Friday, May 6, 2011

Taking a Bite from the Bitter Fruit

This is a guest post from my wife, Jennifer.

I’ve been playing NERO a long time, well over a decade at this point. Most of that time has been spent in NERO W.A.R, though I’ve traveled extensively throughout the realm of chapters, including Kalamazoo, Atlanta, and the P.A. chapters (among others). In those years of playing, I’ve filled a number of roles: player, owner, event coordinator/regional director, I’ve even served on National’s plot and rules committees. I met my husband, Bill Tobin, at an event. I met all of my closest friends – Tim and Jenni Holt, Dave and Beth Jurns, Dave and Stacey Binder, Ryan and Karin Strippel, Sean and Sara Wedig – and a whole SLEW, literally, of others (just cause you aren’t mentioned here, don’t get grumpy-pants….seriously.) Besides that I have been to a multitude of awesome events, involved in spectacular role-play and totally rad bitch-fests. Let’s be honest, everyone likes a healthy dose of drama in the mornings when they go to check facebook or the message boards. W.A.R’s message boards haven’t gotten this much action (and they do well), since the infamous “slur of ‘98” that overtook the board for days. It's like a bunch of high-schools girls in a swivel about someone who just dared to eat CHOCOLATE cake when today was a calorie-free day. (No high-school girls were harmed in the making of this post, nor do I support calorie-free days.)

What else do I not support? The bitter fruit. I have managed, somehow, not to take a bite out of said bitter fruit. Have I ranted, raved, bitched and been pissy about things? Hells yes! However, I try to move past it, which can beSUPER difficult at times. Sadly, many of my friends and others who play NERO have succumbed to temptation and fallen in to a bit of a pattern, especially in the last few months.

What do I mean by that? Well, here’s what happens. A player plays for a really long time. Typically they know the rules fairly well and are popular with a lot of the players. As time goes on they turn from the typical “rantings” about an event or current LARP issue and turn in to a bitter, angry person that can’t stop finding problems with the game long enough to actually play the game anymore. There is always something with everything—the rules set, the variants, this ruling or that ruling, this item or that phys. Rep. Someone isn’t role-playing well enough, or isn’t cool enough or whatever. It can lead to some serious unpleasantness and often these players will get really ANGRY.

There are always just enough of these players to keep the issues going or to add new issues – it’s a chain reaction. I watched a Numbers last night and they had an episode with a person doing a bad thing (imagine that on a crime show). One person thought it was cool and did it, then two more people, and so on and so on. When things started to quiet down, the original person stoked the fire and set the whole thing offagain. This is what I see over and over.

Sarah, a friend of mine, posted on facebook yesterday some photographs from WAY back in the day and I got a little misty-eyed and nostalgic. Why? Was it because the people that played back then were better? No, we’ve a great group now, albeit they usually wear more shirts (both guys and girls, which is probably a good thing from a hygiene perspective). Was it because there was better plot? Events? Staff? Items? No. It’s because there wasn’t as much stoking of the complaint fire.

Don’t get me wrong, there are valid issues and complaints about the game. Whenever you add in such a large human element there are going to be problems that arise. However, it is how you deal with those problems, the path that you follow, that dictates whether or not you’ve taken a bite of the bitter fruit. Debate is fine, but continually stoking the flames on any possible issue simply because you can or refusing to participate in attempts to correct issues that you automatically claim or deem unworthy of you does NOT make you a better player or a person. Also, using the pro/con of an issue to simply further the con side is a bit of cheap move.

It is really easy to fall in to the trap. Getting back out of it can be more challenging. You can either be part of the problem, or part of the solution. Stoke the fire, or put it out. I, personally, would rather be part of the solution. When I thought I was falling in to this pattern, I took a step back. No posting for several months and a bit of a break from plot and events. Seriously, instead of everyone posting 3-4 things that they hate about NERO or are what they deem "major problems", why not post something GREAT about NERO that can be made even better? Things that YOU are going to help make better. There are very few things, if ever, that don't have a solution.

And really, are the problems THAT major? Or do you make them that major because you can? You can either play a game with rules or play the rules. Think of what you could do if you dedicate all those posts and angry words in to something actually helpful. Think about what it could do for your blood pressure.

Why did I write this? My husband pointed out to me last night that he often avoids bringing up NERO to me because I get so upset. And I realized that I was thhiiiiiiiiis close to taking a bit of the bitter fruit—but I managed to catch myself just in time to have a fantastic chat with Ritchie about plot for the upcoming Lumberton four-day extravaganza. So, in closing, ask yourself --- how close are you to taking a bite of the bitter fruit?


  1. Mark Henry ~MariusMay 6, 2011 at 10:52 AM

    Honestly I don't see any positive aspects of the current debate, it's not a conversation taking place in most cases but an argument. In the end more damage will have been done to the game than positive changes imo.

    At the end of the day I want to hang out with fun people and beat things with a sword.

  2. I agree. I've noticed it with a lot of different "issues" lately, not just the rules debate. No one is really "debating" the issue, it is a back and forth.


  3. Great post! You're right, LARPers are a fickle audience. We live in our nostalgia, and the reality never seems to live up to the idealized game we have in our heads.

    From my end, one of the most frustrating things is when I come out with a large document or concept, and people basically just try to pinpoint the one thing that they don't like about it and focus all their energy on that. I think people LIKE to nitpick and they WANT to feel outraged. For many people, it's just a way of making yourself feel smarter.

  4. Great Post! I agree in principle. I argue to much, I am aware of this failing, but in my defense, I come by it honestly. My mother's side of my family is Italian, it is a rare family event where there is no heated debate.

  5. @Dan

    Ironically, I was talking to Jenn about her dissertation the other day in regards to that phenomenon. There's a strategy we use in product/project management, where we inject some form of error into presentations. Some people will find something to nitpick no matter what, so at least we know exactly what people will pick out as an issue, and are prepared to handle it.

    It's called the 'Hairy Arm' Technique.

  6. Great, great post, Jenn. I whole heartedly agree. I sometimes find myself in the same place, just about ready to take that bite of bitter fruit, and have to step back and think "Is what I'm about to say/do/type really helpful to this situation? Or am I just fanning the flame war?" I try to avoid fanning and instead look for a bucket of water. I'm not always successful, but I sure try.


  7. This is just great, Jenn. My honeymoon with NERO ended a few years ago, but I'm in your camp: I'd much rather be doing than complaining, giving back to the game instead of kvetching.

  8. Hear hear. The reason I left the game was not disenchantment from the system, or conflict from the ownership, it was the acrimonious nature of all the people who I was trying to help. If people don't want to be happy they won't be, and you can't do anything to change them.

  9. Hey everyone! Thanks for the comments, makes me feel all fuzzy and warm.

    Dan--I know the feeling completely. I wrote a number of the monster manuals and race packets that WAR uses....there were quite a few times I wanted to tell people to go die in a fire. However, the next thing would come along and they would be off and running on it.

    Tim -- Heated debates can be good! As long as you are willing to shift your position. And as long as you are debating actual issues and points, not just telling people why they are wrong or why they should do it your way, or trying to make them feel bad b/c you don't respect them (not saying you do, just saying "in principle debate/discussions should work this way").


    Denise -- Yep, me too. It's like "really, we don't get paid for this." But sometimes I don't think people really recognize that they are hurting people's feelings when they are SO Critical about stuff. You work and work and work on it for months and they think they are being critical in a constructive way, but they just aren't.

  10. Oh of course, without open minds debate is pointless. Some issues just need to be left alone just as soon as you realize that no one will ever change your mind with evidence or logic.

  11. Tim, very well put. I try to avoid wasting energy debating with people who are enveloped in their own righteousness. Not worth the aggravation. It is, fortunately, also the best way to drive them nuts if that's something you are glad to see happen. ;)