I have some things I need to get off my chest.
One of the things I retroactively disliked about High School was the amount of adults telling myself and other students to follow our dreams. It seems like such an effortless and fantastic statement. If you follow your desires, do what you love, and work hard, success will follow. Putting aside what a vague concept "hard work" feels like when you're talking about your dreams, what they don't tell you -- what no one really tells you -- is that when you tangle your passions and your work together, the result isn't really pretty, even when you succeed. The history of the word 'passion' isn't about love -- it's about suffering. And without being dramatic, that's what many of us who create and manage creative content do: suffer.
This post isn't necessarily about suffering or anything so deeply depressing, but to offer some general insight to our work and how designers interact with it, and the people who engage in it. I want to preface this by saying I have very few regrets about pursuing this work -- I genuinely love it, and I am excited to engage in it each day -- but to ignore the personal experiences and consequences it causes would be unhealthy at best, so I want to share them.
LARP writers and organizers have very little point of historical reference for what we do. We can take cues from other, similar game design industries about best practices, but a lot of what we do is trial and error, including how we, as humans and business owners and people who followed our passions, should hold ourselves in the community. We hold a unique standard compared to many other kinds of game designers because we are constantly, actively engaging in our clients and customers and their experiences with the product. Even more than that, most of us don't view everyone as clients and customers, but as friends who share a second home.
Years of being a writer have trained myself to be able to handle critiques and feedback in a general sense -- I have my own process for detaching myself from my writing to be able to observe it and soak in whatever needs to be adjusted based on feedback from editors and first reviews -- but LARP is different. When you finish writing something, when your editor takes the final pass and sends it to publication, you're done. Your connection to that product is effectively done. People might reach out to you, review it, and you might be seek out that feedback as well, but there are still degrees of separation you can choose to engage in. When you work in LARP, that isn't possible or true. A friend or individual in the community flippantly commenting on your work is somehow a thousand times worse than a critique or a review, because you are in that community with them. You work with them, for them, and separating yourself and creating boundaries is next to impossible. I play make believe in the same world you do, and I think I speak for most of us when I say it was our only goal when we entered into this -- making the make-believe for all of us to go.
We are people who followed our passions. We want to write games that our friends will play and be entertained by, or experience something fun and cool and different. But in this industry, the expectations are higher because we aren't corporations and our product inherently requires interaction. We choose to wear some hats, but a lot of people put hats on us too. We are community managers. We are role models. We have to solve complex social problems, we have to act as judge and jury, we have to guard and protect and know when to engage in a problem and when to leave it alone. We are marketers. We have to know how to run a business that keeps the lights on and still offers everything the community wants or needs. We have to constantly have our fingers on the pulse of ethics to make sure we are still being responsible. We are constantly learning, constantly succeeding and failing because there is no standard for this work. We're developing it right now -- all of us together. I am literally covered in both real and imagined hats.
There are a lot of unspoken expectations in following this work as a passion. For those of us who work in LARP, many of us take solidarity in each other. I'm not being facetious when I saw that no one will ever understand the hurts, the joy, the insane amount of hard work and strategy that goes into running a LARP like someone else who does it. No one will understand how there are days where opening your inbox in the morning is the greatest act of will you willpower you will do in your day. There are times where I will spew into a Facebook Messenger chat at another LARP runner because I know, at its core, that even if we run different games and different genres, we have experienced the act of wearing our hearts on our sleeves.
Let me say this again -- I love my work. I love my community, my games, and everything that goes into this job. I'm not complaining, but I am trying to offer a little slice about what this world looks at the interior when you're interacting with it on a player level. I hate watching my peers and my coworkers suffer in the act of trying to create. I'm not convinced there's really a solution for it yet, either. There's been some foundation work put into Bills of Rights for both players and organizers by Lizzie Stark and I have no doubt that the trial and error of our work will continue forever, constantly changing as we try to find better ways. But following your passions is the point between love and suffering, balancing on a knife edge that often feels easy to slip on.
One of the things I rewatch constantly is David Foster Wallace's This is Water speech. If you haven't listened to it, take a minute to do so (this is the abridged version, but the full one is excellent too). Every time I have an interaction that's challenging for me, I try my best to take a step back and put myself in the shoes of the other individual. I can't always know the experiences my players go through, but I can put the work into choosing to think that they are coming from a place that is good, where I have no idea what happened in the course of their day or week or life to bring them there, but I can give them the benefit of assuming the best of them rather than giving into negativity.
If you do anything for the folks who creatively produce content for you in your life, do this for them: remember they are following their passions, and while you might not always know what lead them to this point in time, assuming the best is harder work than assuming the worst. We can all take a few minutes to put ourselves in someone else's shoes and remember the love instead of the suffering while we work through the trial and error of creating these spaces together.