However you categorize LARP, be it sport, activity, camping or otherwise, usually there is some aspect of competition. In general, most LARP groups usually try to get their players to work towards a common foe. There are some LARP’s that don’t always follow this general rule, and PVP is encouraged in those communities instead. For the sake of this article let’s focus on LARP’s that have player vs NPC/ environment as the main goal during a plot.
Imagine the following scenario;
So you are a brand new player going into your first LARP experience. Perhaps you love video games or some other fantasy aspect. You may even just want an escape from everyday life to relax and be in a completely different mind space with like minded people. Whatever the reason, you chose this experience to have fun and enjoy yourself, like most people desire when they go to an event.
Arriving at LARP can be anxiety provoking for most people, especially someone who’s going for the first time. You have prepared yourself to the best of your ability, and are ready for the adventure ahead. The costume you’ve put time and effort into making is important to you, and it wasn’t the cheapest either. Getting ready for LARP isn’t always a walk in the park of course. Most people have to give a fair amount of time planning and figuring out armour, finding weapons that are LARP safe, and character creation as well as back story. Regardless of the efforts and price of your character and gear, you recognize most people are in the same boat. Everyone here has worked hard on their characters as well, and that gives you a sense of unity..
Now that you’ve calmed yourself down a bit, you set up your tent before official roleplaying commences. The scene is about to be set but you don’t know anyone here yet so you make a mental plan. You’re eager to roleplay and meet everyone, and you want to make sure to make a good impression.
When the roleplaying finally starts you approach a large group of veteran characters that seem quiet and perhaps cold to you. You don’t completely understand but you try and rationalize it. “They don’t know my character yet so the situation is more complex than everyday life.”That makes complete sense to you so you back off a bit, and talk to some other players your level. It goes well and now you’ve made some friends, things are seeming a bit more at ease. Then it comes, the first big plot of the evening. You’re eager for battle and want to know what’s going on. The information shared to one of the veterans is kept separate from you however, and that seems to include anyone outside of the main defined group. Withholding secrets and information important to plot from you and others makes you feel fragile and expendable. You are confused but still try to rationalize the feeling of being left out. The threat comes and you don’t truly know what’s going on but try and aid in the battle. You don’t get more than a few hits in. Afterwards the information obtained from the battle is not divulged to you. You don’t really know what’s going on but you dust it off and try not to let it get to you. It was only the first battle after all, right?
Sadly the whole weekend goes pretty much the same. You are left out of information and most general conversation. You start to feel useless and awkward as a character. The expert players and their gang of 80% of the town are unstoppable with their power and knowledge. If they ever willed it you could be annihilated with one spell. Never will you talk about your issues with them or what they do. You don’t want your character to get in trouble or die after all.
You try to go back to your new player friends but something strange has happened. They are now part of the special group, something you didn’t know to be possible. Talking is only reserved to people in the group right now, so you walk away awkwardly. Your feelings of isolation fester, you feel hated but you try not to let it get you down. Near the end of the event people start talking more out of character, you do have a few talks with some, but that same group of people seems to not let you get many words in. “Is it something to do with me?” you wonder. “Aren’t we all socially awkward nerds trying to find solace in a fun community game?”
You get home, and you start to analyze what you did wrong. “Am I creepy? Am I ugly? Am I fat? Do I come across as cringy? Did I do something against the rules?” It runs your brain over and over until you can’t stop thinking “How could I have done better?”. It absorbs you. You have to know why you weren’t met with the same acceptance as the other players. The feeling of not belonging becomes so insidious that you end up never going back. -End of scenario Sadly experiences like this aren’t unheard of. This scenario was one I myself had experienced as well as others I’ve talked to. I was one of the lucky ones to have known some people outside of the game when I played. Even with having my friends, I still felt isolated and excluded from the main groups.
As a LARP community, new blood is needed to breathe life and funding into a game. An eager new player can bring surprising elements and dimensions into a game. From a very distinct personality and quirks, to new backstories and play styles. There is always something to gain from someone new in an established LARP.
No matter how you slice it, just because you were at a LARP from day one, or started at the newest game, there shouldn’t be too much difference in how one is treated. Someone who is isolated or feels separated from the group and plot, will not want to come back. Is LARP truly a team effort? It can run deeper than just an experience of isolation in and out of character. It can be the shift in power, the suppression of information, and the out of game bias from either NPC or character to character treatment.
Most people don’t want to engage in conflict, especially when it’s a community based game. The powershift and exclusivity of these groups can even threaten other powerful characters that are not a part of it. This makes an unspoken forced majority rulership over the game’s plot and achievements. If you are part of the group you can do anything they allow you to do. On the other hand being separate from that group means you can’t get away with anything they disapprove of.
Going into a game that you’ve put your hard earned money and time toward can be disheartening when it’s full of isolation. You go to a game to feel strong and have fun. Of course another big part of LARP is meeting like minded people that are similar to you. Keep in mind that segregation can be much more detrimental to people with mental health issues. I challenge readers to really look inward. Most of us come from a background of being bullied or not fitting in at school, work and society. We all just want a place to be our unapologetic selves and have a sense of belonging.
Instead of judging people immediately based on looks, identity, your gain from them or if you know them, just give them a fair chance. Be decent and kind like we all should have been treated in our lives previous from LARP. We can be the change, but first we have to stop gatekeeping a community of misfits and embrace one another instead. How much more fun would it be to face the enemy together?
Please consider this thought if nothing else; You don’t have to be friends with everyone you meet but your words and actions (in and out of character) can really hurt someone that is just trying to survive day to day.