A community is made up of a group of individuals and the larp community is particularly broad, encompassing people who take part in a range of different activities that come under the heading of larp. These can be vastly different, ranging from competitive larp, to larp with immersion as a goal, to solo larps and larps with thousands of participants. Possibly the only thing that the members of the larp community have in common is that they adopt a character to participate. The differences in what larp is can make discussions of community difficult to frame.
This year, the majority of larps including one of mine have been cancelled due to COVID. When the organizers announced their decision to disappointed players, they were met with almost universal support. When I postponed my larp, in addition to supportive players saying that they understood, and it was the right decision on the social media post, and in response to e-mails, I also received several private messages acknowledging that it must be disappointing for me. There was no expectation of me to manage other people’s emotions – just recognition that it was a difficult decision. This is an example of when a community comes together.
However, the community can also have issues. We can perceive “the larp community” as a separate entity that we are not part of, particularly when trying to address the problems that it has. In this view the individual has no responsibility and the community as a whole, sometimes presumed to be guided by influential people, needs to change and improve – to be more inclusive and less toxic.
At the other extreme it’s an unhelpful message to say that, as the community is made up of individual larpers, its problems can be addressed by each person at an individual level. An individual can only do so much and telling larpers to address every problem in the community by themselves is at best naive and at worst ableist.
There are some activities that can, and as far as possible should, be taken by individuals to help improve the larp community as a whole.
Educate Yourself as a Designer and Player.
Consider what choices you’ve made around accessibility and why. Read up on why, even if you aren’t actively excluding people, they may feel excluded. You are always going to exclude some groups unless you get very lucky with logistics, e.g.:
- Looking for locations accessible to people with certain disabilities may increase your price range;
- Your 20Km hike larp isn’t going to work for people with certain disabilities or who don’t have a certain level of fitness;
- Your horror larp may not be accessible for people with certain mental health issues;
- Casting by lottery is going to exclude players who are anxious to go without their friends; and
- First come first served sign ups may limit access to people who are working or have childcare responsibilities or just a slower computer during the sign up period.
You need to understand and be mindful about this rather than falling into exclusion by default.
Be Helpful and Inclusive, Including with the Organisers and Volunteers.
If you’re going to a larp or a festival, chances are none of the organizers or volunteers are being paid for what they’re doing: in practice, the volume of labour that the organizers have put in is going to be far more than is covered by the ticket prices. One way to contribute is to be helpful and inclusive. Entitled behaviour is stressful for organizers and volunteers. When attending a larp consider what you can do to help, for example being inclusive of new players, helping with setting up and taking down, and ensuring that your communication with organizers and volunteers is polite and non- aggressive.
Be Aware of What’s Required for the Larp You’re Attending.
The majority of larps require active engagement. The is likely to include creative collaboration and working with other participants to creative a narrative that is satisfying for everyone participating. This is not to say everyone has to be the perfect larper, or always in a supporting role – but consideration for other’s experience is necessary. Also, you may decide that what’s required isn’t something you can offer or something that you would enjoy. For example, if there is a requirement that costuming is authentic and you don’t particularly enjoy costuming you may decide that the larp isn’t for you.
Don’t Use Larp as an Alternative to Therapy.
Although larp can be transformative, it isn’t therapy. Treating it as such may have a negative impact on the participant’s psychology. For example, the participant may discover after a scene that they have tried to use a character to explore personal issues and misjudged the long term impact, or forced themselves to play a scene relating to personal trauma, expecting it to be helpful, only to realise that they should have listened to their feelings of discomfort. This is not to say that larp can’t have a psychologically positive impact, but if the participant is trying to work on a specific issue, they should do it with the assistance of a professional. It is also unfair to use your fellow players as adjuncts in your own journey without their knowledge or consent.
Understand and Use Safety Tools in Larps. Normalize their Use.
Participants should never feel uncomfortable about prioritising their own comfort and safety over a scene. If they need to use safety tools to leave a scene that should be considered unremarkable. Organizers should make this clear, but it’s also the duty of other participants to respect tools as they are used and allow play to continue around them.
Be Aware and Considerate.
People have different privileges, opportunities, and energy, which make certain actions easier or more difficult – the important thing is to be aware of yourself and how you relate to others. Some problems you can’t solve on your own but you can be part of the solution.
Reach Out to New Players.
Or if you’re a new player, reach out to people that you’ve had interesting conversations with. Don’t feel it should be the other person’s responsibility – people don’t always have the energy to initiate contact, regardless of their standing in the community.
Accept “No” Gracefully.
Whether it’s playing a certain scene, being involved in a collaboration, or to hooking up after a larp.
Examine Your Own Behaviour.
In terms of general talk of toxicity in the community – check you’re not part of this. There are people who may not recognize that they are actively acting in toxic ways, and examining our own behaviour is always useful. There is also a passive part of this where we might allow toxic behaviour within larps we run, or defend people after someone has disclosed difficult, abusive, or toxic behaviour on their part because they are a friend, or respected in the community. If you have done either of these they aren’t necessarily insurmountable obstacles to you being part of the community but do what you need to do to change.
Look at Who’s Being Held Accountable.
Sometimes talking about the community being toxic can disguise specific bad actors. Look at who’s being held accountable. This is not to say that anyone is obliged to name and confront an abuser.
The magic of community and of finding a place to belong is powerful. I have been very fortunate to have people around me who have supported me in learning and continuing to learn how to better myself and the community around me, while making the process of discovery fun. One of the unique aspects of larp is the emotions that are invoked during play that allow us to be vulnerable with people who we don’t know outside of their character. Such vulnerability is both what we must protect by educating ourselves on safety, and what we can use to become more compassionate and helpful members of any community, starting with the larp one.
This article will be published in the upcoming companion book Book of Magic and is published here with permission. Please cite this text as:
Wood, Laura. “Why Larp Community Matters and How We Can Improve It.” In Book of Magic, edited by Kari Kvittingen Djukastein, Marcus Irgens, Nadja Lipsyc, and Lars Kristian Løveng Sunde. Oslo, Norway: Knutepunkt, 2021. (In press).