per amica silentia lunae

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Thoughts on LARP, Creation, Art, and Fun
This was sparked by BadKitty's musings on LARP and other recreational pursuits… it's a response, and certainly not meant as criticism or anything like it. But it is rambling, discursive, opinionated and somewhat of a rant. This happens to be an area that I feel rather strongly about, so I've done some thinking about it over time. I will be shamelessly mining earlier mailing list posts in order to assemble this, so it might seem suspiciously familiar to some of you. Deal with it.

All power to the imagination! - slogan from the Paris, May '68 insurrection

"Why do I write and run LARPs? Because it feels so good when I stop!" I've made that facetious remark before, and it seems to have caught on in my circle of friends. But that's all it is- a throwaway quip.

Honestly speaking, it's hard to answer the question without sounding grandiose. LARP is one of my major creative outlets, a way in which I approach the Muse. I write it for the wonder of creating something fine and frightening that gets away from me and does things I could never predict, the joy of watching players lose themselves in the material I've written, the mysterious gestalt (often hilarious, sometimes terrifying) that happens when the writers and players all work together to create a synergy that has a life of its own... It is one of the ways that I serve the imbas, the divine fire of Inspiration.

There are moments in LARP that are real Magick.. The whole thing can take you Between the Worlds, and this is something that I've learned to honor. What I'm aiming for was perfectly summarized by Robin Williamson, "To print a spell of glory on our blinks of lives." Or to quote the post-game reaction of one of the players in the first game I co-wrote and co-GM'd for the 1936 Horror Campaign: "Oh my f@#$ing God!" ;-) I don't have a tried-and-true method of getting that, and I can't say that my success rate is any greater than anyone else's. But when it happens... ah, what a feeling.

Art is whatever you can get away with. - Marshall McLuhan

I think I have to agree that LARP can be art, but it doesn't have to be.

I don't want to sound dismissive here, but I'm really not interested in whether anything I've written is Art. I do not write because I am trying to create Art; I write because I have the ideas and (in the end) my enjoyment of seeing them communicated to others is greater than the effort involved in communicating them.

Our culture seems to be of two minds about Art. On one hand, it is seen as something separate from daily life, an elite world where only those with special talent and training can create (artists) or interpret (critics) Art. In this world, there is often a knee-jerk reaction against popularity- if it is popular, it must be bad art, or not art at all.

On the other hand, Art is judged by the "non-Art" world entirely on its monetary or material value. It's hard to make a "good living" as an artist, therefore people are encouraged to enter other fields. And if an artist's works become monetarily valuable (often for reasons which have nothing to do with talent, skill, inspiration, beauty, etc.), they can become a commodity, leading to people trading in "art futures" and other abominations.

There's another problem with the commercialization of creative work- people who make their living in a non-creative job, yet pay homage to the Muse in their spare time often feel kind of weird about it. It's as if they're selling out by not having a job that they truly enjoy. Nonsense. The fiction that everyone can get a job that they enjoy, find fulfilling, and can support themselves with is just that- fiction. And potentially poisonous, at that.

For LARP, I like the term "Artifice" better than "Art". This is an idea I picked up from Brice Sterling's "Holy Fire". My interpretation of the term: using the method of art for the aim of... well, something that can be hopefully described by several if not all of the following words: entertainment, education, joy, humor, terror, exhilaration, angst...

Not as neat as Crowley's "Our method is Science, our aim is Religion", but you get the picture.

Art is one of my "tools", as it were, but I also rely heavily on research, craft, and deviousness. ;-) But it all is powered by some mysterious source of inspiration... that age old question comes up again: "where do you get your ideas from?" And, like most creators, I can't give an answer that satisfies most people.

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves. -C.G. Jung

One of the things that really makes me grit my teeth is the poisonous puritanical notion that Play and Fun are somehow less worthwhile than other activities, that because they are not solemn, they are also not serious, and something you do in your spare time. "Recreational" is almost a derogatory adjective somehow… Even in this country, where we have pundits railing at the decadence of the culture, the "obsession" with enjoyment, this is the case. We have equated "Fun" with "Money"; it seems like every "amateur" sport and recreation gets the equality and real fun killed out of it by relentless marketing that makes it nearly impossible for someone to get in on the ground level or enjoy themselves when they try.

Recreation seems to almost always be done with a guilty eye cast over the shoulder, some kind of self-justification; or the person trying to have fun carries some kind of electronic umbilical to the workaday world. I fear that it will never stop until there is no safe place for shameless, guilt-free, self-indulgent, pure fun.

And Fun is necessary! Play is the soul of creation, and the source of regeneration for our tired souls. I believe that what we are here for, what we have incarnated for, is to love one another and Play in the Garden of the Creator. Fun is sacred. It needs no justification.

In some ways, LARP is a subversive form of recreation. It still doesn't cost very much, it doesn't require much from the players and creators except time. Sire, some folks have elaborate costuming wardrobes; some games have brilliant special effects. But compared to the amount of money that other "recreation industries" involve, it's nothing. And (given the generous nature of most LARPers and the power of imagination) it's possible to walk into a game with nothing other than street-clothes and have a weekend of heady, often transformative Fun while paying less than almost any other weekend of more structured, commercialized recreation.

Personally, I play LARPs to enjoy myself. I would hazard a guess that most of the people I know who LARP do so for the same reason. And I wouldn't create LARPs if I didn't enjoy the results. This is not a justification; it is a proud proclamation.

Io Dionysios! And Hail to the Muse of Fire!

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Many excellent points, and only one I genuinely disagree with. I think that as the world *is* right now, yes, perhaps it is fiction to think that everyone in the world can find fulfilling, well-paid work that they truly enjoy. But I think what is potentially poisonous, on the contrary, is believing that it always *has* to be a fiction, and not trying to challenge that assumption.

Telling ourselves that it's acceptable to suck it up and work a crap job because that's the way the world is, is selling ourselves short.

Yes, sometimes we have to work crap jobs for one reason or another-- I sure have. And sometimes even the greatest jobs suck rocks, I'll grant that too. But that should never stop us from thinking that we deserve better, from striving for better, or at least (in the case of an otherwise good job) anticipating that things will get better. We get sold a huge bill of goods in this world that tells us we have to accept what the powers that be hand out to us in life and not complain, and I refuse to acknowledge that that is valid.

We *should* all strive for jobs that make that 40+ hours of our week feel pretty good. We should raise the bar to *start* with the expectation that we deserve fair pay for our skills, good working conditions, non-psycho bosses, and a sense of pride and accomplishment in what we do.

And I'm not saying that we all have to be firemen or movie stars or astronauts or whatever glamorous thing we wanted to be when we grew up in order to feel fulfilled by work. I think it's possible to work as, say, a gas station attendant, and to be perfectly fulfilled in your work because you don't feel the need for a huge salary, you like chatting with the customers, you don't want a lot of responsibility, and you have plenty of time to spend with your family. Or whatever. I mean, I don't want to be doing admin work for the rest of my life, but bureaucracy and stresses aside, I enjoy my current job and take pride in doing it well, and it feels pretty fulfilling to be playing what I see as an important role in a good company with a boss I like, decent hours, no real commute, and fair pay. I don't think I deserve any less than that and I don't think it's unrealistic to expect that or more from every job I have-- or to move on if I become too unhappy.

I think it is literally a *crime* against humanity that we are taught not to expect too much, not to reach too high, to be "realistic" and accept that work is going to suck, to not get too big for our britches and not endanger our budding careers (or just our joe jobs) by rocking the boat. So why do some people have jobs they adore at which they are wildly successful and others don't? We're told that those people were lucky, they were in the right place at the right time, or that they're special and we, well, we're just ordinary and have no right to expect more. Horseshit. Life is what you make of it. You can either work on your personal philosophy to find the satisfying worth in what you already do, or you can strive for more and know that at least you're not settling, or both. Or you can accept a lot in life that is unsatisfactory, and tell yourself that's the hand you've been dealt, and hide your light under a bushel forever. (that's the universal "you", BTW.) It's no one else's choice.

But if you look at any happy, successful person, you'll see someone who refused to settle and did what they loved, what made their heart sing, what they were *meant* to do, just for the love of doing it. "Let what you love be what you do." It's not even purely selfish-- people who have that level of satisfaction are infectious, they invariably reach out to help others be happy as well, they start a chain reaction and THAT is what can change a world.

Life is too short to accept that ongoing dissatisfaction or outright unhappiness is just or fair or right, especially in such a major area of our adult lives. I personally believe that the whole "pursuit of happiness" thing is meant to imply that we are *supposed* to be active in finding and achieving what makes us happy in life. Maybe I'm just nuts that I don't want my tombstone to say, "I guess it didn't suck TOO bad," but if so, then I'll gladly be the local madwoman.

Should we stop pushing each others' rant buttons? ;-)

Telling ourselves that it's acceptable to suck it up and work a crap job because that's the way the world is, is selling ourselves short.

OK, I misspoke myself. It was late, and a hasty add-in comment to what was (mostly) a better thought-out post.

I did not mean that one should accept a "crap job". Where my problem lies is the practice of classifying any job that doesn't meet certain limited (and highly subjective) criteria as a crap job.

A job can be just that- a job. It's OK for a job to be something that you do primarily because you're getting paid for it; something that you wouldn't do if you didn't have to.

I don't think we're actually in too much disagreement here. I don't advocate putting up with injustice in any form, in the workplace or anywhere else. Someone with a crap job should change it if they can, change jobs if they can, or endure it if they have to. Acceptance is not what I was calling for.

But being dissatisfied with a job that's OK-that's "pretty good", to use your words- just because some external set of criteria says you should be... that's what I'm against.

There's just so much pressure to kowtow to artificial concepts of success and fulfillment. It's a goal that is made unachievable, because dissatisfaction is more profitable than contentment. The idea that you need a six-figure salary, a McMansion, and all the trimmings in order to be considered successful is poisonous... but so is the idea that you need to support yourself by your creative work in order to be fulfilled.

I'm against absolutist criteria. The idea that you have complete control over your life or any aspect of it is just as bad as the idea that you have no control. Sometimes you sail against the wind, sometimes you run with it. And sometimes you cheat by using the motor. ;-)

Should we stop pushing each others' rant buttons? ;-)

I don't know. Have we? ;-)

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