My last panel before dinner on Saturday at NELCO 2013 was Blogging LARP.
To be honest, I was quite surprised when I found out this was on the schedule. I know it has been suggested in the past, but I didn’t think anyone was going to check off the “I’d attend this panel” box on the schedule questionnaire. In fact, I emailed someone on the NELCO staff to confirm that there had actually been interest in attending the panel. Apparently, interest was low compared to most other panels that made it onto the schedule, but the interest was still higher than a good number of panels that were left off the schedule.
I couldn’t quite figure out what it was about blogging about LARP that people wanted to hear, but I compiled a list of blogs and tumblrs and websites that I regularly visit and read and typed up some thoughts about various suggested questions related to blogging about LARP.
In terms of attendance, the panel ended up around where I thought it would be. There were four panelists, and I think five people in the audience. But they seemed engaged and actually had questions to ask, so I think it went at least as well as could be expected.
The panelists included one person who has a tumblr and posts occasionally under a LARP tag, one who runs Northeast LARP News (a site for LARP news and announcements in the Northeast United States) and a member of the Alleged Entertainment LARP writing group who blogged about their LARP writing process for awhile before stopping in 2011.
We introduced ourselves and talked about our various online projects while our websites were projected onto a large screen behind us. We talked about why we did, what benefits we got, the challenges we faced, and who our audiences were. We also fielded a few questions on various random topics, such as using other online tools, like pinterest and facebook.
I admit that for about the first half of the panel, I felt as though I was being too quiet and timid and didn’t really speak up much. I let the other panelists answer and if someone my had a question before I’d gotten my full answer, or any answer at all, out, I let them move on. And then I became slightly annoyed with myself for not actually contributing to the discussion. I think I talked a lot more during the second half.
Here are a few thoughts I shared during the Blogging LARP panel (and some thoughts I wish I’d shared but either forgot or was too shy to push into the conversation.)
Originally, I started my blog because I found myself poking around online looking for interesting writing and conversations about LARP. Partly because I really enjoy discussing LARP, but also maybe to get a little bit of a LARP fix in between events, especially during the slow season. Relative to many other hobbies, LARPing has a high threshold for engaging in it. Hobbies like knitting, you can pretty much enjoy anywhere, anytime. Most forms of LARPing don’t afford that sort of convenience, so getting involved in online conversation is the next best thing for me, a way to scratch the LARPing itch in between events.
But I just wasn’t finding much about LARPing online beyond the same basics over and over. I saw a lot of “list of tips for LARPing in cold weather” or “lists of tips for LARPing in hot weather.” (Typically nothing but basic common knowledge regurgitated from outdoor sports webpages, without anything specific to LARPing.) I wanted to kickstart conversation about LARP craft and LARP theory, and share personal experiences about the hobby.
It turns out, there is plenty of good stuff about LARPing out there on the internet. And creating this blog has helped me find it. It put me in contact with LARPers all over the world, which is really interesting. (I found out that the same weekend I tried Ars Amandi in a workshop for the first time, there was an Ars Amandi workshop going on in Croatia. That’s pretty neat. And someone told me that attendees of the most recent Knutepunkt mentioned that they’ve read my blog.) I’ve found a lot of tumblrs that have nothing but tons of fantastic inspiration for costuming and other LARP based art projects.
And I’ve discovered something about the public face of LARP. It’s pretty poor. Most of the stuff that I’ve read and seen that is created to explain LARP to non-LARPers (articles, books, videos) does not do a good job. They often strongly indicate that the person who wrote it has a very limited experience with LARP, and one form of LARP is misrepresented as the entire thing. Often, non-LARPers paint LARP in an unflattering light. And it’s an unfortunate truth that a lot of stuff that is created by LARPers is just as bad.
Why do we let non-LARPers produce most of the stuff that presents who we are and what we do to the world? They’re really not doing a good job. Clearly, it’s up to us LARPers to fix it, to present a more accurate (and hopefully, more flattering) version from those of us who actually identify as LARPers. If we don’t put effort into showing how much fun it is, how LARPing doesn’t have to be awkward, how beautiful our costumes and props and set dressing is, how exciting and deep the stories we collectively create can be, we’re never gonna get out from under that god-forsaken lightning bolt video.
I also think there’s some value in producing an archive of LARP events. Some sort of record so that we have something concrete to show one another when people want to know what other LARP communities are up to. Something to use as a comparison when years from now, we want to analyze how LARP has evolved over the years.
One little unexpected bonus of maintaining a LARP blog? It actually provides some extra incentive to attend LARP and LARP related events. For example, I attended a book signing for two books that were LARP related because I wanted to be able to comment on it in my blog.
We also discussed challenges in blogging about LARP at the NELCO panel. For me, my intended audience is primarily LARPers, but as I enjoy both theater and boffer LARPs, I find it can be difficult to remember that boffer LARPers may not understand my writing about theater LARPs, and vice versa. I have to keep in mind that boffer LARPers may have no familiarity with the concept of casting prewritten characters for players, and theater LARPers may not be familiar with the distinctions between HP and location based combat systems. Terminology can also be highly specific to the form of LARPing (“fair escape” being a good example of a term that is common in theater LARPs but pretty much unheard of in boffer LARPs.) So even though I expect many of my readers to be at least as experienced as I am (and often much more so), I still need to be aware of what needs clarification in my posts.
I find anonymity to be an important issue in blogging about LARP, because there are a lot of LARPers who really don’t want their name/online identity connected with LARPing on the internet. Avoiding names can sometimes create awkward, stilted writing, it can deny proper credit for people who want it, and it limits the sorts of pictures I can share here. (Hence the numerous pictures of only me, or shots of LARP scenery, devoid of people).
One other challenge I find in blogging about LARP comes in the form of reviews- I personally prefer not to spoil LARPs, and I find it extremely difficult to give honest critical feedback for various reasons. (I’m afraid of hurting people’s feelings, I often worry about being seen as a difficult person to please, I often think it will be ignored at best, etc.) This often makes for very bland reviews of LARPs, and more importantly, I think a lack of honest feedback is a problem in the LARP community. (Especially in the theater LARP community, where we don’t write PELs — post event letters — like in boffer LARPs). It can make it very hard for LARP writers who want to improve their LARPs. I think we should be better about offering constructive, honest feedback when it has a chance to be productive, but I almost never do it. What can I say, I’m a hypocrite.
Though I do always fill out feedback questionnaires when asked.