The Tyranny of Screaming Orgasms

I have just come home from Forum 2012. Forum is a Danish convention with a focus on talks and workshops, not least inspired by Knudepunkt. I was there for the first time in a while, having been enticed by Jonas Ellemand, who wanted me to help organize the execution of Project Særimner, a short form scenario competition. I’m not going to talk about Særimner here, except to encourage you to check out the great little gems it spawned.

But being there, I also attended a number of talks. One of them dealt with debriefings, particularly after big larps, given by Frederik Berg Østergård. In the discussion afterwards, we talked about framing the play experience – how certain scenarios debrief in a way that underlines how tough and deep the game was, while others underline how great a game it was, thus priming the way people remember and discuss the game.

This discussion lead me to a startling realization:

We’re being tyrannized by Screaming Orgasms.

Screaming Orgasms

Let me explain what I mean by Screaming Orgasms. My basic premise is this: Who’s more likely to talk about their sex life – people who have good, enjoyable sex, or the people who have wild, earth-shattering Screaming Orgasms? My claim would be that in the kinds of circles where people share the details of their sex life, people are likely to brag. In other words, they are going to tell war stories of either hilariously bad sex (particularly when others are to blame, or if there were funny mishaps involved) or of Screaming Orgasms. The person who just had good, enjoyable, average sex is much less inclined to talk loudly about it.

This means that the discourse surrounding sex is dominated by the Screaming Orgasms. So the people who “just” have regular good sex think they’re supposed to be having those Screaming Orgasms they’re hearing so much about, and start wondering what is wrong with them. In this way, a Tyranny of Screaming Orgasms seems to reign.

Bleeding Immersion

In the “mature” section of the Danish role-playing scene, there is a significant focus on powerful play experiences. Seven years ago, when I attended the LARPs System Danmarc and Society 41, we were talking about “immersion”: becoming your role and feeling what they feel. Today, games like Totem, Delirium, Just a little lovin’, Fat Man Down, etc. aim to cause “bleed”: the bleeding over your emotions and experiences to your character, and vice versa.

And people have amazing, powerful, life changing experiences. Experiences they talk about, loudly and excitedly. And all the other people, those who didn’t immerse, those who didn’t have the powerful experiences, listen to the Bleeders talking about their Screaming Orgasms, and they think to themselves: “Why didn’t I feel like that? What is wrong with me?”

The Tyranny

And thus, all the people having a good time at the larp, without reaching the powerful heights of orgasmic bleed and immersion, start to feel inadequate, deficient. I have experienced this myself on a number of occasions. At Society 41, I was bored. There was almost nothing to do in the scenario, except sit around and feel. I remember one girl who sat around in a windowsill for most of the game, staring into space; after the game, she pronounced that she’d had one of the greatest experiences of her life. Faced with this, how could I not feel inadequate?

This is potentially a problem for the hobby as a whole. For me, certainly, it has meant that I have been loath to join many of the scenarios that I really would have liked to go to, because I have been afraid not to feel adequately, and not to be able to honour the demands of the scenario.

Now, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: the Screaming Orgasms are not doing anything out of ill will. In fact, the problem is not that they are talking about their experiences. Instead, the issue is that the averages are not speaking up, keeping their experiences to themselves.

But when it all comes down to it, I do believe that it is to the detriment of our hobby if the Screaming Orgasms are allowed to dominate the way we talk about scenarios. It sets them apart as a small elite who share the same kind of experience, and it makes the rest of us feel inadequate, making our good, enjoyable, and to us very memorable experiences seem like failures. And who wants to keep doing something if they keep failing at it?

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Thais Munk on September 19, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    Great post. I like where you’re going with this and I would tend to agree. I also think that your distinction between “immersion” and “bleed” is pretty neat.

    A question of the top of my head: Isn’t it also a question about a lot of people going to larps wanting to have an experience that classifies as a “Screaming Orgasm”? Isn’t there also an element of people creating a hype that they ride along? An effect of everyone wanting to have an awesome experience and this creating something than the sum of the parts.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Elias Helfer on October 3, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    Hi Theis – sorry for the delay.

    I’m sure you’re right. It’s definitely also a matter of telling yourself which experience you want to have had – and if you had a mediocre experience, is it really worth your time and effort?

    Reply

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