I went to a great airsoft roleplaying event a few weekends ago. I immersed myself in two days of playing a separatist rebel soldier in a fantasy world. How do I know it’s a fantasy world? Because I’m not a real soldier. In the real world I’m now a relatively unfit journalist who likes playing World of Warcraft in her spare time, but in my fantasy world I’m a kick-ass solider trying to oust the government forces while avoiding the private military contractors. As fantasy worlds go, it’s pretty good. It’s an enjoyable place to spend two days.
I walked out of the fantasy world two hours early on the Sunday. The primary reason why I packed the game in early and loaded up the car with my kit was because the fantasy world had got too much like the real world for me. You see, I could laugh off the three times on Saturday that I was asked if I could manage my gun on my own. I admit that I was running around with a gun that was really quite big for my size (I’m only 5ft tall and it was a Tokyo Marui G3 with wooden stock and extended wooden barrel – about a meter long in total) but honestly guys, they’re toy guns at the end of the day. They’re not actually heavy because they’re missing the several lbs of ammo a real soldier would be carrying – also if I need help, I am perfectly capable of asking for it. Next time a man asks me at an airsoft event if I can manage my guy on my own they’d better be prepared to carry it for me, because I’m going to throw it at them.
I should tell you about my group – mostly because my group are awesome. They are wonderful people who no issues with women fighting alongside them in a fantasy world. They also mostly shoot at The Grange which has a remarkably high number of players who are women attending their games (if I had to hazard a guess at why it’s most likely because they have helpful staff and a non-judgemental attitude) which surely must shape their idea that women are every bit as entitled to roleplay soldiers in a fantasy world as men are. So when I said to my group ‘guys, is it my turn to be in charge now?’ (shortly after having a group discussion on what we were going to do next) the answer I enthusiastically got was ‘yes, you’re in charge now!’ before they ambled off to have a cigarette in the tree line having successfully got out of having to make any decisions for the next half an hour.
So with that in mind, I was looking forward to a bit of roleplay when I saw some of our fellow separatists wander over. ‘What are you all doing?’ they asked me. ‘We’re sitting on this objective for a while, and we’re going to take out anyone who comes near it’ I replied. After a brief discussion between themselves one of their group said to me ‘And what do the men in your group want to do?’ Would they have asked the same question if I’d been presenting as a man? I suspect not. (I have some followup thoughts about using the word ‘men’ to refer to people other than men – but that’s for another post and another time.)
It was like a sucker punch to the gut. It was just so unexpected that someone would bring real world sexism into a fantasy world. I mean looking back, it was a bit daft of me to not be prepared for that kind of situation, but it still really surprised me. So I said nothing because I was unprepared for it, and I just let them take control of the objective and walk off.
The way that people use such lazy stereotypes frustrates me. I linked before on this blog to a recording of a talk from this year’s Nordic LARP Talks in Copenhagen by Ann Eriksen – and I’m going to link again to a very specific point:
And people were asking ‘But why are you in this war?’ and I would look at him and say ‘But why are you in this war? Maybe because we both signed up for the same LARP?’
There’s no reasonable reason to use lazy stereotypes from the outside world in our fantasy worlds. Our worlds that we create are exciting places to be – because we wouldn’t create and play in them if they weren’t – and for the most part they don’t really represent reality. I’m sure that in most cases this real-life stereotyping is just done by people who don’t realise how hurtful it can be. They don’t realise how difficult it is to have to fight an uphill battle against these same stereotypes week in and week out, so it doesn’t occur to them that we might not want to do it at weekends too. Lazy stereotypes from the outside world make our games less enjoyable for many people, and that’s a good reason to try to eradicate them. The challenge going forwards though is how to reach out to people within the LARP (and airsoft) community and try to make them understand that these attitudes make the hobby a less welcoming place for many people. We have to try and convince people to make a conscious effort to ditch these assumptions and stereotypes.
Discrimination can absolutely be part of a game world though. But if we’re going to make assumptions in game that some people are less capable than others, then lets make it discrimination that based on something worthwhile. Let’s discriminate based on our ability to fight, or our ability to shoot straight, or our ability to negotiate verbally through tricky situations. Let’s not discriminate based on your opinion of if someone has a uterus or not. That’s a silly thing to use to separate people with, especially when you’re talking about how accurately someone can shoot a plastic pellet at someone else from a toy gun.
Because if nothing else – all gender politics aside – at the end of the day all the women at the event are still paying exactly the same amount of money for a ticket as the men. And they’re entitled to have as much fun in their fantasy world as everyone else.
And if you don’t want me on your team because you think that I own a uterus, then I’m going to play for the other side. And every time I encounter this kind of attitude it pushes me to train harder and shoot straighter. So if you’ve put yourself on the opposition, you’d better learn to run faster. Because I’ll be shooting at you.