Guest Blogger

Role-Playing Doesn't Make Florida Republican a Hypocrite

Filed By Guest Blogger | April 24, 2014 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: congressional candidate, conservative Christians, geekdom, Jake Rush, LARP, Mind's Eye, role-playing

Editor's Note: Guest blogger Rev. M. Vernon Hunt is a writer and rabble-rouser currently residing in the untamed wilds of north-central Ohio. He cut his teeth writing for several online role-playing groups for ten years, and credits the experience for helping him hone his talents and gain confidence in his work. Outside of writing, he is a dedicated Whovian and avid consumer of all things horror.

Geekery is in fashion right now, what with big-budget comic book movies dominating the cinemas of the nation and fantasy epics like Game of Thrones capturing the public consciousness. We have entire television networks devoted to video games. Cosplayers become memes. Most people even know now that dice can have more than six sides.

Being a geek is cool, and everyone wants to be one.

However, even in this era of geek chic there are certain subcultures within the geek community who remain maligned and misunderstood. Role-playing gamers, and particularly live-action role-playing (LARP) enthusiasts, are often consigned to being the butts of jokes told by non-geeks, and even fellow geeks.

Jake-Rush-vampire.jpgThis truth was thrust into the spotlight this month with the revelation that Florida congressional candidate Jake Rush, a Republican running as a "straight shooter within the law enforcement and legal communities," is himself a LARPer.

Headlines referring to his "bizarre double life" as a "sexy vampire" were de rigeur throughout the media reporting on the story. Rush is affiliated with a group called Mind's Eye Society, a gaming and charitable organization devoted to games from White Wolf Publishing, specifically their World of Darkness collection.

World of Darkness is a collection of role-playing games featuring vampires, werewolves, mages, fairies, and other assorted mythological creatures, in modern and historical settings. Though it is primarily a table-top gaming system, it is also known for an extensive and enthusiastic sub-culture of LARP fans.

In LARP, players dress as their characters, use props and real-world settings, and employ acting and other theatrics to enhance their gaming experience. To that end, a typical LARP session for a World of Darkness game will typically feature players clad in leather and lace, corpse paint and corsets, and a plethora of other looks with a distinct gothic/industrial/fantasy bent.

Knowing this, the pictures making the rounds (above) showing Rush dolled up in black leather and novelty contact lenses as one of his characters, Chazz Darling, wouldn't be terribly shocking to the average person. The amusement appears to stem solely from the fact that Rush is a GOP candidate and a self-proclaimed "practicing Christian."

Numerous commentators have accused Rush of hypocrisy, as though either his political or religious beliefs somehow preclude him from enjoying LARP games, vampires, leather, or... something. This is a patently nonsensical line of reasoning, to put it bluntly.

Role-playing and, by extension, LARP makes no distinction where such factors are concerned. The entire purpose of role-playing, at the gaming table or in the gaming space, is to bring people together so that they can play at being someone else for a few hours and tell an interesting and exciting collaborative story.

Anyone can join, anyone can play, and everyone can have a good time. Plenty of conservatives play and plenty of Christians play, though perhaps not many politicians do, I will concede.

Some have also taken issue with the controversial turns storylines can take in a World of Darkness campaign, specifically pointing to an online bulletin board post written by Rush in which his character expresses a desire to rape or invite the rape of the character of another player. Taken at face value, it is absolutely a shocking statement and I am not remotely surprised by the condemnation it has garnered, though the fault for that lies partially with those writers who neglected to mention that Rush was writing in-character.

Having been involved in several online role-playing groups for over a decade, I can attest that my characters were frequently guilty of words and actions which I, myself, would never engage in. I've written my own attempted murders, animal sacrifices, sexual seductions for selfish ends, and countless other unsavory and despicable acts, all in-character. A story needs a villain, after all, and villains are known for nasty deeds.

role-playing-for-dummies.jpgTo write a villain as a villain does not necessitate or imply that the writer has fantasies of doing such things. The only thing it means is that the player is portraying a villain as being villainous. Role-playing is, at its core, collaborative fiction writing.

This is not to say that Jake Rush warrants no criticism. A brief visit to his campaign site will tell anyone that he is anti-choice, anti-immigrant, and anti-Obamacare, a free market capitalist and a gun nut. I'm sure he has plenty more abhorrent positions to go along with those listed.

Those positions, however, are not a reflection of the LARP community. He may well be a truly vile person, but it isn't because he occasionally likes to dress up as a vampire and play-act occult ceremonies.

I would encourage the media to take a step back from sensationalism and novelty at the expense of thousands of decent, upstanding gamers and, instead, dig into something meatier where Jake Rush is concerned. Click-baiting headlines, shoddy research, and "scandalous" photos are the norm of the day, but that does not make such practices superior to legitimate reporting and writing of substance.

Picking on an underdog community to garner hits is both easy and low. We should all be better than that.

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