“The Middle Ages – as they should have been.” This refrain is what you will hear a great many members say when explaining the Society for Creative Anachronism. This organization began as a costume party based on Arthurian ideals and romanticism. To be more specific, the game I play is based on the modern ideals and romanticism of the medieval time period. My goal for this blog has never been to educate about the SCA, but rather have a dialogue on the level of existing members/players. However, two events happened today that make me want to define what I believe the SCA is trying to accomplish: a semi-recurring thread on facebook about comparisons to LARPers and my first non-direct visitor came from the UK.
The visitor from the UK could have been a member of the SCA, but it is unlikely unless that person is only a visitor (ex-pat or military, typically). Most Europeans that have an interest in history tend to gravitate towards the full historical reenactment groups, as those are also government supplemented. My English ex was very confused by the game we play, as even our titles don’t follow historical accuracy very well. The SCA assumes all participants are minor nobility, so the base award comes with the tile of Lord/Lady. Somewhere along the way, while adding awards, some things got out of line. For instance, Knight is the peerage for chivalric combat in the SCA and holds a higher rank than Barons without other titles. In England, a Knight and a Lord are basically the same thing – being made a peer is what grants you minor nobility status. So, I’ll go over the high level differences in the SCA and other similar groups.
What we do isn’t a strict reenactment of the middle ages. We don’t have peasants or the plague, we don’t have a church system set up (with all the politics that came with and against Catholicism), and we don’t reenact specific battles from major points in history. We modify middle age weapons and armor for safety (no “live” steel and minimum armor requirements), we hold a tournament based on honor twice a year to determine our next King, and we allow modern conveniences (like indoor plumbing/cooking) at our activities. The minimum entry to play our game is a “attempt” at middle ages clothing. Many members never make it past this attempt and find niches and places within our game that don’t require them to move towards more historical accuracy. Some members research their persona (chosen based on a specific place/time period) heavily and dress/camp in the closest to historical fact as they can get. Some people even speak in Old English, or learn the language of their persona.
What we do isn’t really the modern definition of a live action role-playing game, either. Fighting is full contact, not boffer or foam, and a killing blow is based on what would have killed you if a real sword was used, not an armor point/hit point tally. Individual members may have goals (become a peer, learn to sew, etc.), but there isn’t an overarching goal that colors all activities in the society. There can be themes to some activities – large annual wars between various groups or kingdoms, or smaller local event themes based on a specific event in history, but just as many events have no theme at all. While some members’ personas are detailed and researched out to the point of a character in a LARP setting, this isn’t an expectation in the society. In fact, most members do not have this level of thought into their personas – just a name, time period and maybe a device (shield part of the coat of arms) registered. While all members at an event are participants, there is also no “in game” or “out of game” designates, since conversation is always what you want to say (versus what your character would say).
The closest American concept to the game we play is Renaissance Festivals. Anyone reading this that is an SCA member just cringed, though. The key difference between the society and a Renn Faire, is the distinction between profit and not-for-profit; actor and audience. A Renn Faire is an interactive performance; you pay an entry fee to experience actors in a fictional environment. There are a great number of activities that happen, and visitors wander from one to the next typically at their leisure. Some performances may be on a schedule, similar to special acts at amusement parks. Like an amusement park, accommodations, food, and vendors are an additional expense. At an SCA event, your entry fee typically covers your accommodations (cabin bed or camping spot) and possibly your evening’s feast. No one is specifically acting and most folks are pursuing activites of interest to them (fighting, taking/teaching a class, hanging out, etc.). An SCA event is hosted for the enjoyment of the members, not the profit of the Renn Faire company. There are many activities, but most are on a schedule that is arranged by the members that are hosting the event. Of course, vendors can be found at many larger events, just like a Faire.
“Living the Dream” is how many members define the activities of the society. The SCA is founded on the Arthurian ideas of Honor and Chivalry. We have a romantic ideal of the Knight in shining armor, as responsible for the comfort of those in his keeping, and his consort, his inspiration and a representation of Love and Beauty. These ideals guide every member to be their best selves (even if they don’t participate in the martial activities): giving of time and assistance, gracious, friendly and gentile to all. Most newcomers are drawn to this family-like environment. As you can see from the above, the society defies categorization, while pulling from many different types of outside organizations. This allows a variety of people to find a niche for themselves. Many members will strongly defend against many of the above categories (depending on what part of the SCA they happen to participate) in favor of their version of the Dream, though, and this will be our downfall. We offer so many different options, and none of them are better than the others. There is room for all members’ Dreams.
As for me, I just camp in the woods in funny clothes. I do this because all of my friends also do this. I happen to have friends across the county, some I only see once or twice a year, that I don’t feel disconnected from just because we no longer live in the same area. Or maybe, we never did. And if I ever move again, I know I’ll find friends that share my hobby nearby. Those clothes are much more historically accurate than they once were, though.