In January 2017, Mila Ould Yahoui, Sarah Lynne Bowman, and I conducted an online survey about experiences with and attitudes towards alcohol at larps and at larp-related social events. The survey link was shared in various Facebook larping groups and it gained just over a thousand responses.
This survey was not a representative or weighted sample, and it makes no claims to be scientific. Responders were self-selecting and might be assumed to have some interest in the topic of alcohol, either to support its use or to express concern about negative alcohol-related incidents. Even so, we feel that some of the findings are of interest and we hope they may stimulate discussion.
Rather than asking which country responders came from, we asked which country they did most of their larping in. We felt that, with the increasing internationalization of the hobby, this question would be a more reliable indicator of a responder’s “larping culture.”
The results showed considerable variation between countries. For example, the likelihood of having often or sometimes consumed alcohol at larp varied from 30% in the USA to 47% in Poland.
Responders’ ages ranged from 13 to 63, but over 80% were in the 21-40 range.
We asked a series of radio-button questions about frequency of various experiences with alcohol. Responders could answer Often, Sometimes, Rarely, or Never.
- Have you larped while under the influence of alcohol?
- Have you larped with other people who were under the influence of alcohol?
- Have you been under the influence of alcohol at larp-related social events?
- Have you been at larp-related social events while other people were under the influence of alcohol?
We asked two free-text questions about responders’ experiences:
- “Have you done anything that you regretted (at the time, or later) while you were, or other people were, under the influence of alcohol at a larp or at a larp-related social event?” and
- “Has anything been done to you that you wish had not been done, while you were, or other people were, under the influence of alcohol at a larp or at a larp-related social event?”
24% and 29% of responses respectively were affirmative. As responses were given confidentially, we won’t quote from any of them here, but these are the types of experiences that were listed:
- Examples of things that people regret:
- Nausea; hangover; oversleeping; losing possessions and clothing; injuries to self; loss of memory; loss of focus on the game.
- Inappropriate talking in-game; being offensive; bad moods; fighting.
- Transgressing personal boundaries; inappropriate flirting/kissing/etc.; inappropriate sex; infidelity.
- Several people mentioned drinking as a social facilitator or because of social pressure.
- Examples of things done to people that they wish hadn’t been done:
- OOC talking and action that harmed immersion; injury from another’s “playful” behaviour; drinking culture detracting from larping; boredom from drunken ramblings; rowdiness.
- Homophobia; sober-shaming; insults; psychological abuse.
- Being vomited upon; suffering violence.
- Sexual harassment; had sexual photos taken with and without consent; sexual assault; rape.
- Several people mentioned tens of such incidents. Some spoke of pressure to drink and of how once alcohol is present and open, it can take over the event.
Many people said in their responses that the problems they’d experienced with alcohol weren’t particular to larp – that the same things could happen at any other party, etc. This detail makes the point that we can’t assume that larp is a safe bubble outside of society, where we are with our own tribe, and where bad things aren’t going to happen. Alcohol may not be in itself problematic, but a lot of people consume it in a problematic way, and so, trouble can be caused.
Some respondents said that at their events, players knew how to drink responsibly, and so there were no difficulties. Which is great – but we have to recognize that at many larps, and at many social gatherings – including KP, where a number of responders reported having experienced assaults – that is not always the case. Also, just because an organizer has not received a report about an incident does not mean no incident occurred. Indeed, people may feel uncomfortable reporting incidents for various reasons, including fear of reprisal, shame, or ostracization.
In Favour of Alcohol?
Finally we asked whether respondents were in favour of allowing alcohol at larps (60% said Yes) and at larp-related social events (92% said Yes).
We did not ask about positive outcomes from the presence of alcohol, which gives a skew to the survey data. In the subsequent presentation at Knutepunkt 2017, we sought additional responses about positive experiences from participants in the session. People mentioned that alcohol can provide a pleasant social atmosphere; that it can help people relax; that it can add to realism of larping characters who are drinking alcohol; and that it can help shy people perform socially.
To conclude: this survey and presentation are not part of a campaign to ban alcohol from larp, or from larp-related social events. However, we do feel that it demonstrates that real and measurable adverse effects can and do occur. It’s important for us all to be aware of the potential downsides and risks that alcohol can bring with it. We hope that this work will contribute to opening up a discussion around these topics.
The Blue Ribbon Collective
Moving forward, we are developing a Blue Ribbon Collective of participants who are interested in staying sober at events and helping others with alcohol-related issues. Members of the Collective may choose to wear a blue ribbon pinned to their clothing at larp events to signal their sobriety to others. Feel free to contact us if you would like to be included on the list.
Current members of the Blue Ribbon Collective:
Sarah Lynne Bowman
Kjell Hedgard Hugaas
Francesco Rugerfred Sedda
Liv Kristine Slyngborg
Mila Ould Yahoui