This is going to be about touching and physical contact in larp. It is not going to be portraying intimacy in any shape or form. Instead this is an examination of all things to do with manhandling of other players in character. It’s about carrying, lifting, restraining, blocking, roughhousing and generally all things to do with physically manipulating another player. Also don’t go looking for hand to hand combat rules – that’s also not part of this discussion.
What are the rules?
If I want to say pick up or physically restrain someone what are the rules? This is where we get into one of larps big problem areas. In one part of the culture there may be one set of does and don’ts. But as you travel around locations and larps these may vary. Some will say that under no circumstances will physical contact prevail. Others will thrive on it as a means to immersion and emotional reaction.
The question becomes how do we handle this disparity?
So lets break down manhandling into digestible topics and look at what we can learn.
No One Gets Hurt But…
I’m going to kick off with the idea that the only absolute we work with is that nobody gets hurt. We have a responsibility to make our larps safe. Being safe however does not have to mean wrapping the players in cotton wool. It does not mean we ban acts because there is a physicality to them. Take sports. Many sports can result in injury. These are not banned because the risks are understood. In larp we should be thinking about this lead. Work to be safe, but allow all players to understand the risks they are taking, the culture they will be playing in and they expectations that will be placed on them.
We can work towards safety but allow rough treatment if everyone understands how to behave and what is expected.
And Don’t Expect People to Read the Rules
Its an odd fact that intelligent, creative and problem solving people like larpers are also capable of making illogical assumptions. In other words – “my group has always done things one way. Therefore this is the only way. I don’t need to read your rules or policies”. That is an assumption. Due to this its also possible that rules or policies that you write down will be left unread. Why? Because people will assume how you play. Assumptions are dangerous. Especially if a game can get rough.
The answer – always find a way to brief or workshop with as many of the players as possible before play begins.
Also keep reminding them about the documentation. Especially if it is updated. Reminding people to read is never a bad thing.
Make Sure Someone Understands Safety
What you think safety is and what a health and safety consultant things safety is could well be two entirely different things.
Why? Well your assumption may be avoidance of the possibility of injury under any circumstance. The professional will be more interested in defining the circumstances. Don’t forget to a safety professional – 100% safety is impossible. Educating people, making provision for the unexpected, and following good practise’s is not. If your game says yes to a hard form of touching then getting the opinion of a friendly health and safety person is no bad thing.
Also remember health and safety legislation. It is different in different countries. Don’t expect advice from an expect of one nationality to match that of a colleague elsewhere. Always remember that local legislation always trumps what you believe if there is a difference.
Be Mindful and Respect Your Environment
If the rules say you can push someone up against a wall just remember that’s only ok if the environment your in is not inherently dangerous. Modify your behaviour according to geography or the lay of land. Should you really be shoving someone around on the edge of a cliff? Even if the policies say Yay. Mountain Rescue says Nay!
How about some training?
If you’re going to allow rough stuff in your game then it might be a good idea to teach crew of possibly willing players how to do this kind of stuff as safely as possible. If its practical consider running a workshop on manhandling. You should find that martial arts instructors are more than willing to help out.
Teach People to Trust
Ok so here’s the scenario. A bunch of crew are pulling a player somewhere. The player doesn’t like this idea and reacts with force. A tussle ensues and someone gets hurt. An act of force turning into something more competitive like this is essentially wrestling and that can get dangerous. How do you get around this. Well teach people when to yield. Give the crew something to say that will let the player know that representing a struggle is ok, but keep it calm -as you are being dragged away. In a small to medium a game a good rule is “trust the crew”. As in the NPC or Monster crew would not be trying to do something they cannot do – after all they have the information on what all the characters are capable of. So go with it.
Develop Meta Techniques
We are not our characters. It may be that you want a rough styled game but to be honest you cannot assume that any player is capable of doing this well. So if you want dragging off, picking up and pushing against walls then consider using a combination of words and actions. Let your action become not who has the strength – but who can role-play it.
Involve Plenty of People
One person physically dominating another on a one to one basis can be pretty terrifying. Always have someone else around – even if only monitoring, to stop things from going to far. If you’re going to push people around, again make sure there are several people around. The general rule here – always have someone who can call a halt or deal with unexpected outcomes.
So what’s been going on
The aim here has become to get you thinking about ways you can make things feel real by physically making games more challenging whilst always keeping a watch ful eye to player safety. You may find some contrary ideas. That doesn’t make one thing right or one wrong. It simply illustrates the complexity of the topic. I shied away from how to advice – as that it part of the social contract for each larp. You have to figure out what’s allowed and how to tell players what that is. I haven’t issued health and safety advice as LARPBook is international. Ok in one country may not be Ok in another. I haven’t mentioned how to manhandle someone as that is best instructed person to person.
What I hope I’ve is made you thing about how to go about this safely in the context of your own events. And also how to far to go or not go with it.
I’m going to open this question up to the larger larp community and hopefully publish some feedback. I’m hoping there will be points and ideas that we can all learn from.
I’d like to thank Luke Pitt from L&RP Safety for discussing this topic with me at greatly helping in its outcome