Women Should Organize More Larp

Some of my lady-friends have voiced a common complaint: they have to organize the freaking Halloween/Christmas/Goodbye parties at work, not because they want to, but because they’re asked to. It’s a thankless job, and one that seems to fall deferentially on the shoulders of the employed woman.

I can’t help but notice a similar dynamic on my local larp scene. It’s no secret that larp tends to skew male, at least in the New Jersey area, though I’ve seen changes in gender balance for the better during the three years I’ve spent watching the scene.

Although more women than ever are attending games, I noticed that a proportionally smaller number of the women take on leadership roles in game or out of game. While there are wonderful women GMs and storytellers on the scene, generally, men predominate. Often, when I see women on GM teams they’re doing traditional lady work (read: often-thankless organizational jobs behind the scenes) ¬†— gathering props, making player databases and other clerical work, booking venues, etc — not the high-profile creative work of inventing stories and running plots.¬†Maybe this is a lag problem — a lot of women are new to the scene, and perhaps want to familiarize themselves with it before stepping up. Maybe the women on the scene are happy with the status quo. But maybe encouraging more women to run games would help the balance too.

I don’t think that anyone has created this imbalance with malice and forethought; the gaming community is far from the only part of our culture with skewed gender ratios. But like other skewed areas of our culture — politics, science, etc — the gaming community has a lot to gain from including more women. And the imbalance isn’t going to change itself. According to my physicist husband, whom I trust on matters like this (because SCIENCE!), polarized systems in nature stay polarized unless you put in work to change the balance. In other words, unless people actively try to get women more involved in running and designing games, inertia will prevail.

Here are some strategies for changing that imbalance: seek out and mentor women GMs and game designers. Gently encourage your female friends to step out of their comfort zones and start running games. Publicly thank women who do clerical work for your game. Think twice about assigning clerical work to women. Support women who do run and design games. Invite women to your games specifically and listen to their suggestions and concerns.

I think larp is a beautiful medium for telling stories, and I think women have a lot to add to this conversation. Where one woman goes, many women follow, and that’s good for everyone.

Watch this space in the coming months for some link love aimed at lady gamers. I’m sure there are some other cool venues for women gamers and game designers out there, but for starters, check out these Beautiful Brains Women in Gaming Chats or RPGirl Zine. There’s also the Facebook group The Larpettes. Know of more lady-gamer spaces? Let me know in the comments.

10 thoughts on “Women Should Organize More Larp

  1. Another great post. However, it doesn’t seem to be my experience here in Southern California. It may be because I’m not into the fantasy foam combat campaigns, but when I look around, I see MANY females in larping, and a good percentage of them are designers. This is merely anec-data (anecdotal data), but still, of the dozen or so continuing larps campaigns I know of here, the breakdown of female to male lead story writers is very nearly 50-50.

    Also, I find it unusual that stereotypical roles for women in larp is organizational. Perhaps it’s my penchant and training as a production manager but when I collaborate with my wife I am always the one who organizes, whether she or I am lead designer.

    In fact, I consider it a prime selling point about larp that (I believe) we are close to parity in terms of gender roles in the lead creative positions. It seems that way to me, but I don’t have hard data, and your experience, Lizzie, seems to indicate otherwise.

    Wouldn’t it be great if there was a LARP CENSUS where we could get actual demographic data about these sorts of questions? I tried but failed, maybe someone else can carry the torch.

  2. PS-What I would REALLY like to see, however, is some more color in larp. Although I am pleased that the local Starship Valkyrie larp usually has around 30% non-white players, the only non-whote larp designer I can think of after wracking my brain is J Li of Shifting Forest Storyworks, and she’s not doing it anymore, alas. Hers are some of the darkest, most frakked up stuff I’ve had the privilege of playing.

    http://www.shiftingforest.com/
    (all are now free PDFs if you dare to try them)

  3. Hello!

    First time commenter, but I’ve really enjoyed your blog posts! Your issue is near and dear to my heart, however, so I’m coming out of lurking.

    I agree with your general point – most of the LARPs that I have attended have been run by men, except for my favorite game (http://www.dyingkingdoms.com), which is currently run by a woman (though it was started by a man – however, he chose the woman in question personally when the time came to hand off the torch). In addition, I’ve rarely seen a protagonist player character who was both politically powerful and female. Or even a protagonist NPC who was also politically powerful and female… and not a hyper-sexualized seductress. Most of the kings/emperors/generals/high priests/etc have been male (that being said, I NPC’d at a recent game in which my female NPC had a very good shot at becoming the Hierophant of the local territory, which would have given her an incredible amount of political power).

    I think,though, you missed one reason as to why women don’t run games. In *every* long-running game I have attended (One World by Night, Camarilla Fan Club and various fantasy boffer LARPs in Southern California), the GM/ST/game designer has gotten quite a lot of negative feedback from players. Players who are discontent with a current plotline or their role in the game will write e-mails which can be brutal to the storyteller in charge – or at the very least, the players will loudly criticize every decision made by the storyteller which doesn’t support their PC becoming King of the Mountain. This happens to both male and female STs. I think that women are far less equipped (due to socialization/upbringing) to deal with that barrage of criticism than men are, which is probably why women shy away from running campaign games and prefer to stick with one-shots or short-arc games.

    Which I think is a shame – while women are socialized to be accommodating, they’re also socialized to prioritize relationships and verbal communication, two things which I think are assets both in PCing and running a LARP.

    I do agree with Aaron’s point about people of color. Apart from the game I cited above, most of the games I’ve attended are heavily, if not entirely, populated by white people. And I live in Los Angeles, which has a heavy influence of both Hispanic and Asian culture. I think the best way to get away from *that* is to start writing long running LARPs which deviate from the Eurofantasy standard. Start writing games set in a fantasy analog of the Mayan empire or the Cherokee tribe or ancient Egypt!

  4. I also LARP in SoCal and when it comes to diversity I have seen a trend towards Hispanic and Asian players at the LARP Alliance fighter practices sponsored by my game The Ballad of Evermore with the head of the plot team being female. It is anecdotal evidence, but it seemed like 50% of the players last week were not white and we had over 50 people there. I am not sure about the demographics of our other two main sponsored practices. My main game was Shades of Ruin and the player base was very even between men and women and we had good turn outs of over 50.

    I agree with Rachel about main antagonist characters being predominantly men and I will make sure we have a balance in my game. I never really thought about it in that way. The protagonists really depend on the PC’s themselves in my game, but I will keep an eye out for that. Right now I do not believe we have any female faction leaders. I will try to encourage women to take leadership roles in the game, but I can not force it.

    • Hey team: glad to see some discussion happening here. I agree that player race/ethnicity is a concern in larp — I tackle it in Leaving Mundania in a couple places — and I’m delighted that people are talking about it. However, for blog purposes, I don’t want that to get conflated with the gender issue we’re discussing here — that’s a matter for another post, so let’s give the ladies their due!

      Aaron: I’m glad to hear about all the female game designers (hurrah!), since I have no idea what’s up with the Cali larp scene. I would love to see a larp census. And yes, my experience with gender balance in games has been pretty different!

      Rachel: I definitely write about in-game power dynamics and gender in the book — one of the larps I followed has a similar issue — few high-ranking women in game. As far as brutal player honesty goes, you make a good point. However, if the tone of player feedback is scaring off women organizers, than perhaps games ought to reassess their methods of gleaning feedback.

      Tony: Awesome that you’re going to encourage women to take on in-game leadership roles — I think mentoring and encouraging are a big part of involving women in gaming, and during my research, many of the women larpers I spoke to talked about how important they found that kind of encouragement. Organizers play a really important role in setting the tone for a larp, and in making sure that women’s contributions are welcome and valued. The logistical setup of the game plays an important role too — if a lot of women play alchemists, and there’s no alchemists guild, perhaps that may also be part of the issue.

    • Tara: Really interesting response — I love the way you’ve broken out the potential problems and posted possible solutions. (Wd have posted this on your blog, BTW, but I couldn’t get my OpenID working…)

      I wonder what you think about Rachel’s comment — she suggests that women don’t organize more games because the player feedback can be so brutal, and women are socialized to prioritize social relationships.

      As an organizer, has this been your experience? And if so, how have you handled it? Was it a deterrent for you? If it’s not the case, then what are you doing to help keep people civil?

  5. Great question, Lizzie. Thanks for reading my response.

    I write full time and I’ve produced original music. I started doing these things long before LARPing, so I’m used to getting criticized in the arts and I realize if you can’t take it, you won’t make it!

    I try to always think of it like a business and handle it professionally, regardless of what I really think. It can be difficult after putting so much heart into a game (or a personal subject for an article). I have seen other women feel seriously conflicted over how to handle that criticism.

    Women can really step up when it comes to mediation. If two people disagree, there is a compromise, and females are often assets when it comes to social negotiations. So yes, the criticism is harder for most females running games, I think, but they have more opportunity to create peace.

    That’s not to say that men don’t feel criticism or that they’re ineffective negotiators; it is to say that women who fall into this stereotype can simply use it in a positive way and I am happy to do so when possible.

  6. I forgot to mention that the Live Effects games Hunter’s Moon and Messina have women running them. So, out of 8 games, 4 of them have women running the plot of the games and one is entirely run by women. In SoCal. Seems pretty even to me in SoCal.