LARP (live action role play) allows us to safely explore and conquer many types of issues. As a player in a medieval fantasy environment, I enjoy actively confronting sexism and other issues that I also experience in real life. It takes a strong person to stand up to unfair treatment if doing so goes against societal norms, and I've found that it's a lot easier to attempt assertion (whether gender is concerned or not) in character at a LARP before I actually do it in real life.
While I'm different than my character when interacting with people and I understand that the the real world is also unlike that of a medieval fantasy world, I can still learn from my character's experiences and the way she interacts with others.
LARP can illuminate sexism in real life.
I've spoken with other female LARPers who have indicated that what they are able to do in LARP makes them feel empowered in a way that they do not feel in real life; I think it's unfortunate that in some cases, respect and equality do not easily transfer to a real-life setting. However, we can focus on what we can do to achieve the same level of respect in real life.
I've also spoken with female LARPers who feel that in-game sexism limits them and makes them feel powerless. It's difficult realizing that this is not only something that can happen to your character, but you as a person. In this case, sexism in LARPs reinforces the real world issues many of us wish to escape.
I've felt both ways in game, but I feel like I have paths to change or resolve things in the game. People also have a hundred different reasons not to like my character, and gender is just one of them.
How do I combat and deter sexism in a game I run?
The easiest way to deter sexism in a medieval fantasy LARP is to create a balanced combat system. This is a means of fairness for all players. I find medieval fantasy LARP appealing because power does not solely depend upon physical prowess; it comes from social interdependence and advancement, magic, and more.
When I think about my character and why she is at all powerful, it has mainly to do with what she has gained socially. It is so important that she has even given up lives - willingly - to prove her loyalty to her king, gain the social standing she wants and to solidify her connections with members of her kingdom.
That said, this isn't just meaningful in role play - kingdom standing also means something in our game. If the game was less balanced, my character would have to seek another means of power.
The most typical way to begin writing a fair combat system is to balance magic and armed combat, but the keen game designer will also build balance into lore. At Seventh Kingdom IGE, for example, not every kingdom is patriarchal.
How do I fight sexism in a LARP?
If sexism is really offending players in a LARP, it is probably best to discuss it out of game with the staff.
If the sexism is truly in-game and not offending people out of game, then it's best to handle it in game. In a medieval fantasy society, sometimes your character will have to show dominance over someone else - in a fight or socially. If your main offender continues sexist behavior, call him or her out on it and handle it completely in character.
When you confront sexism in a LARP, you may still have to remind yourself of a few things. Every day in real life, I have to remind myself that:
- It's okay to ask for help
- It is okay to say no
- It is acceptable to ask for what I want
- I always deserve to be paid for what my work is worth
When I'm LARPing, this comes together naturally much more often for my character than it does for me in real life. She feels pretty comfortable with those rules because of her background and level of confidence, where I only feel that way in certain circumstances. Behaving more assertively and decisively is the single most important thing I have learned from LARPing, and playing in a game that actually provides me choices and reacts to my character's development only encourages these challenges and positive experiences.
The main disagreement about sexism in LARPs among LARPers is due to a difference of opinion about whether in-game sexism should be allowed at all. The two main opinions are:
- Sexism is never okay in a LARP setting - Sexism is a real issue and something we have to deal with in real life. We LARP to escape real world annoyances, and sexism isn't something we should have to deal with when we are trying to have fun.
- Sexism is permissible if the setting constitutes it - A realistic medieval fantasy environment may include sexism or cultures that are sexist against one gender.
I understand both points of view but am more comfortable with the second option. LARP is still an escape from real life. But in a LARP, I can yell at someone if I'm offended - or even engage in physical combat over an insult, so long as I am willing to bear the consequences.
Men are also the victims of sexism.
Sexism in LARP isn't limited to the inequity of women. I've observed sexism against males at LARPs primarily concerning gender roles - for example, a male caster is told that he's not a 'real man' because he doesn't prefer martial combat. While I've observed this less frequently, it does happen and it's worth noting.
Do you have anything to add to this discussion? What do you think about sexism in a medieval-fantasy LARP setting?