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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Playing as a Parent: Karijn

In my series Playing as a Parent, I interviewed a very good friend of mine - Karijn. She is one of the busiest LARP people I know and an amazing role player. I met Karijn a few years ago when I joined and new role play group and we very quickly bonded over a deep love the both of us have... wine. Soon, Karijn was getting me into all types of shenanigans, namely introducing me to LARP and playing the level-headed cousin to my self-absorbed space-aristocrat.

Karijn has a beautiful baby boy and was willing to answer all my poking and prodding questions about what it was like playing when she was pregnant!

If you're interested in the entire series you can check out part 1 & part 2.

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Argh! I love this picture so much!
Liz: Karijnt! Tell everyone about yourself and also the dashing & lovely Kasper^^.  

Karijn: I live in Amsterdam with my husband, son, and two cats. Since I became a mother, I have more or less put the job search on hold. Though I am a museum conservation worker by trade, I am now more or less deliberately unemployed since there is no work anyway and I have a baby at home. 

I have been an avid gamer and roleplayer for about twelve years now, computer games, tabletop RPGs, and also larps. I am co-creator of about 30 larps and have played in more than a hundred, and am pretty active in the international larp community. For tabletop, I have a couple of gaming groups with regular games, mostly Pathfinder, and I am part of a group that plays short campaigns so we can try as many RPGs as possible. 

Apart from all the games I enjoy spending time with my friends, travelling, reading, wine, Citizen Science projects, and watching TV series.

Kasper is almost a year old now and very happy, lively and easy going. He is in his exploring stage. He likes bananas, cats, mischief and seemingly aimless screaming. He is a boatload of fun and a boatload of work. He is not gaming yet, unless you count his peekaboo prowess as such.

Liz: Now, we played together when you were pregnant. When you become pregnant there were a few topics you weren't comfortable with in play any more - namely pregnancy. Could you tell me about that and how you felt?

Karijn: I had not expected myself to react like that at all to be honest. I was not very hormonal up to my last trimester. But I think, like all mothers, I was really more afraid of something being wrong with the baby than I cared to admit. So, all of a sudden things that can come up in serious games - miscarriages, stillbirths, and even the very unrealistic Rosemary's baby-style weird pregnancy scenarios were just hitting a little close to home. It did not feel like something I wanted to play on anymore. 

It is still going on, more or less. Previously, when GMs in larp or tabletop asked whether there was any theme I would like to avoid I would gleefully go "No, none at all. Come at me!" 

Nowadays, I am more likely to want to avoid 'dead kids' as a theme. On the other hand, that is not exclusive to gaming. I can't watch it on tv or anywhere anymore. I saw a picture of a little drowned girl on Facebook a few weeks ago and I am still sad. Fascinating to me, since I am normally down to earth to a fault.

Liz: I think that is really interesting, because we really do take so much of ourselves into the characters we play and the games we participate in. Sometimes, when I am in a role I have to remind myself that I am not that person and it works in reverse too. Things in daily life come up in role play, I can imagine with a topic like the safety of your kids, or kids in general, that is even more so. So I wonder - does having a kid put a new perspective on any old characters you have played or even current ones?

Karijn: In retrospect I think I have not played on the impact of having children properly with several characters. That makes sense, because it is an emotion that is hard to grasp if you have not experienced it.
 
I have had a larp character who gave away a child and never really made a big deal out of it. I have had several characters with dead children in their background and it just never really came up. It didn't really define any aspect of their personalities, it was backdrop. And now that I am a parent I doubt that things like that can ever really be backdrop. Maybe for some people it can. 

But if I am ever ready to play on themes around birth and children again, and I guess I will be, I will not be so flippant about the repercussions of those events anymore.
 
Karijn and I looking super disgusted at the plebs while we play colonizing space aristocracy
Liz: Could you give some advice for GMs if they have expecting parents in the group? Are there things they should check, even if they've been playing together for a while?
Karijn: I think everybody is unprepared for what pregnancy does to you, I know I sure as hell was. I expecting to keep getting my game on pretty much up to delivery, I joked to one of my GMs about getting a Skype game going between contractions and I was only half joking. I had to make some accommodations, but I managed to play a lot, even in the last trimester, and I am grateful for that.

The only advice for GMs I can really think of is to be understanding if things just don't go exactly as planned: if somebody nods off only hours into your all night dungeon crawl, if somebody who is usually not all that emotional suddenly breaks down during that tragic scene, or if they are not in the zone as much as you would like. It is all part of it. Try to be accommodating, offer to move the game to their house, etc. My gaming groups played in my house in the last weeks and that allowed my weekly games to keep going, which was even more important than ever at that time since I was bored witless. 

Liz: Now, you are a wonderful, social butterfly made of magic and you basically know everyone in the LARP scene here. Have things changed now that you have had a kid and if so how? I have to admit this is one of my big fears.

Karijn: I am lucky enough to have a fantastic husband who loves spending time with his son and I am not breastfeeding, so both larping and gaming are still very much possible. And they have to be: as an unemployed mother it feels very important to stay creative, spend time with adults enjoying my favorite activities, and for me a lot of them involve gaming. 

I don't think much has changed for me, but I have seen that it definitely can. Especially when it comes to making appointments and doing unexpected stuff. I have a lot of friends who neither have nor want kids, so they are still available quite a lot, and as I have said - my husband is accommodating. But it is harder for a lot of my friends who have kids, since most of us also work, and as the kids get older they also have a timetable. 

I think the key here is prioritizing. I have to pick my games more carefully and really give the ones I play my 100%. I think that is a good idea for anyone. Life is too short for mediocre games. I can't just play anything that comes my way anymore, especially if I have to travel far for it. 

I also think it is important to understand that the gamers want to talk shop and not babies. When I am at a larp I will of course answer inquires about my child, but when we are drinking beer at the campfire I will say 'I heard in the last game you became the chosen one of the Crystal Spirit. Man you are so screwed, how did that happen?' and not talk about diaper brands. I have had a lot of people tell me they are glad I am still pretty much the same and I have to agree. 

A child can become your whole world and if you are willing and happy to let it, than that is fine. I wasn't. I think it is very much possible to keep telling the stories and seeing the people that you are passionate about. 

Liz: Do you have any advice on soon to be parents for managing their RP and baby schedules?

Karijn: If playing is important to you: make time. You are not a bad parent if your child is not the end all to everything in your world. If having a babysitter once a week so you can keep playing that game you love is what you want, do it. It will give you some oh-so-needed time with other adults and I firmly believe it will make you a happier and thus better parent.  

And don't be afraid to ask for help, a ride to a game, to start an hour earlier of later because of your schedule. People will have to look past some of your tiredness, not drinking their beer because of breastfeeding or a vomit stain on your best robe. And they will, because gamers are awesome. 

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I want to say a huge thank you to Karijn for putting up with my questions and giving some amazing advice. 
In my final interview I will be speaking to Filamena Young about tips for playing pregnant and her views as a parent who rps!

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