-bullying culture, instead of encouraging people to judge nerds.)
Side note, I’m looking forward to Knights of Badassdom– partly because it seems like a not-strictly-negative portrayal of LARPing, partly because it includes Jason Stackhouse and Tyrion Lannister. Badass, indeed.
So now I’m watching this youtube video linked in Evan Torner’s “Futurity and Larp” essay, which is supposed to be an example of “the increasingly positive portrayal of niche larp culture in mainstream media”. (I’m thoroughly unconvinced of the “increasingly” part.) It’s a video of an episode of Wreckcreation Nation– a reality tv series about unusual hobbies.
My thoughts on the episode:
1. This is about Dagorhir, which this video explicitly says is most definitely NOT a LARP. Why? As one interviewee says “our combat is more realistic.” And describes a one-hit combat system. (If your torso or head gets tagged, you go down. If a limb gets tagged, you lose use of that limb. Armor may grant you an extra hit.) The guy continues with a mockery of systems where magic grants you extra protection.
Ok, first of all, this is the guy whose character was raised by elves. Why is he mocking magic in fantasy? Orcs and elves are fighting legionnaires at Dagorhir.
Second of all, there definitely exist LARPs out there that operate by those rules. Off the top of my head, I believe Avegost does.
Third of all, how is that inherently more realistic? Do all blows to an arm automatically completely disable it? What about hits with the flat of a weapon? Does armor always deflect exactly one hit? How about hits that just cut you but not too deeply? There’s really no such thing as being cut and still fighting? By the way, hits that disable an arm- if that represents the arm being cut with a bladed weapon enough to lose all motion, you might quickly lose enough blood to pass out and die, but the rules don’t reflect that. This is grittiness, not realism. Which is fine- just don’t put down other systems and act like yours is inherently superior. There’s nothing wrong with wanting combat to last a little longer and be a little less dependent on chance (i.e. who might get a lucky hit) than skill.
Also, this system involves tagging a cone to auto-resurrect.
(Personally, I think it is arguably a LARP, as they have characters, but when it comes to labeling things LARP or not, my stance is a firm “if you want to call it a LARP, I won’t argue. If you want to say it’s not a LARP, I won’t argue.”)
2. The host seems to be trying to get the Dagorhir people to show disdain for other nerds- he asks how they feel about trekkies. There’s one guy who says “oh man, I’d like to hit me some trekkies” but actually, the other interviewees seem to have the attitude “that’s fine, but it’s not what this particular hobby is about.” I approve. Let’s not try to place ourselves higher on some metaphorical totem pole above other nerds.
3. “This is a chance to actually come out in a social environment and do something athletic…” Yes, thank you. Two false stereotypes down in one sentence. Thank you for interviewing this guy. Thank you for giving him plenty of air time.
You lose a couple brownie points for following it up with this guy, “You forget who you are in real life…” but earn a couple back with “it’s a great way to stay in shape and you can’t beat the people.”
4. “These weekend warriors all have day jobs.” Yes, thank you again. I know that the sensationalist aspect is playing off the expectation that the kind of people who participate in Dagorhir are likely to be living in their parents’ basements, too socially incompetent to hold a real job, but they make a point of contradicting this. And offering solid evidence to back it up. They could have sought out the players who were still students, or temporarily unemployed, but instead they interview people with real jobs, and even focus on the guy with the most prestigious sounding career. I love that they gave more airtime to someone who is decidedly normal. Good looking and charming with a good sense of humor, even, and is wearing a non-ridiculous costume.
5. They address the skew of gender- it’s simply a fact that males are more common than females at Dagorhir, so I understand. The guys aren’t portrayed as charmless geeks- they joke about it, and the girls they chose to interview look competent and at ease.
6. The participants who describe the weapons and how they function in combat do come off a little nutty (“your eyes light up whenever you say ‘beat on people'”) but honestly, I kind of get that. Whenever I first pick up a boffer weapon at the start of an event, the temptation to bop someone with it is overwhelming… I really can’t wait to swing it at a crunchy monster.
Overall, I liked this episode of Wreckreation Nation– it was a fairly honest, accurate approach. They portrayed the participants as friendly, easy-going, with a sense of fun and a sense of humor. The host was actually participating and seemed to be having a good time. I really appreciated they they neither used particularly awkward shots of combat to make it seem kinda dull and sad and weird, and also didn’t use heavily choreographed shots to sensationalize (as some LARPs do to themselves in their promo videos.) They added music to the battle shots, which also reduces the awkwardness. (We’re so used to seeing choreographed combat with music and fancy cinematography, that plain shots of LARP or LARP-like combat can seem more awkward than it actually is, and they avoided this without falsifying anything.)
It just looks like fun. Even their non-combat partying looked like something everyone would want to attend.
And while this is not LARP by their own definition, (it definitely comes off more like a sport- even though people take on character names and personas, it seems mostly nominal) it’s close enough such that I imagine some of the effect on public opinion could rub off on LARP.