My first live action role playing (larp) adventure was bizarre. We’d been dating about a month, and he asked me to get my renaissance faire gear together and head out to the woods at a scout camp in South Jersey. It was a PVP (player versus player) larp, where character death didn’t matter, but people still got angry about camping the graveyard or who got more heals.
Content warning: We’re gonna mention patriarchal trauma, serious misogyny, and rape. There is also a healthy serving of salt with a side of problematic nostalgia.
Larp and the New Girl
Since he was helping to staff the event, he made some hasty introductions and dropped me off at a pavilion where a bunch of people were crafting boffer weapons and armor. He’d had me buy and show up with all these random plumbing supplies, but I didn’t know what to do with them, so they awkwardly sat there in a bag, and I couldn’t help but think how I might have liked a dinner date instead of open cell foam, tape, and plastic piping.
It was super important to get there and be in costume at 6 p.m. The game started around midnight. That was a long-ish time of awkward, and probably why I hate going to any games (except my home game) early now.
But hey: “girls play for free.” Back then, not a lot of women and girls played. Looking at the newest healer with the blindness of my privilege (she was Asian, so all the guys called her “super exotic”), I couldn’t figure out why a woman wouldn’t want the attention at first.
That changed pretty quickly.
I was new and obviously had no idea how to construct a boffer weapon, and since I wasn’t actively standing next to the guy I was dating, I was “fair game.” I made a few fast friends quickly, and the people my boyfriend told me to hang out with described how they’d quickly ‘sneak sneak’ and I wouldn’t see much of them.
So much for that lifeline.
But I figured it out, and after being approached by a lot of people, some random guy made it clear that I “belonged” to someone; to a staff member who was fairly tough and strong. And then no one else gave me unwanted attention. There was that one creeper who had seen me on OK Cupid and later confessed to feeling completely entitled to my attention.
He saw me first, after all.
Those aggressive comments lasted a while. He never acted on them.
“He’s just misunderstood.”
And I was just a girl.
I was twenty-f*cking-seven and I still thought of myself as a girl, because that’s what they all needed me to be.
Beware The “Larp Queen” (or Becoming One)
At this game, she was in charge of food and logistics. The necessary things. And it was very clear that she was in control. Every guy there, including the one I was seeing? They may as well have tied little signs to their dicks declaring them her property. That’s kind of how it worked.
And I violated a norm.
I was a geek he didn’t meet at the larp.
So there was an approval process, like he was a credit card or something instead of a person. That’s what happens when you attach yourself. But I had this credit card, which was as good as currency, without going through the application process.
If I’d known, I would have been prepared, instead of trying to act like it was totally normal that he described “seeing her tits” (she showed them to all the guys, after all). But if I was uncomfortable with that, I just… wasn’t mature. I was probably jealous.
She reminded me of something: the queen bee at the lunch table. Always pretty, thin, and white.
And once she decided I was okay, she opted to make me in her image. Another woman (younger than me) in the group was already undergoing this process. It involved everything from dieting to examining and reshaping our political beliefs and even how (and where…) you shaved or waxed.
But friends were everything to this guy, and he was super attractive and I was just me.
At 27, I was young enough to make that mistake, but old enough to disavow the conditioning and grooming. I learned something important, though: you had to play the game to stay in the game, and this sort of larp queen culture existed at most boffer larps back then. And yeah, not all boffer larps.
But I’m glad I’m out. It’s like living in a neighborhood where you’re surrounded by bad habits. It’s depressing.
You need an out.
I took one.
That doesn’t mean I escaped everything, but at least there’s a process to work on it in these other communities.
Some women use sex and sex appeal as a means to maintain control over the more socially powerful people in the group: men. When an outsider comes into play, it rocks their world, even if the outsider isn’t attached. It’s a dangerous and constructed social hierarchy, and yes—it’s still very much a thing, and in many subcultures, not just larp.
It’s that sinking feeling of knowing he’d choose them over me, even though I would never ask.
But they would.
And the sad thing? Patriarchy made them this way because it works.
(This is not to be confused with a woman portraying a powerful character, or a woman who explores power in games—I’m actually that person rather frequently. This is about a conditioned, irresponsible, controlling use.)
Missing Stairs: Not Strangers in Vans, but Beloved Members of Your Community
Some larps are kind of rapey. If you were doing vampire larps back in the early 2000s, you were probably in a community that poorly managed bleed and related control issues, just like some of the worst larp stereotypes out there. Many (but not all) have improved, but it was a known problem.
Other larps aren’t rapey. But rape and other assaults still happen. Regularly.
You’ve got some types. They’re usually guys, but not always.
The Loud Guy
This is the dude who yells inappropriate comments, but “that’s just him” so everyone ignores it. I was at a table at a wedding reception with one of these guys once. He got drunk and started yelling about Brazzers (apparently that’s a porn site, and it’s not even that good).
If the loud guy is also a social justice guy, he’s got a cookie jar.
In that cookie jar are cookies he has earned by appearing to be a good feminist (or ally of other causes).
Sometimes he loses those cookies and it’s a real shit show. He feels like he can spend all of them like currency because that’s the way it works. Three compliments here, one f*ck up there, and who cares what woman gets hurt as long as you can make a joke about her tits from across the field?
But f*ck, I wore the corset, because I feel so powerful in it and look so good—
But it was me. I wore it.
The “Accidental” Groper
This is the guy who hasn’t been to the larp in a while, and when he hugs you, there’s an extra layer of ass-grabbing, boner-poking, boob-squeezing surprise. Making a scene feels like more trouble than it’s worth, so you just deal. Or, most people do. This once happened to me right in the middle of a big mod (battle) because this guy and his newly found confidence thought it would be cool to do.
I was dressed as a literal fairy. Maybe he mistook me for a manic pixie dream girl.
Maybe I shouldn’t have worn a corset.
Maybe he’s on my friends list still.
So maybe I hate myself.
The White Knight
Outwardly, he’s all about justice.
He’s probably playing a paladin.
This type of missing stair is more subversive: a “not all men” community killer who thinks he’s Cap but he’s really just another Nuke.
The Smooth Talker
In and out of game, this is a charismatic leader and a smooth talker. For a time, everyone thinks he’s amazing. Then it’s evident that he’s grooming others to compete for his interest. Loves games where power is A Thing. Once you get to know him, he may as well have a sign hanging around his neck: will give plot for blow jobs.
The Known Creeper
You get warned about this person when you come into the larp. It’s part of the process. “Avoid that guy. He’s just old, but he’s like that with everyone.” This is the quintessential missing stair. This is the Bill Freaking Cosby of your larp. And if no one tells you who this is, you need to find someone trustworthy and ask (or better, just attend a less shitty larp that doesn’t let rapists play).
“I’m Not a Racist Misogynist, My Character Is…Jeez, Why You Gotta Metagame?”
If this guy sticks around after a couple games, it’s because he’s got some mad shield game or something. And that’s truly a reason I’ve seen someone keep an outspoken sexist at a game.
Good to know my equality and wellbeing is worth less to you than a shield.
Don’t forget, it’s your fault if you’re out-of-game bothered by anything this person does to ruin the experience of you or other players.
This is hardly a conclusive list, but you get the idea.
Now, On My Tenth Larperversary…
Yep, it’s been a decade. I can’t say I would have done anything differently, but this kind of knowledge and experience would have helped me.
Three days ago, though, I let someone make me feel pretty damn insignificant. “You must be new to larp in this area.” And I just…accepted it. After all these experiences, and later recognizing all that bullshit, I just recognized the experience and took it as reality.
Why? Because a man said so.
And few things make me angrier than myself, and because of this cycle of accepting that oppression.
In truth, I have run larps (weekend, as part of a team; parlor larps as part of a convention) in the region. I have a freaking larp resume. I mention it here because it very much tied in with these outlined behaviors of grooming and control, and it’s pretty damn gross and insidious. Maybe you have a stronger will than me, but I’m just saying that if a larper of ten years, who does this professionally, still has trouble here, you might, too—and it’s not you, it’s because some gaming cultures are really just set up that way. The system is stacked against you.
I’ve moved past most of these experiences and situations, but I see these issues alive and well.
I see new people struggle, and it stinks. It’s one of those things we should be past by now, but are not.
Talking about it is a beginning.
I’d like to hear about your experiences in the comments.