I suspect part of the reason I ended up on the Cultural Appropriation was because I wrote that I thought there was a good chance my opinions on this topic would be unpopular when I filled out the form to volunteer for PreCon events. I thought I would provide some diversity of opinions for the panel. In preparation, I read a slew of articles on the topic of cultural appropriation. In practice, we didn’t really touch on the specific opinions I thought others might disagree with.
We opened, naturally, by defining cultural appropriation. I defined it as a privileged culture adopting or using elements of another, underprivileged culture in a harmful or offensive way. I recognize that some define cultural appropriation as neutral, and there can be harmful and non-harmful forms, or possibly define it as neutral and harmful versions as cultural misappropriation, but this is merely semantics — the topic at hand was the harmful form, whatever label one uses for it.
Much of the panel approached the topic in a general sense, in a way that could apply to creating works of any creative media, though some of it focused more specifically on how it affects LARP uniquely. Needless to say, the first thing the panelists had to say about avoiding harmful cultural appropriation is “do your research.”(This phrase is a popular one for a variety of topics at PreCon and NELCO.) We talked a bit about research being necessary to avoid perpetuating inaccurate and even harmful stereotypes. Panelists were in agreement that googling is only a first step — looking for first hand sources, texts of cultures describing themselves, if available, are good sources, and talking to members of a culture is better than simply reading wikipedia pages. When including a new foreign culture in a LARP, it’s best start with a respectful tone, as aiming for comedy can easily become (or be misconstrued as) mockery. Similarly, a LARP writer might want to avoid very sensitive topics relevant to specific cultures, even if one can use accurate depictions of some element of a foreign culture. Religion in particular needs to be treated carefully and respectfully, as it is particular easy to create offense about a subject of great personal significance to an underprivileged group. But conversely, avoiding the culture of underprivileged groups, even if done with the best of intentions of avoiding cultural appropriation, can go too far to the point of erasure.
One of my personal approaches to the issue of cultural appropriation is to evaluate how minority cultures are referenced in comparison to how more privileged cultures are referenced. For example, many fantasy settings for LARPs contain a number of cultures, one inspired by European culture, another might be inspired by cultures from East Asia, a third might be inspired by Native American cultures, and a fourth might be inspired by Middle Eastern cultures. One way to evaluate your fantasy setting for problematic treatment of other cultures is to ask how the European culture is treated in comparison to the others. For example, is it more complex, while the other cultures are more one-note? Are there multiple European based cultures, but only one from other parts of the world? And one should be aware privileged cultures have often lumped different areas of the world together, erasing diversity within regions; one should not, for example, say a region of your setting is simply inspired by China while borrowing elements from other countries in East Asia.
The panel also talked a bit about the concept of “grief tourism”– how LARPs written about real tragedies or historical crimes against humanity can result in players walking away feeling as though they can claim that they know how the real victims felt, and that it is important for GMs to make it clear to players that this is not their intent, nor is it actually possible when running such LARPs. (Personally, I feel there are some topics that should never be subjects of LARPs, but I suspect this is not a common opinion, and even if it were, it would be impossible to come up with items for the list on which LARPers could universally agree.) Related to the topic of grief tourism, the panelists also suggested pre-event communication and pre-game workshopping to make sure players are comfortable and full aware of how themes of bigotry are addressed and played out in a LARP.
Costuming in LARP also came up during this panel. The commercial Halloween version of cultural costumes are often offensive stereotypes, but when it comes to LARP costuming, we often want it to be quick, cheap, and very easily identifiable when making a LARP as accessible as possible is part of the design goal.Even when making our own costumes, wanting our characters to be easily identifiable from across the room can lead LARPers to relying on stereotypes for costumes. This creates a difficult conflict, but I don’t think we came up with any easy, broadly applicable solutions for it. For LARPs in which players can be expected to put more effort into their costumes, prepping costuming guides with lots of images of good examples to show them how to create costuming inspired by other cultures in respectful ways can be very helpful.
Intro to Accelerant was the last event of the evening. (I requested the late slot because it has run over the given hour in past years.) Accelerant is a boffer system that is fairly popular in the local community, and it’s a common choice for the live combat one shots that run at Intercon. Theater LARPers often sign up for the Accelerant events at Intercon to give boffer a try, which makes it a useful workshop to have during PreCon. It gives people a chance to go over the rules and try out a bit a combat.
As in past years, we went over the basics of the rules and let everyone spar for a little while with some of the weapons. Going over the combat effects and calls was a bit more organized this year–one of the presenters grouped the effects into different categories (such as status effects and motion/activity restrictions). I brought poster board with me to diagram out the Accelerant calls, and write down the different effects and responses so that attendees would have a visual reference during the presentation. I thought it would make some of the details easier to remember. I’m not sure if people found it helpful, but I think I would in their position, and it can’t really hurt. I think I will do it again at future Accelerant workshops, with maybe a bit more planning and prep work into the posters themselves so that the end results are a bit neater.
Even though I’ve been playing Accelerant LARPs for years now, I think I myself still learn something new about the system at these PreCon workshops.