When potential players evaluate LARPs (live action role playing games), they may look at the personal values, opinions, and politics of the LARP organizers. As a LARP organizer, it’s not always clear how to navigate this.
With an established background in digital marketing and LARP marketing, I’ve learned that most passionate projects and businesses (most LARPs) are delightfully tethered to their creators. In this area, your personal brand strengthens (or harms) your LARP’s brand.
LARP Owners and Politics: What Prompted This Post?
This has been a hot topic in the LARP community recently. NERO Creator and LarpWorld Magazine Owner Joe Valenti posted a great deal of controversial (anti-Clinton) political content to his personal Facebook page publicly. That content fed directly to the official NERO Twitter account. In public and private, LARPers dissected what this means and whether NERO is really a safe place to LARP. (For full coverage and a recap of these events, check out Episode 13 of The NW Nerdcast).
The following apology went live on the NERO Twitter account on Nov. 14. No updates have been posted to that account since (as of Nov. 28):
Told by Hillary supporters i can't post anti-hillary articles on my facebook feed, I posted 1,000 of them, and twitter also got them. sorry.
— NERO LARP News (@nerolarp) November 15, 2016
The NW Nerdcast episode (linked above) is entitled “When Creators Affect Community.” This is an especially appropriate title, as it encapsulates exactly why the personal branding of LARP influencers is important – not just to how others perceive you or your own game, but how people feel in the community.
Why Do LARPers Investigate LARP Organizers Online?
Even if you are not interested in profiting from your LARPs, you hopefully still want people to play them. To encourage their buying decision, it’s important to understand what they want and why they may research you when they make a buying decision.
Reasons may include:
- With more options, LARPers can be more selective.
- LARP is an investment: LARPers want to make sure you’re worth trusting with their money and time.
- LARPers (and in some cases, their parents or guardians) are concerned about safety and want to know who’s in charge.
- After being excluded or having a discriminatory experience at another LARP, they may want to make sure you would welcome them at your game.
- LARPers opposing ‘political correctness’ may seek an exclusive community, not an inclusive one.
- They have some concerns and may wish to approach you.
- They’ve seen some red flags in your community and want to learn a bit more about you.
- Some LARPers seek franchise, partnership, or business opportunities.
- LARPers want to know what crowd you’re in and may investigate your Facebook friends to see.
The Necessary Influence of the Creator in Media (Including LARP)
As the creator of media, your experiences and opinions shape your game world. Any writer or game developer makes decisions deliberately and/or unintentionally influenced by their experiences and opinions. That’s not bad, it’s genuine.
Think about influential media like “Star Trek”and its creator, Gene Roddenberry. Fans know that Roddenberry, his franchise, and his legacy were not and are not flawless. While it might be trendy to espouse inclusive, humanist views now, it wasn’t always so: but this enduring tradition is clear in the legacy of the franchise’s multiple series.
If you have a specific theme, tone, or message, think like “Trek”and boldly go.
To control the message and provide clarity about your hopes for the game’s tone and your deliberate influences, you can:
- Provide a mission statement
- Publish rules for player conduct and inclusion (if applicable)
- Guest blog on influential websites like LARPing.org or nordiclarp.org
- Give interviews to LARP media (seriously, we love you)
- Communicate directly with your game’s community at the beginning of each game and online
- Segment and curate your social media
- Add a ‘staff section’ to your LARP’s page with photos and bios
- Allow some details to be publicly available online, such as region, education, or job experience (as you feel comfortable)
- Create a public page for your game and yourself
- Welcome questions and answer them honestly
- Maintain a presence in the greater LARP community as time affords
If personal branding sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. However, many of these tips can help your game and even your career. Regardless of what type of LARPs you develop, keeping up with the trends (from hot-button topics to technology) can also help you advance and improve your LARPs and find players and collaborators.
But What About Politics?
I can think of three separate, unaffiliated game owners whose severe political opinions have made me reconsider attending their LARPs in the past year alone.
When you have a missing stair in the wider LARP community, people rarely speak up – but is the greater LARP community supposed to do something about it?
Similarly, there’s been some dislike for tolerant games and for designers who self-identify as feminists.
In both instances, the game owners’ political beliefs warn away people who would not have fun at their games or deter those who might also make these games into a negative experience for others. So to a degree, it’s helpful.
When possible, consider carefully using your socio-political beliefs to recruit and rally players. After all, like attracts like.
Use These Three Questions to Determine Your Public Persona as a LARP Organizer
- Are any publicly visible personal or political beliefs you hold in line with the game you run and the community you wish to foster? If not, rethink how public your beliefs remain.
- Do your beliefs heavily inform and impact your game? If so, it may help you to harness those values, encourage others who support them, and publicly espouse your values. If your values don’t have anything to do with the game world (as with the NERO example), it’s best not to confuse or deter your player base.
- Are you okay with being publicly known as a LARPer? People are going to friend you on Facebook, email you all the things, and tag you in Facebook posts. If you can’t do that for professional (or other) reasons, it’s good to make sure they know that you can’t cross the streams. If you are willing to embrace your personal brand as a LARP organizer, own it! Answer questions and join the larger community. Learn and teach!
The Changing Face of the LARP Influencer
Some LARPs last two hours. Some last two decades. Some games are blockbuster; some are campaign and others are true one-shots never to exist beyond one convention LARP session. This leaves a lot of room for many types of LARP organizers and influencers. From intentional suffering to optimal inclusion, the different LARP subcultures naturally create various personal brands. As LARP evolves, so do the expectations for these influencers.
This also means owning up to being a LARP influencer yourself if it applies. A long time ago, I started writing about LARP for the now-defunct Examiner.com. Most people encouraged me – I made new friends and learned about emotional safety and other LARP styles before knowing that stuff was really a thing in my local LARP community. However, someone I know in my LARP community – who I considered to be an influencer – questioned my ability to know these things about LARP or write authoritatively, since I had only been involved for a couple of years. He even asked if I’d learned the very terminology I was explaining from my (male) then-partner.
In retrospect, that makes me so angry! Not only was this ‘influencer’ having a negative impact on me, but he was devaluing my work. As an educated professional outside of the LARP world, I was putting my skills to use by researching topics that would help my local LARP community thrive before I was writing about them. I knew how to link to sources. But since he was an authority and added a misogynistic angle to his question, I’ve hesitated in calling myself a ‘LARP influencer.’
The responsibility of LARP influencers doesn’t simply involve calling out people like Valenti – longstanding influencers who have made mistakes and should know better. It involves lifting other influencers up, not feeling so threatened by others (a particular challenge for women as we are conditioned to push back instead of uplift each other), and owning our own influence.
LARP and Personal Branding: Where Do We Go From Here?
Avoiding negative influence is only the first step. To change the face of LARP influence, you need to promote what you like. Even if you don’t have dollars to spend, share the link to games, crowdfunding campaigns, or publications that are doing what you like – and if you feel knowledgeable and empowered enough, speak up with your own opinion! That’s how we grow.