This morning, a local politics site revealed Republican Florida congressional candidate Jake Rush has an extensive history of playing gothic and “vampire”-themed live action role-playing games. While this initially seemed like a scandal, Rush didn’t shy away from the revelations about his fantasy life. He responded by issuing a statement wherein he defended his “hobby activities.” Rush even included a picture of himself in a superhero costume to emphasise his “deep appreciation for theatre, costumes and art.”
Embracing his love of live-action role-playing — also known as LARPing — and of costumes, may have been a smart move for Rush. Business Insider spoke to experts on the worlds of LARPing and costume play (better known as “cosplay” among its adherents) who suggested politicians like Rush could become the face of these growing geek constituencies.
Ethan Gilsdorf is the author of “Fantasy Freaks And Gaming Geeks,” a 2010 book that delves deeply into the subcultures of roleplaying and cosplay. Gilsdorf told Business Insider these activities are increasingly becoming more common.
“It’s reached the point where enough people in America know what cosplay is — and the popularity of Comic Con is a good example, even if people haven’t been to Comic Con, I think they know what goes on there and these various regional conventions where people do show up in costume. So, it’s not nearly seen as an aberrant, bizarre hobby anymore,” Gilsdorf said.
Gilsdorf also suggested Rush could win some votes by embracing his geeky side.
“He could have very easily tried to downplay it or to pretend that it was something he used to do, you know, almost like a political candidate might say, ‘Well, I used to smoke marijuana back in college, but I don’t do that anymore.’ … I really applaud his decision to embrace it,” said Gilsdorf. “There always will be some people who will probably find that as a reason to not vote for him, but I think, in some communities, that’s going to gain him some level of respect. They will say, ‘Hey, this guy’s not afraid of admitting who he is and what he’s into.'”
Gilsdorf also warned Rush’s opponents might be shooting themselves in the foot if they try to attack him for LARPing. To prove his point, he pointed to an incident during the 2008 presidential campaign where he said former Republican nominee John McCain earned the ire of the Internet by mocking “Dungeons & Dragons.”
“It completely backfired and it basically ended up being this little Internet rebellion,” Gilsdorf said. “That was a huge mistake, so I think a candidate — his opponent who might attempt to use this as an issue will probably find that tactic would backfire.”
Gilsdorf also argued his LARPing experience might have provided Rush with excellent political skills.
“Role players and gamers actually make excellent politicians. They’re adept at solving problems, working with others, seeing issues from other sides, negotiating resolutions, mastering rules and laws, and imagining alternate futures — all of which I think are necessary qualities when serving in our government,” he said.
Katie George is a high-profile cosplayer based in Atlanta, Ga. who was a member of Team USA at the World Cosplay Summit Team in 2012. Though George agreed cosplay is getting more “mainstream,” she wasn’t as certain as Gilsdorf that Rush’s background in role playing would be an asset for him.
“I think in Atlanta, he’d be just fine because we are like the nerdiest city and his constituents would be nerdy people,” said George. “But in Florida, that’s tough to say, because it’s a state made of old people,” said George.
However, George said voters shouldn’t be worried about backing a cosplayer or LARPer.
“I would be more concerned with supporting someone who’s, like, you know, really into football games. … As far as, like, the fervor and the obsession goes, there’s really not much difference,” George explained. “Being nerdy is generally, like, the pastime of smart people, whereas football is generally the pastime of lesser-educated people.”
Gilsdorf also equated cosplay and LARPing with other hobbies.
“The vast vast majority of people, I think, understand these are just games,” Gilsdorf said. “They’re just hobbies and they’re just as weird as the guy who’s really into model trains, or the guy who’s really into collecting some obscure thing on eBay, or a super sports fan, or whatever, that sort of crazy obsession or hobby that people have.”
Rush’s “vampire” LARPing pride already seems to have earned him at least one fan. Someone named Merticus, a self-described “active researcher and participant in the vampire (Vampyre) community,” who runs a website called Vampire Community News, announced an endorsement of Rush Tuesday on behalf of the “official vampire community.” Merticus’ statement described Rush as “a ‘vampire’ we can stand behind.”
“Jake’s strong conservative values of personal responsibility tempered with his admirable position on protecting the rights of others to engage in whatever extracurricular social activity or lifestyle they deem appropriate is in keeping with our ideals,” the statement said. “We wish him all the best with his political aspirations in the coming election and stand cape-to-cape beside him with our fangs sharpened.”
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