Age and Physical Casting

By this point, I’ve filled out 3 of 4 casting questionnaires for my Intercon games. (The other two won’t have casting in advance- Triple Blind involves randomly generating a character when you walk in, and the Iron GM LARPs, which haven’t been written yet, cast at you walk in as well.)

Two of them asked for my age on the questionnaire.

My kneejerk reaction was to resent it. My immediate assumption was that there was some intention for physical casting going on, meaning the GMs wanted to use some physical property of the player- in this case, age, as one of the factors for casting. Except that’s not really a fair assumption. It could have been to make sure no one under 18 got an inappropriate character, especially since Intercon this year seems to have an influx of younger kids (and a few games oriented towards them, too boot.) It also might have been there because… it’s just a standard thing to have on a form, and the GMs weren’t really thinking about it. Who knows.

I’m not entirely sure why the idea of physical casting based on age bothers me. Gender is standardly used as a basis for physical casting, but that doesn’t bother me at all. I guess gender is such a psychologically-loaded notion, that a lot of people feel deeply uncomfortable with cross-casting, and many others are ok with it but still have a preference not to be cross-cast. Other forms of physical casting come up pretty rarely No one would ever consider it acceptable to ask a person’s weight on a questionnaire. I’ve been told by GMs once or twice that they’d never put me in the role of a character meant to be physically very intimidating. That only bothered me very slightly- I do like to play combative characters, but it’s not a strong enough preference that I mourn its loss. Besides, other GMs are perfectly happy to cast me as someone who looks physically intimidating (my character from Casino Xeno jumps to mind.)

Supposedly the toughest looking character in the casino.

I do firmly believe that GMs are entitled to cast as they see fit, and I consider costuming to be an integral part of creating immersion because appearance helps create immersion. Isn’t player appearance just a part of that line of thinking? And even if GMs are giving physical characteristics some thought, it doesn’t mean they’re giving it consideration over things like what players want in terms of goals and personalities for their characters. Immersion and the ability to play a character unlike yourself are two perfectly viable goals in LARPing, that often come at the expense of one another, and I consider neither inherently superior. Choosing to value immersion by casting players with age in mind should seem like a legitimate choice. Especially since I’ve been in LARPs where the youngest character, who was a prepubescent boy, was played by one of the tallest males, who was bearded to boot. And I recall finding it very un-immersive.

And yet, it still bugs me. It’s a little bit silly- I am and look around the age of characters that I like to play, so physical casting based on age isn’t likely to negatively affect me anytime soon… but it might, eventually. I like to play young, headstrong, idealistic characters… And there’s a vague fear in the back of my mind that if I’m still LARPing in 40 years (here’s hoping) I won’t get the parts I like to play. Or maybe even 10 years. I think my fear of aging, propped up by our society’s rabid ageism, especially for females, is what’s fueling my kneejerk reaction to being asked my age on a casting questionnaire.

At any rate, my response to both questionnaire’s age questions was “over 18” and I left it at that.

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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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7 Responses to Age and Physical Casting

  1. Ivan Zalac says:

    Interesting!
    I agree with you that player appearance also plays a large part in creating immersion. I’m also against cross-gender casting (as it is bad for the immersion) except in some specific cases – last year I played a female troll once, which was fun – and since it was a troll character, my deep voice and facial hair were actually an asset in the portrayal 🙂

    Anyways, if I were looking for certain players to fill in certain roles, both their looks and role-playing style would play a large part in casting. Depending on a role, it’s posible that I’d also seek a more age or body type appropriate player. Asking someone’s weight… well, there are certain larps in which this plays a role, but otherwise it doesn’t say much (someone can weigh a lot and appear muscular, not fat – someone can weigh very little, but be short and appear of normal weight instead of anorexic).

    However, I do believe that what drives most characters is their viewpoint on the world and on the others, their history, background, motivations, etc. Actual age is largely unimportant in most cases – not to mention it shows differently on different people, depending on their genetics, lifestyle, make-up and other factors, so GMs should be somewhat flexible in these matters, IMHO.

    Which brings up to mind the following question. How about just asking for a photo of the player? It would give the GM way better options about character casting and ability to visualize which player would look most in place for a certain role, and I think it would work better than the alternatives (if players would be comfortable with that, of course). What do you think?

    • Fair Escape says:

      I think physical casting happens a lot in boffer LARPs for NPCs, but I don’t think this community would cooperate with that level of physical casting.

      • Ivan Zalac says:

        It sometimes happens in boffer larp and it’s probably even more prevalent in Nordic (some are even based upon having some players of certain physical qualities). I guess the most important part is how fully and rigidly the characters are written – and of course how physical the GM wants the casting to be. I’d say it’s neither good or bad – just a style.

        I’ve never done physical casting in such a way as described, but I often do it the reverse way – writing a suitable character for a player, with that player involved. If I don’t know the person who’s gonna play the character and pre-make everything, I usually only write a few flexible (but not fully fleshed out) roles playable by anyone (except in very few cases). Personally, I think you’d have done fine as pretty much every character I wrote so far if that’s some consolation 🙂

  2. This is interesting! I feel like I’ve seen the “how old are you?” question more often with questionnaires I’ve filled out for Team Brit – but I might just be saying that because I’ve filled out a few of those particularly recently. I’ve also gotten the “what age range are you comfortable portraying?” question, which seems a better way to handle the same concerns.

    In any case, I would think the GM usually knows age, if signups come through Intercode or ProCon, as that is part of the info you get on your players with those systems. And I think that field is one of the special fields in Journey, so that if you’ve filled it in on any Journey apps, it will auto-fill on any apps that contain that question.

    Plus there’s the simple fact that the community is relatively small, and I know most of my players most of the time. So age ends up being pretty transparent either way.

    I dunno. Physical casting happens whether we want to or not. Many times while I was casting the Intercon run of Cracks, I found myself hesitant to cast a certain–ostensibly gender-neutral–character (you know the one) as male, because I didn’t want some dude with a bushy beard portraying this person. (Quite aside from the fact that Dragaerans don’t have facial hair).

    Also I think physical casting by gender has some uncomfortable side effects, too. I have several times been in games where I felt cheated out of the “good” roles by being female, because someone was trying to be “historically accurate” or whatever. I wish there was a way to enter yourself into ProCon or Intercode as “neutral,” because I just hate being restricted to certain roles just because I have a vagina. These days I can usually app strongly enough to avoid that, but that was not always the case. And I do still end up playing the “dowdy matron” in a pirate game, for example, from time to time…

    • Fair Escape says:

      I don’t mind the “what age are you comfortable portraying” because for me, it’s all about what I want to play, not what I look like. I tend to leave off the very youngest characters, because they tend to lack violence and/or romance, and I leave off the oldest characters because they tend to be parents, not reckless, and romance tends to be the “stable happy marriage” type, if there’s any romance at all.

      You’re right that our community is small enough that people might be casting with physical traits in mind, maybe even subconsciously.

      I definitely have felt that gender becomes problematic. I know the GMs of Lovers and Madmen had trouble coming up with historical figures for Venezia and also have a smaller crop of female pirates for Devil to Pay. Any famous woman of the Renaissance was bound to be a rich/noble lady, whereas men might be lords, or artists, or priests, or mercenaries. They fudged it a bit, and wrote neutral gendered artist and priest and set up sign-ups to allow for two cross-cast female players, because they thought women would be upset with not having priests or artists even an option. Then they actually didn’t have enough enthusiasm for those roles and it caused problems with casting. I’ve definitely been in LARPs where I would rather play a male role in order to increase my likelihood of getting the role I want (Port Hidalgo jumps to mind, though that worked out in my favor anyway), but Intercon doesn’t allow for that right now. I really hope that changes. I actually wrote up a long post about gendered sign-ups. Maybe I’ll post that.

  3. Ivar says:

    The only time I used such an age-related question in a casting questionnaire was in an old LARP where several characters were related. Casting a 18-year-old as the parent of a 35-year-old would look out of place (especially because there wasn’t much time to prepare for the LARP beforehand), and it would hamper the immersion. Still, that was an isolated occasion, and I tend to agree that such a question does not weigh that much anyway for the casting process.

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