Building a Fail-Safe

Building a Fail-Safe

This is a tool to give yourself a place to rest but do so in character rather than leave the game. You can use this tool if you are going to a game where your character will take you out of your comfort zone or you will portray a heavy theme. This tool works for both prewritten and self-written characters.

A fail-safe in the context of larp can be anything from a state of mind to a physical placement to a method where you can balance the intensity of your game. It’s a means to allow you to stay ingame at times when you are stressed and otherwise might need to go off game. To boil it down, it is about creating room for you while you explore the embodiment of your character.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What do you need to relax?
  • What helps you become centered?
  • What does your physical and mental safe space look like?
    • Is it introspective or extrospective?
    • Is it shared or alone?
  • What do you need in situations where you are under pressure?
    • Solitude or company?
    • Guidance or to lead or control?
    • Structure or freedom?

Identifying Your Fail-Safes

Here you find the five core personality types known as OCEAN, which is an abbreviation of the five core traits openness, conscientious, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. We are seldom purely one of these types, but we can still use OCEAN to build an understanding of what kinds of spaces and fail safes we can design our game experience around.

Personality typeType of spacePossible fail-safes

You are very creative and open to trying new things. You focus on tackling new challenges and are happy to think about abstract concepts.

SocialGravitate towards close relationships where one can share experiences, be it with one carefully selected character/player or in a wider context e.g. where gossip is shared. If you cope well with a distraction (this requires knowledge about what you want/need to avoid) this is an option too.

You spend time preparing and are good at finishing important tasks first. You pay attention to detail and enjoy having a set schedule.

ControlledGo into relations or scenes that have been negotiated. Focus on making sure you have agency in your relations, i.e. avoid relations where you are dependent on the other players to initiate play. You can also gravitate towards a location when you need to “touch base” with yourself or your group.

You enjoy meeting new people and feel energized when you are around people. You may talk before you think. You enjoy being the center of attention, to start conversations and include others.

PublicThriving in very social and public spaces, you might have a need to go all in and take center stage, be it a literal stage or in dramatic scenes. Being extravert you might also have a need for the opposite: solitude or extra calm places/mindsets. A close (intense)
— not necessarily romantic — relation can be a good place to rest.

You have a great deal of interest in other people and care about others. You strongly feel concern and empathy. You enjoy helping, contributing and assisting others.

ContemplativeAs you might tend to be a people-pleaser, make sure you create fail-safes that give you time to reflect on whether or not it’s your needs that are met or your need to accommodate others. You might find enjoyment in having characters that support others — this can be a safe space too.

You worry about many things and you find yourself getting stressed quicker than others. You can experience dramatic shifts in moods. It can take you a while to bounce back from a stressful event.

FamiliarMake sure you have players around you who know you. They can help you stay grounded. Ahead of the game, you should start deciding on physical places you can gravitate towards. If you relax well in contemplation, create fail-safes where you write letters, draw, or read. If contemplation makes you anxious, close relations with whom you can share your (ingame) feelings can help you relax.

The chart offers an overview of the five personality types, what type of space they tend to gravitate towards, and ideas for fail-safes. Use the questions above to start the process of figuring out what safety is for you. Here are a couple of examples.

Example 1 — offgame personality

A player who wants to push their boundaries and play an extraverted character when they are far from one themselves. To accommodate their offgame personality and allow for them to stay in the game the character is designed around several different ways to be at center stage without being in the spotlight. This could be by: always introducing and including new people into conversations (open chair policy). Often seek out new conversation partners and get them to talk by showing deep interest in them. Rarely talk about themselves. And when needed, they could re-treat into a broody and closed mental space alone amidst it all. All these are ways of being deflective: Being in focus but not with attention on them.

Example 2 — offgame energy management

A character at a historic larp has two major themes 1) war trauma, violent, public outbursts of PTSD and 2) homosexuality in an era where this is punishable by death. Both themes have the potential to be extraordinarily heavy and the player is afraid they will end up spending more energy on this portrayal than they have or want to. To balance this out the player put the two themes on each end of a scale, where at each end the intensity are a volatile trauma and overt gayness.

War trauma

This allows the player to balance one heavy theme by playing on the other and vice versa, creating room for both in their game experience. Ingame this scale functions as a coping method with two very different life circumstances.

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Anne Serup Grove (b. 1987) is a Danish larper and ethnographic designer by trade. In recent years, Anne has focussed on inclusive costuming and safety in larping.