It was shortly after the fifth time I got clocked in the face by an errant elbow that I realized: this mosh pit was really, really similar to a big, sweaty video game. And I loved it.
It dawned on me while I was bouncing around within the pit—that is, the portion of a crowd where everyone is dancing around, usually somewhat roughly—of a recent Anamanaguchi show. I know: a mosh pit at a super happy 8-bit-influenced rock and roll show? But it happened, and the music was kind of a perfect soundtrack to the very video-game-like proceedings.
Mosh pits are chaos. Stinky, sticky chaos. Music, though, is such a wonderful conduit for physicality. It makes people want to move, sometimes by waltzing, other times by gyrating like a seahorse in heat, and other times still by jumping around like a crazy person in a teeming anthill of other crazy people. It's a weirdly primal sort of thing, throwing yourself into this sea of people and feeling the push and pull of body after body. You work with and against the flow of people at the same time. It is both competitive and cooperative at the same time, and it's all the better for it.
It's a giant, singular dance made up of tons of moving parts. Everyone's moving together, cooperatively, and if all goes well you make a lot of friends in the process. There's an impact and a rush and a thrill, but also a type of peace once you get used to it. Where else is it OK to express that side of one's self? Where else is it comfortable/not weird? Where else can you make friends with random people doing it, feel supported all throughout?
Those positive vibes emerge in large part because, despite how they may appear, mosh pits have structure. Well, good ones do, anyway. There are rules, unspoken (because nobody can hear a word you're saying) strands of etiquette that knit the whole thing together. The tutorial for mosh pits is, admittedly, not great because of this. You end up learning by trial-and-error and/or looking for a walkthrough on the Internet. Here, though, are the basics:
- Your aim is to have fun, not hurt people. If you start hurting people, you will probably be ejected from the pit (unless it's at a really crazy metal show or something; those pits have their own sort of appeal, but they're not for the fainthearted).
- No fists or elbows, only arms. Don't go elbow-first because that actually hurts people. I recommend crossing your arms over your chest and largely relying on your body to push against other people. It takes some getting used to, but it's generally safer.
- If people are on the outskirts of the pit/clearly do not want to be involved, stay away from them. They did not come to the show for the same reason as you, and it is your responsibility to respect that.
- If somebody falls down, aid in picking them up. This can be done in multiple ways: 1) you can grab an arm, shoulder, or what have you and pull, or 2) you can use your own body to create a sort of human wall, ensuring that nobody steps on or otherwise harms the downed person while they're being picked up by others.
- If somebody's lost something, give them a hand. People lose stuff in pits all the time. Glasses, keys, phones, and even shoes occasionally go flying. If someone is searching for something, take a quick second to see what you can do. Wall off some space for them, scan the ground with them, let other people know they should be careful in that general area lest they step on the phone/glasses/priceless faberge owl sculpture and break it, etc.
- Keep your cool. If you're not having fun anymore or you're getting a little hot under the collar, take a break. This is not a place for people to suffer your misguided wrath. That is just, well, the pits.
And now, the classes you come across while in pits. You can pick a class and try to stick to it, but in my opinion you get a lot more out of these things if you stay open-minded and transition between classes as the need/desire arises. Except the creeper. Don't be a creeper.
- The attacker: The most basic pit-goer. These people just pretty much thrash around like whirling dervishes, sometimes mindfully, other times violently. They can be utterly harmless or The Absolute Worst depending on how aware they are. They form the backbone of the pit, and much like pretty much anything with a backbone, a broken one is a recipe for a bad time.
- The tank: These people are often in the pit with someone who doesn't really want to be there. They tend to put most of their time and effort into shielding whomever they're with, something you should be mindful of if you encounter them. Note: this is a pit on hard mode. It's also not very well-balanced or fun. Basically, I don't recommend it. If you go to a show with someone who doesn't want to wade into the pit's boiling marshes, just don't do it. There will be other pits.
- The support: This class goes above and beyond to help other pit-goers. They derive their satisfaction not from bouncing and bounding, but from lifting people up, patting them on the back, and giving them an encouraging smile to get back in the action. I'm not gonna lie: pits can be scary sometimes, and supports are godsends—equal parts lifesavers and morale boosters. If you find a good pit, there are a surprising number of them. Remember: always thank people when they help you, and as a general rule do at least one good deed for other pit-goers for every good deed that's been done for you.
- The person-who-just-wants-to-be-up-front: This class is interesting in that it has no vested interest in typical pushy, shove-y pit politics. Kind of like the seeker in a Harry Potter Quidditch game, they have their eyes on a singular prize: the front row. They will push and shove and lean and smush to get there. Sometimes they're rude, other times they're goddamn ninjas, deftly diving between the churning human waves of the pit at the exact right moments.
- The crowd surfer: If somebody leaps atop the crowd and clumsily sails overhead once, they're not a crowd surfer. Not by class, anyway. They just crowd surfed, hopefully had a nice time, and decided to call it a day. No, the dedicated crowd surfer doesn't know when to quit, cannot quit. They will go five times, ten times, maybe more. They see a large crowd like a regular surfer sees a perfect wave. They must ride it, for it's the only time they feel truly alive. If a few of these are in or near your pit, expect to have very sore shoulders by the end of the night. On the upside, they tend to move in lanes, sort of like computer controlled "creeps" in a MOBA (think League of Legends). So find a good lane and stick to it, and you should be alright.
- The creeper: This person definitely exists, though I have not personally had the displeasure of being affected by one. The short version? They're in the pit to touch people. For the wrong reasons.
So those are the very basic pit rules and classes. At the Anamanaguchi show I went to, pretty much everything (that I experienced) went off without a hitch. People were nice. Crowd surfers (usually) didn't collide with each other to disastrous effect. Lots of people hugged afterward.
Really, that's when I think you know the weird meta-game of brief, flaring pit existence has worked its magic: the dying moments of the thing are all exhausted smiles and laughter. People who'd have never met otherwise bonding because they were all part of this giant thing together, working with and against it at the same time. A mosh pit is cooperative and competitive, an on-the-fly fusion of the best things multiplayer has to offer.
A good pit is fun because of the people in it, not despite them. You spend more than an hour getting weirdly physically intimate, but there's an emotional component as well. There is trust and quiet communication, understanding and a legitimate desire to support your fellow players. Some people are mean or selfish about it, yeah, but good pits bring out the best in a lot of people. It's kind of a wonder to watch.
Mosh pits are an odd phenomenon, and I don't deny that some of them are immensely rude, violent, or messed up. Every pit has at least one asshole. But when they work, they're kind of beautiful in their own, oh-god-I'm-so-disgusting-now-and-no-amount-of-showering-will-change-that way. Sometimes I'm amazed that they work at all, but then, I guess I can say that about a lot of games.
TMI is a branch of Kotaku dedicated to telling you everything about my adventures in the gaming industry (and sometimes other offbeat and/or uncomfortable subjects). It's an experiment in disclosure, storytelling, interviewing, and more. The gaming industry is weird. People are weird. I am weird. You are weird. Why hide that? Let's explore it.