Safety Coordinators for Communities: Why, What, and How

Safety Coordinators for Communities: Why, What, and How

As we continue our discussion about how to apply principles of Community Design to our gaming and larping communities, we have advocated for the creation of a Safety Coordinator and/or Safety Team for your Community. The need for a Safety Coordinator or Team arises out of the recognition that games can make people feel unsafe through their content or mechanics, through other players’ behavior (in- or off-game), and that gaming communities are not safe for all people. In addition, we recognize that creating a safe and inclusive environment is done by design, and a Safety Team or Coordinator is part of these overall strategies. This article will define a Safety Team and its role, look at principles of what makes for a good Safety Team, and offer some advice for creating and maintaining one for your Community.

What is a Safety Coordinator and a Safety Team?

In smaller larps or communities, a single member of the organizer team can be designated the Safety Coordinator, and be the point person for safety duties. In larger larps (a good estimate is 30-40 people or more), it is generally better to share the duties among a Safety Team. A Safety Team is comprised of more than one person (three is often a good number), is diverse, and has authority from the other organizers and in the Community.

A Safety Team is a group of people who are tasked with paying attention to the safety of the community. The Safety Team is an executive level team, with the leader of the team as a members of the main organizer team. The Safety Coordinator/Safety Team Lead should have ready and immediate access to the main organizer(s), and be part of design and logistics decisions. They will voice how other decisions such as game theme, mechanics, location, duration, size, content, etc. will affect community safety.

orange life preserver hanging on a wall

Safety by Michael Nugent on Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0).

A Safety Coordinator or Safety Team may do some or all of the following:

  1. Advise the Organizers about safety mechanics such as opt-in/opt-out, consent, and how to stop the gameplay and assist with these design decisions.
  2. Consult with the Organizers about calibration mechanics such as intensifying or decreasing the level of play, levels of access for play (e.g. touching, violence), or leaving a scene and assist with these design decisions.
  3. Collaborate with main organizers to gain and maintain participant trust in order to maximize the feelings of inclusion and safety from participants.
  4. Create an Off-Game Space or Sanctuary for participants to use during the event, particularly after emotionally intense scenes. Responsible for staffing it with team members or other volunteers, and designing the space for comfort. In larger larps, a separate and private room is preferred; in smaller larps it may be designated area.
  5. Design bespoke safety workshops or briefings for participants before the event which include the chosen safety & calibration mechanics, whom to contact, and what to do in the event of a safety concern. The workshops should align with the design decisions for the individual larp.
  6. Design bespoke debrief workshops and/or game-off transitions to be conducted with participants after the event. This may include establishing a buddy system to assist with larp blues, making an online community available, or on-site debriefs, formal and informal, among other strategies.
  7. Write, revise, and communicate a game’s Conduct Guidelines and Harassment Policy, with the main organizers. These include actions taken by the Safety Coordinator or Team when violations occur. These guidelines and policies should be available to all participants.
  8. Is the established contact for participants who have a safety concern. Reports are made to the Safety Coordinator, or, in the case of a Team, to the Team as a whole. Reports made to a single Safety Team member will be shared with the remainder of the team.
  9. Establish channels, such as a Safety Team email, for participants to make contact about safety issues before, during, and after the event.
  10. Staff the Off-Game Space or Sanctuary during an event. Is known to the Community as the people to contact if they have a safety need. May wear a badge or other indicator. Is distinct from medics or those who handle physical injuries and triage.
  11. Write and enforce a reporting procedure for safety concerns, in consultation with organizers.
  12. Convene quickly when a safety concern is received. Interview, investigate, and discuss the presented information, and vote to take an action commensurate with the violation.
  13. Communicate a Safety Decision to the reporter and the community.
  14. May deliver the Safety Decision and action to the accused, in consultation with main organizers, or give the recommendation for the action to be taken to the main organizer, who delivers it to the accused. An action may be a counseling, a change of assignment or duty within the event, or a removal from the event.
  15. Maintain the confidentiality of those who have come forward with concerns, unless the person(s) has given explicit consent to talk with the accused or have their names revealed.
  16. Report trends and findings to the main organizers and recommend additional changes to the policies, mechanics and procedures to continually improve the community feeling of trust.
life preserver on a post in a field

Photo by daspunkt on Flickr. (CC BY 2.0).

Why Should a Community Have a Safety Coordinator or Safety Team?

You may be asking yourself, why does my larp need a designated Safety Coordinator or Safety Team? Many times, organizers feel that a Safety Coordinator or Safety Team is not needed, or is redundant, since there is already an organizer team. Other times they feel that their community is already safe and there is no need to draw attention to potential problems, or to make people feel unsafe by acknowledging that safety concerns or violations can occur. Sometimes organizers feel that their larp is too small to warrant a designated Safety Coordinator, or that their community is well-established enough that everyone already trusts each other or knows what to do.

There are good intentions behind these sentiments, but all of them contribute to marginalizing certain voices who may have experienced harassment, abuse, assault, stalking, or other emotional trauma at a game. In addition, these assumptions make it more difficult to understand and communicate appropriate behavior and for participants to report instances of inappropriate behavior. Here are some reasons why a larp should consider having a Safety Coordinator or Safety Team.

  1. Designating someone or a team to be in charge of Community Safety means it gets done. Organizing a larp is a huge undertaking that requires many skills and has a lot of moving parts. It is easy for Community Safety to seem less urgent that other decisions such as how to make the site work, writing characters, or what special effects to use. Community Safety can seem to be in the background, until a violation occurs that brings it to the forefront.
  2. It ensures that someone with Community Safety skills has the job. Not everyone has the training, reputation, emotional stability, empathy, and communication skills to do Community Safety work. Choosing a Safety Coordinator means that you’ll have someone who is able to do the job.
  3. It gives a designated point of contact for community members. Community members feel safer and more comfortable if they know who to go to and what to do in the event of a problem with another player, or if they should find themselves emotionally overwhelmed. When faced with a crisis situation, clear and consistent processes help everyone involved.
  4. It makes for a more streamlined process at the event. Without a designated Safety Coordinator or Team, participants who feel overwhelmed or experience troublesome behavior will be asking around for what to do, leaning on fellow participants and breaking immersion for others, or coming to already very busy organizers, or worse, not coming at all because they don’t want to make trouble for organizers. A clear point of contact makes it easier for everyone.
  5. Having a Safety Coordinator or Team ensures consistency. A single point of contact (whether Coordinator or Team) means that all reports are coming through the same person(s). That means that the Coordinator or Team will be aware of all problems in the Community, and can understand trends and what is working and isn’t working. They can then feel confident that their understanding of the Community’s pulse is truly representative of the Community. Without a Safety Coordinator or Team, some reports may go to different people, and never be shared with other organizers.
  6. A Safety Coordinator or Team ensures equitable treatment. Without a designated contact, different members of the organizing team, or even the same person may respond to safety concerns differently each time. With a Safety Coordinator or Team, the policies and actions are taken fairly, objectively, and transparently each time.
  7. A Safety Coordinator or Team ensures accountability. When the sole job of the Safety Coordinator or Team is to create and maintain Community Safety, then they focus on ensuring that reports are taken seriously, followed up on, and action is taken. Having a Safety Coordinator or Team ensures that your policies or guidelines are not mere lip service.
  8. A Safety Coordinator or Team ensures transparency. Rather than mysterious back-room deals, or sweeping things under the rug, a Safety Coordinator or Team works within the view of the Community, while also keeping details confidential. Numbers of reports received, decisions made, and actions taken are archived, creating important community knowledge. Participants feel better knowing that there is a process, that they can inquire about it, that their inquiries will be answered and that confidentiality will be maintained.
  9. The presence of a Safety Leader shows that your Community values inclusivity and safety. By naming a Safety Coordinator or Team, it shows your participants that you take the issue seriously. It demonstrates that your game or larp design is conscious and that your team is committed to making the space inclusive, safe, and accessible.
  10. It shows that you are aware that Communities are not safe for everyone. Like it or not, geek communities are not safe for everyone, all the time. Women, transgender participants, players of color, young people, and other marginalized identities have been speaking up about the harassment, abuse, assault, racism, sexism, and discrimination they have experienced in larp, game, and geek communities. Declaring that your Community is safe doesn’t make it safe, and in fact can make you lose the trust of your participants, whose personal lived experience is at odds with your declaration. Designating a Safety Coordinator or Team shows that you recognize that different people experience a Community differently, and what may be safe to some participants who hold various kinds of privilege may indeed not be safe to others.

What Makes a Good Safety Coordinator and Safety Team:

Here are some characteristics that a Safety Coordinator or Safety Team needs in order to be successful in their mission:

  1. Respected. A Safety Coordinator or Team needs to have the respect of the community, and known to be fair, approachable, impartial, and deliberate. A Safety Coordinator must be able to rise above personal feelings toward particular participants, and take an objective appraisal and decision that considers the good of the Community.
  2. Full Faith & Authority. A Safety Coordinator or Team must have the full faith and authority of the other organizers and the Community. A main organizer or other member of the team should never undermine the efforts of the Safety Coordinator, and the Safety Team should always be working in concert with the values and goals of the particular larp, game, or community they are in.
  3. Heterogeneous. A Safety Team is a mixed group, with different genders, as well as different ages, and experience. People from marginalized groups often have a harder time coming forward to speak about their experience with people who will have a harder time understanding their experience or perspective. For example, a woman who has been sexually harassed may feel more comfortable speaking to another woman, rather than a man, about what happened. Try to populate a Safety Team with members who come from different social circles so that people feeling unsafe can turn to someone who is not close to the person with a problematic behavior.
  4. Capable. The Safety Team should have the knowledge, social skills and emotional stability (at least as a group) to talk to both the person voicing a safety issue as well as the person who might be the safety issue.
  5. Credible. A Safety Coordinator or Team must be able to be trusted. Members must be beyond reproach. Do not include people on your Safety Team who have had reports made against them in the past. Participants may not feel comfortable with the Safety Team at all if they perceive that one of the members is compromised.
  6. Action-oriented. Participants must be able to trust that reports will be taken seriously and action taken. Do not include people on your Safety Team who have a reputation for not addressing problems sufficiently.
  7. Aligned. The Coordinator or Team’s views of safety issues need to be aligned with those of the organizer team, and the larp, so they can do their task and enforce the policies as intended. Organizers need to trust the Safety Coordinator, and back up their decisions.
  8. Objective. Safety Coordinators need to be prepared to handle a situation where someone tells them about problematic behavior coming from one of their friends, or someone whom they have past personal experience with. They need to be able to recuse themselves from such a report, or be able to set aside personal feelings.
  9. Flexible. Safety personnel need to recognize that their work isn’t always predictable. When there is a need, they will be very busy. When things are going smoothly, they may have spare time. In addition, Safety Team members need to recognize that what is called for on their part differs with every situation. They may simply need to give clarification or reassurance, sit quietly with someone, or they may need to confront someone about their problematic behavior.
  10. Resources: The Safety Coordinator or Team must be given authority and resources by the Organizer team to be able to deliver what is stated in the Safety Plan and other policies. They need to have the time, capacity, space, energy, and resources to do their job when someone comes to them with a safety concern, no matter if it is small question about the rules, or a crisis situation of a serious violation.
  11. Down Time. The work of emotional labor is serious work, and takes a toll on members of a Safety Team. They have to remain calm when others are upset, aggressive, or hysterical. Make sure you have enough Safety Team members to not overwhelm them. They need breaks, too, especially after a tense situation. It’s often a good practice to work in pairs if a Safety Coordinator must confront a problematic person, both to guarantee their own safety as well as to obtain a better collective understanding of what was said, and to corroborate evidence, if needed. After a stressful situation, it is helpful to have others available to allow the Safety Coordinator or Team to have someone to vent with or process their own feelings.

This article is part of a series of articles about designing for Community Safety. Other articles in this series include 19 Truths about Harassment, Missing Stairs, and Safety in Larp Communities, and The Consent and Community Safety Manifesto.

Sources Cited and Further Reading

Bowman, Sarah Lynne. February 3, 2017. “A Matter of Trust – Larp and Consent Culture.NordicLarp.org. https://nordiclarp.org/2017/02/03/matter-trust-larp-consent-culture/

Bowman, Sarah Lynne. 2013. “Social Conflict in Role-Playing Communities: An Exploratory Qualitative Study.” International Journal of Role-playing 4. http://www.ijrp.subcultures.nl/wp-content/issue4/IJRPissue4bowman.pdf

Brown, Maury Elizabeth. September 19, 2016. “Creating a Culture of Trust Through Safety and Calibration Larp Mechanics.” NordicLarp.org. https://nordiclarp.org/2016/09/09/creating-culture-trust-safety-calibration-larp-mechanics/

Brown, Maury E. “People-Centered Design.” Living Games Conference. May 2016. https://youtu.be/oZY9wLUMCPY

Brown, Maury E. “Pulling the Trigger on Player Agency: How Psychological Intrusions in Larps Affect Game Play.” In Wyrd Con Companion Book 2014, edited by Sarah Lynne Bowman, 96-111. Los Angeles: Wyrd Con.  https://www.academia.edu/9944082/Pulling_the_Trigger_on_Player_Agency_How_Psychological_Intrusions_in_Larps_Affect_Game_Play

Brown, Maury Elizabeth. March 14, 2017. “19 Truths about Harassment, Missing Stairs, and Safety in Larp Communities.” NordicLarp.org. https://nordiclarp.org/2017/03/14/19-truths-about-harassment-missing-stairs-and-safety-in-larp-communities/

Edman, Karin. January 3, 2015. “Safer Larps for Young Larpers.” WonderKarin Blog. http://wonderkarin.blogspot.se/2015/01/safer-larps-for-young-larpers.html?m=1

Game to Grow Webisode Project: Episode 2. “Emotionally Intense Play, Calibration, and Community Safety.” With Maury Brown, Johanna Koljonen, Lizzie Stark, and John Stavropoulos. Hosted by Sarah Lynne Bowman. Game to Grow. September 1, 2016. https://youtu.be/3YtRJd5CR2I

Game to Grow Webisode Project: Episode 6. “Consent-Based Play.” With Maury Brown, Azzurra Crispino, Johanna Koljonen, Lizzie Stark, and John Stavropoulos. Hosted by Sarah Lynne Bowman. Game to Grow. March 24, 2017. https://youtu.be/P4NbFI3hRj0

Hupke, Marlen. “Emotional Labor.” OSHwiki. https://oshwiki.eu/wiki/Emotional_Labor

Koljonen, Johanna. September 18, 2016. “Toolkit: The ‘See No Evil’ or Lookdown.” Participation Safety Blog. https://participationsafety.wordpress.com/2016/09/18/toolkit-the-see-no-evil-or-lookdown/

Koljonen, Johanna. September 11, 2016. “Toolkit: The Tap-Out.” Participation Safety Blog. https://participationsafety.wordpress.com/2016/09/11/toolkit-the-tap-out/

Stark, Lizzie. January 2, 2014. “Organizer Fatigue: Larp’s canary in the coal mine.” Leaving Mundania Blog.  http://leavingmundania.com/2014/01/02/organizer-fatigue-larps-canary-coal-mine/

Stark, Lizzie. March 18, 2014. “Building Larp Communities: Social Engineering for Good.” Leaving Mundania Blog. http://leavingmundania.com/2014/03/18/building-larp-communities-social-engineering-good/

Stavropoulos, John. “19 Safety Truths that Might be Lies.” Living Games Conference. May 2016. https://youtu.be/sbvp9keGyV4

Cover photo: Life Jacket Ring by Zsolt Fila on Flickr. (CC BY 2.0).

Authors

Maury Brown
Maury Brown is the co-founder of Learn Larp, LLC, a games design and educational consulting company. Brown co-designs the wizard college Nordic larp New World Magischola in the United States.
%d bloggers like this: