In this series each post focuses on a specific aspect of camp. It is our attempt to share some of the knowledge we have accumulated in more than a decade of LARPing.
For this week’s blog, I want to get a little more personal than I feel I have in previous entries. Obviously, anything about camp is something highly personal to me, but I’ve made an effort not to focus on myself or my experiences in these posts. Something Tigre said in his interview struck a chord in me though. I asked him about what he had taken from camp in his personal life, outside of professional skills he’d honed, and he said that Wayfinder had saved his life. I think you’ll find a lot of long term community members who think this, myself included. I’d say that Wayfinder has saved me on no less than two occasions, that I would not be here today if I had not had camp. Even if I had survived adolescence and the hardships I’ve had since (which I highly doubt I would have) the person I’d be would be unrecognizable from the person I am.
The first time camp saved my life was right when I started attending. I was 13. Wayfinder was recommended to my mother by my therapist. Some friends who were also clients of his had been going and had given it rave reviews. He figured it might be good for me. I was struggling in school (because I wasn’t trying). I didn’t have very many friends. At least once a year I got into a fight that always came with an in-school suspension. I had, for some time, loudly been proclaiming that I wished I was dead. Naturally my parents were at a loss for what to do. My parents split when I was young, and they both worked, so some kind of summer supervision was a necessity. Wayfinder was the latest in a string of summer camps. That first summer was a turning point in my life. I went to two weeks of camp, three weeks apart from each other, and I fell in love. That fall I started attending Woodstock Day School (switching from Rondout Valley) and got the chance to reinvent myself in my daily life, which I jumped on. I don’t think the school change would have mattered much had I not started coming to camp. Wayfinder showed me a place where I wouldn’t be forced to pretend to be someone else and people would be excited to see me. Camp showed me it was all right to be me. If I’d never been shown that, it wouldn’t have been much longer until I believed the people who followed me around in classrooms heiling Hitler, spent recesses circled around me saying whatever it took to get me angry, or just jumping right into hitting me. The first time I was saved was when Wayfinder showed me that there was more to the world than the people who haunted my daily life.
The second time I was saved was in 2016. Being a staff member for so long has been incredibly important to me. I’ve had the chance to create space for kids and give back the pieces of my childhood that I treasured so much. In the process I shifted my thinking about camp. It no longer seemed like a place which could contain my struggles. I thought that as a staff member the only thing it had to offer me was the satisfaction of giving that space to our participants. I couldn’t have been more wrong. When I was 16 years old I was sexually assaulted by a good friend. I didn’t start processing it until I was 25 (in 2015). My path back to emotional stability has been long and will probably never be over, but Wayfinder gave me an opportunity to take a step forward in a way I didn’t believe was possible. The summer of 2015 was lonely. I told maybe two or three people at camp about my assault. I didn’t want it to become the focus of anything we were doing. I was minimizing the space that it took up. The effect was that I felt isolated and uncomfortable in one of the few spaces I had ever felt at home. At the last event I worked at our final staff meeting I told everyone that I was an assault survivor, the first time I ever made that kind of a public admission. Last year I set my summer up around being at staff week turning down a position at the Kansas State Young Writer’s Workshop (a program I had been involved in for 2 years). I couldn’t stand to feel that distant from everyone at camp for another summer. Staff Week’s trust workshop was planned almost entirely around creating a space for sharing trauma and hardship. The love that I received in that circle reminded me of the feeling Wayfinder had given me the first time around. That it’s all right to be me, even if that means being hurt.
Wayfinder provides opportunities for acceptance, healing, and self-exploration. Very few places are able to offer all three, we manage to do so while focusing on building an adventure together. It’s a community of people who are all invested in the process for each other. Ask almost anyone why they come and I’d bet they tell you for the community. I know that I was built into the person I am today by having that space available to me. Wayfinder saved my life, twice. Thank you for the chance (and help along the way) to remake myself.
Written by Judson Easton Packard
Published on 5/26/2017
Always Coming Back Home To You
In all of the Where Are They Now interviews the interviewees (members of our community who have been away from the physical space of camp for some time now) have brought up an important facet of the Wayfinder community. The idea that you can leave camp for any amount of time, and you will always be welcomed back in. The way I have always pictured it is to see camp and our community within that physical space (even though we’re not always at the same location the physical space when the community comes together for an event) as a circle. No matter how long you step away from that circle, we will always have a spot for you to return to. There is no guarantee that you will come back to see the same faces as when you left, and more than likely there will be more new ones than familiar ones. I can promise though that you will be welcomed with the same warmth, the same love that you had when you left.
It helps this idea (both the circle I picture in my head, and the reality of returning to camp) that we put a lot of practice into doing this. At the start of every camp, and then again each morning, we open with a circle. During this time everyone is invited to share how they are feeling, what new experiences they have had since the last circle they were a part of, whether it has been hours or years since they held that space. An exercise I’ve always loved in our circles is when we take a silent moment, look around the circle person by person, and smile at every face that we see. It doesn’t matter who they are or how well you know them, every face you come across is returning that feeling to you.
Due to the setup of our community around a summer camp, there is always going to be some change in the people who are attending. People’s lives move forward. They go to college. They get jobs. They move on to whatever the world holds next for them. Spending summers at camp you get used to the rotating nature of the people around you. Every time someone new comes to camp it’s a chance to bring someone new into the fold. It’s always exciting to see what they bring into the space with them. New games. New ideas. There’s also, almost guaranteed, to be a friend who has been long absent. Someone who wasn’t able to be at camp for whatever reasons, or you two just haven’t been at the same weeks. Every camp is a chance to reenter these friendships. The function of being a summer camp means that the majority of the people at camp will not see each other maybe nine months out of the year. The friendships we have suspend in time, they tie to the space we hold at camp. It’s why it’s so easy for us to come and go in each other’s lives, to maintain relevance, as Marika put it so well a few weeks ago. We have grown use to coming home to each other.
It can be hard to understand making your home in other people. The idea of home we are always sold probably attaches to a specific structure or town. My home is Wayfinder. It has been since I was 13 years old and came to my first camp. Since then I’ve spent time with Wayfinder at upwards of twenty different lands and locations. No matter where we go, no matter what difficulties that land possesses (everything from giant mosquitos to non-potable water) I know I will be home. Home is the place where you can be yourself, whatever the most honest version of that looks like. Camp is a place where not only are we encouraged to be our real selves, we take time to work on that piece. I talked a couple weeks ago about how characters help us build ourselves so I don’t need to go deeply into it again here, but feeling at home in that space is a big portion of being able to do that work.
I’ve lived in six states and three time zones. I’ve told myself more springs than I’d like to admit that the coming summer would be my last one at camp, that it was time for me to grow up and move on to a new home. In 2014 I didn’t go to camp for the first time since I started in 2003. The year that followed was one of the hardest, most isolated of my life. There were a lot of external strains that led to this throughout the year as well, but I would be lying if I didn’t notice the weight of not getting to come home to camp and be me. Not having the time to put my stress aside and sit in a circle and fall asleep in the grass when I’m probably not supposed to (OK I’m definitely not supposed to and am probably supposed to be running the circle). Camp is my home. Who knows how long we get to call any one particular place home? If you get the chance to, come back. We miss you.
Written by Judson Easton Packard.
Trust in Adventure Gaming
Obviously deep, intensely emotional, trusting relationships exist outside of LARP communities. The point here isn’t to claim that Wayfinder has some unique ability to provide participants with trust or friends or anything like that. The idea is more this: trust, like the realest kinds of trust, are formed through having intense experiences together. Through the Adventure Game we get the chance to simulate a lot of those intense experiences. I have lived one thousand lives in my time at Wayfinder, and the more invested I have been in each one the more I have grown from it. No piece of any character comes from anywhere but inside ourselves. This is something that comes up time and again. It takes an incredible amount of trust in a person, a group of people, or even a whole community to go deep into that, to explore those pieces of ourselves that we normally keep hidden or ignore altogether.
A couple weeks ago I promised to do a series of posts based exploring different types of trust that are directly relevant to Wayfinder and then promptly got sidetracked. I’m returning for the second of that series now. This week’s focus is trust and how it intersects with the Adventure game. It’s a complex relationship. There are a lot of factors of trust required just in setting up the Game. You have the most basic elements, for example trusting that people will play by the rules (reacting to swords and magic) and trusting that people will respect you as a player (building scenes with you and reacting to/building off your offers). There are also some much more complex trust relationships that go into the Game. There is A LOT of physical trust required in playing with a group of people. You are trusting people to chase you/fight with you (often in the dark or in the woods) in a safe and fun way. This kind of trust can be a challenge, but it’s something we work at all week long. The more contact based elements are things that trust workshops are specifically geared towards building to; whereas the elements based upon the rules are a trust that we work at in our game systems based workshops throughout the week (and here you thought CTF was just for fun).
There’s another important element to the relationship between trust and Game that is something we don’t go into quite as much. That is the fact that despite how much we put into building those relationships with each other before Game, like the actual interpersonal ones between our real selves, there is nothing that brings us together quite like an Adventure Game. Once you’ve stood next to someone on a battlefield, cried over their corpse, or literally died to save them there is a different kind of closeness between you. The trust established through having an intense in Game experience together is one that I have never found in any other setting. It’s hard to approach. You both (or all if there were more people involved in the scene/situation) know that something very real happened between you in the Game. Immediately after a Game that has one of those moments there is always a need to find each other, to talk about what happened, share the other side of the experience, or how that moment effected the rest of each player’s Game. But it doesn’t stop there. There are friends of mine I’ve had for years who we still think back to some of those moments as our most intimate, when our friendships moved from close to unbreakable.
During a Winter Game at the Ashokan Field Campus (a Game that I wasn’t particularly emotionally invested in prior to this moment) where my friend (and in Game mother) cried over my dead body until someone brought me back to life. From that moment the two of us held each other and cried in a room full of people who were holding us prisoner (don’t feel too bad, up until then we’d been some of the main bad guys). I’ve never been much of a public crier. It’ll happen, a tear here and there at an intense community circle or trust workshop, but this was loud, ugly crying. Sobbing on a hardwood floor in a room full of people who I was legally responsible for. It’s a moment I remember whenever I’m having a hard time processing my emotions, particularly in reference to other people. I was able to lean on the community in a way that I wouldn’t normally, to allow for an emotionally intense in Game moment because I trusted them to contain it within the Game understanding that my emotion was a function of character not mental state, and also to lower my guard and enter that place of trust because of the way that an Adventure Game is set up. The closeness that is brought about in those kinds of scenes, even if it is an unspoken kind, is one of the most important factors in binding ourselves together.
Written by Judson Easton Packard