Dear Pink Hair Girl,
Me and my friends sometimes play tabletop RPGs, right now we’re in the middle of a D&D 4.0 campaign. We’re always playing one game or another over the many years we’ve been hanging out. So I mean, we consider ourselves pretty into it. Recently though I’ve started hanging out with a friend who’s part of a Boffer LARP, and I’m interested in joining. The thing is that anytime someone’s brought up LARPing to my usual group of friends, the first thing out of their mouths was something condescending or straight up just making fun of LARPing. Part of me is worried my friends will find out that I want to LARP, and the other part of me wants to talk about it and let them know it’s not all as bad as they think it is. The thing is, I get enough ridicule from family for my geeky hobbies, so my friends are the last people I want making fun of me. What should I do?
This sounds like a tough one, and considering it’s all just about what kind of games we like, I wish it wasn’t. Mind you, having our own preferences in games should be a minor issue. I think deep down though the problem is feeling safe to be yourself around your friends. Like you said, you hear it from everyone else, that you’re too big a nerd, or that what you’re into isn’t ‘normal.’ So you’ve got friends with hobbies like yours that can appreciate you and make you feel welcome. It’s understandable that you’d feel nervous trying something that might get only win you more ostracism.
Let’s try and cover a few different angles that exist here so we can better understand the elements at play in this problem.
The Geek Hierarchy – Admit it: it’s there. Some geek activities just lend more cred and command more respect than others. Being a published Sci-fi author is on the opposite end of writing yourself into a Harry Potter Fanfic. And while on the surface, LARP seems very similar to Tabletop RPGs, for people involved in them, there is a tremendous gap between the two. Every time I speak to someone who likes RPGs but doesn’t LARP always uses the same word. They say it crosses a ‘line’. And even though they can’t always put their finger on what that is, they know it’s there, and they intend not to cross it. Images of Lightening Bolt Guy also don’t help. There are stereotypes of what kind of people enjoy LARPs, some of which are true, and others that are exaggerated. But just like the Geek Community in general has learned to embrace their nerdiness, and can be proud of it in the face of the world at large, you have to accept that if you LARP you’ve reached a niche level of geekdom that not all other geeks will understand. The only thing that really matters though, is that you accept the things you enjoy, and that you don’t feel ashamed of it.
The Infamous Lightning Bolt Video
I’ve got a lot of friends who LARP, and I’ve got a lot of friends who vehemently refuse to approach the metaphorical ‘line’ LARPing crosses. Personally I flirt with this line once in a while, and so I’ve studied it pretty closely.
I’ve talked to a number of people about it, and everyone’s got a slightly different explanation for what they think that ‘line’ is. From what I’ve gathered it boils down to the fact that LARP further erodes the difference between player and character, which many people equate to being the difference between ‘playing pretend’ and executing a tactful game with decisive elements/rules (hence, looking down on it). The easiest thing for Tabletop people to do is look at it and say that it’s the difference between playing Star Wars Old Republic, and being Star Wars Kid. But LARPers know that there are PLENTY of rules to their game (sometimes too many). And for the most part I think it has to do with the way each individual is capable of feeling immersed, and how a person’s imagination functions.
The main reason we run RPGs is to create a fantastic world of mystery, magic, power, horror, and anything else we don’t regularly encounter in our daily lives. The point is that these stories are extra-ordinary. And we want the characters in them to be heroes or villains that are equally as awesome and uncanny. That’s not to say that our own lives aren’t fantastic, or that the people playing the games aren’t somehow awesome or heroic in their own right. But generally we pick characters that do things that we can’t do, someone who is not like you, and not restrained by the physical world the way you are. That’s what makes it fun.
During a LARP, however, you take something that doesn’t exist in this world and set those properties onto real people and real places, it requires an element of immersion and suspension of disbelief that becomes too challenging for most people to be able to enjoy. Or perhaps the physical placeholders (like spell packets and PVC Pipe swords) take away from the fantasy instead of pulling them in. To them, Super-Hot wizard chick keeps becoming fuzzy tummy guy, no matter how hard they try. And the magnificent throne room will be a few chairs in a basement. Vast Kingdom becomes that park in North Bumbleton off Route 12. Whereas when they’re sitting around a table, and telling the story with words, players let their mind’s eye fill in the blanks, instead of the costumes or score cards.
If someone can’t take this step with their imagination to cross that line, or the physical interaction becomes too big a distraction, then they will likely not get the appeal for people who can.
Stepping outside the Norm – By being a LARPer, you climb to the next rung of the geek ladder, where the niche gets smaller. Just try to keep in mind that you’re already a geek. You know what it’s like to be into hobbies that other people just can’t grasp. This step is particularly scary because you feel like you’re already hanging out with people who ‘get it’. But if they’re poking fun at it the way you say they do, then chances are they only ‘get it’ up to that rung on the ladder where they’re comfortable, and not the place you’re going with it. Your hobbies are going outside the sphere of what activities they understand to be fun or enjoyable. It’s ok to tell them about it, but be prepared for them not to ‘get it’, the way they do all the stuff they usually do when you guys hang out.
The Ridicule – How your friends handle the news that you LARP will depend on your group dynamic. Some groups will make the occasional jape at your expense, some will only make fun of it when you’re not there. But chances are if you tell them, they will poke fun at you for it one way or another. You will have to accept that. G33k Up, and own it. And remember that some conversations are appropriate in some groups and not others. For example, at my office they know I’m a gamer. But I don’t walk into work and go on and on about the current video game I’m playing, because no one else in my office is into it or ‘gets it’. Similarly, don’t bring up LARPing with your usual friends if it’s over their heads. Leave those conversations for the new LARPer friends you’ll be making. And if someone from your usual group comes forward and has some genuine questions, feel free to clarify your new hobby to them. But until then, it’s probably best to leave it be.
And just in case the ridicule gets out of hand, or it’s genuinely hurtful or harmful to your friendship with everyone, then do bring it up. If you have to talk to them about their remarks, try just talking to one person in the group you’re close to and describe what’s going on with you. If setting your friends straight this way doesn’t do the trick, it might be time to hang out more with people who do understand you, and who aren’t going to be poking fun at you for just enjoying being yourself.
Remember, the best way to be, is to be yourself. No matter how that is. Don’t hide it, don’t keep things a secret like you’re ashamed of yourself. Haters gonna hate, baby. Sometimes your friends are gonna be haters, but if they really care about you they’ll get over it. Just do your best not to fuel any of the fire if things spark up. Be happy that you found a new hobby, and love the fact that you’re gonna make some new friends. If you try it and it turns out that Boffing or LARPing isn’t for you, then you can come back and say you tried it and you know what’s what. You’ll have a new frame of reference and a better perspective into what it means to be a geek, and that ain’t too shabby a place to be.
Pink Hair Girl
If you’ve got a snag in your social life, cramping your g33k style, feel free to ask me for some advice!
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.