The Consent and Community Safety Manifesto

The Consent and Community Safety Manifesto

We acknowledge that our larps are not safe for everyone. In particular, women, queer people, people of color, young and/or inexperienced players, and differently abled players and organizers continue to report that they have been sexually harassed, assaulted, and physically or emotionally abused at larps. Their voices have mostly been dismissed. They have been told that their concerns are invalid, proof of their own weakness or unfitness to play, or something they need to deal with themselves. People who insist that their larps are safe and do nothing to address the concerns of other players do so from a privileged position. Just because a larp is safe for one person does not mean it is safe for all people. Race, gender identity or presentation, sexuality, body size, conventional beauty, age, and experience are factors that affect how safe someone is and feels at a larp event.

Larps must encourage edgy play! Larps must seek to transform participants through the experience. Larps must explore societal norms and taboos. Larps must encourage collaborative co-creation. Larps must be designed as art. Larps must face difficult content. Larps must make us uncomfortable and encourage us to grow! Not every single larp must (or should) do these things, but larping as a whole must continue to do so.

Community Safety allows for better larps. Community Safety among the players, staff, and organizers is a prerequisite for the transformative, immersive experience of larp. Community Safety allows us to trust, open up, feel vulnerable, explore new options, step outside our comfort zones, face our demons, and share experiences. Community Safety makes the boundaries between character and player more clear, allowing for more intense in-character interactions. Community Safety gives us tools for dealing with bleed and intense emotions, and gives power to individuals to make choices for themselves. Without Community Safety, larps harm some players.

Community Safety is multi-faceted. Community Safety is much more than taking measures to ensure that participants are not physically hurt by others or elements of the site. Community Safety is more than having evacuation plans, medical teams, and emergency response protocols. It is more than weapons checks or a single stop word, such as “cut.” Community Safety is a state of mind that stems from trust, support, and shared responsibility. When larp participants feel safe at an event, they are able to take the risks and vulnerabilities inherent in roleplay. Some players need more to feel safe than others. This is normal.

Community Safety is designed. When organizers do not design for Community Safety, their communities are inherently not safe for some people. This is because dominant off-game norms, which may include misogyny, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, racism, and other oppressive ideals, are repeated or established within the community, where they marginalize those less powerful. This process is seldom conscious and is the result of entire lifetimes of socialisation. It can only be countered by designing for Community Safety.

Community Safety is both bespoke and universal. Each larp community has its own norms and needs. Community Safety policies and procedures must be designed for the size, composition, and norms of individual groups. However, certain situations are always problematic for Community Safety. Off-game abuse, harassment, or assault of community members can never be tolerated.

Community Safety is ongoing. In other words, it is continuous, dynamic, and must be maintained. Community Safety is not achieved by establishing a policy and posting it. Community Safety must be recursively examined, tweaked, evaluated, reiterated, taught, reinforced, and upheld by members of the community and its leaders.

Community Safety is everyone’s responsibility. For a community to be safe, all of its members must: uphold the agreed-upon social contract of respectful behavior; be intolerant of harassment, abuse, and assault within the group; share the duty of monitoring behavior and educating new members; support the decisions of organizers to enforce safety norms; and respect and offer support to those who make reports of safety violations.

The 10 Principles of Consent and Community Safety

  1. People are more important than larps. Larp organizers and communities must value the safety of their participants as their number one priority.
  2. Each person’s body is their own. They alone may set their boundaries and say what makes them comfortable.
  3. Larps should be designed with transparency of themes, content, and player lists so that people may make their own choices about whether and how to play.
  4. All larps should have a Code of Conduct, harassment policy, designated safety officers, and reporting procedures which suit the larp’s design and are respected and enforced.
  5. Off-game harassment, abuse, or assault of any participant – or using the alibi of character to harass, abuse, or assault a player – should not be tolerated in any larp.
  6. Each participant is responsible for their own actions; for reading, understanding and abiding by the community Code of Conduct; and for the consequences of their actions to others.
  7. Consent must be freely given, vocalized, and considered inviolable. The expectation of consent must be addressed in pre-game workshops and enforced by organizers.
  8. No one should ostracize or retaliate against any community member for setting a consent boundary or for making a report of harassment or abuse.
  9. When someone is harassed, assaulted, or abused at a larp, they must know who to seek out to make a report; be heard with compassion and trust; be given the benefit of the doubt; have their privacy and wishes respected; and have swift and appropriate action taken to solve the problem.
  10. Larps and larp communities that condone off-game harassment of others or that protect known abusers are part of the problem and do not deserve support.

The 20 Statements of Support for Community Safety

  1. I will give a clear and honest “yes, please” or “no, thank you” when I am asked for my consent, and negotiate more specifics if I feel they are needed.
  2. I will respect the boundaries another person sets and accept that my boundaries may be different from someone else’s.
  3. I will not touch another participant in-game or off-game, without their consent.
  4. I will not tease, gossip about, ostracize, or retaliate against someone who has set a consent boundary.
  5. I will recognize that my life experience differs from another person’s experience, and that they may make different decisions than I would as a result.
  6. I will accept another person’s decision about or expression of their comfort or safety as valid.
  7. I will support those who have come forward with a report of harassment, abuse, or assault by listening, trusting their experience, and offering my assistance.
  8. I recognize that I may harm another community member, whether I intend to do so or not, and that my behavior is my responsibility.
  9. If I am informed that I have harmed someone, I will reflect on my own behavior and seek to change it.
  10. I will not deflect, blame, or become defensive if I am informed that I have harmed someone.
  11. I will confront another community member if I witness them behaving in a manner that is against our community’s Code of Conduct.
  12. I will ask other community members about their well-being if I observe them being sad, distraught, angry, unusually quiet, or otherwise upset.
  13. I recognize that some people have invisible mental or physical disabilities that affect their experience.
  14. I will not continue a behavior that I have been asked to stop.
  15. I will not use alcohol as an excuse for my poor behavior towards another.
  16. I will not use the alibi of roleplay to harm another player.
  17. For character-to-character interactions involving sexuality, romance, or violence, I will negotiate consent with the other player either before or during the larp.
  18. I will not force my feelings, ideas, or desires upon another community member.
  19. I will not use my size, voice, body, or power to deprive another community member of their autonomy or consent.
  20. I will be an ally of victims, an advocate for respectful behavior, and a voice for those who are unable to come forward themselves.

The 10 Larp Designer Commitments to Community Safety

  1. With my community, I will create and maintain a Code of Conduct that outlines expected, encouraged, and prohibited behavior.
  2. With assistance, as needed, I will create a harassment policy and reporting procedure for my larps which condemns harassment and establishes a clear and confidential way for participants to come forward if it is violated.
  3. I will designate one or more people on my organizer team as Community Safety Coordinators and give these people the resources and respect they need to conduct Community Safety business.
  4. I will require that players of my larps adhere to the Code of Conduct and harassment policy to continue to play.
  5. I will enforce the larp’s Code of Conduct and harassment policy consistently and judiciously, taking into account the facts and context of each situation, but without playing favorites or excusing behavior for some but not others.
  6. I will list content and themes prior to my games, and will make player lists available to other players.
  7. I will support the decisions of my Safety Coordinators and back them up within the Community of my larp and the larger larping Community.
  8. I will ensure that a Safety Coordinator is present and accessible at my larps, and that there is a designated space set aside for people experiencing distress.
  9. I will create appropriate mechanics for players to opt-out of scenes for any reason during the larp. These mechanics will not penalize the player for using them.
  10. I will be a model of behavior for my larp community, I will take seriously any reports of harassment or abuse, and I will advocate for Community Safety within the larger larp community.

To sign this Manifesto, please comment below and/or share this post on your social media with your personal endorsement.

© 2017 by Maury Brown. All rights reserved. Contact author for permission to use or translate. Sharing this post is, of course, permitted.

Cover photo: CC0 on Pixabay via Pexels.

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Maury Brown is a storyteller, larp producer, game designer, and scholar who consults with educational institutions and companies about interactive storytelling experiences. She is known for her scholarly and practical work designing safety and calibration techniques for larp and participatory experiences and for helping larp communities improve their accessibility and inclusion. She wrote and produced several multi-day destination Nordic-style experiences, including New World Magischola, Immerton, and Beat Generation, and believes in the power of roleplay to empower individuals and transform societal norms.