jueves, 1 de septiembre de 2016

The dark side of larp tourism

Picture of la sirena varada location, taken by Herman Langland

Larp tourism. What a great idea! Although perhaps it is not as awesome as it seems.

Last year the concept of larp tourism was formalized with this video by Claus Raasted.
While I agree in that larp tourism can work marvels for big/commercial events like College of Wizardry, The Witcher School or Fairweather Manor, for other larps I am not so sure.

We had a particularly negative experience in the second run of ‘la sirena varada’ (that's the Spanish for 'The Stranded Mermaid') concerning a couple of larp tourists. Even if they probably will not define themselves as that, they told us that they were going to use the larp as part of a trip through Spain. That’s really cool, mind you. ‘la sirena varada’ is a Mediterranean larp by design, topics and structure. It is deceptively easy-going, a sandbox approach that uses techniques and a specific direction (a descent into madness) with an open hand. It is international, using exclusively the English language, and advertises itself as “A larp about Mediterranean dreams and red-blooded delusion. About waking up late and enjoying life”. It seems like the perfect candidate for larp tourism, right? Hardly.

It is a small larp with less than thirty participants and requires a certain commitment beyond the economic contribution, such as fulfilling a questionnaire, being able to often communicate with the organization before the larp and taking a proactive approach to contribute to the larp experience, not just enjoying it passively. All this is stated in the website and the questionnaire. And yet, the couple of larp tourists signed in and accepted participation – that one of them did not show any interest or ignored the e-mails sent to work on her character was a sign, but we did not expect what happened at the larp: a complete refusal to participate, not even at the starting point. They took one of the cave houses for themselves, filled it with food and spent all the play inside, without engaging or interacting with other characters.

There wasn’t a complete dependence between characters for the larp and their absence did not affect anyone else, so after trying to engage them a couple of times and instead of being confrontational, we left them to their own devices, focused our energies on the rest of the players and just spoke about the situation with the affected couple after the larp was over, but it left a bitter aftertaste for us. As organizers, we spent time, creativity and holidays designing and coordinating a non-profit project just to find that two people refused to participate at all without providing any strong reason. We understand that an individual cannot always know beforehand their personal circumstances, but we felt as if those people had considered our larp just as a cheap stop on their trip through Spain.

Lesson learned. For the third run of ‘la sirena varada’, active engagement will be expected from the participants and we will take some measures to avoid this situation to be repeated.

Larp tourism is not the problem, of course! Other international participants came with the idea of enjoying their stay in Spain and had a great experience with our larp. However, a focus on the tourism part can be detrimental for small and demanding events made for the love of it and not for the profit.

A final advice? For organizers, if you are creating an international larp, think if it is suitable for larp tourism and communicate your decision as soon and clear as possible.

For participants, read well the larp website, be sure that you want the kind of experience it offers. And please ask the organizers if their larp is suitable for a tourist or non-engaging approach before signing up. Perhaps that is not what they are looking for, because not all larps are made for a profit and they prefer less, but engaged, participants rather than covering up a position.

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