Last week, I received an email from TJ, someone who listens to the podcast I co-host (Pulp Gamer – Out of Character). TJ enjoyed the show, but specifically liked the fact that I was one of the first podcasters he’d met who “admitted” to being a LARPer (Live Action Role Player, as opposed to solely tabletop or online gaming). TJ went on to say that Pulp Gamer was the first gaming podcast he’d listened to that didn’t “immediately mock the very idea of” LARP.
As a long-time LARPer, I had to stop and think about this for a moment. I’ve met many of my friends (perhaps the majority of folks I would use that label on) through one sort of LARP or another and the rest are either a part of a LARP or are at least familiar and comfortable with it. There’s The Camarilla, One World By Night, the Verse, troupe games, the SCA (which doesn’t consider itself a LARP, but has enough similar elements that most SCAdians wouldn’t find LARPing abhorant), Renn Faires… the list goes on, and I hadn’t really stopped to think about how alien that is to most folks.
And while I’ve been on a podcast or two that did give me a bit of ribbing about LARPing, my role as an “industry professional” –specifically an industry professional in a career tied into gaming– probably gave me a bit of armor against the true slings and arrows that a non-pro LARPer might experience from anti-LARPer folk. I think activities like the True Dungeon events run at GenCon have done a great deal of work to bridge the gap between tabletop and LARP gamers, but as I began to think about it, I realized that TJ was right – there is a lot of prejudice against LARPing as a subset of gaming in the geek world – and we’re far from the biggest target of such attention.
The guys over at Brunching Shuttlecocks (a with this “somewhat-tongue-in-cheek but funny because there’s a kernel of truth to it” flow chart of Geek Hierarchy. (“Random Acts of Reality” did a similar hierarchy for bloggers, which is also “funny but only because there’s a bit of truth in there. Despite a long history of being subject to derision or prejudice by those who don’t understand their hobbies and interests themselves, geeks are not immune to the propensity to look down on others.
We’ve all heard the jokes, which range from lighthearted to downright insulting, about other “flavors” of geekdom. And, for the most part, those telling them aren’t overtly intending to insult the targets of their humor. Nor am I advocating that geeks not have a sense of humor – I just think it’s important that we recognize (like most folks have with jokes using insulting stereotypes of gender, sexual preference, handicaps, races or nationalities) that insults and intolerances wrapped in humor are still insults and intolerances.
And sometimes the prejudice isn’t even masked with humor. I’ve confronted folks (politely, of course) about statements they’ve made which group, label and demean various sub-sects of geekdom in what (in my opinion and experience) is an insulting and inaccurate manner. I’ve verbally parried with those who’ve spoken offensively about other geekdoms, whether they happen to be my own “flavor” of geek or not. Just because we don’t like or understand a particular hobby, genre, interest or obsession doesn’t mean that it’s inherently of less value than those we participate in ourselves. And even if we’ve no interest in learning anything more than what we know in passing about a particular fandom, recreation or avocation, we don’t gain anything positive by fostering distaste, insult or disconnection between ourselves and other facets of the geek community.
I guess, when it gets down to it, neither this nor any other blog post is going to remove the deep seated anthropological need for hierarchy in geekdom or any other community. We, as social animals, have a primal instinct for establishing a pecking order in order to feel safe and stable in any community. But geeks, perhaps more than any other social sub-set, should know the harms that allowing such instincts to control our actions and words can cause. While being a geek may be cooler now than at any time in history, most of us have still experienced the slings and arrows of those who couldn’t tell a tribble from a Time Lord. Next time you’re tempted to crack a joke about LARPers (or otaku or furries or Rennies or Yu-gi-oh! players…) stop for a moment. Put your favorite hobby in the same context, and picture those words coming from the mouth of your parents when you were a kid, your neighbor, your boss or some other authority figure. Take a minute to think about whether your words reflect the acceptance of those whose recreation preferences are different than yours that so many of us prize so highly within our own geek communities. Would you say them to a friend of yours who just happened to also be interested in that hobby? A potential dating interest? A child?
No one is saying you have to like every aspect of geekdom, or like every person or activity related to geek-ness. But really? Aren’t we beyond the need to insult (jokingly or otherwise) other geeks, just to establish and reaffirm our own role as the “cool kids” of the geek world? I think we are.
Have questions about how to handle a geeky situation? Need advice on social etiquette relating to games, movies, fan groups, conventions or other geek-ful settings? Write us at OneGeek@jesshartley.com and your question may get answered in one of our future One Geek to Another columns!