Role Playing Games are one of my favourite genres of videogames. Becoming another person, telling their story, interactively living another life for a few hours; it’s an incredibly appealing and freeing aspect of gaming. Yet I’ve never tried Live Action Role Playing, or LARPing, which essentially takes the things that most appeal to me about RPGs and puts them into the real world.
As well as being used for fun, LARPing can also be used as an educational technique which helps people understand the experiences and perspectives of those different from themselves and it’s this way that Anna Kreider, creator of Go Make Me a Sandwich, is using it with her own LARP, Autonomy.
Autonomy has players portray their own gender but the script for how society perceives gender will be flipped. The goal is to make players aware of the unspoken power dynamics of gender that we are all socialised to accept.
In a post about how Autonomy came to be, Anna said it originally started as an elaborate misandry joke inspired by a House panel on contraception and religious liberty that featured an all-male lineup of witnesses after the single female witness wasn’t allowed to testify.
“It occurred to me that taking that entire scenario and simply swapping the genders would make for a gloriously misandrist LARP. I could teach men to behave like women, women to behave like men, and then we could sit around and torture a bunch of men for an hour of so of hilariously misandrist entertainment.”
After a time, though, she began to consider the idea less as a joke and more as something that might be genuinely needed to create a helpful way of understanding gendered experiences. After running the game for the first time Anna found that, though she had wanted to create a situation where male players would be forced to feel what she has felt in the past, she certainly didn’t enjoy the experience of being masculine saying “hurting someone the way that you’ve been hurt just because you can is a terrible feeling.” She reports that several players cried after the experience, having gained a deeper understanding of what their friends have to go through every day.
The most obviously problematic aspect of the game is that it doesn’t acknowledge trans and non-binary identities, having only two gender options as well as equating the biological sex of a player with a specific gender. Anna notes that she’s working on developing Autonomy to call out cissexism and will be playtesting it soon.
In its current form Autonomy requires between six and nine players and is made up of three parts; a workshop on gendered body language, a workshop on gendered speech, and finally the roleplaying portion where everything plays out and female players perform traditional masculinity whilst male players perform traditional femininity.
If you’re interested in playing Autonomy yourself, you can find it here where it’s available for a pay-what-you-want price. All you need is 6 to 9 players and a couple of hours free.