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[Guest Post] Women and LARP: The Other Side of the Coin

2011 November 8

This post was sent in by reader and commenter Ribenademon as a response to another earlier guest post, Some Thoughts On Women In LARP. Quick trigger warning: this post discusses some quite graphic misogynist language.

Tomorrow, we’ll conclude the discussion that first post has generated with a post from our own team, since we’re no strangers to LARP ourselves…1

LARP is sexist in the same way that many things we can know and touch in our society are sexist. It’s a broad sweep to say it is primarily played by white, male, ostensibly middle class individuals often lacking in social skills and hygiene, and it’s increasingly not true or fair to do so.

A woman dressed in a toga-style robe at Odyssey. Photo by Flickr user ara, shared under Creative Commons licenceIn this response to Al’s post I’ll speak about the games that have informed my perspective – Lorien Trust, PD’s Maelstrom and Camarilla/Vampire LARP. I’ve been LARPing for about 11 years now. It’s probably also appropriate to point out that I am a cis male and therefore I won’t experience sexism – at least, not in any way comparable to most female players.

LARP is, primarily, a male-dominated game – just on the basis of who attends. Women can and do come and play, but as Al notes in his post, it is often (though not exclusively) as tag-along girlfriend characters. Women who subvert this and succeed in the game, whilst sometimes respected, often become more of a target for “PVP” (“player versus player” conflict) than male players succeeding in the same manner, simply because they’ve deviated from an assigned social position.

In a highly anecdotal and unscientific manner I’m now going to list a few instances of sexist and/or straight up misogynist behaviour I’ve witnessed whilst LARPing. I’m listing them because I feel they most accurately depict common manifestations of sexism within LARP, and I promise they’re all true. They’re absolutely not true of every male player, but they do definitely exist and they’re not rare like a dinosaur. They’re also not especially true of one system over another.

“Humour” and Misogyny

First off, myself and a NPC (non-player character) were standing around during a major Lorien Trust game watching people walk by. Half a dozen teenage girls in ballgowns walked past us. They were pretty smiley and seemed to be having a laugh in the sunshine.

NPC: Aww, look at them! Don’t they look all bless and nice!
Me: Aww, yeah!
NPC: Fair play though, as soon as they hit the stroke of 16 they’re going to get the living fuck raped out of them.
Me: WTF?!

The untyped climax of this story is that I said that this was not a cool or acceptable thing to say, and I did not think it was on. It had definitely been said in such a way as to suggest that such abuse would be quite desirable/fun were it to take place. My reaction caused a significant souring of attitude towards me both from the individual I had this exchange with and also from the people generally around this person – it was felt that I was making a fuss over nothing and should just “take a joke”. I’ve heard similar comments from other individuals and small groups, as far as I can remember though only when there was no female player or female member of staff around to overhear.

I can also cite numerous cases where a “provocatively” dressed female player was scorned and massively disparaged for “being a slag”. This often seems especially likely to happen if she has achieved some kind of success in the game, and it’ll range from jokes about what “whorish behaviour” must have taken place to get said advantages to just straight up behind-the-back savaging:

Male Player 1: Yeah, I hear she’s a virgin.
Male Player 2: At this event, maybe.
Male Player 3: If we went to kill her character, we could be half way through and then be like “OK, we won’t kill you if you suck us off”.
Male Player 4: Then kill her anyway afterwards. If she complains to a ref just say she’s trying to get out of being killed because she’s a cheating bitch.

This sort of shared humour goes way beyond risky “laddish” jokes told privately amongst men, and in some cases actively steps towards hate. It also suggests that actual sexist action – even where it is less extreme than the above – is more and more being seen as okay (or desired?) at LARP amongst some parties.

Gender Roles

It’s already been identified that women can play prostitutes or healers in many systems, and that alternatively they can make a push into a more ‘competitive’ character that is less traditionally ‘feminine’ (at least in terms of many LARPs’ expectation of what is appropriate for a woman to play). Women who choose these characters may find they are competing with male player characters in a way that male characters do not have to. A male character that is not a caricature or inversion of masculinity can compete with any other character on the strengths and weaknesses of their character. A female player character, unless she wants to be ignored outside her group of mates in roleplay, can expect to be treated principally as a woman rather than as a magician or a priest or whatever else first – unless she is particularly vigorous IC and manages to defy being categorised as some kind of “slag” – or indeed “just” a female.

Photo of a woman with long red hair shown turned to the side. Her hair obscures her face but she is wearing elf ears and carries a larp sword. Photo by Flickr user nitsrejk, shared under Creative Commons licence

Casual Sexism

The above are fairly extreme examples of nastiness I’ve seen happen at LRP events, but there’s also milder general and casual sexism. Pleasingly, this sometimes goes wrong. About two years ago I was at an event where four very hard, very killy male combat characters all died from drinking the poison that a corseted and large breasted female character served them from a bottle of mead when she came into their camp. This is quite believable – boys are often stupid, and many like breasts, whilst also assuming that “girls are bound to be harmless”. A few camps down? Oh, how we laughed.

There’s a good line in utilising sexism in this way that can be done by women at LARP events, although this is still arguably a hideous cop-out in terms of actually being able to play the same game as male players, on top of whether you find it distasteful or not. Some (usually) female players create characters who work in the in-character sex industry, the background to which rarely involves STIs, violence, drug abuse, sexual assault or any of the other issues of the real world sex industry. This is an interesting thread off of the infamous Rule 7 forums about how to play through the in-character sex industry with “sex” as both a business transaction and a romantic interaction.

It also cuts (very, very slightly) both ways: as a male player, I’ve played character types who were meant to be without gender or sexuality and found that some female players attempted to use what I’ve perceived as out-of-character flirting when interacting with me, probably because as a male player I’m perceived as potentially at least a bit sexist in my behaviour. A more advanced manifestation of sexism in LARP is what I like to think of as “harem” behaviour. This is where a female player deliberately cultivates around her – both in and out of character – a small collection of young men that follow her around and who do what she wants – in a way that I think is often distinct from simply being a female group leader with group members who happen to be male. I think I can see in this a recognition that some women feel they can’t compete in the same way as male players because of sexist attitudes and general uncomfortable treatment. Instead they may feel the need to cultivate a group of male characters to act through – or to provide enough security to roleplay with the rest of the field in such a way that is insulated on their terms, without being either leched at or just ignored.

In LARP and in Life

I think my main issue and argument is that all the examples above translate neatly across from real life. Sexism does happen a lot in real life, but there is an increasing social and political movement backed up by law to reduce and prevent discrimination. However, in a LARP game, there is only what players and system are prepared to step up against and say “NO” to. There is no standard of behaviour that can really be expected to be enforced beyond the absolutes of “no out of character violence”. This means people are free to avoid rewarding female characters in-game and can also get out of taking them seriously. If someone behaves in a sexist way, people might think less of them but often there’s still no threat of consequence. The behaviour that often goes on in the field, if it were relocated to an office, would result in investigation and employment tribunals, which illustrates how some men are able to get away with treating women in the field in a way they might not always in real life.

The Plus Side

Things are getting better – in real life, many men and women are increasingly unimpressed with sexism. Male and female staff exist in senior roles in more and more systems. One LARP system I’ve heard has allegedly cancelled the contract of a catering company at its festivals because of numerous complaints about its staff standing around loudly making rape jokes with customers.

It’s certainly unfair to say that every man who plays is sexist or hates women, or agrees with the things they hear their mates say when standing around in the dark at an event. It’s just as unfair to say that every woman that plays is either a victim suffering from sexism, encouraging sexism in some way or having to engage with sexism all the time. It also wouldn’t be right to say that every female player is actively engaged in dealing with or fighting their way past sexism all the time as they try to enjoy the game – most of the time people care more about killing the undead, and a lot of the time sexism does not come up. After all, it wouldn’t be much of a fun game if it was always horrible. When it does go wrong, though, fantasy can be just as bad as some of reality.

I would advise women that are into sci-fi or fantasy to go LARPing if they like the sound of it – I think it’s awesome – but I wouldn’t sell it to them as a completely optimistic, prejudice free, potentially feminist activity – at least, not any more or less than any other male dominated hobby.

  • Ribenademon has been larping for 11 years since starting at university. He is very tall with laser beams for eyes; once mainly a purple demon, he now more often resembles a tall and angry tree focussing its efforts on fighting imaginary imperialism and colonialism, all the while appeasing its dark god. He also clearly spends too much time thinking about LARP. He looks forward to sacrificing you regardless of your gender.
  1. OK, not all of us. But a significant amount – about a third of the team – have LARPed at some point in their lives. Geek power at BadRep Towers! []
27 Responses leave one →
  1. Stephen B permalink
    November 8, 2011

    I’ve got to say, I’m always surprised when I hear of sexism at larp events. Any sexism. Because I never, ever see it. Yes, I’m a white male, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be exposed to this sexism: if anything it means that the kind of lads making the comments described above are MORE likely to say them to me as an ally.

    Female characters dominate the larps I’ve attended. They lead. They play fierce warriors. They assassinate and they power-play for political goals, and they win. A woman in (costume) armour is immediately taken seriously as a fighter – because players know that women can be just as/more ruthless, agile, determined, bloodthirsty and effective at the game as men. In the biggest larp I attended (with over 1000 players), the main narrative was at one point a giant war between two Queens, both of whom were incredibly imposing and charismatic figures.

    If I’d ever heard the kind of extreme comments you have, I would have called the player on it too – and been really surprised to have heard it at all. Now I acknowledge that female larpers might have an experience I’m not seeing, but before the two articles on here I would have recommended larping to girls without hesitation. It can be an incredibly equal space where opportunity and daring are everything, and gender isn’t restrictive.

    I love your point about larp creating a new set of social rules and that (aside from violence) this means that social niceties are rewritten and not protected. It’s part of what allows for the absolute equality, and it also means that a person play-acting as a prejudiced character is allowed to be one – although the others will generally react badly to that, unless it’s a known prejudice of all characters who come from that fictional country, for example. I also think you’re absolutely right about women getting *more* attention from the majority crowd of male geeks during play.

    This week I’ve been in conversation about a future larp, and a group were planning a really feudal culture. The head of the family will rule, then the next oldest, in strict hierarchy. The players were complaining about how anyone can become a leader on merit in the vast, vast majority of larps they know of, and said they wanted just once to have the situation where “the next heir is really flawed but he’s the one we’ve got and we have to make do”. Their point was that the norm in larp is for everyone to be given equal consideration, and that by popularity, scheming or conquest any player can rise to the top. That’s what I’ve experienced.

  2. Rebecca permalink
    November 8, 2011

    I am exceptionally grateful that I have never experienced sexism as bad as you are describing it in LRP. However I do LRP through a comparatively small community compared to the fest events that you are familiar with – I suspect that it would be very swiftly dealt with were it that bad in our club as it would be easier to notice. That said, I have seen some, and it is often of the more passive aggressive type than outright slandering.

    One such example is the fact that our club has their own term for women LRPers – we are called ‘Cavie Females’ (we do our LRP in a cave) and there are certain expectations accorded with it. Mostly, you are expected to be bitchy, cattish, and perhaps most importantly often quite “male” in your behaviour. The unspoken theory seems to be that the ‘Cavie Female’ is ‘strong’ enough to be ‘one of the boys’, otherwise she wouldn’t be able to participate in LRP.

    I find this title, which has lately been attributed to me now that I’ve been at the club for a few years, exceptionally disconcerting. On the one hand it’s a compliment to be considered enough of a part of the club that I get counted under this banner, and the other women who attend our club are some of the most amazing women I know. But on the other hand, I go out of my way to NOT be a bitch and although I do enjoy fighting people with latex swords I wouldn’t call that a masculine hobby.

    When I do see more overt sexism it’s generally in terms of the concept that if I fail to measure up to the combat standards of the others, it’s because I am a woman rather than anything else. We play an exceptionally physically demanding system where we can be fighting for 6+ hours a day solid. I personally have a couple of medical problems that mean I can’t keep this up, however it has absolutely no bearing on my gender…I just sometimes feel like people think it is. I get comments like “You can’t hit her too hard, she’s a woman”. Which is bollocks. You can’t hit me too hard because 1) that would be unsafe and against the club rules and 2) out of consideration for my injuries which I appreciate.

    However, to put a totally different spin on it (and I’m aware I’m getting pretty epic in comment length here).

    The character I play the most in our quite feudal-style setting is the heir to a noble house. Her sole purpose (apart from being a pretty good healer and scout) is to be married off to some other nobleman and produce his children. Bearing in mind that I am the only one who makes up my characters and if I didn’t want to be playing her like that I wouldn’t – the biggest problem I have is that my friends that I roleplay with are too nice. They won’t be sexist towards me IC because they wouldn’t want to OOC.

    It’s a struggle to explain to them that part of why I play this character is that I like exploring the different positions of women across the ages and finding ways in which the character can have strength despite fundamentally being at the whims of her father’s choice for a husband, and then at her future husband’s choices. On time in, I want them to be sexist, because that’s how people in the feudal culture would be. Most people are okay with doing that when there’s no woman in front of them or when the woman is played by a man because there aren’t enough female crew. When you put a live, breathing woman who they know wouldn’t like to be treated such OOCly in front of them, it’s harder.

    Obviously it’s much nicer to be able to say that on time-in people aren’t being sexist enough (though admittedly a little odd), but I have a feeling that’s just indicative of how nervous people are about the topic – and I believe those nerves are a product of a society where it’s a hugely important topic that most people try to ignore.

    (Congratulations if you’re still here, I do go on a bit…)

    • Miranda permalink*
      November 8, 2011

      I think this comment was fascinating and I was really glad you wrote it – was sort of hoping you might have some responses! :) x

    • Stephen B permalink
      November 8, 2011

      You’ve made me think about larp combat, and how all the ones I’ve been in (if there’s even any combat at all, and not just politics) have a maximum fight time of about two minutes. There’s no need at all for strength, and speed is probably the most important. As a result, there aren’t any comments against women fighting, because gender doesn’t affect your potential.

      Six hours? Whoa :)

      • Rebecca permalink
        November 8, 2011

        Well the way our system works, even when you’re on extended (3 day+) events, you ‘go out and do sections’. So you’ll potter around at the house/whatever the site has roleplaying over meals (though I’ve also been assassinated during dinner so that’s not always the rule), then go out on section. A section consists of 20 or so ‘encounters’, of which at least half will generally be fights. Whilst they won’t be utterly non-stop, because the monsters will have to run up ahead of the party and read over their stats for the next encounter, it’s pretty harsh.

        Especially when you consider that most of our week-long events are held on a mountainside in Wales…

        • Stephen B permalink
          November 8, 2011

          Oh man, I now really want to play a larp where I can get assassinated during dinner.

          Having done other geeky pastimes halfway up a mountain in Wales, I can confirm to other readers that this makes it AWESOME.

          • north5 permalink
            November 8, 2011

            Eh, in most of the games I play you can get assassinated while taking a leak against a tree.
            (Actually the issue of gender-segregation with regards to outdoor urinary requirements hasn’t been covered in either of these posts, but maybe this isn’t the time.)

          • ribenademon permalink
            November 8, 2011

            I thought about covering it, but decided that was something for another day ;)

  3. north5 permalink
    November 8, 2011

    Hello ribenademon! *waves*

    Well, I’m glad I provoked some debate, at least. ;)

    I can’t recall ever hearing anything quite as shocking as your anecdotes, and I’m saddened that they’re said. I’ve heard plenty of the “laddish” jokes that you “expect” amongst men, but I guess outliers will always exist. I genuinely believe that most larpers know this sort of thing is not acceptable.

    Of course that’s always easier to say (& see) in the cold, sober light of day, but I think it’s true nevertheless.

    The only part of your post I must strenuously take issue with is this:

    A female player character … can expect to be treated principally as a woman rather than as a magician or a priest or whatever else first

    This really does not relate to my experience, at all. Do you really think that when a female trader goes round the camps at Maelstrom, her customers treat her differently to her male counterpart? In my experience, the interaction is usually identical – what does she have to trade, what does she want, is she spying on us, how can I barter down her prices. It’s the same on the battlefield, or the ritual circle.

    The exception, perhaps, is when a character deliberately plays up her gender, such as the hilarious “mead” incident you mention (which I recall wery well). All costume invites snap judgements about a character – Spiky Death Armour invites “you are a chaos munchkin” judgements, for example. It would be a brave larper who tried to argue that Provocative Cleavage does not invite “look at my breasts”.

    Indeed, Provocative Cleavage can clearly be a measurably successful memetic adaptation, in terms of in-game resources and goal completion. It’s one tool in the armoury of some larpers, should they choose to use it. So is physical strength, high IQ, a loud voice, a winning smile and a working pair of legs. Not all larpers have all of these tools.

    The behaviour that often goes on in the field, if it were relocated to an office, would result in investigation and employment tribunals, which illustrates how some men are able to get away with treating women in the field in a way they might not always in real life.

    I think that’s true, but it would also result in murder trials, convictions for treason, and excommunication. We choose to play in grown-up games, and while that’s no excuse for casual sexism, it must allow space for behaviour that’s unacceptable in Real Life (™).

    Overall, I don’t think you’re wrong, but I feel you’re overstating the negative. You’re right that larpers are a sub-set of a sexist society, but I believe they’re a good subset. Of course, I too am a straight, white, middle-class cis male, but if I regularly found the elements you describe in a game, I just wouldn’t play it.

    • ribenademon permalink
      November 8, 2011

      *Waves back*

      Well I am glad that the stuff I have seen and heard seems to be coming across as not absolutely uniform for everyone all of the time -and I readily acknowledge that it is going to be different for everyone. I mainly just wanted to highlight the other end of the spectrum. As I have tried to mention through my posts and comments, most people at LRP are not horrible. I do take issue with some of the “standards” in the field that have seemingly developed though.

      I suppose to answer you, I don’t really play with/where/who I have seen the negative stuff come from so much these days. If you are talking fest LRP, the field is big enough by and large to avoid those sorts of jerks…if a small local system was full of sexist asshat jerks then sure I would not play with them. Fields are big places though.

      “This really does not relate to my experience, at all. Do you really think that when a female trader goes round the camps at Maelstrom, her customers treat her differently to her male counterpart? In my experience, the interaction is usually identical – what does she have to trade, what does she want, is she spying on us, how can I barter down her prices. It’s the same on the battlefield, or the ritual circle.”

      I would say it varies, but I would say yes some people will definitely treat her differently because of gender.

      “We choose to play in grown-up games, and while that’s no excuse for casual sexism, it must allow space for behaviour that’s unacceptable in Real Life (™)”

      This is true. There are definite lines though that need to be established and adhered to, if we can say no violence, officially no physical contact, not even “consensual grappling”, then its not unreasonable to call out basic social contract where some things are not ok to say and do.

      I agree I am definitely weighting the negative, I have hundreds of awesome stories about LRP without distressing threads/instances of sexism or misogyny. :)

  4. everwalker permalink
    November 8, 2011


    I am a woman who attends LT LARP events exclusively, and plays strong political / military characters. I’m not going to say sexism doesn’t exist there – of course it does, as it does everywhere, because a century (plus a little bit) is actually not a long time in the grand scheme of things to change the way a society operates at an ingrained level – but I have never ever heard, seen, been told of or subjected to any problems.

    There’s the odd joke, yes. There’s the odd joke about gingers, or northeners, or a host of other options. I’ve never found them to be offensive. There’s much worse stuff said about furries.

    I think mainly I take issue with your penultimate section. True, there is no IC legal way of backing up anti-sexism. But the society as a whole is a) pretty liberated, and b) willing to say ‘no’. Certainly from my experiences, anyway.

    Basically, I agree with north5’s final paragraph. Except that I’m agreeing from the other side of the gender fence. Does that make any difference to my opinion? I don’t reckon it does.

  5. November 8, 2011

    “I’ve got to say, I’m always surprised when I hear of sexism at larp events. Any sexism. Because I never, ever see it.”

    I can only assume that you had your eyes closed during Interregnum, then. There wasn’t any outright misogyny (that I was aware of) as is described in this post, but I was definitely aware of a subset of players (of both genders, I should add) who certainly had a pattern of reacting to other players differently, based on their gender.

    • Stephen B permalink
      November 8, 2011

      Oooh, really? Was this OOC reaction? I can’t imagine they were considering women worse at combat etc, given that age and skills aren’t affected. Was it down to individuals having problems with / being nervous around the opposite sex? Or was it just flat-out sexist prejudice?

      I’ve never – at any event – had a player say a sentence out loud which would make me call them on it. I’ve had soldier characters being deliberately uncivilised, medieval characters relishing the opportunity to be old-fashioned, and stressful situations of life and death causing people to be ruthless with how they categorise and assess others. But none of it was overt.

      The underlying sexism and differently-treating genders based on daily experience is there of course, but no more than in any other hobby or in public.

    • Stephen B permalink
      November 9, 2011

      To go into more detail for anyone reading this: I have played in games with a glamourous or romantically-dark theme. It’s true that the majority of larpers ARE male geeks, and in this case are playing deliberately seductive characters. Female players do then get approached and treated completely differently to the other males in that room, but there’s an obvious reason.

      While I’ve seen a lot of this choosing different interactions based on gender, I’ve never thought it was offensive or prejudiced sexism. People try to play a character, but if you put a gorgeous person of the gender they’re attracted to in front of them they will always react to it. So they may fall back into traditional gender roles out of habit, but that’s pretty far from what’d it’d take for me to think that Larp has a sexism problem as a whole.

  6. November 8, 2011

    ““harem” behaviour. This is where a female player deliberately cultivates around her – both in and out of character – a small collection of young men that follow her around and who do what she wants ”

    While I don’t doubt this happens (after all, the world is full of many and varied people) I think you might be at risk of mis-interpretting what I consider to be the main down side of LARP as a female and which I pointed out to Al (not here) after his column.

    Back in the day, I and a number of my friends suffered from – I’ll call it honey-pot syndrome. You’re a young, fairly pretty female LARPer, and over and over, wherever you go in the field, you feel like a honey pot surrounded by honey-eating creatures (I’m trying to to be offensive by choosing any one in particular! They’re all bad!). Some of these honey-eaters are not the most socially aware or skilled in the world and their attempts to gain your good graces can be clumsy, offensive, intrusive or even constitute sexual assault (if the man who stuck his hand down my top and kissed my cheek at Derby station, while saying “you’re so sweet!” is reading, yes I mean you and no I didn’t appreciate your attentions).

    Of course these things can happen anywhere, but LARP does seem to have a greater concentration of these individuals than other hobbies I’ve engaged in; fest LARP particularly, and there’s not much escaping one can do when you’re in field in the Midlands with no car…

    So … what does one do with the honey-eaters. One can try and avoid them (really quite hard, although carefully selecting ones group can really help on that front), one can soically endure them, or one can try and keep them occupied.

    Yes, I have had some such males help me pitch my tent (I’ve also had plenty of help from friends I’m confident had no interest in my body even before I had a baby and went squidgy) but I was thinking: well if you’re going to follow me round like a puppy can you at least be useful?!

    In short, the biggest issue I’ve ever known as a female LARPer is basically sexual harrassment, usually mild, sometimes not. I plead mitigating circumstances for the ‘harem’ insofar as I ever had one!

    • November 8, 2011

      oops! Trying NOT to be offensive!

  7. wererogue permalink
    November 9, 2011

    As I mentioned on the other thread, I’ve *definitely* seen sexist behaviour at larps, both local small ones and the bigger kind. As an (ex-) referee of a local larp (hello to any Aberddu players!), I saw it almost every year – with each new crop of players, we’d get a wave of sexism. Being a twice-weekly system, we fortunately had plenty of time to educate those who could be taught, and ban those who couldn’t. Luckily for me, some of the worse offenders (and longest holdouts) were evicted just before I became a ref.

    At the larger systems it’s much harder to get a message across to someone – you don’t know what they’re normally like, and you don’t know if they’re being sexist in or out of character. So generally, if you want to pick a fight about it, it has to be IC – which can ruin someone’s weekend, as the “gallant knight” they thought they were playing is suddenly known to everyone as an asshole, even if they weren’t away that they were out of line OOC, and are quite happy to amend their actions.

    Generally, I think LARP communities tend to correct themselves towards equal treatment nowadays. But I agree with ribenademon that it’s not accurate to recommend a larp to people as a safe space – it’s not really guaranteed by the community, and I know by experience that in practice it’s not guaranteed by the staff at every event in the UK, even the commercial ones.

    It’s important to keep in mind that it’s often new players or insular groups that hold on to bad attitudes – it’s rarely players who reach out to other groups, or long-term players who have tried different factions – and that means that it’s rarely the people that I play with. It’s easier to see it happening when you’re on the game team (or when you’re breaking into people’s camps and spying on them). I’ll point some of my old colleagues towards these posts – some of them worked on the game teams for the big events, so hopefully they have an insight.

  8. November 9, 2011

    I wanted to bring up a brief point in response to a few of the male commentators in this comments thread, and I hope it comes across as helpful rather than harsh. Basically, there’s a lot of ‘that’s not my experience’ and ‘I’ve never seen that’ being said by people.
    Whilst it’s really commendable that you would shut down that kind of behaviour and commenting if it did come up in your presence, when you suggest that because it doesn’t happen to you, it doesn’t happen, that is really dismissive of other people’s experiences. For example, Stephen, when you say:
    ‘This really does not relate to my experience, at all. Do you really think that when a female trader goes round the camps at Maelstrom, her customers treat her differently to her male counterpart? In my experience, the interaction is usually identical’
    your experience as a man is totally different to my experience as a woman, and I’d argue that I’m better placed to spot the sexism and being treated as a woman first because it happens to me, whereas it doesn’t happen to you.

    Al, when you say: ‘if I regularly found the elements you describe in a game, I just wouldn’t play it’ that’s a choice I’ve had to make quite a few times, whereas it’s probably something that hasn’t really come up for you.

    That’s not to blame you guys for stuff not happening to you, that would be really unfair, I just think that in order to be the awesome feminist allies you want to be, first of all it’s really important to focus on believing the things that people tell you happen. Because as a straight, white, cis male, privilege means you won’t experience most of it.

    We live in a world where we’re often told that women have it all, nothing is sexist anymore, things are all sorted out, etc, and one of the most political acts a feminist man can do is often to believe the women and other people in his life who are telling him that things are not ok.

    I wanted to post some links that I thought would be helpful as well, I hope that’s allowed. – this has a really good first point, and then loads of links, as well as 2 more articles attached.

    • Miranda permalink*
      November 9, 2011

      We thought it would help to get our Sarah C posting on this topic as a sort of conclusion – she has crewed a number of LARP events. We had an unexpectedly lively response to the first post and we thought it’d drop the ball somewhat if the female-identified members of Team BadRep – since we are (some of) the “women in LARP” being discussed – didn’t respond ourselves. We really enjoyed both posts but really felt we’d be missing a trick not to feature women directly talking about these issues – so that’s gone live today over here, for anyone following this.

    • Stephen B permalink
      November 9, 2011


      The ‘female trader’ comment was actually from North5 not myself, but I certainly did say I haven’t seen sexism in larp. And I really am very aware that my perception of it will be vastly less due to male privilege, which is why if I encountered it happening even once or twice to others I would assume it’s much more frequent than I saw.

      But I’ve never seen it at all, and I spend many hours in the same room and the same conversations as the women it would happen to. Now I’m *still* going to assume there’s sexism occurring, but (in the context of a system often designed specifically to let anyone adopt any role they like without restraint) it is so rare that I don’t believe it can be associated with Larping as a whole. There will always be individuals, different behaviour in private, and subtle differences in how men treat women due to societal pressures, but for me to make such a bold statement as ‘I’ve never seen it’ means I feel I’ve put the time in and believe I would have come across some just on average if it wasn’t vanishingly rare.

      So, apologies if it read as male privilege. I know Miranda has commented before about experienced ‘healer girlfriend’ syndrome and other aspects, but I was really shocked to read Ribenademon’s statements about the overt and extreme speech. Larpers are in my experience mostly a crowd of shy, polite and liberal geeks who wouldn’t tolerate those kind of comments.

  9. Hidden for My own safty permalink
    March 2, 2012

    Its all true and worse.

    Take my experience with the Camarilla (now minds eye society or midnight dance). After a few years of being treated like a second class citizen, regulated to “girlfriend” roles even though I joined single. Ostracized when I wanted to play something not so so girly. I got the worst treatment you could ever imagine.

    See I met my boyfriend there and we both played. When the SOB abused me for 4 years. Going to far as to throw me down stairs and then raped me when I broke up with him? You would think the community would react poorly to him after that? Oh hell no. Despite legal action against my attacker the organization did nothing to keep him from playing. In fact they shunned me for it.

    Now almost 10 years later the entire organization is still in a healthy level of victim blaming. Imagine my surprise when I went to check it out again and the same damn people were there trying to tell me he’s the nicest guy in the world. That I need to forget about it.

    My advice? Don’t Larp. Just don’t. It may be fun but unless your going to start your own ran by women who know how to deal with real issues just forget ever being treated right. And gods forbid something truly bad happens to you. Whatever it is- they will blame you for it.

    • March 5, 2012

      I’m extremely sorry that that happened to you. I’d love to be able to say I’m not aware of enough very similar stories to find what you say completely believable. All I can say is that there are LARPs out there, run by both women and men with a zero tolerance attitude to anything even remotely like your experience.

      Any LARP worth bothering with will have a defined policy for dealing with these sort of things, and won’t be at all bothered if someone asks what it is.

  10. August 1, 2012

    This is a very interesting topic and both the article and comments have been both sensitive and informative. I am a male LARPer and have been playing for over 10 years now and I have seen a fair bit of sexism at events.
    The first example is a female friend of ours who IC played an exotic dancer. A friend and myself acted as her bodyguards both IC and OOC simply because she felt there could be a genuine risk of being treated inappropriately by some players. Male players often greatly outnumber females and we all know how some men can behave under the influence of alcohol, particularly (and I hate to say it) the less socially adept ones out there. Horseplay and IC banter can quickly escalate into OOC lechery. Luckily nothing bad or untoward happened but the possibility of somebody getting carried away while presented with an attractive woman was a very real one.
    Secondly, the theme of ‘pulling’ at an event comes up quite a lot. In a game where female players are under-represented in numbers, they will undoubtedly attract attention. I know many people meet and become couples at events but there is still a certain level of machismo attributed to successfully attracting somebody at an event. Think about it, lots of men fighting and shouting with testosterone levels through the roof, gluttony and heavy drinking bring out the animal in some people so it’s very important that we either report, actively stop and constantly discourage any sort of antisocial behaviour. Unfortunately you’ll never be able to stop men staring at the attractive beastkin woman in the skimpy costume because that’s going to happen everywhere. On the other hand of the argument, overly provocative behaviour from some female players towards men is a slippery slope especially considering I have met many male players at events who are either virgins, very sexually inexperienced and due to the huge amounts of testosterone flying around, very sexually frustrated.
    We need to look out for each other. I know the LARP world is male dominated and that a lot of men are inherently sexist but trust me in saying there are plenty of men out there like myself who absolutely don’t tolerate it. We all have the right to enjoy the games without any fear of prejudice, intimidation and inappropriate behaviour.

  11. Mica Hind permalink
    June 3, 2014

    This is a very interesting and well thought out article.
    It might be a little off topic but one thing I notice right off is there is a very clear description near the start about the ‘game’ and ‘playing the game.’

    One thing I have noticed about LARP are there are often two attitudes to it.
    One is ‘game’ focussed – the players that see it as just that – a game.
    The other is composed of participants who see it more as an ‘experience’ rather than a ‘game’ in the classic sense.

    Certainly I have no shame in admitting I am in the latter category, I have little interest in game theory, I am far more interested in atmosphere and story and, while I applaud an ingenious game mechanic, I frankly find the ‘gamey’ aspects of LARP to be jarring and tend to spoil the wonderful atmosphere and plot that can develop.

    I think because of this, and because I tend to associate with people of that inclination, I see less of the overt sexism when I am at LARP. Indeed, I am a professional entertainer and usually only attend LARP for that purpose, these days.

    The ‘gamers,’ however, tend to be more competitive, aggressive, ‘masculine,’ in fact – and many of the male-members of that crowd (because lets remember there are increasingly more women who like the ‘game’ element of LARP,) express that male sense of entitlement, and I have heard of several examples of the shocking level of aggressive sexist behaviour (with violent overtones, though almost never overt violence,) that some of my female friends, who are more into the ‘game’ of LARP, have experienced.

    The nature of patriarchy means men often feel threatened and act aggressively if they are insecure and feel ‘lesser’ or ‘weaker’ than women and (painting broad strokes, again ;) nowhere outside of the football/rugby scene will you find a higher concentration of insecure men than in LARP.

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