There’s a kind of cringing awkwardness to hearing people who don’t LRP trying to describe what LRP is to someone else who doesn’t LRP.
We use a variety of terms and phrases, such as “cross country pantomime” and “grown ups playing pretend” and all of them utterly fail to actually frame the concept. They’re also funny to those that participate, but bewildering to those that don’t. They conjure up images of something that’s nothing like any game I’ve ever played (For cross country pantomime I get a pantomime horse and a crocodile chasing a dog with a string of sausages across some rather Postman Pat style hills, which is not like any game I’ve ever played).
Photos don’t help. Normally the first photos we show people are the ones of themselves. It’s not to say that your costume isn’t amazing, but a nerd in fancy dress in a field is going to look like a nerd in fancy dress in a field. Plus there are little things that need explaining(a modern tent in the background because it was taken in the OOC field, a bit of white at the neckline etc), and explaining that this one was taken in the OOC field only leads to more jargon, most descriptions and still doesn’t really help them to understand what LRP actually is. It’s often similar shots that the the papers will pick for stories about LRP. They often have the modern tents and people with masks on their heads when we try and hide it. I’ve never really understood why. My current best guess is that they’re trying to show a juxtaposition between the modern world and the people playing pretend and that’s the best they’ve got. Strangely photos of children tend to be better.
People are curious. A lot of people like the idea, but it’s a struggle to explain it. You go away and do glorious things, and then they count for nothing in the real world. Explaining that at the weekend you were out in the woods uncovering the lost secrets of remote tribes is generally going to get you a bit of a nod, but they’ll never see it in the way you do.
I never really understood how it would work until I went to my first event.
I found myself explaining weapons systems to someone in the office. They asked how we represented shooting someone. I casually said that we tend to use a point and shoot system because nerf darts can’t be reliably felt through armour, and they grinned and said “Do you mean you point the gun at them and shout bang?”. Yes. Yes I did. When I first did that it felt utterly stupid. Before each game I feel utterly stupid. I refused to take part in a system for several years because I couldn’t quite see myself doing that, and eventually I discovered that it works. As soon as you start shouting and everyone else starts shouting it just makes sense, but how do you explain that to someone else?
I’m a strong believer that LRP will work for most people. A lot of people with a lot of interests would find LRP to be something that’s entertaining for them, and that they can be a part of if only they knew about and could get a really clear idea of what’s involved. It’s got a bit of stigma attached and it’s also hard to get your head around. We tend to take our hobby seriously. We’ll invest hundreds in games. We’ll travel a long way, and learn new skills to apply to it. We get excited before games and debate on the internet and it involves a whole new vocabulary. We argue with each other. This is something we are passionate about, and that passion can be scary for people who don’t really understand.
I’ve been known to tell people that I’m pretending I’m someone I’m not for the weekend. They ask who I’m being this weekend. I think some of them have got the idea enough to conclude that they wouldn’t like it (at least one because of the camping/sharing bunk rooms), and others would consider it if they didn’t lead their own lives. I don’t go hunting down new players. I tend not to play systems anyway, so I’m not well placed for introducing people to a system. I’d like to introduce my nephew to it at some point (and my niece when she’s older), but it’s not the most practical plan, and I’d have to play in a group (ideally with other kids) to make it work. Also they and their parents would have to think it was a good plan.
We need people to know about and accept LRP as a normal thing to do. Currently most people don’t even know about it, and that means that they’re being presented with it at the same point as it’s affecting them directly. I try to let people know that it’s something I’m part of. I’m fairly well immersed in LRP society. People know that I LRP, both where I work and, to be honest, whatever else I’m doing. I know my parents tell people about it because they keep telling me that they’ve met people whose family also LRPs and I like that they’re talking about it for me (they could be talking about how odd it is, but at least I’ve got a good idea that they’re not horrifically ashamed of it). The knowledge that the child of someone you respect and trust is a LRPer could be important if you’ve had an inquiry from a group wanting to use your building.
People who know I LRP will often get defensive when it’s first discussed with other people and they take the mickey. That’s often been the first time someone has expressed an interest, or said that they think it sounds good, but they don’t like camping. LRP is an accepting place that values hard work, intelligence and eccentricity. We do interesting things in interesting places and we have a lot to offer people who like the sound of what we do. Getting started can be really intimidating. We’re not all the bastions of confidence we’d like to be, and going camping with several hundred people you don’t know isn’t everyone’s idea of a sensible way to spend a weekend.
We need our hobby to be respected, and to do that we need to represent our hobby well. This means staying level headed, not pushing it on people, answering questions clearly, but briefly.
We have something good going. It’s something we can continue to build on.