Growing pains

Preface; this is just some scattered thoughts and reaction to events that unfolded in the larping community today. There’s probably a ton of stuff that I need to elaborate on at some point. 

This meme feels particularly appropriate today.

I started larping when I was 13 years old, some 20+ years ago. Back then we were the weird kids running around woods with padded sticks and bedsheets with holes cut in them.

But the worlds we built felt so real and captivating, that it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that this particular bug was one that stuck around.

Larping permeates all layers of societies and larpers come from all walks of life. It’s one of the things that make this community great. Especially in Scandinavia where I believe we do what we can to make sure that there’s room for everyone; in spite of flaws, social ineptitude or diagnosis.

Most of us have always been the odd ducks, so I’d like to tell myself we’re more tolerant of whatever damage the others carry around (this is of course total bullshit, but I like the thought and the idea that this is what we work towards).

Fast forward to today, and larping is a massive hobby. We who participate in it form international communities and share incredible experiences. We pour obscene amounts of money, time and effort into crafting our worlds, and as we’ve grown up we’ve become an increasingly demanding audience.

Commercialising our art

It’s difficult to talk about larping in Scandinavia without mentioning Dziobak Larp Studios. They’re the producers of the massive events you’ve read about on Geek & Sundry, HuffPo and elsewhere. From the Harry Potter-ish College of Wizardry to the Downton Abbey inspired Fairweather Manor they’ve managed to bring larping into the mainstream. That is in and of itself a massive accomplishment. But sadly these successes have not come without cost.

DLS is the brainchild of “Visionary Wild Card” Claus Raasted. Claus is an old acquaintance of mine, and I can definitely vouch for the “wild card” part of his chosen title. We’ve rarely seen eye to eye, and at times it has led to clashes, which were from my perspective more a matter of personality than objective. It’s hard to refute the benefit of having Claus in our community. He is, for better and worse, a trailblazer and a force to be reckoned with.

So, what’s the problem

Sadly, as DLS has grown and the company is trying to be profitable that “come hell or high water” attitude has repeatedly caused problems for DLS. It’s easy to see how this particular aspect of Claus’ personality permeates his company.

There was a time when the laissez-faire attitude of associations were easier to deal with because everyone was a volunteer and just doing the best they could with what was available. To me it feels like as if DLS is often trying to play itself down as “just another association”, while still being a for-profit company.

It feels to me that DLS hasn’t quite realized that there’s a different level of expectation when you’re a for profit company selling a product. Sure, they may say it’s co-creation, and that’s likely true, but that’s also really easy to sell with a customerbase as intensely passionate as the average larper.

No one is perfect, and growing a company naturally means you will fuck up from time to time. It is, however, how you manage those fuckups that will define your long term success. And it is managing it’s fuckups that it seems to me that DLS stumbles again and again.

  • Rather than respond to criticism by listening and integrating, they try to silence critics. By going so far as using a business relationship to silence a critic by contacting their employer. Or by saying that critics have hurt their employees feelings (welcome to the big leagues; this is how customers react).
  • Fucking up rights management. Which is an admittedly difficult arena when you have so many passionate volunteers who will spend so much of their spare time to make sure their experience at your event is the best experience it can possibly be. But that just makes it so much more important that you get it right every single time.
  • And worst of all; repeatedly working with and hiring abusers and then turning a blind eye when made aware of the situation. This feels particularly grating as Claus has repeatedly positioned himself as a proactive feminist in the larping community, so seeing this kind of behaviour from his company ends making all his good works smack of manipulation and hollow talk (which I know it isn’t, but goddammit if it doesn’t feel like it).

It seems like the guiding principle at DLS is not unlike Facebooks; “move fast and break stuff”. The problem is of course that DLS has far less social capital than Facebook, and each time they break stuff they also erode the community’s confidence in them.

Most of the time I don’t respond or react at all to these kinds of things, but DLS is swiftly becoming the face of larp in a commercial sense, and I am so tired of seeing them drop the ball. Am I being unfair or too harsh? Maybe, though I don’t think so. All of my frustration is founded in wanting these lovable morons to succeed.  

DLS would do well to figure out what their position is on social issues, because right now it certainly feels like they’re picking and choosing when it is convenient to respect and protect those who love and attend their events. Maybe then it’ll be easier to root for them again?