(Part 2 here)
Have you ever gone to afters and finally worked up the nerve to talk to that cool kid? The cool kid with the awesome plot items, close repartee with storytellers, three separate photo shoots for one character? How did the conversation go?
Did they spend the entire time talking about themselves? I’ll bet they did.
You were probably locked in war-story purgatory, forced to listen to someone else babble on and on about how awesome their experiences are, with zero if ANY accommodations for you to talk about yourself or your character. And you looked about the table and noticed, with some alarm, that everyone else seemed equally transfixed, clearly SO interested!
I have news for you, pal. No one is interested. They’re faking it. Because they’re playing the game. Not LARP, but the other game that you play while LARPING. The Ego Game.
See, you came to LARP expecting it to be a game with easily accessible rules, associated mechanics, costume requirements and otherwise a big, open canvas that everyone is free to participate in, so long as they fit the setting and lore.
Boy, were you fucking wrong.
Lesson 1: LARPS can also be giant, seething social cauldrons, amped up communal stages upon which people with frighteningly low empathy enact their various power fantasies and hold other players hostage. That rambling ego-maniacal jackass at afters? He or she has been ranting at powerless newbies since day 1. People accept this because they have made a cynical bargain: they are willing to endure that misery so that they can look cool talking to a widely-accepted cook kid. Which leads to…
Lesson 2: The cool kids aren’t all that cool. They’re generally shallow, empty and unexciting. They hate other cool kids. They exist as cool kids because of a collective willingness to accept their “coolness” at face value, and use it as a means of making themselves cooler. Their status is currency: because we accept it, they maintain it. And the moment you point out the extremely tenuous relationship between their status and their actual contributions to their LARP, you risk…
Lesson 3: If you point out that the cool kids aren’t all that cool, or attempt to dislodge them from their cool perch, they will bunch up and denigrate you. They’ll do it because, without the illusion, they’re just another nerd with bad hygiene, or more tellingly, because you will be trying to enter their social strata, without playing by the rules. You have to pay the ferryman to get across the river Styx, even though the ferryman is offering a shit service and your destination is terrible.
If those 3 lessons seem bitter to you, well, it’s because I’m fucking bitter. “I’ll bet he’s just been a loser at LARPS” you might assume while reading. Of course I’ve been a loser at LARPS, jackass; but I’ve also been the cool kid. I’ve paid the Ferryman and been the Ferryman. I know, intimately, how hollow it is to be cool.
I have calculated the strategic value of Facebook posts, liked and shared articles for purely social value. Roleplayed with people who make my skin crawl and written them into my backstories solely for their OOC status. I’ve gone on road trips throughout networked games with people so lacking in any inherent value that without LARP, they might be mistaken for a human-shaped lump of clay. I’ve buttered up Storytellers with every flattery I could dream of, and praised them for plots that were less enriching or complex than World of Warcraft starting quests.
But enough of the bitterness. Enough of emphasizing the obvious. I promised you steps to play the game and I will make good on it. Just remember what I said about hollowness, so that when you become popular and insufferable, you might stop and be humbled for a moment, and not reciprocate this torment upon new and innocent LARPers.
Step 1: Identify the Taste Makers
Shit’s about to get real petty: go through Facebook, and see who gets the most likes, repeatedly, on their LARP-related posts. See who posts pictures of OOC trips and conventions with Storytellers and staff. See who brags loudest about a game that, to most sane onlookers, sucked. Without even setting foot in a LARP, you can figure out who’s palm is getting proverbially greased with unearned social capitol. Once you identify them…
Step 2: Figure Out What Makes Them Tick
Discover the arbitrary bullshit that the coolest LARPers care about. Find out what parts of your game’s lore they love or hate. Figure out what hamfisted and cliché themes they try to project into their roleplay. Listen to their insufferable Spotify playlists named after their characters, shared constantly before, during and after LARP events.
Step 3: Cast Aside All Dignity And Suck Up
Open the floodgates of ego: bait your chosen cool kid into talking about their character. Listen with feigned interest as they blather on, and flatter them by agreeing: of course that song suits your character, of course I can see how your character is an embodiment of a Klimt painting, of course I noticed that minute costume change last game and understood its labyrinthine and surely portentous implications. Of course. Of course. Pay no attention to the blood running out of my nose, or how my eyes are rolling spasmodically into my eyelids.
Like their posts. Comment flatteringly, but not TOO flatteringly, as cool kids are inherently suspicious of people who are obviously playing their game. The goal is to be someone who is noticeably in their camp. You want to be someone who, CLEARLY, has good taste: good taste in them.
Step 4: Rebuild Yourself in Their Image
Now use all of that knowledge to relaunch yourself. Post about things, LARP or life related, that will resonate with taste makers. Update your costume to showcase things that they care about. Steer your roleplay towards issues and themes they find interesting. Remove the parts of yourself that only you find meaningful and replace them with what someone else finds meaningful.
If possible, increasingly believe the bullshit you’re posting. Believe that it comes from an honest place, and not one of cynical calculus. Come to empathize with their first-world problems, be annoyed on their behalf when they don’t get the recognition they believe they are owed. Attack truthfully those that they attack. Drink deeply of the Kool Aid.
Step 5: Perpetuate the Problem
You’re now a cool kid. People come to you to find recognition. They listen intently as you blather on and on about what you think is interesting. You are above the social contract which requires that you listen to other people or pay them any heed. Your drama is now, officially, more important than theirs. Storytellers will court you, and you will court them, and entire plot arcs that might otherwise enrich everyone’s play experience will now be dedicated to you and your closest chums.
You have come to believe that you deserve the adoration you get. That those who are envious are just haters, bitter and unwilling to play the game for themselves. When they complain that their ideas aren’t appreciated, know that it is because you and those like you haven’t validated them, and that so long as you refuse to validate them, they will find no joy at your LARP, in your social circle.
When those who are both bitter and clever try to create a safe space away from you, whether OOC or in roleplay, attack them and accuse them of misunderstanding the setting, the lore and the game’s balance. “Safe space” is just their petulant way of saying “I don’t want to deal with you,” and you didn’t hollow yourself out to become that which you hated so that they could avoid you. Force them to deal with you, by whatever means are available, because if people catch wind that LARP can be enjoyed without you, you’re finished.
If this appears unremittingly dark, it’s because there is a dark and terrible side to LARP, a broken social contract that we keep adhering to, whatever the setting, whatever the mechanics. We keep allowing ourselves to be trampled underfoot, by those who look upon our hobby as a means of self-glorification. So thorough is this brainwashing that instead of demanding fairer rules, more humane codes of conduct, or walking away from a bad game, most of us prefer to become that which abuses us most.
So, you don’t want to leave a LARP, but don’t want to put up with taste makers. Time to learn about safe spaces…