Sacred cows

Right someone posted this in the UK LARP face book group and asked would you go:

Right take some time to read this. Now i will put my hands up and say right now that i have a stake in this. I lost someone to AIDS and it’s an emotionally charged subject for me, to the point of it being in a box in my head i don’t tend to open very often. That being said and with me being massively pretentious prick i thought it was worth writing about. I really, really want people to know that my writing is imprecise and if i offend, sorry.

Skipping right over the idea of pre-gens or the cool idea of a game covering a long period of time. I really do like the idea of three years of parties happening over three days with you discovering the outcomes of your actions a year later the next day. That’s a great idea. The fact is that this game is more about playing a character than playing a game. The main thing i want to cover is should we have sacred cows in LARP?

Is it ok to play act at AIDS or Cancer? Is depression a ‘character trait’? and is it ever ok to try and use LARP to explore themes of abuse?  Well my knee jerk reaction is no, but i think i need to look at it in more detail. Is it ok to do the same in fiction? Hmmm my knee jerk reaction needs more context i think.

One of the things i used to teach back in the day is what is ‘challenging behavior’. It’s a fundamental concept in helping people with special needs. You put a bunch of carers or teachers in a room and ask them what they think challenging behavior is. One person might put their limit at being sworn at, another might have theirs at being hit or you get the person who doesn’t mind anything other than smearing. The point is that people don’t present challenging behavior, you find their behavior challenging. I might add this is not to say being sworn at is ok, it’s just to make sure people know their limits and themselves so they don’t burn out.

By the same token we all have sacred cows. Things that upset one person, may not upset another. I know whenever i hear the word ‘retard’ chucked around, my urge to Joffrey slap rises, mainly because i know how much it offends the kids i work with. I have to spend my day trying to explain to teenage boys why saying ‘Thats gay’ isn’t just a thing you say and is pretty offensive.

Back to the LARP. Drug abuse and racism turn up almost all the time. Lets be honest, neither of those subject are what could be described as ‘fun’ in the real world. Game systems with addiction with potions are in many ways trivialising real world drug addiction and lets be honest is hating on a race that is trying to find it’s place in the world after fighting for freedom from slavery really just ‘cool’ background? The thing is we have for a long time used fiction to look at things to understand them better or to learn about them so why not in LARP? Why not use LARP to examine our demons while we are killing them?

Context is everything. In Star Wars storm troopers drop like flies no one thinks about their suffering, no one is going to discuss animal cruelty with Tom and Jerry or that the fascism in 40k is aimed at a teenage audience (when will Pat Mills sue GW by the way?). There has never been a history of real world Orc slavery and drug addiction in LARP doesn’t destroy families or ruin lives.

I think the problem with LARP is that it there is no barrier between you and the subject matter and you have no choice a lot of the time if that subject matter comes up. When you start bringing homophobic or sexist comments into a game you are touching on real feelings, when you touch on things like AIDS you don’t know if someone your talking to has been effected by it and abuse is something that isn’t a form of entertainment.

You can choose not to read ‘To kill a mocking bird’ (although why you wouldn’t read it is beyond me), you can choose to switch Amistad off and you don’t have to watch ‘Angels over America’ Unfortunately in LARP, especially large scale ones, we cannot let people know what we want to avoid as subjects as we find them painful or offensive. you have to face things that you don’t see coming and can’t ignore.

Also lets be honest i’m not going to a LARP event to confront things i find painful, i’m doing it so i can be pretentious and live out my middle aged actor fantasy. If i want to have a cathartic experience i’m probably not going to want to do it in a field that’s so cold my eyes have frozen in place and complete strangers can watch me have a total breakdown in reaction too it. If someone comes up to me and decides that they have decided that their interaction with me is going to be based on something i find offensive or offensive, but they see as something that is just role-play i’m probably going to say not today thank you, punch them in the face or burst into tears depending on the subject. Suddenly there is no barrier between me and the subject and i have no pre-warning it’s coming. I know a few years back when CP ran the swarm plot there were some themes that i found genuinely unsettling, so much so that i thought about not returning. To be honest that was more me and something going on with a friend of mine at the time than the plot, but it goes to show that you can be affected by stuff you didn’t even realise that would effect you.

The thing is some people enjoy the emotion of playing a character in difficult situations or looking at subjects that are normally left in the realms of non interactive media. I know i did when i was a teenager and that’s fine in a small group where everyone knows what is going on and there is trust. Hell roleplay helped me through some tough stuff when i was a teen. It comes back to that argument of can LARP be art?  So yes there is a place for it, but in my opinion it’s not with strangers in a fest, there is too much chance of offence or upset and what you think is ok might not sit well with others.

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