LARP Debate: LARP and Gender

This week’s column has been inspired by a friend and fellow LARPer, Maria. She referenced a series of other articles written on this topic called Gender and Live-Action Role Play and then posed the following, “I am curious if the split between theatre style and combat larp is also relevant in terms of gendered attendance.”

I read through the articles referenced to see what the author of them had to share on the subject I was rather shocked and aghast at what I’d read. Beyond the massive amount of page real estate taken up by the author just talking about her own character (in many ways I feel that were irrelevant to the topic at hand) I feel that the series of articles feeds off of and then regurgitates the age old stereotype of the female gamer: That she is a rare, endangered species, and any character that she plays are supposed to be the object of a male gamer’s desires, a support character and in short a lesser being at the whim of the dominant male gender. I find this very ironic given that the article was supposedly written by a feminist female LARPer. The stereotype that a woman’s characters are supposed to be objectified, passive background characters is an archaic stereotype. Secondly, female LARPers, let alone female gamers are no longer the endangered species that they once were.

The author of the series also noted in her article titled Into the Tavern that “the ratio of females-to-males in major LARP organizations is about 1-to-5, but can drop as low as 1-to-20.” Granted the series of articles mentioned at the start were written two years ago and referenced events that happened back around 2003 at the earliest, but even then I think that the stereotype mentioned in the article was really on its way out if it wasn’t already abolished.

I briefly mentioned LARP and gender in my Shape of the US LARP Hobby(pdf) paper: “Just as the table-top RPG hobby was primarily male dominated early in its existence, so was LARPing, but that LARPing saw a lot of growth (especially in the 1990s) in regard to female membership and it quickly became a very mixed gender hobby.” However that is far from enough to answer the inquiry posed and provide my thoughts on the matter. Allow me to expand on this.

I do feel that early in the LARPing hobby that there was a strong disproportionate male-to-female ratio. Much like table-top gaming was heavily male dominated in its infancy, LARPing was too. This year I attended Origins and had time to sit and people watch. There were gamers of all all kinds in attendance: Table-top RPGers, LARPers, mini battle gamers, collectible card gamers, board gamers and etc. Yes, men were the dominant gender in attendance, however there were also a lot of women. I’d say that the number of women in attendance was somewhere between the 30-40 percent marker (depended on the day as well as where I was sitting as certain games drew different crowds). Not bad for a hobby that has been predominantly male dominated and it seems every year that more and more women are becoming interested in the gaming hobby, and not just as sideline participants because their significant other/friend/etc. is a gamer.

In a recent conversation I had with some fellow LARPing friends of mine we actually discussed the topic of LARP and gender. We came to the conclusion that in theater style LARPing games that the female-to-male ratio is roughly a 40/60 split. Live-combat role-playing games a 35-40/65-60 spread and for live-combat battle games a 30/70 split. Now I feel a need to caveat this by sharing a few points: This is a very general observation and individual games will vary as to the degree of the gender split; some games might even have the reverse with women taking the lead. It should also be noted that game expectations will influence this too. For example, a wild west LARP that seeks to preserve historical atmosphere may have strongly gendered roles and gender expectations and this could lead to a game highly dominated by a single gender.

An acquaintance of mine once shared that she felt that more women do LARPing than table-top gaming because LARPing is a more socially oriented form of gaming and women naturally gravitate to that. I have to say that I agree with that and feel that the more role-play oriented a LARP is the more women tend to become involved in it. Once again though, remember that not every woman follows the perceived or stereotypical pattern, there will be those who defy the standard because it does not fit them.

Just as female gamers have broken the stereotype of being an endangered species, I’ve also seen more and more women playing strong, active (dare I even say aggressive) roles defying the other age old stereotype (see the second paragraph). Likewise men too have broken their stereotype as well in turn playing characters in more passive and/or underdog roles. Much like the gender balance has changed, so have the expectations of the type of characters that the different genders are traditionally expected to play or portray.

Bottom line, the stereotypes that once existed no longer have the foothold they once did and have (if they’ve not already) become archaic relics of the gaming circles of yesteryear. We need to stop dwelling on them and instead move forward to show that they are no longer relevant. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, what are your thoughts on gender and LARP? Do you think there is still a great divide between the genders within the hobby? Do you you still see or have experienced the old stereotypes or have new stereotypes been formed?

Next week I’ll be sharing my notes from a game design seminar I attended at Origins held by Monte Cook. As always I love to hear feedback and suggestions for further articles. Feel free to leave a comment here at RPG.net (see the link below for this article’s forum thread), write Amber at webmaster [at] mortalisrpg [dot] com or visit the Mortalis Games site to see what else has been shared or leave a comment there.

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