Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Epic Glory and Manhood Acts in Fantasy Role-Playing: Dagorhir as a Case Study

Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Epic Glory and Manhood Acts in Fantasy Role-Playing: Dagorhir as a Case Study

Article excerpt

Introduction

Every Sunday, in a quad of a northeastern college, nearly 20 men, in their early to late 20s, battle as knights and warriors. The men equip themselves with various swords, shields, and armors crafted from old furniture scraps, wood, and plastic pipes, which are wrapped in foam and cloth. They use their "weapons" to engage in a simulated game revolving around archaic military combat. While their foam weapons are not crafted with the purpose of injuring anyone, participants simulate death cries when struck by their opponents. The winner cries out in victory, proclaiming his glory to an imaginary king, clan, tribe, or army. Once the battle is complete, the losers rise from the place of the simulated death and the battle starts again. As this happens, other college students watch this turn of events from a distance. One mutters to another as commentary of the events they just observed, "What a bunch of nerds."

Dagorhir Outdoor Improvisational Battle Games (shortened as Dagorhir) combines both history and fantasy, allowing players to interact as historical or fictional characters. The activity of Dagorhir is very similar to what outsiders call Live Action Role Playing or LARPing, but members of this group reject the term for a number of reasons. (1) Some of the actions in Dagorhir may involve fantastic acts such as "defeating an invading group of ores [monsters]" by simulating combat with foam swords and arrows known as "boffers." In addition, participants regularly engage in conversations as historical characters with manners, language, and dress that reflect the culture of the period. Participants also dress according to a genre that is characteristic of the game, such as in a knight's armor or Victorian/Tudor dress of historical England. Importantly, these participants follow rules for interaction which are agreed upon by individual group members and reflect rules established by a national network of organizations that span nationally and internationally. Larger Dagorhir events, which are called battles, are generally held in a restricted social space, primarily in a rented outdoor field. Small Dagorhir events and practices, however, are generally held at public venues.

The Dagorhir organization was founded in 1977 by Brian Wiese and was later popularized by others in the early 1980s (Tresca, 2011). Wiese's intention was to simulate, through the use of foam weapons and armor, fantasy themed battles. Dagorhir can be considered a form of fantasy play because of its chronological inconsistency between time and space in scenarios as well as use of characters that askew historical fact and physical reality. For example, events include a mix of historical, fantasy, and mythological themes and characters much like the fantasy role-playing board game Dungeons & Dragons (Fine, 1983). In some ways, Dagorhir can also be likened to children's games such as Athenians and Spartans, Cowboys and Indians, and war play but is far more complex in its organization, rules, and stories and also involves mainly adolescents and adults.

The focus of this particular study is on several groups of Dagorhir players in the Northeastern United States and, in particular, a nearly all-male group of players that practice on the college quad of Public North East University (PNEU). These groups are labeled by many outsiders as "nerds." Similarly, many insiders also identify as such. For instance, a member of a Dagorhir organization named Arin (2) said, "We're a dorky, nerdy, geeky bunch at heart. It's what makes us run around in our fantasy world and hit people with foam." In this context, both through external labeling and self-identification, Dagorhir can be categorized as a nerd group. Central to our focus on this group is the common depiction of their subordinate status as men, which make them ideal to further sociological understanding of how definitions of manhood get constructed and enacted within low-status groups. …

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