Cast and Crosscast

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!

The Boy Wonder!

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.

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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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5 Responses to Cast and Crosscast

  1. Chad Bergeron says:

    Hmm. I know we’ve discussed it at NEIL meetings. It does open the door to people ‘gaming the system’ to get into desirable games, changing gender to get an open slot, then perhaps insisting on a character of the same gender (This is not so different than someone insisting they be cross-cast, and indeed is insisting on a cross-casting from their app’d gender. At which point [rightly or wrongly] you might as well throw gender off the forms altogether, but then you may need to force cross casting to line up with your characters.) And I know it is possible for someone to choose their ‘gender’ on the Intercon account system, and that there is at least one woman who has set it to ‘male’ because that is her preference in castings. And it may be possible (I’ve never had a reason to try) to change that setting between game signups as a way to choose gendering per signup.

    • Fair Escape says:

      People wouldn’t be able to “game the system” if there’s a way for GMs to determine what gender slot you took- maybe the website could just warn them that they aren’t guaranteed a character of the other gender.

      I wonder if this happened, if GMs would want to be able to rule out all cross-casting. Like everyone would have one gender associated with their account, but could change their gender for individual sign-ups, and GMs who preferred no cross-casting could make their individual game not have gender choice at sign-up… if that makes sense.

      I was actually wondering if it was possible to change the setting between sign-ups, but I didn’t want to mention it in case people started experimenting and screwing with the sign-ups in a way the website wasn’t designed to handle.

  2. Aaron says:

    Interesting discussion. I didn’t think gender was such a big issue in larps, but apparently, it is. I know it is more for the east coast than out here on the left coast, at least in my experience.

    A few talking points:
    1. The Intercon sign up system is great. Just the fact that players can sign up for games ahead of time and the GMs can go online whenever they want and see who is signed up and get their email address is pretty awesome. It’s not like that everywhere.

    2. Personally, I am more interested in the age of the player than the gender, usually. And by age, I really just want to know if they are 18 or older, and/or drinking age or older.

    3. Were you in Lizzie Stark’s run of Mad About the Boy? You can talk to her about this, I know she probably has a lot to say.

    4. Specifically related to Intercon, I think there’s a larger issue related to the gender casting, and that is player agency. Some GMs might not want cross casting, and if so, they should have that right to cast based on gender. Other GMs don’t care, and they ask for neutral roles, and that’s fine. But there is also the other players in the game, and I think their comfort levels should be considered as well. For example, the casting for Rock Band Murder Mystery (Intercon K) was gender neutral. This was because the original run at Wyrd Con 1 didn’t have sign ups beforehand, so I didn’t know who the players would be until they walked in the door at game time (see point #1, above). So we wrote gender-neutral characters. I kept that for Intercon, but since the characters were pre-written, and the relationships were pre-set, I had to let the players know that it could be possible for two characters to have a homosexual relationship. Thus, that was part of the questionnaire–would the player be comfortable role-playing that? It’s what Mike Young had to do for Triple Blind.

    There’s more to it than just pretending that the girl is a boy, or the boy is a girl; it can also mean pretending to be in love with that boy-as-girl, and that might be too much pretending.

    My default solution is always transparency: let the players know what they could potentially be getting into. If they aren’t comfortable, they don’t need to play. I think the current Intercon system handles this fine: if GMs care about gender, they can select it. if not, they can pick neutral.

    The next question is deciding if the players get the ability to make their characters or accept what the GM gives them. In that case, the player should have the ability to choose their gender (self-reflexive), and other players won’t be forced into a romance they are uncomfortable with because they control their character’s connections.

    Hope this wasn’t too rambling.

    • Fair Escape says:

      I wasn’t in Lizzie Stark’s run- I really wanted to participate, but at the time I just couldn’t guarantee that my weekend would be free, and I didn’t want to cause problems by signing up and dropping. I’ve heard great things about it from people who did play, and the sign-up restriction is definitely an interesting topic. I do very much understand why she chose to run it that way, but I can’t help but wonder how I’d feel if someone wanted to run a LARP I’d like to play (and be willing to cross-cast for it) but the rules said, “male LARPers only.”

      I agree with you on the issue of gender in casting (pre-written) characters with romance plots- it’s thornier than other aspects of gender in casting, and one that a lot of GMs prefer to take into account. If GMs can’t control the genders of their casting, I think they usually do what you and Mike Young did, and just make it clear that signing up for the LARP may result in non-heterosexual romantic relationships. And I find that many LARPs with romance plots that can control the gender of sign-ups will specifically ask about it on questionnaires “how do you feel about roleplaying a romance with a cross-cast person?” I know some GMs who take care to only cross-cast characters without romance, to avoid awkwardness.

      Personally, when it comes to romances (and by that I mean classic romance, not the degenerate sort found in Slash!) find it easiest to roleplay as a female in love with a male played by a male. I’m willing to roleplay other configurations, but I wouldn’t guarantee I’d be as good at roleplaying it, even if I tried my best. I suspect this isn’t uncommon, which is probably why some GMs will just try to avoid it completely.

      Not too rambly at all- I’m finding I could probably go on for pages about all the various configurations, how I feel about them, and speculating about how other LARPers would feel about them.

      • Aaron says:

        About how people felt that Lizzie cast females only: some were really, really angry, declaring the game sexist. (Read about it in the Wyrd Con Companion Book, if you haven’t already).

        Speaking only for myself, Lizzie told me about MATB when she was out here for WyrdCon. I immediately said “I wanna play!” and she immediately replied “It’s for women only,” and I felt dumb. But I did what I could to support it, including giving money to a player so she could play, and I was her “dead male relative/friend” that she could or would write to before the game, or think of during the game. I never got a report back, but I liked the idea of being a part of the larp without being in it.

        Anyway, personally I don’t care if something about me prevents me from playing. Why would I want to play a larp that won’t allow me? There are so many out there, and I can make my own, so why worry that one larp cock-blocks me? Again, speaking only for myself, a straight Caucasian cis-male American–enough doors have been open for me for a long time.

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