How Fantasy-Racism in Larp could create Allophilia

Because of mythopoesis and the size of the larp scene, Fantasy-Racism in larp is creating allophilia, which is the opposite of racism. It is Greek and means love for the other, which includes foreign cultures. The difference to philanthropy, which means love for humans, allophilia is directed to distinguishable groups of people. It could be said of larpers as a subculture to be distinguishable from other hobbiests like amateur photographers or ice-hockey fans. Disclaimer: This article is 99 44/100% free of irony.

One might become nervous about played out racism during a larp. As part of the game world it has a place and boundary. Everyone knows that this is not real – or it should not be. The certainty melts when one hears out-game jokes which are meant to be in-game but are full of connotations to examples of racist remarks about minorities or immigrants. I came to the conclusion that these jokes do not necessarily mean that there is a hidden racist behind the costume. There are still too heavy arguments which speak against a tendency in larping towards rascism. Mythopoesis and the size of larp unveil most of the panic debates in the scene or during a game that racism hides behind the mask of a character.

Mythopoesis is the creation of an artificial new myth. This term came up in Romanticism from German philosophers, while the poet and painter William Blake worked by this principle even before in England. Most larps are set in fantastic game worlds: Fantasy, Horror, Alternate Reality, Science Fiction, Alternative History, to name the most popular ones. In order to create a convincing larp setting players should enjoy, one has to be the poet of a new myth. Mythopoesis and allophilia comes into play when the goal to create a realistic 360° playground meets one of the two elements, I give here as an example – surely, there are more. First, a historical setting is relying on proper research. Documents, books, articles and media are worked through to take some elements which suit as ‘toy-like’ objects and elements to create the illusion of a foreign game world. Even if an American game is about American history, one deals with a different society. With the engagement necessary to create a different setting, affection rises otherwise there would be no real pleasure in the activity. Larp is a recreational activity and not a training method (yet), and larpers choose those settings, genres and characters which give them pleasure. In order to rise the bar from racism to allophilia, larp has to be imaginary, inventive, daydreaming. The ability and the wish for mythopoetic work is a strength of the larp scene and not a downside. Larpers are depicted today rather comically than insane. One media panic lead to the filming of the movie Mazes and Monsters (1982) when Tom Hanks is forced by (tabletop) role-playing games and Tolkien’s Two Towers book to jump off the top of the World Trade Center.

Arrogance is sometimes the lesser evil. Above all, it is funnier than racism.

The size of larp is second criteria and the one which can be worried about. Larp as a cultural expression is not existent in most people’s lifes. Further, most people who have heard about larp but never participated think of this role-playing activity as one of the strangest things people can do. Promoted by the media in the 1980s and 1990s, larp became a foolish endeavour for daydreamers (escapists, artists) and devoted fans of media (The Lord of the Rings, first books, second movies), technology (video games, virtual worlds) or both. This stereotype is still present and randomly picked up by national media, although more and more balanced reports are filling the screens and tabloids. The negative effect is that the growth of larp as a recreational and ephemeral activity (thanks to Markus Montola for this nice term) is hindered. The positive effect is that people who feel bullied understand the feeling of being the victim of racism more likely than someone who has never experienced it herself. This effect could loose strength when larp becomes popular. Loosening the tendency towards allophilia might invite dubious groups, like extreme political parties or sects, to use larp as a tool to share their opinions. Keeping allophilia as an attitude will help to protect from such an ambush. Contemporary larps and jeepforms with topics from immigration (Dublin2) to mobbing (FatManDown) are very unknown in our society and even unknown in the general larp scene. One reason to blog here and write academic articles for me personally is to make aware of opportunities.

There are other things one wants to be afraid of in a larp. Mask & photo by German artist Nick (featured in the accurate larp documentary Die Herren der Spiele).

Both elements in contemporary larp create a friendly atmosphere to all what is unknown, in this case other cultures and minorities. Playing out hatred against other cultures or people in larp let the players experience how negative racism is. This does not mean that everyone with racist tendencies turns into the opposite, as people are different, but implementing racism as a game element does not lead automatically to out-game behaviour. On the contrary, implementing elements of historical or foreign cultures often invokes affection towards them. mythopoesis is enjoyable with appreciation and more with allophilia.

With one last additional thought, I conclude this blog entry. Simply the fact that becoming part of a foreign culture (Orks) in order to hate the next foreign culture (Elves), requires understanding and comfort. To embody a culture as good as possible helps to create immersion. If a larper seeks immersion, the diving into a fictional world, fantasy-racism is not racism. Therefore ridiculing the ability for empathy as escapism is going against one major strength of this cultural practice. An activity which relies on the fact to think like someone else in a different world should prevent the danger of evoking or reassuring rascist ideas. Therefore, Fantasy-Racism in larp creates allophilia. Everything can change, therefore I will not let my guard completely down and keep my allophilic attitude high. The U.S. writer Anne Rice posted a National Geographic article on Facebook. It is about a recently discovered Maya temple. I’m off to explore cultures – there are more interesting things to find out than about races.

Acknowledgement:

  • Header shows ‘Young boy in fur holding mask’, Alaska, 1958. Photo by Thomas Abercrombie NGS.
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8 thoughts on “How Fantasy-Racism in Larp could create Allophilia

  1. What an interesting post. I never really thought about roleplaying other races and the racism in games that exist in this way. It makes a lot of sense though, and not just for larping. My own characters in most games tend toward neutrality toward others as a group, however, many of those RP games I’ve played change up the stories and I’m finding, for a simple example, that my once-neutral night elf priestess in world of warcraft simply can stand orcs no longer. The character arc she was forced into is quite fascinating to me.

    Even before games I practiced looking from the perspective of “the other.” Perhaps that’s why I fell in love with roleplaying games to begin with?

    Definitely an interesting article and one that gives me renewed hope in gamer culture, though you’re right to continue keeping an eye on the trend toward allophilia, things definitely do change. I wonder if the this trend could lead toward eventually doing the same for gender splits. Though, perhaps, not through larping. Which, might actually be an interesting endeavour. If I still larped I might consider being a male character sometimes just to switch it up.

  2. Dear Saronai,
    it is nice to read from you. What you describe about RP in WoW is familiar what I have experienced when playing it on RP servers. There is a well written academic study on racism in WoW, so I turned here to the example ‘larp’. But yes, role-playing as it is these days, is allophilic, because that is the point: not being afraid but to try out to be the ‘other’.
    Nowadays gamer feminism is on its rise and although this is a super interesting question (+ other gender related topics from LGBT), I have to leave it out of my major publications not to loose focus in my work. I blog randomly about gender topics, most often in order to manifest my thoughts into something substantial.

    I am flattered that you liked this topic, because it is always nice when complete strangers post on your website adding some constructive details and questions. There will be definitely more posts in the future, so check out the page in a couple of weeks.
    Best wishes
    Rafael

  3. Dear Rafael,
    very good article. In one of the tabletop RPGs that I´ve designed racism was a strong issue for roleplaying since it was sent in a semi-historical Brazil of the XVII century in which slavery was very present. Other issues such as religious intolerance, sexism, were debated as well. Usually teachers regardes this positively as the game environment gave the students a good opportunity to understand these issues, comprehend the historical events, and prompted good debates in class. The game was not, to my knowledge, ever officialy used by teachers as an educational tool, but it was appreciated nevertheless by the ones who read it.
    I do have one question for you: is the issue of racism really adressed in its pervasive out of game implications in Larp? Could the racism in game stimulate an awareness of racism in everyday life and thus help us fight it? Or things experienced in game stay ingame without any repercussions in everyday life? Pretty much like some people go to church every Sunday but act in a very unchristian way towards other people in everyday life situations.

    1. Dear Carlos,

      you ask particularly about the learning effect a larp might have. Can we measure behavior patterns and the change? Repetitive games are perfect for observing behavior, but larp and tabletop RPG are seldomly repetitive. Even if you run the same campaign with 20 groups, you will get very different results, as the participants change with every group. Participation is of uttermost importance. One way to get clearer results would be to play the same game with the same group under same conditions. As role-playing involves personality, even 20 ‘equal’ game sessions will lead to 20 different results. it is difficult to give an answer to your questions as it would imply a actio-reactio machinism of ingame affecting outgame, real life.

      “is the issue of racism really adressed in its pervasive out of game implications in Larp?”
      It would be wrong to give a definite answer. Especially a positive or a negative one, as many people are aware of out-game implications while many people are naive, ignoring them or something else. Further, ‘Larp’ is an umbrella term for all live action role-playing activities, therefore the answer cannot be given, as there are at least one dozen larp styles in Germany at least, not taking the international field into account, or even the philosophy of different organizers. Trying to find out a tendency would include much field work or good connections to organzers to gather sufficient quantitative or qualitative data.
      A different phrasing of this question might be interesting for a Master Thesis or an article though:”How is racism used as a topic in larp ‘game worlds’/plot books/character background in a specific genre (Fantasy, …) in a country (Germany, France, Brazil, …)?”
      To give something like an answer to your question, I do not think that larp per se is suggesting any topic, because it is a system of play to experience role-playing.

      Your next question was “Could the racism in game stimulate an awareness of racism in everyday life and thus help us fight it? Or things experienced in game stay ingame without any repercussions in everyday life?”

      You give the well known example of religious ideals and whether people live up to them or not. Again, it would be wonderful and horrible to measure behavior change after playing a game. Wonderful because role-playing as an effective tool for education could be supported with hard data. Horrible, because first it would mean that people can be easily controlled with such a system of behavioral experimentation (and I do not think that this is possible due to the nature of the individual vs. the mass). Second, it would be horrible to put the behavior of people so easily into boxes. There is research and projects done in the field of educational larp. In Germany, we have several groups, such as Die Waldritter e.V. and Bruno Wissenz, who offer larp to children and young people as a form of freetime activity, similar to what scouts are doing, but placed in a fictional world. With the right insight into how larp is working, as research is trying to show, and the necessary experience on the side of the organizer, larp might be capable to raise awareness of racism in everyday life.

      I hope my answer was sufficient, otherwise, I’m glad to read from you.
      Best wishes,
      Rafael

  4. @Carlos:
    ” Or things experienced in game stay ingame without any repercussions in everyday life? Pretty much like some people go to church every Sunday but act in a very unchristian way towards other people in everyday life situations.”
    – this and the question connected is indeed interesting, I would be glad to read excerpts from a study related to this.

    @Rafael:
    Good article, yet difficult to read / comprehend (partially related to my English skills?). On the matter of the subject I did wonder how deep the normal larper explores the reasons behind the racism he plays out with his character.

    Let’s say (simplyfied) racism in reality is fed by e.g.
    – socialization / environment you grew up / education (or lack of)
    – contact with extremist groups (spoon feeding their people with stupidity)
    – fear (like fear of spiders; seriously, e.g. the fear of cultural traditions you don’t understand / that are a no-go in your culture; or the sheer terror of these things you are not used to or that are unknown to you, could even be physiognomy you are not used to).

    Now I wonder: do these Orc / Dwarf / whatever players think about the roots / reasons of their racism? Are they aware of that? Or does the majority of players handle the matter like “Orcs hate elves and that’s that.”?

    Because I do believe if they would think about the origin of their hatred and the reasons behind it, they could win learnings for real life.
    Example: by reading up studies about real world racism in history to find a “inspiration” for their phantasy racism, maybe?

  5. @Naitachal:
    The wondering you describe, is exactly why I have written this article. I hope that it will reach more potential readers.
    Your conclusion that someone reflecting the topic could win learning for real life is right, but also problematic on the first sight: one could reaffirm his disbelief in racism or find encouragement when reading about real world examples to implement it in her larping. If one looks deeper into the topic, then there is the question: how long does racism survive in larp? If you take the example of totalitarian larp, as I have seen an example from Czech Republic (I can provide you with the contact if you are interested): what will happen before, during and after one plays a full-fledged racist in a totalitarian game world. This question was the reason for this post and I tried to give an answer.
    Ciao
    Rafael

    There are plenty articles on educational gaming, two students wrote essays in one of my courses in February. I can implement one useful article into our Larpforschung Reading Group, if you want.

  6. Hello Rafael,
    to keep the follow up simple: what’s your experience from having contact with larp racists? Do they reflect deeply in search for roots & reasons, or are the people you know of more the type of larp racist in order fit to the “known frame” / clichee?

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