Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

Some thoughts on learning "period neutral"

As usual, I'm rather behind in my reading, so I only yesterday came across the fascinating discussion that new_man started in his journal, and which seems to have spread to a number of others. (I recommend reading his thread before the following, if you haven't already: I'm responding directly to that conversation. But the summary is that a lot of people are encouraging less modernism at events.) There are a lot of good ideas floating around, and I don't want to be a wet blanket, but I want to make a few observations and suggestions on the topic.

I'd like to step back for a second, and ask an important underlying quesion: why do people do so much modern talking at events? We're unlikely to come up with good solutions if we don't understand the problem. I see several different categories of people, with very different attitudes to the topic, and they suggest different approaches.

First, there are the people who really want to do "period neutral", but don't know how. These folks are motivated to learn how to do it well, and likely to put in some real work to do so. They're the kind of people who participated as "cast" in Le Poulet Gauche, and really got into the roleplay.

Second, there are the people who just plain don't care: who really do think of the SCA as a costume party, and like it that way. Whether you agree or not, that's a common and long-held view among many people in the Society, and it's a valid approach to the club as things now stand.

Third, there are the folks in the middle: those who aren't passionate about changing the culture, but are willing to try a bit to help the atmosphere. Most aren't going to go to a lot of work, though, and some are, frankly, a bit intimidated by the whole thing. (Yes, I know folks who have said as much to me.) Much of this group has no roleplay experience, so they don't have the underlying intuitions about how it works, and are likely to perceive this as much harder to do than it is.

For the first group, the passionate ones, jdulac's "SCA Club Table" and things like it are a good approach: they're interested enough to make the effort to really get into the roleplaying, and likely to enjoy doing it deeply. Note, though, that these sorts of activities often go well beyond simple "period neutral" into active roleplaying -- I'm thinking here of the Le Poulet Gauche Staff Dinners, which we held outside of events, and which were *much* more deeply in-persona than we're talking about here. This is what many people *expect* from such a gathering, and it's one reason why it's exciting to some roleplayers and intimidating to many who aren't. (No, the SCA Club Table doesn't have to be this way. But I suspect that as currently described, it's likely to drift in that direction, simply because it's likely to mainly appeal to the most passionate folks.)

For the second group, the ones who really don't care, I don't recommend worrying about them. The project here must be to change the culture, and that's a slow process. If you tell people, "You must change", many will dig in their heels and actively resist it. The only way to convince folks is to show them, by example, that it's more fun if you do things this way. That process takes many years, so patience is strongly advised.

But it's the third group that I consider most interesting, because I suspect it's the largest one. There are a lot of people (at least, around Carolingia) who kind of understand that the game could be better if we didn't spend so much time at events being modern, but who aren't all that disturbed by the status quo, either, and aren't into doing much roleplaying. How do you help them tweak their habits?

I'd like to suggest something that is along the lines of the "SCA Club Table", but with a different focus: a "period practice". We have lots of practices in Carolingia, for everything from dance to fighting to music. Many of these practices are explicitly designed to help you learn how to better experience events -- to learn a little more depth in a particular area, so that you can do it better at events. Why not do something similar for persona?

This differs from the discussions I've seen of the SCA Club Table in several subtle details:
  • First, it's aimed explicitly at that middle group. It is specifically trying to be non-threatening, and highly open. That requires some specific proselytizing, to get a wide variety of people to come try it out.

  • Second, it should be structured as part class, part practice, as many Baronial activities are. It needs to start out teaching how to do this stuff, because many people really don't know how. But it then needs to go on to actually do it -- for folks to be in-persona for a time. The complication with this particular practice is that you really can't teach while you're doing it -- the teaching breaks the atmosphere. But the two phases probably need to be occasionally interspersed, so folks can ask questions and then try again. And the teaching needs to be as disciplined as any other teaching: while it's not a hard thing to learn, there are a bunch of little tricks to it, that should be taught in an organized way.

  • Third, and perhaps most important: folks need something to do while they're playing persona. It is much, much harder to do in a vacuum -- that requires pure roleplaying, and it's why so many folks find the prospect so intimidating. But in fact, it's really pretty easy while you're doing stuff. That's one of the secrets to avoiding modernisms: the OOP discussion tends to come up when folks don't have other things to do. Eating is one thing you can do, but there are scads of others, and it's worth getting that into folks' heads. In general, the more active people are, the less time they're going to spend talking about computers.
I suppose what I'm proposing is sort of half-event, half-class, an "event practice": a little event-like evening that breaks out to the meta level occasionally and talks about how to do events well. That's something we've really never done, but in retrospect I sort of wonder why. We spend so much time teaching folks how to enjoy specific aspects of events, but we don't teach them how to enjoy the event itself. We should probably rectify that.

No, I'm not volunteering to run this, at least not now. I'm moderately toasty, and desperately trying not to burn myself out -- I've got several offices currently, and I really can't take on more responsibilities. But it sounds like an idea whose time has come, and if someone wants to try running such a thing, I'll be happy to help as I can. This would be a fine project for someone looking for something cool to take on, and doesn't require deep expertise in the subject upfront -- I'm sure that you can get lots of help and advice from those of us who have been doing the period-neutral thing for a number of years...
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