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.
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.
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 racist 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.
- Header shows ‘Young boy in fur holding mask’, Alaska, 1958. Photo by Thomas Abercrombie NGS.