Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Nordiclarp.org or any larp community at large.
If someone is unable to breathe, that is an emergency. After three minutes without air, there is risk of brain damage. After somewhere between six to eight minutes without air, the person will typically die if breathing is not restored.
That is why, when someone seems to be choking or having difficulties breathing at a larp, you should always assume the situation is real and go to their immediate aid. You have to act fast. With just three minutes to potential brain damage, there is no time to wait and figure out if the player is just acting or if it is the “real deal.” On top of that, someone having difficulties breathing cannot shout “Hold,” “Cut,” or anything else to show that it is a real emergency. Often, due to panic, the person who cannot breathe can’t use any non-verbal signals either.
Therefore, you should never, ever design larp mechanics that require participants to role-play that their characters have breathing difficulties or are, indeed, choking. In particular, you should never design plagues, poisons and other maladies which would affect a lot of characters and thus create spontaneous choking scenes.A larp blog isn’t the best place to give medical advice, but there are lot of great first aid videos on the subject, made by professionals, which you could easily check out. For example, this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ccr4lKZjHks
When players expect to see other players role-playing characters with breathing difficulties, there is great risk that someone will mistake a real emergency for an in-character role-play, and not act on it. Especially, if everyone is pretending to wheeze and have a hard time inhaling. Having some sort of a non-verbal signal to show that you are okay can be good, but it actually only helps if you are okay. If no one rushes over to you in a real emergency because they assume you are role-playing, an okay-signal isn’t any help. As time is of the essence in such emergencies, even a delayed reaction can have serious consequences.
Role-playing heart attacks or strokes poses the same risks as role-playing breathing problems, as they, too, are time critical life-threatening emergencies. For that reason, I advise people to avoid role-playing them as well.
Of course, we can design larps in which characters get poisoned or fall ill. I just recommend that the designers choose symptoms that do not look exactly like a real emergency that must be resolved within minutes. For example, you can use vomiting, skin lesions, screaming in pain, writhing on the floor, bleeding from the eyes, numbness spreading in the body, or anything else you can come up with as long as it isn’t easily mistaken for a very common, time-critical emergency.
Cover photo: Illustration by John Barkestedt/Xhakhal. http://xhakhal.tumblr.com/