Q9 Will org LARPing remain a mess?
2018 New Year’s Eve Forecast (What’s this?)
So yes and no.
Yes, in that orgs will continue the long journey to take things seriously. I think White Wolf’s botch over V5, and its fallout sends a clear message of the consequences of failing to properly handle concerns. These messages have been accumulating in society but in ways that LARP orgs themselves might not immediately recognize (I’m eying you University of Michigan and ongoing Catholic Church dumpster fires!) But when White Wolf pulls the plug on an existing release, and completely reorganizes its business model – that’s a clear signal that business as usual won’t work anymore.
The no part is in two pieces. As orgs begin to take things more seriously we’ll begin to uncover a lot more inappropriate behavior. There is a long-tail of reckoning going back years that is buried and may or may not come to the surface via better reporting, transparency, awareness etc. But it’s also a truism that until you really start looking for something, you won’t find it. And once you look for it, you’re going to find it and that may seem like it’s “more of it” (from both spotlight and streetlamp effects) even if that’s not the case. So, communication and communication are going to be critically important.
The second part of that is that where it has traditionally been member v. org conflicts I think inter-member conflicts will continue to become more prevalent. This has a lot to do with societally how people think it is appropriate to respond to perceived slights and that there’s a long feedback delay between excessive behavior and the response which curtails that excessive behavior. And I’m not talking about serious incidents – but the recent dumpster fires we’ve seen of social-media wars that break out over talking about serious stuff. Often as a proxy for two social groups which themselves have a pre-existing axe to grind but have learned that adopting the local-social-currency of social justice is one way to grab more legitimacy in LARP circles for what otherwise would just be ‘ye olde pissing match.’ And the technology is there now to really escalate these quickly, widely, and across into other LARP groups. More times than not these folks are doing more harm to themselves than anyone other, but as I said that’s a much longer feedback delay that the quick-high of “YAH FUCK THAT TEAM!”
For LARP orgs this is like instability-contagion in certain regions in international relations. If none of the countries bordering yours are stable, it’s really hard to be stable yourself because the instability of one area can spill over into yours. Likewise, until all LARP communities begin to stabilize – a blowup in one org will quickly cross boundaries and create blowups in nearby orgs. Since many of these intra-member conflicts are cloaked in the language of social justice, they are primed for spread, adoption and even support by people who don’t know the original context but agree on premise with the stated intent. So that what may have started as a social pissing match between two cliques in Org A transfers over into Org B via a pathway of ‘legitimate concern’ that isn’t present in the actual pissing match but has been the social-currency in which the pissing match is being fought.
The good news is there are increasingly LARP options springing up – and the format of some of these are more resistant to long-term “messes” than others. So as “club LARPs” struggle there were will be more “studio LARP” options to go to. And what I mean by that is a LARPing group that offers/plays/supports many different formats, either as one-shots or small serializations – like a movie studio running many productions, but with constantly changing audiences where the intense years-long rivalries that build up in the clubs will be a little slower in manifesting for lack of repeated interaction on a rivalry-point.
Timely forecast is timely. 😉
So as predicted the hobby continues to struggle with its own inherent baggage from unresolved predators and a general rise in toxicity. This comes from several sources. Victims who never saw any form of credible action have stopped being silent in the face of inaction. And their support groups have become vocal allies in these efforts. But there’s also around these groups the normal toxic forms of “good” things which are simply exploiting social movements to project their own anxieties and insecurities. I used the phrase “Social Justice in the Streets, Patriarchal Troll in the Sheets” to describe the kind of figure who in public said ‘all the right things’ but was an absolute monster in private.
This year saw that kind of mixing of legitimate and illegitimate hostility give form in the rise of Facebook meme pages designed to identify, exploit, and spread all these complaints to ever larger communities. I call groups like LARP Saltposting exploitative because they don’t appear to do even minimum due diligence on what they publish, often distorting received information to achieve maximum “salt” and they have a weak history of self-policing themselves for excessive inappropriate behavior. Their rationale is the devil of all philosophy “I’m doing ‘good’ so my conduct can’t be ‘bad.”
However, Saltposting didn’t arise in a vacuum. When formal institutions do not provide a credible avenue for meaningful conversation on serious topics (as has been the case in most LARP orgs) the rumor-mill will find its outlet in the bathroom or porta-potty walls. And whether it’s Saltposting or individuals practicing a form of toxic-call-out culture these efforts mix and intermingle with valid concerns creating the instability contagion I discussed in the forecast. A rumor or unsourced allegation in one club could become fodder for a meme or callout – often missing key details and spread globally with demands to pick a side in hours. I even became the subject of one of these when I ran for National Coordinator of the MES (see link in first comment). Though it’s not the worse depiction ever made of me, they completely missed the mark of what I was trying to do or why.
As for game publishers. Timely forecast is timely. My forecast included discussion of White Wolf’s (at the time) recent revisions to V5 after strong push-back. In the last few months Classic BNS was bought out by Nu-BNS. And they’ve leapt from the starting-blocks like Usain Bolt with his shoe-laces tied together. A series of foreseeable missteps resulted in repeated face planting while shouting “hold my beer” at White Wolf who must be shaking its head right now as one of its prime licensees seems determined to destroy the great brand built over the years in a few months of mistakes.
However, there is a glimmer of light at least in the first self-inflicted scandal. At first Nu-BNS declared that they wouldn’t adhere to any previous bans or expulsions by LARP organizations that support them. But after a concerted effort of quiet and professional campaigning (y’all know who you are and well done) they reversed course and agreed to accept the bans of organizations. It’s a step in the right direction. Standing up after that faceplant.
But they immediately took two steps forward and fell again. With scandals arising from both the appearance of unwillingness to pay their authors and the revelation of an owners sordid posting history. Even if they can navigate these falls, it begs the question when are they going to start being proactive and realize you can’t hide things from a hobby full of gamers?
Also, in the South a bastion of toxic methane gases accumulating for three decades in the form of Scott Neeley and his LARP-cum-cult SOLAR finally exploded. I recognize that there’s going to be a lot of pain and soul searching now that there’s a crater where a community used to be. But that crater serves as another warning and at least the active harm is at ending after decades.
I wish there were better news on the LARP org front. But as I said in my forecast this was a bill earned over the years, if not decades, of mismanagement of the industry, hobby, and clubs. And that bill’s not going to be paid in the final scenes of an ABC After-School Special where everyone comes together and sings kumbaya. It’s going to take time, but as I said in my forecast, when things look worse that’s when real change is finally happening, rather than being papered over. Even if the consequences of that change are dire and clouds the future with uncertainty.
Running Total: 7.5 out of 12