Larp counseling is a unique personal / professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals and groups to pursue their own conceptions of mental health, wellness, exploration, and fun through play. Larp counseling is the practice of dedicating a staff member to overseeing participant well-being at a live-action role-play (larp) event. We defend the title as evocative of a camp counselor: a supervisory role meant to connect the player with the intended fun of an event, rather than suggesting therapeutic intent. Ideally, the event should financially support individuals in these roles, who operate outside of the logistical organizational staff.
Larp counselors have a unique definition of and relationship to professionalism. Firstly, play is usually not the intended mode of player interaction and most conceptions of professionalism do not account for it as setting or mode. Conceptions of professionalism shared across various helping professions do not account for scenarios in which, within the lifetime of the player-counselor relationship, multiple personas / realities exist, and diegetic role reversal is expected. Classic conceptions of professionalism also fail us by assuming the nature of the counselor / player relationship is purely professional and not of a different foundation that is more likely to be fostered in organized play. Due to the privilege and authority inherent to the larp counselor role, there are still strict standards to which to adhere and lines which never should be crossed.
Standardized values are an important way of living out an ethical commitment. The following are core values of larp counseling:
1. enhancing human development;
2. honoring diversity and embracing a multicultural approach in support of the worth, dignity, potential, and uniqueness of people within their social and cultural contexts;
3. promoting social justice;
4. safeguarding the integrity of the counselor–player relationship; and
5. practicing in a competent and ethical manner.
These values provide a conceptual basis for the ethical principles enumerated below. These principles are the foundation for ethical behavior and decision making. The fundamental principles of ethical behavior are:
• autonomy, or fostering the right to control the direction of one’s life;
• nonmaleficence, or avoiding actions that cause harm;
• beneficence, or working for the good of the individual and society by promoting mental health and well-being;
• justice, or treating individuals equitably and fostering fairness and equality;
• fidelity, or honoring commitments and keeping promises, including fulfilling one’s responsibilities of trust in our ethical relationships; and
• veracity, or dealing truthfully with individuals with whom counselors come into professional contact.
Larp Counselor Code of Ethics Purpose
1. The Code sets forth the ethical obligations of larp counselors and provides guidance intended to inform the ethical practice of larp counselors.
2. The Code identifies ethical considerations relevant to larp counselors and larp counselors-in-training.
3. The Code enables the community to clarify for current and prospective counselors, and for those served by the community, the nature of the ethical responsibilities held in common by its members.
4. The Code serves as an ethical guide designed to assist the larp counselors in constructing a course of action that best serves those utilizing counseling services and establishes expectations of conduct with a primary emphasis on the role of the larp counselor.
5. The Code helps to support the mission of fighting for social justice and fostering safe play.
I. Professional Conduct
a. It is always necessary to act in good faith, and without coercion or misrepresentation. Larp counselors must know and stay within the laws of the country in which they are practicing.
b. It is good, ethical practice for larp counselors to be clear with players about their professional status and training.
c. Larp counselors must be aware at all times that they are not mental health professionals and should NEVER to attempt to perform psychotherapeutic interventions beyond valuable micro-skills.
d. Larp counselors use their professional work to benefit players and not primarily to satisfy their own needs.
e. Larp counselors seek ways of increasing their personal and professional awareness and development.
f. Larp counselors must maintain standards of practice by monitoring and reviewing their work alone, with peers, and by seeking supervision when necessary.
g. Larp counselors must openly and clearly explain the possible presence of observers, recorders, and auxiliary-ego co-therapists. They must make any limits of confidentially aware to the players being helped.
h. It is not the decision of a larp counselor to decide if players are (i) fit to play and (ii) fit for the specific group in which it is proposed to place them. If they are perceived as not fit, the counselor must indicate that to the player and may suggest alternative courses of action, but they must not prevent someone from engaging in play for this reason.
i. In order to be fit to practice, larp counselors should maintain an adequate balance of emotional and physical health. This standard should be maintained as a model for other colleagues and trainees. They should not knowingly practice if their mental or physical poor health is liable to have a detrimental effect on their players. This includes the misuse of substances that may be detrimental to professional practice. Notions of health are both personal and cultural, and such connotations should be heavily weighted in this assessment.
j. Larp counselors should be aware of and respect the cultural expectations of the community in which they work.
k. Larp counselors should be aware of and respect the cultural mores of their players, trainees, and colleagues.
II. Relationship with the Player
a. Counselors’ guarantees on confidentially extend as far as themselves. While counselors should always be expected to maintain confidentiality in almost all cases, if other players, organizers, or bystanders are present for counseling, there can be no guarantee of privacy. It is a larp counselor’s duty to inform all parties of any limitations to confidentiality. Diegetic encounters between counselor and player character-selves are assumed to be part of play and thus have no promise of confidentiality or privacy.
b. Larp counselors shall treat as private all information received from the player whether this is during a session or during other situations when they might be communicating delicate non-diegetic information; unless the player specifically agrees that this information is generally communicable. Comment: For best practices please see the Reporting chapter.
c. Larp counselors must not use information received in the course of their relationship with players or trainees for personal gain.
d. Larp counselors undertake to set out clearly and without prejudice a verbal contract with players before play begins and to reiterate relevant facets (i.e., confidentiality or the limits thereof) during play. They must almost remember that consent is an ongoing process.
e. Larp counselors will give attention to the physical environment in which they work with players in order to provide a safe and secure space for play.
f. Larp counselors should be aware of the professional boundaries with players and trainees. Larp counselors should be aware of the possibilities of role confusion, which can damage the interpersonal and/or training relationship. It is the duty of the counselor to maintain an understanding of the power dynamic, from their own point of view, as well as the players, both diegetically and out-of-character.
g. At no time should a larp counselor enter into a sexual and or romantic relationship with a player or organizer during the course of play. Pre-existing relationships of this kind between counselors and players/ organizers should be bracketed. If possible, counselors should avoid moderating conflicts or engaging in sessions with these individuals, but not at the expense of anyone’s safety. Comment: For best practices, please see the Dual Relationships/Conflicts of Interest Section in our forthcoming guide book.
h. Larp counselors should inform players of the use of videotape or other recording systems, where it is possible such a factor could upset the nature of the confidential relationship. At all times, the counselor is obliged to obtain clear, informed consent from all participants involved in any recording and to inform them that they have a right to withdraw their consent at any time.
III. Relationship with Society
a. When dealing with sensitive intimate issues that arise in play, larp counselors should treat them with appropriate caution. The use of diegetic techniques should be carefully considered in order to minimize the possibility of compounding the abuse.
b. When approached by organizers for work or consultation, larp counselors should present a clear unambiguous statement of intention of the services they offer.
c. Larp counselors have the responsibility to acknowledge research undertaken during an event and, where appropriate, initiate, assist, or participate in the process of informing and seeking the consent of players when they are involved. Players used as research subjects should give informed consent to participating in the nature of the research being undertaken.
d. Larp counselors have an educative role in the larp community as well as a helping one and should seek to continue their own education. Larp counselors have the responsibility to continue their own development by being an active member of the larp safety community.
e. Larp counselors subscribe to the principles of anti-discriminatory practice, freedom of speech, and human rights; they should take positive steps to promote them.
IV. Relationship with Play
a. Character immersion should never be prioritized over the counselor’s vigilance. Counselors acknowledge that their embedded role is explicitly for the benefit of players and always follow the Prime Directive. Counselors forgo intensive immersion in favor of a perspective that prioritizes their ability to vigilantly perform their duties. Comment: The Prime Directive refers to the counselor’s responsibility to the well-being of players, and the limitations of their involvement within the diegesis: No intentional interference with the development of plot. No protracted relationship with a player-character.
b. A larp counselor’s character self should exhibit characteristics and behavior becoming of a counselor. Players should always feel comfortable engaging with counselor characters.
c. Larp counselors only disrupt another’s immersion for the express purpose of resolving issues relevant to their position.
d. Larp counselors always consider the culture of play in which they exist before acting. However, such considerations should never jeopardize the well-being of players. Counselors are always assessing and reassessing their notions of “well-being” in the context of the players and environment.
e. Larp counselors should always reserve the ability to stop/ start and relocate play as well as declare in-game areas as temporarily out-of-game to facilitate their duties. Caution should be used when exercising these abilities; counselors should consider the impact upon player experience as well as the urgency of the situation.
f. If organizers have agreed to allow counselors the authority to use diegetic devices, counselors may do so within the context of the Prime Directive (i.e., directive abilities should never affect the plot beyond a single or small group of characters).
g. Diegetic devices are to be used only when the counselor believes they will have a positive impact on the player’s experience and well-being.
h. If a larp counselor’s character-self is a psychotherapist or an adjacent position, they may role-play psychological interventions. Caution should be taken to ensure these interactions stay within the realm of fiction and fulfill the needs of play.
i. Counselors should take care to explicitly articulate when play ends and begins.
Atwater, Brodie, and Alex Rowland. “Developing a Framework of Larp Counseling.” International Journal of Role-Playing 9: 16-23.
Bowman, Sarah Lynne, Maury Brown, Brodie Atwater, and Alex Rowland. “Larp Counselors: An Additional Safety Net.” Nordiclarp.org. Last modified August 7, 2017.
Cover photo: “Ethics” by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 ImageCreator.
This article was originally published as an Appendix in the International Journal of Role-Playing 9.