Thursday, July 18, 2013

Women and LARP

Last Night, I went to a panel on Women in LARPing. It was moderated by my dear friend (and my Mage assistant Storyteller), Senia and the panel consisted of my friends Allyson, Abby, Jilly, and Jess, all of whom are women who I have roleplayed with through some form or another for the past four or five years. Also present was Michele, who works for LAIRE, a boffer LARP out of New Jersey.

The panel itself was interesting in that we (by that I mean the local scene) don't normally talk about larping out in "The open". And the thing is, I *like* panels and broad discussion groups. So being at a site where having a group of people talk about Larping from as much of a layman's stand point as possible. It was interesting and I would love to see more of them and try to arrange them.

But back to the subject at hand. The panel covered a few topics. One of which, and probably importantly, was sexual content. I'm not going to touch on that, as Sex in LARP really deserves it's own article. The panel covered a few topics, which I will list and comment on individually.

1) Representation: Most of the games represented by the panelist claimed a relatively strong percentage of women being present there-in. In fact, some games have decidedly more women then men, which in turn becomes a problem as their in game culture includes specific gender roles. One of the things I've noticed here was a comment Michele had made about female players being the most proactive in recruitment for new players to join the game. It was unspoken why, but I have my theories which I'll go into later. Jill had mentioned that she hadn't realized that she was of a few dedicated female players in Vampire the Requiem until it was just her and another woman at a meeting for the game, but ultimately it's never been an issue.

2) Character Gender Roles: There was a discussion about gender roles in game. From what the panelists mentioned, it really only comes up in character unless it is something that a player wishes to explore with a PC and the PCs around them. In games where it's questionable as to whether or not you're human, what does gender really mean? Some Vampires don't consider themselves human anymore, Changelings even more so. When you were altered to a summer's breeze by a Faerie, what is gender? Jess brought up her adventures as her Dystopia Rising PC Pup. Pup is a Lascarian, who hate being exposed to sunlight. She covered up entirely, and because of the character's apathy towards gender roles, it wasn't noticed until Pup finally took off her mask. One of the Pup's major traits was to nuzzle her friends. Players who believed Pup to be male were often uneasy with these actions, but once they realized Pup was female, their reaction was very open and accepting. This leads to an interesting concept that they were less trusting of a male doing these actions, but had no problem with a female character expressing herself that affectionately.

Jill mentioned that her Lloegyr character, Rozalyn, was focused solely on getting married and having a baby. That was it, and her attempts to attain drove her into a dark place while she had to force herself to play the role of the beautiful courtier

3) OOC Issues: Jess had mentioned a situation where, in her first LARPing experience, she was playing a woman in her 50's. Jess is an athletic 20-something, and most of the players didn't acknowledge that she and her character were not alike in this matter and proceeded to hit on her. The reverse had happened previously in Changeling, where Jill played a 13 (14 by the end of Chronicle) Changeling girl. It was noted at the beginning of every game Emma (the NPC) was present that she was such a minor and that hitting on her was out of the question. Another incident was brought up with one player in Requiem who did not know his boundary lines. Ally commented on her inability to recall a woman in LARPing who hasn't been inappropriately approached during games. Jess also recounted issues where a male player took her sheet from her to "help her out with combat" and assumed a domineering tone.

The problem ultimately comes down to personal space, which is an issue that is very much important to me. Ask when you'd like to get into their space and always respect their answers and their refusal at any time.

4) Cross Play: It was noted that several of the women players have extensively played male characters. Senia and I had ties with her male Character, Louis. Jill is playing the Sovereign of the Night Court of Changelings, who is a very sexually active male. In the end, the fact that they were male was just a part of their character. This was the part that was interesting to me, and I have to comment. After the discussion, I thought about it. It's easier for women to play male characters, no jokes, it doesn't detract from their role. Then I remembered a scene in a LARP where a drag show was held. I actively didn't go to the drag show at the LARP because I felt that it was being done for a gag. Gender issues wasn't a major theme in this LARP or this module, so it was both detracting and all for entertainment. After this panel, I realized that my feelings came from the fact that females could play guys and no one would bat an eye (once people re-programmed their nouns) but the only way a guy could cross play as a female, it's as a joke. It's the double standard that it's okay for a girl to be a guy, but it's awkward for a guy to play a girl. I've no real answer to this, I'm just left questioning the implications.

In the end, the feeling I got was this: Women LARP. The End.

The main issue comes in not from the notion of Women in LARPing, but Women in the Geek world in general. The notion that they are rare and that their cred as geeks are shit compared to guys.

Dear Geek Guys, you're wrong. And allow me to tell you why.

It was about five years ago. I'd just gotten out of college, which was completely geek unfriendly, my neighborhood here in the Bronx really doesn't have an outlet for geeks, so it became a pretty dead space here. Eventually, I met some friends (thank you internet) and one thing lead to another and I ran into New York Jedi, a lightsaber Stage Combat group that creates their own characters and choreograph their own fights. There were two fights I saw during my first exposure that struck me, the first was with my friend Jenna and her now husband (my now writing partner and co Storyteller) Brandon. The other was a fight between my friend Jester and her now husband Jason. These were two geek women holding it down and being just as good, if not better, than their male counterparts.

When I first joined the club, I was greeted by Maria, an instructor in the group. She taught me the basic principles of the club and how to use a saber. She was capable both in and out of the club and I considered her to be my de facto Master and Teacher. My friends Melissa, Courtney, Heather and Taran are all geeks and all woman and can probably kick most guys asses with minimal prompting. So as far as first lessons into the geek world were concerned, learning about the rarity and inferiority of women in the culture was decidedly not one of them.

Now on to LARPing where I have my friend Abby making Changeling the Lost her own and selling delightfully batshit insane and fucked up characters to the masses. Ericka goes to the wall and delivers some of the most emotional roleplay I've ever seen while Shoshana develops, organizes and tests new sandboxes for the rest of her fellow geeks and nerds. I go to LARPs and meet the women there and each one of them is talented, intelligent, dedicated, and outright beautiful.

It's a good time to be a geek, guys, get out of the basement and celebrate your sister nerds.