In part 1 of this post, where I explained why you can’t stop smiling lest you be singled out like a sick wildebeest, I said that tone policing is a roundabout way of saying we LARPers demand positivity because, psychologically, it’s less painful than addressing whatever is actually plaguing our hobby.
Let’s talk about some things that are wrong with our hobby, that positivity won’t fix.
1. The cultural bar to entry for LARPs is staggeringly high: When we get to chattering about our hobby in public places, it’s a wonder they don’t write us up as murder suspects. We blithely talk about killing X and Y PC without saying PC. We wear weird costumes. We kowtow to people in our community for outwardly inexplicable reasons. There are dozens of reasons an interested player might be scared off after game 1. Are we to compromise ourselves so new players will feel welcome? NO, says the average LARPer, and fuck YOU for suggesting it. Watch your tone, lest someone scare off a newbie, as if your Dorito-breath and asinine social constructs don’t do that already.
2. Many networked games are costumed pyramid schemes: Any time a game is about prestige and intrigue, you should know going into it that as a newbie, your job is to get defecated on by older players, fulfilling a social contract they accepted long ago as newbies themselves, after being shit upon by the prior generation. Entire games could be framed as cycles of abuse, wherein you cannot grow bigger unless you accept abuse and pass it on. Does that sound appealing to you? Spoilers: it doesn’t sound appealing to newbies either.
3. Many game systems are poorly designed, impossibly lopsided, or utterly broken: But if you point that out, you’re a casual, you’re sour grapes, or you just aren’t doing it right. Whether obviously flawed during inception, or still flawed after years of play, we accept incredible imbalances in our games which can favor powergamers, shatter immersion, or prove difficult to adopt for new players. Some games work towards revisions, others refuse on principle, but if the MMO market is any indication, Everquest can only survive so long as a fragmented, complex ball of code before something more streamlined comes along.
4. LARPs are seething, classist balls of wealth inequity: Our hobby attracts people from across the economic spectrum, and whether through pay-to-win models of XP or arbitrarily high costuming requirements, more often than not poorer players are second class. But we don’t talk about it, and still act as if all of us are poor college students, struggling to get by (even when many of us can afford international travel to blockbuster events). We praise those who can afford the work of artisans, whether in costuming or gear, and any critique of the inherent stratification of wealth is treated like an attack on craftsmen. We act as if DIY, but time-intensive solutions to costuming costs make the staggering expenditures by a select few less egregious, but time is just as scarce to the poor as wealth. And NONE of this would matter, if we didn’t maintain a blithe pretense that LARP is not a hobby stratified by class.
5. We can accept drama of mythical proportions, so long as image remains intact: Think of every conflict-resolution system implemented by large games: all of them value saving face over actual resolution. Ultimately, if both involved parties shut up and avoid committing illegal actions, that is sufficient to carry on. There is a view within larger LARPs that no drama is good drama and that there very little right or wrong, merely those who disturb the peace. Faced with this kind of gross unwillingness to take a stand on bad behavior, who can blame people for avoiding the hobby?
6. We either revere game-runners, or abuse them: Whether they are paid or not, we as LARPers are so desperate for options and new ideas that we excessively praise game runners, and are afraid to critique them about broader, existential questions. Conversely, sometimes we belittle and destroy new GMs because of stupid, minor issues or because of profound old-guard player entitlement. Consequently, GMs tend to take ALL criticism as the latter, even when it’s the former. We are either afraid to question their decisions, or over-critique their decisions like the boy who cried wolf, devaluing our own instincts in the face of petty, time-wasting blandishments.
7. Game-runners often place themselves in a higher tier above players: I can’t wait for the floodgate to open over this comment, but whether through game policy or informal social caste, STs and Game Runners often view themselves as separate and/or above their player base. It’s an understandable distinction, given that without them there is no game, and knowing the pressures that they face to make game run on time, but that attitude creates a huge gulf between a new player and the game staff. Of course, given this difference, newbies are often unwilling to voice criticism, or worse they are shot down by older players and staff because they can’t possibly understand what they’re talking about. Even though, logically, it’s the fresh-eyes of a newbie which we should most heed, if we care about the future of our hobby.
These are … pretty serious cultural problems, and commentators here and there will chuckle and say “glad that’s not MY LARP,” except it is, you jackass. It’s every LARP, by some measure or another. No wonder we as a community obsess over tone, when the alternative is to face existential Armageddon.
While the problems with individual LARPs, and the broader hobby, are innumerable, that’s not necessarily a death sentence, unless we are unwilling or unable to honestly discuss our problems. Any force which limits or represses critical dialogue, whether enforced from above, below, or written into the very rules of our games, is a force that ultimately wounds us. LARP has brought me great happiness in addition to great frustration, and experiences that I could not enjoy anywhere else, but when I ask myself is it worth it or would I recruit newbies I’m always torn.
When we tone-police one another, we are acknowledging inherent weakness, and a collective inability to face our demons OOC. Why would I ask someone new to join a community which imprisons its own in the status quo? Who is crazy enough to join a community that expressly devalues the criticism of newbies and older players alike as sour grapes, demanding they water-down their emotions on the topic until the criticism is too indistinct to act on, and too easy to brush off?
Don’t tell me not to curse, not to react, not to express emotion. Don’t accuse me of duplicity for remaining anonymous, all while very clearly wanting to attack me instead of my ideas. If I, a veteran of my hobby, choose to remain anonymous, imagine how newbies feel having been promised rewards for patience and silence, or older players who know that patience is not rewarded but remain silent and smiling anyway, for fear of ostracization? Read these posts and question, with increasingly loud voices, the status quo of your LARP, so that we can all go back to smiling again. Frowning is hard work.
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