At some point everyone encounters a situation in a larp that runs along these lines. Player 1 does something that is unpleasant. Perhaps downright mean, and quite possibly emotionally challenging to the other players. Players 1 defence is “This is what my character would do“. The other players aren’t buying this. At best they believe that player 1 is on an unreasonable and possibly dangerous power trip.
Part of the argument (and please watch the show and read the Facebook show comments – to make up your own mind), was that people shouldn’t feel bad in a larp.
It left me with this thought. If we can’t make the players feel bad during a larp, how do we give them the best rollercoaster of emotional ups and downs possible.
So I got to thinking how do we enable the ups and downs without it being an excuse for bad behaviour.
First off – lets start with me.
I come from a background of horror larps that take you on such a journey (sic). Interestingly I expereinced a great example of this kind of play not at a horror game but at Dziobak Studios Fariweather Manor game. The opening scene made me feel quite awful. This repeated at times through day 1. But by the end of the larp the high was fantastic. Building on lows gives great highs.
What horror and Dziobak studio games have in common is that we are expecting emotion. When we get it – it’s ok. No one questions it. Its part of the experience.
But if we are expecting a safe feeling game and someone pulls the rug out from under own feet that is not ok. It is not what we signed up for.
How Do We Deal With This?
First solution then is perhaps to have someway of telegraphing larp content without spoilers. A bit like the way that films tell us what to expect by their certification. That would put a British Fest Larp with family content as being a U or PG, Whilst something that is going to be ‘difficult’ might be 18 rated. If you’re out of the UK and not sure about our film ratings, the explanation is here: http://www.bbfc.co.uk/
Remember that the BBFC ratings are for age. We might need to decide if age is still ok or we need another metric.
That means if someone gives a bad time on a larp rated as safe – then you may very well need to have a word with the organiser.
Of course bad behaviour by players can occur at anypoint. So ratings on their own will not be enough. We need something to help all players know if there has been problem play or not. At this time videoing an entire larp is not really feasible. What is needed is another method of matching the feeling of scenes in a larp up to the intent of the designer.
For this I’m thinking design documents. Now it’s impossible to script everything a player will do but for NPC actions game designers can help. Where we have planned events we can make a point of what we hope the outcomes to me. Not just in what the characters learn , gain or lose. In terms of how people should feel. If someone then says “that thing in hall made me cry – do something about the idiot player.”, then the organisers can check the design documents and go – “yes that is how that was supposed to happen” or “the idiot – thanks for letting me know I’ll deal with it”. Writing down what we hope to achieve can help us measure outcomes when things are going badly.
We can extend this into characters too
Characters often have backgrounds, skills and other measures of capability. If everyone notes down how we hope their characters will be played then perhaps we spot deviations from this and figure if the intent was harm others.. If you aim to be a douche and are a douche then well done. Of course if you always play douche so that you mess up other players then that is an issue.
At this point all I’ve done a look at ways of foreshadowing play. So that we can monitor what’s happened and make judgements about it.
But there is another point to this that concerns me.
We still need larps to feel safe.
No matter what a player thinks they have signed up for; they cannot be expected to know how something will actually make them feel. We all carry emotional payloads within us. We cannot know when or if they will be set off. Game designers cannot know when this will happen. What matters is that when something goes wrong it is dealt with appropriately.
That’s another thing we need to do. Make sure there is a safe space for players who need a helping a hand, or just a bit of space. Just as we should design openly to help prevent problems, we should also be aware that as game organisers we need to deal with the bad things. Just as games have physical first aiders, then we should have the same for when someone is overwhelmed.
No matter what the game – larper safety should be paramount. In a way that is both physical and emotional.
I’ve tried condense all of this down and come up with.
Three points to remember
- Make your Larp Design Transparent (So people can separate intent from bad play)
- Be Aware (That even the most noble larping goals can have negative repercussions)
- Always Be Prepared (To support people when they need it)
And now the bad news
There will always be players who make the experience of going to larp special for everyone. Unfortunately their opposite numbers also exist. These are the people who are going to be abusive in some way to other players. No amount of preparation will ever prevent this. This will also be part of the growth of the hobby. Larp attracts all types of people from all walks of life. The good and the bad. This means that abusive players will continue to find their way to events.
The good news is that if you are transparent about the spirit, style and content of your larp then you have established boundaries. Now establish rules and punishments for breaching those boundaries. Be careful with what these are and how you word them. As the less pleasant person can beat you over the head with these. Get them right and you have something clear to follow. A simple – you stepped over this line; now this is your consequence.
In the long run this should help everyone.
I’m not suggesting that everything suggested here is perfect for all larps anywhere. But I do think that we need to think about larpers who only exist for self-gratification at the expense of others. It’s something that needs to be talked about and something that solutions have to be built for – preferably before you have a problem
About the photo: Just a reminder that not all of your problems will look like this. Looking at someone doesn’t tell you that much about them
Final thought: perhaps is it all about understanding intent and motivation.