Subculture Envy

Last Saturday I had a hall pass. So I went on a coke-fueled bender in Vegas with my nighttime-only friends.


I went to DunDraCon, a gaming convention held annually in the Bay Area. While there was a large room devoted to open gaming, I wasn’t well prepared. Many of the gaming sessions required signing up beforehand especially for meaty multi-hour games. So while I managed to slide into a few sessions, I ended up wandering around and taking in the culture.

This “con” as they are called is more geared towards role-playing games like D&D (have you taken the alignment test? I’m a ‘true neutral’). The common areas and meeting rooms of the hotel were teeming with people playing games, designers testing their prototypes, people painting miniatures, wargamers and sc-fi fans hunched over giant tabletop games with elaborate scenes. So much artistry and time clearly go into these hobbies. But this is all just an opening act. Wait until you see the heart of this con. The LARPers. Decked out in elaborate homemade costumes, sporting old English accents, and brandishing weapon skills, you become steeply aware that you are an onlooker to a rabbit hole that goes magma deep.

I have a peculiar adulation of subcultures. My sister has once referred to me as a “rabbit hole” because I’m always into some diet, activity, app, book, whatever. Probably like many of you who would actually read this letter. But this strangely modern nerd-flattery is actually a low bar. It’s like complimenting someone for being curious because they watch documentaries. Sorry, but when you see larpers you can’t feel like anything but an imposter with superficial interests. These folks are truly all-in. This is a devoted subculture. And if you want to judge people for being nerds I won’t hear of it (unless you can do it better than Triumph).

So I started thinking about how I’d always be an imposter because I’m a bit too practical. Or ascetic. I can be strangely averse to what I consider self-indulgence. Like I need to earn fun. Yinh jokes it’s all those years of Catholic school. Being so into one thing feels self-indulgent to me. But on an intellectual level I know that’s plain wrong. And even more so, being into one thing is not impractical especially if it suits your strengths (nods to “comparative advantage”). And so there is dissonance. And from dissonance comes my insecurity. And as I stand in the hotel courtyard watching a knight parry a mace onslaught with her plywood shield and scrap metal helmet, the insecurity is screaming at me “outsider, you don’t belong here. If you were a real nerd you’d have welded some chainmail and brought your own dice”.

So here I am, an outsider amongst outsiders. I don’t think I’ll ever understand larping even if I understand nostalgia. I even feel nostalgia for times I haven’t experienced but only heard or read about. I can see the appeal of wanting to ultra-marathon or climb Everest, even if I have zero interest in endurance tests myself. But larping is like some sex fetishes (Equus Erotica is my go-to example…come to think of it, it is a form of larping). I don’t judge it, but I don’t get it. Yet I envy the bonds of a subculture. They are strong by necessity. And the ultimate affront to my misplaced sense of their impracticality is a hard contrary truth…everything that ever mattered came from the fringe.

Don’t have a broken definition of what’s practical. Find your weird and follow it down the hole. I’ll do the same.

If you need inspiration from an actual writer, I’ll leave you with Paul Graham’s Marginal. (Link)

Leave a Reply