Stereotype of a woman at a LARP.
Photo: Petr Kratochvil

Lizzie Stark posted an excellent article about women and their leadership roles (or lack thereof) in LARPs (live action role playing games). She observes that many women do have roles in LARPs, but that women are usually relegated to roles in logistics or prop management rather than formative game development positions.

As the one in charge of marketing at Seventh Kingdom IGE, I definitely have more responsibilities out of game than in. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with my gender, but I’m decent at organizing things and motivating myself. This skill set is also required in my day job, and honestly it’s one I find lacking in many (but not all!) males.

When I think about the role in the game and the feedback I’ve received, I’ve noticed that I’m good at entertaining and keeping the attention of about one to seven people at a time. Whether I’m role playing at a LARP or in an online text-based game, I write small and large plots best for that size group.

That said, I’ve seen some masterful female storytellers who can cast a wider net as far as audience attention. At Seventh Kingdom, our logistics director Kori is heavily involved in plot and usually invents the most psychologically intriguing points.

Lizzie’s point is generally true, however, especially in our region: women aren’t usually writing plots, lore, and rules. I’ve noticed that this also applies to other RPGs, however most of the time when I game almost half the population in any RPG is female.

Here are my theories as to why women aren’t more involved and what can be done to improve the situation:

Physical Stature: Some women are smaller than men. At our game, my husband Rick is one of the people who plays some of the boss creatures. He’s over six feet tall and was in the Marines. I’m just over five feet tall and I’m not very intimidating. This isn’t a gender limitation–we have small guys on staff and NPC duty; they’re excellent fighters, but when you want the effect of the big bad creature, small doesn’t work.

Solution: Redefine what it means to be a scary villain. Think about the queen in “Once Upon a Time.” She isn’t the most powerful in this world without use of her magic, but she still wields power and influence in different forms to control the town.

Social Interaction: In our society and the fantasy worlds we create and explore in RPGs, women often seek power and acceptance through social interaction. Socializing is one of the things I enjoy most about LARPing and playing MMOs with my friends. As such, I tend to write plot based around socialization, not about a boss fight. I enjoy filling in the details; perhaps other women have this experience.

Solution: Create or run a game centered on socialization and social skills. Pre-made games like Vampire: The Masquerade and the Serenity tabletop RPG (easily adapted to a LARP) are more appealing to me as far as games I’d like to run. If you’re into running a LARP for profit, an original rules set designed around social interaction could unlock a new demographic of players and open up the experience of LARPing to those who haven’t LARPed before.

Organizational Skills: Many women are good at organizing and they get stuck in those specific roles. Without them, many games would fail. However, after filling this role for a year or two, it’s hard for anyone to find complete fulfillment in organizing a game without moving the world. With this stereotype also comes another: men are insufficient when it comes to organizing things and sorting out the details.

Solution: When running any type of RPG, cross-training is valuable. If the stereotypes apply in your group, maybe two people of opposite genders could pair up to teach each other strengths, weaknesses, and job duties.

A Note on Appearances:
Additionally, society creates a climate in which women are more invested in appearances. When you’re a woman and you go to a LARP, your appearance is just as important as it would be if you were starting your first day at a new job or auditioning for a modeling gig. Your role in the game will be easier overall if you’re accepted, and women are often judged on appearances. While that may be unfair, that’s the way it works.

When I prepare to go to a new game, I spend a lot of time on costuming and appearance with this concern in mind. I will make life easier for myself (and my group) if I can facilitate social connections and establish social boundaries. I have to make sure I set aside time to learn the rules and step away from the costuming to prevent deficiencies in my effectiveness.

Also on the point of appearances, I wonder if players realize just who plays what roles behind the scenes at each game. Do they know that one of the female staff members who runs organizational stuff also spends hours every week contributing to plot? If players only observe a woman in one role, they may not be privy to the other roles she fills behind the scenes.

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