Hello blog readers! It’s your old friend Shoshana Kessock returned to her website from a long hiatus away from blog writing. I’ve had a lot of projects on my plate keeping me away (which I’ll cover in another post) but right now I’m debuting this brand new idea I’ve had for organizing the thoughts that I toss out there into the internet-world.
A while back I came up with a heading system for the blog, with a series of posts called Not Ready To Make Nice about issues I wanted to speak about. Well, here’s the second heading, called LARP Traveller Diaries. Here I’ll toss out some ideas about LARPing and experiences I’ve had at conventions and games wherever I find them. I’ll share thoughts on individual games, experiences, and larp theory that comes up in my head.
We’re going to start right off the bat with my first post of the series. Let’s dive in!
I have a crazy looking calendar. These days with a lot going on, I schedule my life down to the hour sometimes. 8AM wake-up, groan for ten minutes about waking up, medication self-care time, up to breakfast, on to work, etc. As someone who used to be very willy-nilly about their time management, I learned the uses of scheduling and it’s improved my appreciation for my time and everyone else’s. Scheduling taught me the value of a little preparation giving me the jump on all the things I want to do in my life.
So it’s a little surprising even to me that when it comes to going to LARP events, I like to approach things completely the opposite.
I enjoy going to big event LARPs, the Nordic or Nordic-inspired LARPs that provide big budget experiences for one weekend. They’re the equivalent to me of going to a five-star restaurant as opposed to going to a favorite joint or cooking at home. With these big-budget LARPs costing a pretty penny, most people will only go to one or two in a long while, and the LARP becomes a major experience. It becomes an event that I look forward to on my calendar, the weekend when I go and immerse myself in a weekend of BIG LARP FUN. And of course, other folks start to get excited too. Months in advance people online are talking about the game, getting hype for the fun we’ll have.
And then… then for me comes the anxiety. See, for me, hype can go over the line from fun to anxiety.
I recently signed up to play New World Magischola, the wizards-and-wands Harry Potter-inspired American LARP created after the monumental success of College of Wizardry in Europe. The company behind NWM, Learn LARP, has worked diligently to create a hell of an experience, and for months in advance there’s been Facebook groups, applications to fill out, and character connections to make. There’s not a single day I’m not waking up to a new message about the event on Facebook, especially as the game date approaches. At first, the messages helped build up excitement in me. Everyone else is so into this, I said, it’s going to be great! I saw players I knew from LARP communities around the world were signed up for my weekend, and I started to read more about the setting, the costumes. I got picked to play a professor, and I was jazzed to bring my brand of Magical Ethics class to the unsuspecting students, mwahahahaha.
But as time went on, and there were more and more posts, I found myself falling behind. I’d recently got a new job with John Wick Presents writing full-time and I was working on a myriad of other creative projects including my own LARPs. I cut down on the time I spent on Facebook and focused on work and friends. Then, when I had time, I’d check in on the NWM prep, only to find so much information I’d already missed. People were playing scenes online, plotting previous character relationships that lasted years. I started to get a creeping feeling in my stomach: was I going to be unprepared for game? Was I going to come in at a disadvantage?
I started to feel like I was actually a kid heading to a new school for the first time.
Nobody wants to be the kid who forgets their homework, or the kid who doesn’t have a place to sit at lunch because everyone’s already with their friends. And nobody wants to be the LARPer who travels to a brand new game only to find everyone’s already buddies and you’re on the outside, looking in at the fun. As time went on, the New LARP Butterflies started to kick in.
It’s about then that I instituted my handy-dandy anxiety-busting New LARP rule list.
- Was I excited about the game? Yes.
- Did I like the premise? Yes.
- Did I have any concerns about the safety of the game? No.
- Was the game accessible to me? Yes.
- Did I have any other conflicts that would make me concerned about my experience? No.
With these questions answered, I instituted Emergency Anti-Larp-Anxieties Answer #1:
The quote comes from the first Christopher Reeves movie, when Superman catches a distressed plane in his very first heroic act. The co-pilot is freaking out trying to figure out what’s going on, how they’re not crashing, wants to know all the details. The pilot, who spotted Superman under the wing, can barely believe what’s going on. But he’s not going to look a gift flying-man in the mouth and tells the co-pilot, “Fly. Just… fly.”
LARP anxiety, especially in new groups, I believe is rooted in the old performance anxiety with a dash of first day at a new school-itis. You don’t know what to expect, not only from the game setting and mechanics or from your own roleplay, but you don’t know how you’ll interact with those around you. Will they accept me? Will I have a good time in this new place? Is it going to be worth all the work I’ve put in? Will I be disappointed?
It’s been my experience that disappointment usually occurs when reality and expectations don’t meet. When the hopes I’ve had about a LARP experience don’t mesh with what actually goes on in game, I walk out with a sense that something was missing. Except perhaps there was nothing missing at all! Maybe I just wanted one thing and got something that was equally awesome, but I was so busy worrying about what I wanted that I didn’t embrace what I had. Planning before a LARP for me then becomes a series of ways to set expectations which then distract me from what happens, right then, in the moment. It makes the game about what will be, instead of what is during play.
I had this issue during College of Wizardry and I wrote a lot about it in my article about how LARP can turn you into an asshole. A lot of my difficulty with College of Wizardry is because the adventure of the weekend didn’t meet my rosy-cheeked optimism of playing in a Harry Potter world. I wanted to be the plucky heroine, and ended up playing the kid who got picked last for dodgeball. Instead of embracing the play right then, I got stuck on what I’d prepared for and thought of and worked for before game. I questioned whether if I’d prepped more, played more scenes with others, built more relationships, if I wouldn’t have had a better time. In the end, I recognized that it was expectation that had soured my experience, and that’s where my rules of New LARP were born.
I’m going to New World Magischola with just enough prep in place to be comfortable. I have to prep lesson plans, sure, because I’m faculty. I’m going to talk to a few people about how we know one another in advance. But that’s about it. I’m going to read the game document. I’m going to chat online a little. But otherwise I’m approaching play with a “Just Fly” attitude. I’m shucking any comparisons to College of Wizardry because this game is its own creature, and I don’t want to set false expectations by equating the two falsely.
I’m just going to go to New World Magischola and be Thessaly Kane, professor. I’ll show up and I have no idea what’s going to happen. None at all!
And that’s okay. In fact, that’s great for me.
Because otherwise, I turn into THIS.
Now for some people, the “Just Fly” attitude makes them anxious. Showing up this way makes them feel unprepared and nervous, so prep helps them. That’s cool. As a friend says, you do you, boo. As long as there’s room for both our prep styles, we can both have a kickass time at the game. As long as there’s no expectation that you HAVE TO prepare so much in advance. That one is better than the other. And nowhere have I encountered anyone saying you have to do tons of preparation for New World Magischola. When we arrive game day, we’re all equal in the eyes of the LARP gods, ready to have a kickass weekend.
New World Magischola is coming up in June, and I’m ready to fly. But in the meantime, I got other stuff to do. I’ll pack my bags maybe a day before I get in the car. I ordered a couple of new props and read the rules. And I’m chatting online a little. But otherwise, game will happen for me at game. I’ll come in a blank slate, ready for whatever comes. And that’s what makes me a happy LARPer. Everyone else should do what makes them happy LARPers too, and it’s going to be a great game. As long as we all remember: nobody’s way is better. We all prep for our fun in different ways.
Besides, we all have one worry we can all agree on anyway: how am I going to pack all this stuff for game?!
Ah well, some LARP worries can’t be solved by cool movie quotes. But one problem at a time.