Can you do genderless in the 1920's / 30's?

For NaLaWriMo, my initial idea was for a whodunnit. In case people are wondering how this is going: its not. I thought hard about whodunnits until i was well into the disillusionment stage (I mean really, who murders someone while there are other people around? Its a completely idiotic plan). Then I moved onto the backup idea, which was an occult archaeology concept, inspired by the Sutton Hoo dig. I did some research (including watching The Dig, a nice gentle movie about geeks digging up a boat), threw some ideas on paper, and now have half a larp. Specifically, the mundane side. I could continue developing that idea, crossing it with something like Downton Abbey to add a layer of soap opera, but I wanted to do tentacles or ghosts, so I’m waiting for that bit to fall into place (after which it will probably go quite quickly).

One important question I was grappling with: do I try and do genderless characters in a 1920’s / 3’s setting? After all, its the era when people do walk around calling each other “Smythe” and “Baker” rather than using first names, so that bit is easy, and it would let me focus on a specific pathology - class - rather than having to deal with all the rest of the horrors of early C20th society. But is it really that easy to split out? After all, attitudes to cross-class relationships are remarkably different depending on the genders involved…

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Social conventions which seem dumb to us are often a cause of conflict in the real lives of real people who really experienced them.

Stories without conflict can be … (how to put this nicely…) slow and undramatic.

“Person against social convention” can be a fun plot. It is more likely to be a fun plot when it’s not a social convention the real person playing them has come up against in real life.

If you’re not deliberately aiming for historical accuracy, then any social convention of the era CAN be removed from a work of fiction (including an interactive one).

If you want to write about tentacles and ghosts, then you don’t want historical accuracy, you want occult fun at a dig site (I am SUPER into this concept). You’re adding fake things in, why would it be a problem to take real things out?

So, conclusion: You can do 1920’s/30’s as genderless.

Should you?

  • Is the fun of gender-based conflict worth the logistics difficulty of gender-based casting?
  • Is the gender-based conflict FUN conflict for the participants? Fun conflict to experience on ALL sides?
  • What other conflict is there?
  • How does gender-based conflict interact with the other themes you’re working with? How does it interact with the mechanics you’re working with?

If you can’t find a fun reason to leave gender in, and you want to take it out, then take it out.


Fun fact: the western world in the 1920 and 1930 was completely obsessed with archeology in Egypt following the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb.

Topic? Yes you can do genderless. There’s enough first-hand material from the period that indicates those roles were being reevaluated in many ways, at least in some circles. Plus what Mel said, with the added consideration of: why would you worry about what gender the people around you are when that THING over there has more limbs than an octopus???

It sounds like a great concept overall, just sadly not for me. It’s yet another game set in England where everyone has to play English people.

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Oh yes. The question is “do I want to do this one (as well as this other one)”. I’ve done games with the full suite of traditional social inequalities before where its on-genre, and I know that can be un-fun where those inequalities haven’t gone away. Here it’ll be a question of which plots I want to pursue. And anyone who complains about historical inccuracy can go read about Margaret Guido and Tessa Wheeler.

Well, I was planning to put in a “foreign” medium, but yes, once again I’m writing what I know.

I looked at other places and times to set this, and didn’t want to do Egypt (and lots of other places) because colonialism. I wanted to stay in the 20’s / 30’s because before that archaeology was just looting and grave-robbing, but that time period rules out lots of places.

I did look at Britanny (because Ys just screams “Deep Ones”), but don’t know enough about the social context of 20’s / 30’s France to feel comfortable with it (and what I do know makes me Nope out - the politics seems to have been pretty toxic). Plus there’s the very real danger of it turning into prewar-“Allo! Allo!” with archaeologists uncovering the ruins of a village of indomitable Gauls. Which I think would be a wonderful larp, just not the one I want to write. (Someone should write that game, it would be glorious)

I think there’s plenty of scope for non-English people on a 1920’s/30’s digsite.

A) See above about historical realism
B) The potential geographic mobility of people in Europe in the 1920’s/30’s was astronomical.
C) See above about historical realism
D) I mean this respectfully… the proportion of things you don’t know about becoming an French academic in the 1930’s is probably not all that different to the proportion of things you don’t know about becoming an English academic in the 1930’s. You’re going to be researching anyway. You’re going to be writing the character sheet in English anyway. You’re going to be inventing a series of unlikely coincidences about why they’re here anyway.

And an awwwwwwwwwful lot of archaeology since 1930 has STILL essentially been grave robbing. England had to write LAWS about who gets the monetary value of hoards found in England. Not just policies, LAWS.

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Oh, probably. There’s still a casting process, though.

But anyway, this is beside the point of the thread. Cool concept, yes I think you can do genderless.

I feel like you’re overthinking it and can do genderless, ethnicityless, classless, anythingless. Every historical larp is actually alternate history and it’s up to you how alternate you go. If anything, the default in larps should be that no attribute of the players should force them into particular roles at the larp and it shouldn’t force them to relive real trauma or microaggressions, and any prejudices should be added back in for a design reason. There might be a few disappointed people who really want to play with the sexism or racism of the time (e.g. fighting the prejudice), but there will be just as many relieved to not have to deal with it in their pretend game this time.

You just communicate it in the briefing, so that people don’t default to their knowledge of the times. “This is 1920s but nobody cares about gender, where you’re from or what you look like. They only care how posh your family is.”


And many more who are VERY relieved that they’re not going to be asked to be sexist/racist/etc


Takes quote, adds to list of design axioms for future writers…

Extremely good points, and they made me remember one additional thing.

Prejudice and discrimination in-game seem to work best if they’re not based on something that’s a problem in player society. So the British class system in a game in NZ, where social division runs along totally different lines. Or a feudal system in a place where the monarchy is long gone. Or religious fanaticism in an ancient (i.e. dead) polytheistic belief system played in a generally secular community. All of these avoid a lot of misunderstandings but allow the players to explore that particular dark side of the setting without being worried about causing offence.

The point about the microaggressions and real traumas bears repeating and is probably the best reason I’ve seen for not including real-life problems in the setting. So I think e.g. classism could actually work, while sexism would be a hard no-go for me. I can just go to work and be sidelined if I want to experience that. No larping required.

The same thing goes for a bunch of other -isms that we still have to overcome as a species, obviously.