(Part 2 here)
Happy New Year. I’m back from the holidays with kidneys full of salt and blood pressure higher than Mt. Olympus. So let’s skip past the niceties and dive directly into the 6 categories of swine you endure in LARPs, and more importantly how to defeat them, or if nothing else, survive them.
The Dragon Hoarder
An old favorite to hate: the Dragon Hoarder will mechanically ruin your game in the name of being the richest. The guy (or sometimes gal) who will bend both IC reasoning and OOC patience to collect everything, have everything, do everything. Who am I to judge what is, under normal circumstances, a category of upjumped stamp collectors? What do I care if they want item cards in vast, well-organized binders of sleeves and subcategories? Or their sheet filled, from top to bottom, with influences, lores and situational items, like a larder of the mad.
But the problem isn’t really what they hoard so much as the uncontrollable urge to hoard. Hoard plot. Hoard attention. Hoard economies. Hoard playtime. What seems like a harmless playstyle difference is, when pathological, a desire to control, order and bend every aspect of a game to their specific whim. They cannot abide by a game experience which does not have a lever of control for their grubby mitts to pull. The rest of us suckers, roleplaying and maintaining the illusion of consequence and entropy, are a category beneath: the Dragon Hoarder by contrast feels that the game, whatever its ticket price, owes them satiation and a constant, comfortable locus of control.
To defeat them, there must be an effort from both from the top, and the bottom, to discourage this behavior. As the hoarder will work OOC and IC to accomplish their goals, you must work in and out of game to deny them a monopoly over economy, a monopoly over plot, and to culturally shun the behavior. Remind them, at every turn, that control over a game at the expense of other players is no substitute from whatever uncontrollable horror their own life bears.
And when all else fails, fucking ban them. For fuck’s sake, one or two fanatical card collectors is not worth months of subtly maneuvering to try and smuggle content to the rest of the playerbase. If you’re a game runner, do your god-damned duty and get rid of them before your entire job becomes finding ways to fix your game’s ruined economy.
The Power Gamer
Oily cousin to the dragon hoarder, the control and perfection they seek isn’t necessarily material, but competitive. You see, whether or not your LARP expressly HAS a “good, better, best” scale, they will find a way to be best. They will do so in complete disregard for other players, the setting, the game itself, because all of those are merely veneers, vehicles to convey the Power Gamer towards primacy.
They’re the people for whom the City Gangrel is the apex of clan choices in Vampire. The people for whom no concept is complete without Fleetness, Aegis and Puissance, roleplay be damned.
They’re often derided as the “lone wolf,” the laughably stereotypical nerd in a trench coat with a katana, but that’s simplistic and naive: the Power Gamer is whatever affords the most power and prestige in your game. If it means running a crew of people to laboriously crank out a fictional product that breaks game mechanics, rest assured there is a Power Gamer atop that pyramid. They can be socially sly, economically canny, or artfully inclined: the tools they use do not define them, it is the need to be both the best, and the acknowledged best.
There is no situation, no roleplay, no backstory and no effort that will not be calculated and used for maximal advantage by this creature. To the Power Gamer, other players are at best a means of comparing their relative and obnoxious capacity to defeat or derail opposition: at worst, other players are a currency used to purchase power and prestige.
And woe be unto you, if your setting is pyramidal and full of fascistic archetypes (I’m looking at you, WoD): then you are screwed to the core, as the power gamer is not only optimal in terms of build, but appropriate in terms of setting. How can you dislodge the shitlord who is only playing by the book?
Defeating a Power Gamer is difficult, and starts with the setting and rules of the game: don’t design a setting or system which rewards Machiavelli-lite. And if, later in play, abuses and means of excessive power are discovered, have the stones to patch, nerf or re-write content. Your beleaguered players will thank you.
Other tactics that can be utilized to defeat the Power Gamer involve ignoring them, finding other ways of playing the game without them, and utilizing new means of interaction which rob them of the upper hand. Power craves acknowledgement, because you can’t rule unless your subjects know you are on top. If the game gives you an out, a means of ignoring them, put them in the shame corner. Walk away. Write or participate in plots that they cannot enter. They only have as much power as the attention you give them. Starve them. And when they unleash their nasty torrent of excuses for why, in avoiding them, you aren’t playing the game right, call them out. Shame them.
In a different time, I may have called this the debutante, but we live in a wild and spectacular golden age where either gender can be both excellent or terrible at pretty much everything, and the fabutante is the genderless spirit who must be the center of all things, all ways, in all LARPs, at all times.
“Bruce,” you might ask, “if they demand attention and control, aren’t they power gamers, or dragon hoarders?” Good question, my brainless apprentice: in some ways yes, they are, but what separates them from the less likable horsemen of the shitpocalypse is that they could be completely disinterested in mechanics, and rely entirely upon likability, image and style to get what they want. They are identical in their thoughtless monopolization of content, but we are less likely to notice it because o. m. g., did you see their costume? Or wow, just, wow look at how intricate and expensive their boffer is!
What makes them so dangerous is that, on the outside, they appear to be GOOD for a game: after all, their costuming, roleplay and writing are on-point! But if they suck all the oxygen out of the room by being so damned fabulous, are the rest of you any less dead from asphyxiation? And the social capital required to be this popular, this canny, this cool, means these aren’t amateurs: these are seasoned social manipulators. Stand in their way, “steal” the spotlight or slight them in any way, and prepare yourself for whisper campaigns, rumors, false accusations and a roundabout shunning that could send you packing.
To defeat the fabutante is arduous and risky: you must find evidence, whether written, anecdotal or behavior, which showcases their negative behavior, their demand for attention and spotlight and their cruelty or manipulation of other players. You must build a case against them that they aren’t harmless, that the social damage they cause outweighs their value as photoshoot material. And in a time of blockbuster LARPs, promo videos and vast photo galleries, this task is harder than ever. Most importantly, whatever you do, do it carefully, for they will see you, and they will ruin you by word alone.
He or she has been head ST in their small town for like, 12 years. It seems like they’ve dated everyone. It seems like the only games they run are games they like. When they play PCs, boy, it’s funny how it’s still kind of like they’re storytelling. Maybe they’re big-timers, old-hands or game runners themselves. And you hear whispers, of battered exes, of screaming matches with game staff, of stalking and malfeasance. Yet here they stand, still LARPing, still smiling. This is the Abuser, which is much like any other kind of abuser in life, except in the world of LARP, where we want warm bodies to fill our rosters at all costs, they have an uncanny knack for escaping consequences.
How they abuse others is variable, and it may happen OOC, IC or both. Maybe they’re also fabulous. Maybe they’re power gamers, maybe they’re dragon hoarders. Maybe all three combine into a hellacious maw of toxicity which only comes to a point when someone breaks the silence and talks about how they were inappropriately touched, cornered at a convention or stolen from on the downlow.
My fear and loathing of the Abuser has less to do with their uniqueness to LARP, since abuse is universally present, but our community’s tolerance for that kind of behavior. Sure, with time, it is changing, we are more likely to call this behavior out and create rules to prevent it. But we as a community are so damned lax in our scrutiny, so worried about inclusivity and so likely to give second chances that we often enable or even foster abusers in our midst.
Defeating the Abuser requires collective diligence: see something, say something. Or, based on the occasional, worrying nugget of truth the rumor mill spits out, be on guard and scrutinize a new player dogged by a dark cloud of warning signs. The real difficulty in defeating the Abuser isn’t in spotting them, or banning them, but in doing so without compromising fairness, ethics or the rules which we otherwise are expected to obey. Defeat them, but good luck doing so without a witch hunt. After all, if they have survived abusing people for this long, what but abuse will outdo them?
Maybe they’re academics, professionals, game-runners or merely game-veterans. Maybe they have an opinion about design. An opinion about anything, really. What makes an Elitist elite isn’t really the problem, it’s that LARP has a class, whatever the LARP, of aristocrats, and we value their opinions over our own. The means by which they maintain aristocracy are varied, as is their income level, but their immovable role as tastemakers makes them the danger that they are.
Expect to find them equally well connected from game to game. The campaign, the setting, the costuming is immaterial: expect them to be on top. And they expect to be on top, further they expect there to be a top. How messed up is that, if you stop and consider it, that a hobby such as ours, made of misfits and nerds and theater kids, has a recurrent, problematic hierarchy?
Now, if this was just a discussion about arrogant people, that’s not very worrisome or worthy of anxiety: it’s snotty people who dominate an entire scene that are scary. Arrogant people create the conditions through which all other ills manifest, arrogant people who decide to maintain the status quo, or instigate change based entirely on whim, at the expense of others.
Maybe this same cabal sets the tone which allows for power gaming. Maybe they encourage dragon hoarding. Maybe they decide who gets to be fabulous, and who isn’t, and what makes someone fabulous, and what doesn’t. Imagine if LARP after LARP, year after year, regionally or nationally, it’s the same faces with the same tastes making the same trouble for you: how do you stop that?
You defeat them by leaving. Start your own game. Ignore them. Reject them. And if you must remain, call them out. But do not become them, do not replicate them, and especially, do not envy them. I have warned of them before, they are cool kids, and as I’ve said before, many times, like Moses beating the fuck out of a rock for water, they can only exist because of a collective willingness to allow them to be elite.
The apologist is not a solo threat: they can be any sort of player, good, bad, friendly or unfriendly, creative or a lump of clay: they are dangerous only in those they enable. Maybe they’re the BFF of a Dragon Hoarder. The benefactor of a Power Gamer. The shaken ex of an Abuser, or desperate for the friendship of a Fabutante. Maybe they’re ignorant, and merely parroting, in good spirit, what they hear, unaware of the toxicity of a toxic status quo.
Nonetheless they are the Apologist, and none of the aforementioned groups could exist if they didn’t have apologists. They are the inert gas in which the poison floats, living camouflage for predators and scoundrels. Or, worse, like locusts who begin life as crickets, they are an angry mob waiting to happen, easily deceived into participating in witch hunts and rumor campaigns.
We are the apologists.
LARP is a body of apologists. We, collectively, have been cover for heinous behavior, institutional abuse and one-sided gameplay. It is our collective willingness to parrot, to play along, to participate at all costs which makes us a threat.
You defeat apologists by changing how you view LARP, and the world at large. You value ethics over popularity. Experience over loot. Story over power. Substance over star power. Staying silent isn’t enough, you must confront the other ills of our hobby openly, discuss problems openly, be vocal, be willing to leave, to start new LARPs and criticize existing ones. You must recognize that criticism and introspection are the foundations of good practice and a better experience.
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