I’m going to open this post with a description of how Intercon sign-ups currently work, even though I suspect this post will only be of interest to Intercon goers (and LARPers who attend other conventions that use the same sign-up system), who all already know.
When GMs submit the LARPs they want to run, they designate how many spots there are for male players, female players, and how many could be either (neutral).
When con-goers register for the convention, they specify their gender on their website accounts (as either male or female). Then when they sign up for LARPs, they take up a slot of the appropriate gender, and if all of those slots are filled, they start taking up neutral slots (if any.)
The same system is used for several other LARP conventions, including WPI’s SLAW, RPI’s Dice Bubble, and Brandeis’ Festival of the LARPs. It’s kind of interesting that our culture/psychology renders gender important and basic enough to be the one criteria that sign-ups account for, while every other aspect of a LARP character is accounted for (and not guaranteed) by questionnaires, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.
I’m really hoping the gendered sign-up system will someday change so that people aren’t only stuck with one gender for all sign-ups, but rather can make the choice to take a male or female slot for each LARP they sign up for. There are a few reasons why.
One- this is pretty rare, almost to the point of being moot, however it has happened at least once that I know of. Someone who had signed up for a game while registered as one gender put on their questionnaire that they wanted a character of the other gender. In some LARPs, this isn’t an issue- there are enough neutral characters, or people willing to cross-cast, that it works out. But this can also cause problems because if they have an exact number of female roles and an exact number of male roles, having someone registered as one gender insisting on a character of the other will force someone else to be cross-cast, and there’s no guarantee anyone will be willing.
Quick definition, for clarification- “cross-cast” means a player who identifies as male being cast as a female character or vice versa. The term doesn’t really account for characters with non-“standard” genders.
Now, we could say that GMs are entitled to insist that players can’t demand cross-casting, and refuse to guarantee a male role to someone who registered as female. So if all male players refuse to be cross-cast as females, the aforementioned played would be out of luck. (I don’t believe Intercon has an official policy on this.) However, in practice, gender is such a sensitive issue, that if a con-goer who registered as female insisted on a male part, GMs would probably go and find another player who would accept a cross-cast role (even if they strongly preferred otherwise) instead of insisting the player who registered as the other gender not get what they demanded.
This issue might have been avoided altogether if players could choose what gender role they want for each individual LARP. Maybe.
Another reason being able to pick the gender of each individual LARP (instead of picking a gender for the entire convention) is that genre (and other factors) can have a big impact on what gender players want to play. This is definitely the case for me.
In raunchy LARPs that contain a lot of promiscuous characters and sexual humor, I’d rather play a male. In a previous post, I discussed how I’m more comfortable acting sleazy or even obscene, and hitting on other people (in character) or making sexual innuendo when cross-cast as a male. I was fine playing a horny male character in Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘n Roll, and when I signed up for Slash!, a comedic LARP mocking bad erotic fan-fiction, I was really hoping for a male part (though I wound up being cast as a female character, Lt. Uhura, and that was a little awkward for me.)
Similarly, when playing LARPs set in actual superhero comic books (i.e. The Other, Other All-Batman LARP and Call Batman, Call Superman, Call Anyone!) I’d also much prefer a male character. My favorite comic characters are all male, and females are more likely to get the damsel-in-distress roles. In The Other, Other All Batman LARP, Batgirl was the only real female superhero. (I was cast as Kato from Green Hornet, incidentally, and loved it.) Catwoman was the only female supervillain. And in Call Batman, I had really wanted to play Robin. And happily, I did!
If I had had the option to sign up for a guaranteed male role for either of those LARPs, I would have.
I don’t think this is particularly rare- there are a lot of historical LARPs from eras and locations where women had very limited roles. It’s just easier to come up with plausible male movers and shakers, than powerful women. I once counted up all of the male and female roles of a past Intercon- male roles outnumbered female roles by a significant amount, and I suspect the limited roles of women in common historical eras is partly to blame. For example, Port Hidalgo was a pirate themed LARP that had only one female pirate.
There’s another situation where being able to choose gender would be nice, if the player doesn’t distinctly want to be cross-cast, just doesn’t mind either way. LARPs sometimes fill up for one gender (or one gender and all neutral slots.) So the LARP may have more slots available, but a player can’t opt to take them because they’re registered as the wrong gender. For example, let’s say a LARP has 30 characters. 10 male, 10 female, 10 neutral. And all 20 female and neutral slots are filled up. I might happily take male role rather than be on the wait-list for a female role. But it’s not really an option.
It occurs to me that making this an option might upset GMs who do not want cross-casting. It’s common for GMs to try to avoid it if possible, but it’s fairly rare for GMs to refuse it completely. The Nordic LARP Mad About the Boy comes to mind as an example of a LARP where only one gender was allowed to sign up. Though it’s not going to run at any of the above mentioned conventions, it demonstrates that GMs may insist on cross-casting-free LARPs, particularly when the LARP involves exploring gender issues. Of course, in that case GMs might simply state that they do not want cross-casting in their LARP’s blurb. I suspect it would be respected.
Last I heard, the website was undergoing a revision and I know there are much bigger issues being dealt with, but who knows. The notion hasn’t been outright rejected yet.