It’s not hard to understand the appeal of LARPing (live-action role playing). A player can both cosplay and let go of their inhibitions in a safe space by acting out a character-driven narrative. Though I’ve never LARPed before, actress Felicia Day convinced me of its potential for sheer fun in an episode of Supernatural where her character got to be the Queen of a popular LARP and was practically worshiped by the other players. Definitely appealing. But perhaps the best aspect of LARPing is that it is a medium entirely shaped by its players backgrounds and intents, and can be used as a teaching method for players who wish to better understand the experience of the disenfranchised and marginalized.
Anna Kreider, creator of the game website Go Make Me a Sandwich, has created a LARP called Autonomy that seeks to do just that: her game not only allows its players to embody a character, but further allows them to eschew and transform gender roles entirely. The goal of the game, in forcing its players to swap gender performances as part of the game mechanics, is to give both men and women a little walk in each others’ shoes and hopefully become better acquainted with society’s expectations for both genders.
The LARP was inspired by the 2012 U.S. House panel on contraception and religious liberty, where Kreider noticed the House relied on an nearly entirely-male panel of witnesses; the single female witness, Sandra Fluke, was forbidden from testifying about an issue specific to only women. Kreider believed a gender-based LARP could be a useful tool in understanding gendered experiences, and joked that if she could swap the players’ genders, the game could result in “hilariously misandrist entertainment.”
Her plan was successful to an extent, though the first playthrough of Autonomy wasn’t as hilarious as she’d hoped. As Kreider recalls on her website, several players cried after the experience, noting that they never wanted to experience being the opposite gender ever again; the players also acknowledged that the opposite gender didn’t have the option of halting the experience because it was their reality every day, which caused feelings of guilt and pain to run rampant throughout the group.
Autonomy consists of three separate phases: a workshop on gendered body language, a workshop on gendered speech, and finally, the actual roleplaying portion. At the same time, of course, the game depends on the players’ understanding of stereotypical gender roles in order for it to work; as Kreider notes, male players must assume “typically feminine posture and body language,” while its female players must learn to take up space and “perform masculinity.” While the LARP currently ignores trans and nonbinary identity, Kreider wishes to acknowledge these experiences in the future.
If you’re interested in playing Autonomy, simply pay-what-you-want for it here, and gather 6-9 players and an open mind.
Header image: Karikatur Album; by C. E. Jensen via Wikimedia