Wreckreation Nation

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.


About Fair Escape

I've been LARPing for years in all different styles, including both boffer and theater. I love classic LARP but I'm always happy to try something new. I have a sort of "gotta catch 'em all" attitude towards experiencing LARPs. I'm currently serve as a board member of NEIL, a member of proposal com for Intercon, the largest all LARP convention in the US, and as en editor for Game Wrap, a publication about the art and craft of LARP. I was also con chair of Festival of the LARPs 2017, and I'm on staff for NELCO, the first all LARP conference in the US. I'm
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14 Responses to Wreckreation Nation

  1. Ivan Zalac says:

    Oooh, a book – awesome! I’m gonna read it this weekend 🙂
    If you’re interested in books, I compiled all the books from Nordic conventions (Knutepunkt/Knutpunkt/Knudepunkt/Solmukohta): https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B3hLMjI1Nw13T1JiVkpCMU5aWFk
    (warning: 100 MB download)

    Positive portrayal in media? I guess that depends. I’d call a lot of these movies silly, however from what I experienced most newspapers, TV stations etc. seem genuinely curious about the hobby and not being in it for pure sensationalism. Avoiding saying wrong things can go a long way. A group of British larpers is planning a movie (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cosmicjoke/treasure-trapped), I hope they end up making it…

    • Fair Escape says:

      I’ve definitely seen some news stories that treat LARPing as simply a curious or eccentric hobby, but I also think there are some pretty nasty portrayals. (I believe Intercon has gotten a few curious photographers and journalists asking to observe.) Ultimately, they probably have very little practical effect, and I wouldn’t be doing this in the first place if I was afraid to be perceived as a freak or a nerd.

      Yeah, I’ve seen that kickstarter- I hope they do get it made (though the opening line of their write-up is vaguely worrisome,)

  2. Ivar says:

    Hi, there, and greetings from Brazil 🙂 Just wanted to mention a video that used to be available on youtube but, sadly, not anymore. It was an episode of a show called PM Magazine from 1982 that showed a Dagorhir event. In the beginning, the host has a “let’s try and make fun of these weird people”, but it’s interesting how his attitude becomes more positive as he takes part in the event, dresses up and teams up with other players.

    Anyway, keep up the good work. Your blog is great and it always have great insights on larping and related areas 🙂

    • Fair Escape says:

      Hi! That sounds like an interesting video, wish I could have seen it. If you ever find it somewhere online, please send me a link! Maybe the media has gotten better, and I just don’t know it because I don’t know how bad it used to be? Though I love the idea of people being shown as changing their minds once they actually get to know what LARPing is actually like.

      Thanks for the kind words, and thanks for the comment!

  3. Thalog says:

    I like the post. That particular episode of wreckreation nation was actually what got me into battle gaming. I had always wanted to try something like that but didn’t know things like that existed. I watched that particular episode and me and my coworker felt inspired enough to create our own game with a variation of the rule set. But while we were researching into creating our own group, we did check out other groups as well to get a sense of the community. While I didn’t know about it at the time of watch the episode, I did immediately start to notice the difference of attitude that certain group brings.

    I’ve been battle gaming for 3 years now and I really agree with your statement “This is grittiness, not realism. Which is fine- just don’t put down other systems and act like yours is inherently superior.” when you are referring to that particular person on the show. Unfortunately after so many years, I start realizing that it’s a common arrogant attitude in Dagorhir and Belegarth, the two “house-hold” battle group names that share almost identical rule set.

    When I was trying to get into the hobby, I attended a fight practice at a local belegarth. This was only a few months into this hobby and just playing around with my coworker in creating our own group. While the leader of the group was tolerable, I sadly can’t say the same about another member. One of the members greeted me and I had explained to him that I was attempting to create my own group with a different battle system and was giving support to the local groups. While he was leaving, he turned his back and said to me “welcome to the real group.” Keep in mind, I had just met the person and had no idea who he was or what his humor was like. I did not know if he was joking or not. I stood there shocked, unable to come up with a response.

    Unfortunately I would be lying if I said that was the last time I was offended by the house hold name brand. I still go back to that group often whenever I can because of my love for fighting but .I truly wonder why sometimes. So back to your comment of why do they give so much air time to certain people in that particular episode… I’m afraid it’s a common attitude that it hardly matters who they talk to honestly.

    • Fair Escape says:

      “That particular episode of wreckreation nation was actually what got me into battle gaming.”

      Now THAT’s what I want to hear after people watch something about LARPing (or similar activities.) That it looked like fun and made people want to try it. That’s what an honest representation of them would and should do.

      I’m sorry you encountered that attitude, there does seem to be some amount of snobbery in LARPing and battle gaming. People really do get into the idea that their form is inherently superior. It’s bizarre to me because we LARPers know what it’s like to be unfairly judged and like to purport ourselves as a particularly open-minded group.

      But it sounds like you were able to get passed the negative experience and go on to enjoy the hobby, which is awesome.

      Thank you for commenting!

  4. Aaron says:

    I hope you are enjoying the Wyrd Con Companion Book, even if you don’t agree with the sentiments expressed in it.
    FYI: I am right now editing the revised edition of it, correcting some text and links. The new version will have an essay from the folks making the Treasure Trapped documentary. I wanted to include it in the first edition, but they missed the deadline. 😉

    Furthermore, I pitched a panel talking about the WCCB for Intercon M, since so many people involved with it will be there. I think it is going to go up first thing on Thursday (against some other great talks, but I can’t help that). This isn’t official, though, and I’m not even supposed to say this much.

    But I hope you will be at Intercon M, and please do come talk to us who worked on the WCCB: both myself and Sarah Bowman, the editors, will be attending. So, too, will Evan Torner, so you can tell him what you think about his essay personally. If you don’t know him, he’s very cool.

    Thanks, cheers!

    • Fair Escape says:

      I definitely enjoyed reading it. I agreed with a lot of the stuff said, it was just the one observation of Evan Torner that surprised me, though now that I’ve been looking more and more into LARP in the media, I’m starting to think he’s right, though we still have a very long way to go. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the revised version of the book.

      I will definitely be at Intercon M. In past years, I’ve missed the earlier panels of Precon because of real life scheduling stuff, but I fully expect to make it this year. I can’t wait to see the full schedule of panels.

      Thanks for commenting!

  5. I actually 100% agree with your assessment that A) Monster Camp is a negative portrayal of larp and B) Wreckreation Nation is sorta kinda OK, but has some problems. One thing is for certain: larp in the 90s used to get zero media exposure, and then it got mostly negative media exposure (in the early 00s — see the Lightning Bolt video). Now in 2013 we’ve got a mixture of negative and positive exposure, but there are less and less sectors of society who don’t know we exist.

    • Fair Escape says:

      The more I look into LARP in the media, the more I think you’re correct- I see a lot of questionable portrayal of LARP and don’t think it’s very positive, but as I mentioned to another comment, it’s entirely possible that the portrayal of LARP in the media actually is getting better, and I just don’t know how bad it used to be. Kind of a shame that the Lightning Bolt video went viral, I feel as though a lot of recent stuff is either inspired by it (“hey, let’s write an article about those lightning bolt people!”) or trying to fight against it.

      Thanks for commenting!

  6. Sarah says:

    Hi there,

    As a co-editor of the book, I just wanted to chime in on the discussion, adding that Evan has also contributed a brilliant academic article on the representations of larp in documentaries for the Knudepunkt 2011 Think book. If you’re interested in reading more of his thoughts on the subject, you might want to check it out: http://rollespilsakademiet.dk/kpbooks/think_larp_web.pdf

    I look forward to reading more of your insights!


  7. Very good post. Thanks for sharing.
    A few thoughts from across the pond (I’m Danish)

    I think there’s a big difference between how we’re portrayed in fiction (especially comedy) and in interviews/documentaries/etc. Of course there are a lot of differences in how larp is seen in the U.S and in the Nordic countries, but it’s possible to find rather high-profile stuff that’s quite positive too.


    (and the original from R&K)

    And sometime later this year, Discovery channel will be airing a 15-minute documentary about larp (as part of a longer program with other hobbies). Of course I can’t say how they end up portraying us, but I’m quite confident it won’t be bad.

    We’re slowly getting better at getting our stories out there. 😉

    And as Sarah put it, I’m also looking forward to reading more from you!

    – Claus

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