Exploring Feminism Through LARP

How does feminism affect your in and out of game experience at a LARP (live action role playing game)? Do you think about gender equality and inclusion differently or more often as a result of your LARP experiences? I certainly do. I barely think about gender at all while I’m LARPing, but I notice some of my own real-world habits (conditioned as a result of living in a patriarchal society) making their way into the game world…even though it doesn’t fit the setting or situation at all.

In this way, gaming has really caused me to learn more about myself and how gender affects me in the real world.

Out of game, I think about feminism often as it relates to all things geek:

  • Do I fit in when it comes to the ‘tech field’ culture, or is my gender a problem?
  • Is this going to be one of those trips to the comic book store, or is it a store whose employees treat women with respect?
  • I love this movie/song/comic book – but does it treat everyone equally? Is there any positive representation of a female character?
  • Is the statement I made about feminism inclusive of all women, or only women who identify and look like me?

In game, feminism undoubtedly affects my character, especially since I am a woman who made her, and since the character is female. However, it’s not something I frequently think about when I am immersed in my home LARP.

While I didn’t think much about gender equality when selecting my character’s origins or culture, it’s definitely something you might want to consider in any LARP setting if you hope to explore, challenge, or avoid certain issues relating to feminism. (I lucked out – in my character’s chosen kingdom, might makes right regardless of any other attributes, and she’s learned to be pretty tough.)

Before You Make The Character or Join the LARP

Here are some things to think about when you’re evaluating a game as a feminist creating a character for a LARP:

Matriarchy

Does the game have a matriarchal power group? Creating a character to participate in this type of culture could help you develop real-life leadership skills and find empowerment from women. If you identify as male, playing in a matriarchy could provide you with some perspective on what it feels like to be a woman in a patriarchal society.

Patriarchy

Because patriarchy is the default in many real-world cultures, sometimes the patriarchal status of any given power group is not necessarily mentioned in its description on LARP websites. However, you can often get a sense of how these cultures function based on photos of the game or by looking for certain indicators in the group descriptions. A Camelot-like society, for example, might be noble and fair in many ways but also likely patriarchal in structure.

Society founded on principles of equality

Cultures labeled as egalitarian, communist, or utopian might be especially interesting to explore when it comes to gender equality. These societies are often found in futuristic settings (I can’t be the only one who would LOVE a “Star Trek: The Next Generation” LARP).

Avoid Triggering Issues

You’ll definitely want to avoid any issues that trigger you or cause you real world pain or anxiety, including those issues that relate to misogyny. If you have any doubts at all or are worried that you may encounter such a situation, reach out to the game staff beforehand. Their response will give you a good idea of whether you’ll feel comfortable at the game.

While you’re choosing a LARP, you may also wish to include a LARPing buddy in the process. This can make the experience less harrowing – plus you’ll get another perspective as you evaluate the games and you’ll have a trusted friend at your side in case of any anxiety or negative situations.

Real World Baggage

It’s also worth noting that we sometimes bring our real-world values, beliefs, and practices with us in character, even if we don’t mean to, and that since we’re accustomed to patriarchal societies, simple actions such as looking to a male of otherwise equal standing for affirmation or leadership may occur simply due to our own cultural conditioning.

My character’s in a leadership position. She doesn’t have to think much about gender equality due to the nature of her society, but out of game I’m certainly a feminist. My character is supported in a really positive way by both men and women who believe in her capabilities. While she follows the orders of her king, she usually receives her orders from a female superior.

Despite this, I still find myself falling into the habit of deferring to male characters. LARP is a great way to notice this cultural baggage. Once you notice yourself doing something like this even though your character might not, you’ll be surprised at how often it happens in real life!

Play the Empowerment

I often wish I could feel more empowered in real life when it comes to issues of gender. What I didn’t realize was that over the course of several years, I had been playing a very empowering journey by LARPing as my main character.

Even though her experience isn’t centered around her gender, the act of playing out this constant improvement every month has encouraged these repeatable, real-life habits that society sometimes fails to encourage in women.

Is LARP a Feminist Experience?

LARP may or may not be a feminist experience based upon where you go and who you interact with. You could find a group of LARPers who treat everyone equally in real life, but explore dark and oppressive stories in game. Alternatively, you could find yourself treated as less equal due to the many common problems women experience in gaming culture.

In real life, it’s easy to see the slights. Am I paid as much as a man of the same skill level? Does that guy really need to take up all this room on the train? Is he going to yell at me or get violent if I protest?

In fake life, there are slights, too. And while there are consequences for my character’s actions, she has the things she needs to feel empowered to stand up for herself.

Commit to finding a LARP culture that values your contributions and makes you feel good about your experiences in and out of game.

What are your experiences involving feminism and LARP? Please share your story in the comments.

Tara M. Clapper is Senior Editor at The Geek Initiative, an online community dedicated to celebrating women in geek culture. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn or view her writing portfolio.

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