Self Care Comes First: A Larp and Convention Policy

Self Care Comes First: A Larp and Convention Policy

Author Elin Dalstål during FjällCon 2016. Photo by Emmelie Nordström.

Author Elin Dalstål during FjällCon 2016. Photo by Emmelie Nordström.

In this post I will outline the effects of stressing the importance of self care at larps and gaming events. The post will discuss both the effects on the safety and comfort of the players, as well as how it affects the overall event in other aspects. The post is aimed at larp and convention organizers first and foremost, but also members of the community.

Why Is Self Care Important?

Great work is being done in both the larp and gaming convention scene to improve player safety and comfort, but many of the techniques and methods becomes less effective if organizers and the community don’t communicate the importance of self care.

For example, why should a player use a safeword to break a scene they are uncomfortable with? Unless it is made clear that the player taking care of themselves is more important than not disturbing play, players will be reluctant to use it. They will suffer rather than disturb the scene. Communicating that self care comes first makes players more inclined to actually take care of themselves by using the safety resources the event has to offer.

By stressing self care you give players a reason and responsibility to use those methods. It tells them why it should be used.

Background

Participant doing self care at FjällCon 2016. Photo by Johanna Nyberg Hamren.

Participant doing self care at FjällCon 2016. Photo by Johanna Nyberg Hamren.

I started to use the “self care comes first” policy whilst organising some physically demanding larps and gaming conventions that included hiking in the arctic wilderness. During these type of events, safety is important because at times participants may only be reachable by air ambulance if something were to happen. When you’re standing on an arctic mountain, you can’t simply opt out if you become exhausted or get a blister or what have you. You must make the hike back home, no matter what (short of calling an ambulance helicopter or spending the night under the stars). Safety mattered here, and I needed to encourage my players to make smart decisions in order that they could always make that hike back home. So I began to stress that self care comes first.

It became my mantra and policy for the events. I repeated it over and over until the players started to repeat it among themselves. I stressed that while it is important that we support and help each other, you are the person best suited to take care of yourself. I can’t feel if someone else has a headache coming on. I can’t rest for anyone else. I can’t drink water for anyone else. I can’t feel what anyone else is comfortable with, or be aware when someone else’s existing injury or health condition starts acting up.

You yourself are most often the person best suited to identify, take care of, and communicate your needs and boundaries. Therefore your first responsibility is self care. Short and simple.

I also stressed that it is a boring and adult policy. Self care is often boring: skipping fun stuff to prioritize rest when you need it, getting a decent night’s sleep, eating a nourishing meal, putting on a band-aid in time, being mindful of your medical conditions, putting on an ugly sweater when you are cold, opting out of stuff, communicating your needs and boundaries even if the conversation is uncomfortable, asking others for help, and using the support and safety resources that are available. Do whatever is needed to take care of yourself, but if your actions are going to affect other players, talk to them so that you don’t impose on someone else’s well-being by accident.

Self care is a responsibility and responsibilities aren’t always fun.

Effects of the Policy

This policy was intended to improve physical safety during those events, but it soon became apparent that it didn’t just improve physical safety, but it also strengthened my other efforts to make the events safe.

So what were the effects of the policy? The first thing that really stood out is that people had more naps in the afternoon.

Participant looking down on the landscape below FjällCon 2016. Photo by Emmelie Nordström.

Participant looking down on the landscape below FjällCon 2016. Photo by Emmelie Nordström.

What I saw was that the policy is effective, but the effects seen are typically anticlimactic. Players make smart little decisions in the background, taking more preventive actions – such as having a nap in the afternoon. In turn, this means that players are less likely to break down during the evening or the following day due to stress or exhaustion. Participants tend to think things through ahead of time, opting out of or steering things in other directions, to avoid getting into situations they do not want to end up in. They make an effort to communicate their needs and boundaries ahead of time rather than just in the heat of the moment. There is less crying, crises, and fewer close calls for both physical and emotional reasons.

The side effects of this policy is that it affects the pacing of an event somewhat. Mainly, that players tend to take it easy or opt out of stuff earlier in the day rather than in the evening. I don’t see this as a bad thing, but at first I had not planned for the lull that came about when more players prioritized rest during the afternoon. Things slowed down at an unexpected time, but that rest period also meant that I had more players present and energetic in the evening instead, when you often plan the climactic scenes during a larp or the evening session at convention. Which I see as a win, but something to be aware of.

While I noticed the policy affect all participants, I noticed that it had an especially positive effect on a special group of players.

Altruistic Bastards

Storyteller giving player shadow instuctions during Vandingen 2014. Photo by Emmelie Nordström.

Storyteller giving player shadow instuctions during Vandingen 2014. Photo by Emmelie Nordström.

When you stress that self care comes first, it has a strong effect on altruistic players – the kind and lovely players that routinely put others first even at the cost of their own well being. If you push the message that self care comes first hard enough – those altruistic bastards MIGHT JUST STOP AND THINK FOR A MOMENT before they push themselves too far to be nice to others.

You know who I’m talking about. You might very well be one of the nice people I am talking about. Most larping and gaming communities have these altruistic bastards, who while they are super nice, can cause problems and set a bad example by pushing themselves too far. Even if they do it for the best of reasons. Because they create a culture where good players, nice players, the players you look up to, push themselves too far. To exhaustion or to where they will be hurt (physically or emotionally) at the event. Because they are good people others will follow their example.

So, telling your players that self care comes first, while giving those altruistic bastards a good stare down, might just make them think before they do that. That they may care for others, but that it is actually bad for everyone’s safety and well being if they don’t take care of themselves as well. Self care comes first.

Other Reasons Players Push Themselves Too Hard

There are other reasons why players may push themselves too hard at events. At some larps and conventions, there is almost a competition about who has slept the least, taken as few breaks as possible, had the most intense play, done the craziest shit, and hurts the most after the game.

This attitude is stupid. I think you should be allowed to do stupid shit, but when there is a social pressure to see who makes the worst decisions, that is just a race to the bottom.

Argument between characters at Vandringen 2015. Photo by Emmelie Nordström.

Argument between characters at Vandringen 2015. Photo by Emmelie Nordström.

I do think larp and other gaming events can be places where you test your limits and push yourself out of your comfort zone, but I think that should only be by free choice, and that you should only do it after doing a sober risk assessment and taking the necessary self care precautions you need to do it in a sane, safe and responsible way.

We should create a culture where it might be okay to test your limits in a responsible way at times, but you are expected to do so without neglecting your duty to practice self care. You just can’t leave self care out of the equation when you go outside your comfort zone.

How to Implement It

Let’s say you organize a larp or convention, or run a game at a someone else’s convention: how do you implement this policy?

In general, you can just add the policy to whatever policy that already exists. Saying that self care comes first doesn’t change how you do things – it only tells players how they should prioritize during the event.

Tell them that self care comes first and communicate, both in text and in person at least once, what you mean by it.

You could use some variation of this text:

Self care comes first policy:

While it is important that we support and help each other, you are the person best suited to take care of yourself. I can’t feel if someone else has a headache coming on. I can’t rest for anyone else. I can’t drink water for anyone else. I can’t feel what anyone else is comfortable with, or be aware when someone’s existing injury or health condition starts acting up.

You yourself are most often the person that is best suited to identify, take care of, and communicate your needs and boundaries. Therefore your first responsibility is self care. Short and simple. Therefore self care comes first at this event.

This is a boring and adult policy. Self care can mean skipping fun stuff to prioritize rest when you need it, getting a decent night’s sleep, eating a nourishing meal, putting on a band-aid in time, being mindful of your medical conditions, putting on an ugly sweater when you are cold, opting out of stuff, communicating your needs and boundaries even if the conversation is uncomfortable, asking others for help, and using the support and safety resources that are available. Do whatever is needed to take care of yourself even if it is not exciting. If your actions are going to affect other players, talk to them so that you don’t impose on someone else’s wellbeing by accident.

Self care is a responsibility and responsibilities aren’t always fun.

When the policy has been explained once – use repetition to drive home the message. “Self care comes first” is a short four word sentence, so you can repeat it often without it taking up much of your organizers’ precious time. You can add it to the emails you send to the players, write it on the web page, and share it on social media. You can say it a lot during the event at different times and so on. Do it often enough and your players will start repeating it among themselves.

(Bonus points if you kept count of how many times I repeated  “self care comes first” in this post so far. I really mean it when I say I believe in repetition).

Conclusion

While this policy came about for physically and emotionally demanding gaming events at remote locations, I use it for all sorts of events now. My view is that many larps’ and conventions’ safety and support policies could be improved by stressing that self care comes first.

We can talk all we want about communicating boundaries and respecting each other, but unless people prioritize listening to their own signals and their own needs, there will be nothing to communicate. Everything starts with self care.

When you stress that your players have a responsibility to see to self care first, you give them the alibi to do just that. It strengthens other safety and support procedures like safewords to calibrate play intensity, encourages players to communicate their needs and feelings, and normalizes opting out as a responsibility not just an option.

We can have all the safety precautions in place, but we need players to prioritize self care if we want players to actually use them.

Cover photo: Players hiking in character during Vandringen 2015. Photo by Emmelie Nordström.

Authors

Elin Dalstål
Elin Dalstål lives in the north of Sweden. She has been a larp and convention organizer for 15 years; designed role-playing games and scenarios; and is a feminist blogger at Gaming as Women
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