It’s been a chaotic year in the LARP world. Drama, lawsuits, labor changes, exposed abuse, and a massive purge within the Cam of bullies that defies expectations and past history. Yet despite all the public airing of grievances and exposure of misconduct, people still sign up for the same LARPs every month, month after month, as if they are wearing military-grade blinders.
So in the spirit of 2018 and Trump’s America, we’ll start today’s post with a reductive meme which would make me cry, if it weren’t for the massive dose of Thorazine my doctors insist I take.
For profit, non-profit, it doesn’t seem to matter in LARP. No matter how many soppy Facebook posts are made about loyalty, friendship, honesty and trust, no matter how many bridesmaids and groomsmen are invited to weddings, no matter how many times they listened to your tearful stories or consoled you through stress and sorrow, those who whistle-blow will find themselves auto-shunned.
But I don’t want to focus on those who whistle-blow: because it’s a given that a small, socially-suicidal portion of the population will always do what appears to be the right thing, even as they are tut-tutted from the sidelines. Let’s instead focus on the vast majority of LARPers, who for the purposes of this blog, I state lack solidarity.
I’ve given you Google’s finest definition of solidarity. Mull it over. Ask yourself, does this exist in LARP? Do you have solidarity for your peers? Sure, it might exist for social crusades: pronouns, sexuality, consenting to roleplay, all of which are good. But the moment solidarity requires us to ask ourselves, as participants, “should I be participating in this anymore?” Out the window it goes, like a mass exodus of hot air and bluster.
Today we’re going to ask ourselves why that is.
Put up or Shut up
Let’s use labor and striking as a lens by which to analyze our incredibly byzantine and fucked up hobby. Take the worker on strike: a person not just willing to put their income on the line to be treated better, but to ensure that their peers are treated better too. For a strike to succeed, all workers must risk everything, together. There is a fundamental understanding that even if you make more money than someone of a lower rank, if you are in the same trade, employed by the same employers, what befalls them can, and will befall you. In a healthy union (re: probably a myth at this point), apprentices, journeymen, and masters all act as one in the case of a strike.
Solidarity in a LARP would look like a strike. A mass unwillingness to attend a game until a highlighted problem is fixed. Few delusions are strong enough to ignore red ink, or an attendance of 0.
Ask yourself, do you know anyone, yourself included, who would leave a LARP for anything but the most egregious of obvious sins? Short of a game master sexually assaulting a player, or physically assaulting them, or committing some heinous act of criminality, would you stop going? This is assuming that some perfect proof of crime could be presented, un-diluted by tactics, opinion or hearsay (more on that below).
If you answered yes, I’m sorry to say that you’re likely a liar, deluding yourself, or woefully uninformed. Statistically so. Every major networked game exists to this day despite pretty heinous, documented misdeeds by major players, staff members or even game creators. So by the very definition of solidarity, few of us if any meet the requirements. Because to have solidarity with your peers is to be willing to walk, on their behalf, out the door.
Sympathy for the ST
LARP is many games within a game. I’m not talking about PVE and PVP, or collecting vs grotesque suffer-puppeting. I’m talking about the game of players, and the game of staff. Anyone who has been in a position of authority in the Cam understands that there are two classes of Cam members: those who answer hundreds of emails, and those who don’t. IE players, and volunteers
I’m not here to criticize the bifurcation of LARP into management and players: that’s inevitable, whether the game is for-profit or nonprofit. And to its credit, as I’ve said, the Cam is engaged in a series of top-down purges that would make Stalin proud. Instead, what worries me is the intermingling of players and staff, or the intermingling of staff and “middle managers,” lesser staff, those with enough clout to see how a game is run, but not enough visibility or power to identify or correct systemic issues.
“But Bruce,” you exclaim, “isn’t having a broader distribution of labor good for games? Doesn’t the intermingling of responsibilities cause people to take more pride in their game, and show players that they too can effect plot?” Sure, reader, that’s all very nice and looks great on paper, but like paper it’s flammable and kind of thin when the time comes to identify systemic abuses within a game.
Let’s walk through a simplistic and alliterative scenario: Whitney the Whistleblower, who has exhausted all other avenues of recourse, publicly denounces the actions of Alex the Abuser, head ST, who has been collaborating with Gerald the General Manager. Players recognize these misdeeds, and get upset, and begin to discuss it publicly. But Rick the Referee, who has enough visibility to sound credible, but not enough to know what’s actually going on, leaps to Alex and Gerald’s defense. “No, players!” he cries, “You don’t understand how much stress they’re under!” he says with great sympathy, himself having been under stress, assuming that the accused must be under proportionally MORE stress. “Whitney is inconsiderate! Whitney is rude! Whitney isn’t a whistleblower at all: she’s a bully, hurting our friends and peers Alex and Gerald!” And we players, being largely more interested in peace of mind through denial than risking anything for positive change, buy that hook, line and sinker.
It’s good to allow players to participate in a game as volunteers, so long as no labor laws are being broken, and everyone is getting appropriately paid (or not paid). What’s bad is that this creates, quite literally, the bourgeoisie of LARP.
I’m not talking about “the means of production” like factories and coal mines. I’m talking about the vast middle of LARPS – veteran players, former staff, people in the best costumes – who add legitimacy and credence to the higher staff. In a real sense, abuses only happen with their consent, whether that consent comes from true ignorance or willing denial. Without their support and participation, LARPs would dry up and die on the vine.
Scabs, scabs everywhere
The most reviled person in a labor strike is the Scab. Scabs are non-union workers hired on short notice by the company. Forget, for a moment, that the scab may be a person with serious needs, empty pockets, hungry children or anything else: to workers on strike, the scab is the instrument of the devil, who allows the employer to outlast the strikers: after all, the employer has a lot more money saved up (in theory), and the strikers will go bankrupt first.
When a player comes out with accusations of misconduct, abuse or collusion in a LARP, every one of us who turns a blind eye, or happily accepts whatever bandaid explanation the accused or the game runners slap on the wound, is a scab.
When a player, having found no recourse for their problems, or shunned for their efforts, leaves a game and we don’t follow, or continue to agitate in their place? We’re all scabs.
When we allow our desire for a calm social life, or an in-game perk, or the completion of a fictional plot take precedence over the actual suffering or mistreatment of our fellow players? We are scabs.
Without us, the vast majority, staff or not, a LARP cannot exist. We have immense power to effect change and defend our peers. Yet somehow, we forget this, when we have complaints or fears or suffer unduly by the misdeeds of another LARPer, we feel alone, are treated as if we are alone, and are often denied the means of discussing or venting our frustrations. We are directed to the indefinite purgatory of “contact us” forms, told that social media isn’t the place to discuss our dissatisfaction, or reminded about how “staff are people too,” which we knew already given their proclivity for breathing oxygen, eating carbon-based food, and occasionally having to use the bathroom, but thanks for the reminder Gerald.
Pity us, poor scabs, for we can look in the mirror to see our biggest abuser.
No Solidarity, no Friendship
Explosive, salty rant having been made, we return to solidarity. It’s my belief that LARPers, as a whole, lack true solidarity. We place our own fictional ambitions, our comfort, and our social lives ahead of our peers, even if through our silence, we quietly green-light our own abuse.
The next time you’re on Facebook, going blue in the face talking about just how much you love a friend, or how talented you think they are, or how much you value them, or thank them for how much they’ve done for you, stop and ask yourself “would I stop attending this LARP if they were mistreated?” If the answer is no, you have no solidarity with them. And without solidarity, how can you be friends?
Maybe we’re all lesser friends to one another. LARP friends. Friends until the cape’s off. Friends until plot turns us against one another. Maybe that’s just the nature of relationships in LARP.
No. We deserve better. And we must demand better from ourselves.