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June 2018

Author Archives Tara M. Clapper

About Tara M. Clapper

Tara M. Clapper is a professional LARP designer, editor, and writer from Philadelphia, PA, USA. She’s also the founder and publisher of The Geek Initiative, an online community celebrating women in geek culture. Tara created the feminist LARP “She’s Got a Gun” and runs various immersive digital LARPs in her CHARIOT LARP system.

As a larp designer, I struggle with the concept of transparency in game design, or how much I should reveal about the game design process. In business branding in general as well as in larp, there are pros and cons to announcing concepts (and selling larp tickets) before you fully develop the process. The determination about the level of transparency can be a very personal one for the designer (and/or design team) – and one that can affect your larp’s bottom line.

transparency in game designIf you debut a design concept without full documentation, you may come under fire for having unanswered questions, or for having no clear strategy about certain topics – everything from inclusion to rules systems, safety issues, and even the types of characters participants can play.

(more…)

Jun 19, 2018

Larp participants are often taken aback by the ticket costs. From the perspective of the larp organizer, ticket pricing often leaves a tight margin. Let’s take a look at what causes the sticker shock – and what organizers can do to be transparent about the reason for the larp ticket pricing.

As both a game designer / organizer and a larp participant based in the United States, I empathize with every side of this issue. As an organizer, I’m discovering that profit margins are usually slim with larp, and breaking even on expenses isn’t even always a result planned in to some blockbuster larp efforts.

As a participant on a budget, sometimes I feel entirely priced out of the hobby, even at local games. In my country, the cost of goods and services rises, but the income unfortunately does not – and it’s really starting to impact what people are able to spend on nonessentials. (more…)

Jun 12, 2018

Live action role play has changed considerably for me over the years. In addition to attending a wider variety of experiences, my body has undergone many health changes since I started to LARP in boffer combat games back in 2007. A few years into my LARPing career, I was involved in a series of car accidents. I pushed myself hard to stay on the team that ran the LARP until I couldn’t, and when another former staff member lost her struggle with chronic pain due to similar issues, I knew that I had to eventually make some changes.

Ten years later, I primarily LARP in indoor, low-combat settings. I’ve been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and experience lifelong chronic pain as a result of those car accidents. While I was still at the combat-inclusive game before my diagnoses, I’d started limping around the field. I wouldn’t understand why I couldn’t handle extreme temperatures like I used to, why my bruises stuck around longer, and why my body swelled so drastically when I spent a lot of time outdoors.

I had been walking around with illnesses that weren’t very obvious to the casual observer – or to the first dozen doctors I visited, for that matter.

Here, I’m focusing on some things that have helped (or would help) me with my experiences and issues. Illnesses and disabilities are personal subjects, and I do not feel comfortable speaking for everyone. However, I encourage other gamers with accessibility needs to comment on this post if they wish to offer more suggestions.

Like 96% of people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, mine are invisible. That means it’s easy to look at me and assume I’m okay. In reality, these illnesses affect my life in many ways:

  • Sometimes my hands are in so much pain I cannot write by hand. I used to enjoy chronicling at medieval fantasy games, but I can’t do that anymore.
  • Some days, it takes me three hours to get out of bed. I completely ignore this at LARPs and push my body. Even at hotel LARPs, my body takes about three or four days to recover when I do this for the entire weekend.
  • I can’t sit or stand for long amounts of time; I have to alternate between the two. I love playing powerful characters, and I’m short on top of it. Imagine portraying that kind of character, then having to sit down and renounce your physical presence because you can’t stand.
  • I am unable to wear heels or clothing that is too heavy for long amounts of time. This means I might look less “in-game” than others or that I can’t stay outside in cold weather for as long as others.
  • I get cold really quickly because I have an autoimmune disease, and my hands turn white and blue. That means I can’t always go outside for hours when it’s cold.
  • My body swells when I’m having a flare-up. I look about 20 pounds heavier than I did the day before, and this has a big impact on how comfortable I feel. That makes it tougher for me to role play because I’m very self-conscious, and my face in particular looks noticeably bigger.
  • Minor issues like outdoor allergies become major, because they induce flare-ups and swelling. That outdoor LARP I could afford to attend? Not so much anymore.
  • Brain fog sets in and my short-term memory is gone. You might think it’s cool to have an in-game memory test, or expect your bard to memorize songs – but I can’t do that anymore.
  • Since I live in the U.S., I don’t always have access to healthcare, which means I need to take care of myself to avoid getting sick. Lots of people come to LARPs when they aren’t feeling well, and when I am on immunosuppressants, I could get sick a lot easier.
  • Too much tomato sauce or rice? That makes me very ill. I don’t have too many dietary restrictions, but I have to limit how much I can eat of certain foods.
  • Some chronic issues come with mental health side effects. For me, car accidents are a trigger. I don’t encounter this theme very often at LARPs, but others could have issues resulting from or associated with assault or combat experiences. Additionally, some chronic health issues are primarily mental health issues in nature. I also get really frustrated when I just can’t participate.

I’m not listing these examples as complaints – instead, I’m doing it because a lot of people who have LARPed with me over the years have no idea. That’s because my illnesses are invisible. Unless I’m having an extremely high pain day, you won’t even notice. And on top of that, these are just my symptoms and struggles. Even someone with the same illnesses will have different symptoms at different times. Everyone’s needs are different – and they fluctuate.

Some days I can run. Other days I should probably be in a wheelchair. It’s very difficult for people who do not experience chronic pain to understand how much things can vary from day to day. What they see is my ability to work a sixteen hour day when I’m feeling okay – what they don’t see is the random struggle when I can barely move four days later.

Knowing that so many illnesses are invisible, how can you help as a game organizer?

Ask Your Players About Accessibility Needs Prior to the Game

I feel more comfortable disclosing my needs when organizers ask in their pre-game surveys about accessibility requirements. Although my needs aren’t great, I like letting them know (so I don’t feel guilty if I have to miss a scene), and I usually request a room that is on the first floor or near an elevator. I also find that when roommates are randomly assigned, I’m usually paired with someone who has similar issues, or who is especially sensitive to my needs.

Inform Staff of Accessibility Needs

Generally inform your staff about accessibility needs. Players have them! I don’t need them to know that I specifically have needs unless I really need help with something, but it’s helpful to remind able-bodied staff members that sometimes not everyone can run up the stairs or go on their knees for a ‘hold’ call as many LARPs expect.

Remind Players About Accessibility

A simple reminder is all it takes: please remind your players to be courteous, and mention that some illnesses are invisible. This really makes me feel more comfortable asking for help when I need it and disclosing that I have a medical issue. You can do this during your pre-game workshop or speech.

Include People with Accessibility Needs on Your Team

Not only will staff members with accessibility needs help you solve some problems preemptively, I’m also going to feel a lot more comfortable coming to them about accessibility issues. If they feel comfortable disclosing, it would really help to know that they experience similar issues (as so many illnesses are invisible). Additionally, inclusion in general on your staff is helpful when it comes to discussing sensitive issues. As one of two women who GM on a particular team, I know that I’m more often approached about potentially problematic behavior, how to play out romantic scenes with consent, and more mundane issues that impact player experiences, like needing a tampon or medication for cramps. (As a note, some transmen, agender, and gender fluid individuals also experience menstruation.)

Provide an Out of Game Area to Relax

Especially important for longer games – make sure there’s a place where players can go to de-escalate or just take a break. I dislike breaking immersion and try hard to push through, but when my body needs a break, it needs a break! Sometimes I only need ten minutes to relax. Other times I just need to vent my frustration about my body and then I’m good to go. This helps set the expectation that players are more important than games and that you value my health and self-care practices more than you do my presence in every scene. A safe area is also an ideal place for an emotional safety team member to hang out, and it’s generally ideal for all players. I like the idea of having a space and an exit mechanic like the lookdown that doesn’t force me to explain or blame my pain every time I need to rest.

Make Sure All Players Can Have an Impact

The easiest way to eliminate my frustration over not being able to do something is to have an alternative that I can do. Can I always run up a hill and slay a monster? Nope. Could I perform a ritual to buff the team that will be able to run up the hill and do that? Absolutely. I love an impactful, immersive role play opportunity.  Don’t give me something to do to placate me: give me an impactful option or create an environment that gives me enough freedom to improvise.

There are dozens of ways to improve a LARP experience for players with all types of accessibility issues. The best way to learn about how to help is to ask. How can you do that?

  • Hire a consultant
  • Ask openly for feedback
  • Gear a feedback form question to accessibility and accommodation.

Further Resources

Would you like more resources for or about LARPers with chronic illnesses?

Header image credit: free for commercial use.

Jun 01, 2018

Written with Joe Hines

A LARP can be an experience, a work of art, a competitive game, or all of the above. A LARP can last for four hours or four days – but one thing most LARPs have in common is feedback. Participants usually change, even in a small way, as the result of a LARP, and often times they want to provide their thoughts on elements of the game such as rules, setting, logistics, and other features.

As an organizer, it’s a lot to handle. As a player, you likely want to provide feedback in the spirit of helping the community. Every now and then, the feedback process is a point of further frustration for both player and staff member(s).

Here are some considerations and tips for managing feedback – and for sending it in.

Personal Branding and Methods of Contact

In a niche like LARP, personal branding is crucial. This means upholding an upstanding reputation not only as a ‘brand,’ but as a person in the community. LARP can involve a lot of trust – after all, you’re trusting a LARP organizer with physical and emotional safety to a degree – and the personal branding required in a comparatively small community helps defend against missing stairs and ripoffs.

Even the most successful professional LARPers haven’t had an easy road to success, and somewhere along the way, they’ve built their professional statuses on their personal successes.

In this industry, most game designers are immersed in their own worlds frequently, and that means a cross between the personal and professional brand. This is what we do for fun, but it’s also what we do as a business in many circumstances. Nonprofit LARPs also live and die based upon their organizers’ reputations. And when worlds collide, it gets a little overwhelming. Designers might get messages on as many as ten separate social media channels and email accounts at a time.

LARPs, LARP organizations, and in some cases, organizers often have their own separate Facebook channels for connecting with fans. There’s a process for answering questions. Most LARP organizations aren’t very big, though – and that means everyone knows that the fastest method of communication means pinging a designer or organizer directly. This can lead to overwhelm for the organizer and inconsistent response times for the player base.

Designers should be clear about their preferred channel of communication, especially if they aren’t the only one monitoring an inbox.

Designers can also:

  • Post messages about availability
  • Delegate responsibilities to other team members
  • Ensure their game organization’s site provides their preferred method of contact information

Designer tip: Feedback isn’t limited to post-testing and post-event. If you’re willing to be transparent about your game design process, you can ask your players questions about their preferences as you design. This can help you avoid some problematic issues or simply structuring things against their preferences – and they’ll come up with features or problems you haven’t noticed before.

Participants should be respectful of everyone’s time and remember that organizers don’t always have time for an impromptu one-hour conversation, especially if they have families, freelance work, or day jobs. No organizer is simply that: even full-time designers and organizers fulfill other roles in their lives.

How to Provide Feedback

Game organizers should provide one or more clear channels for feedback, such as direct email or player feedback surveys. Like other media, LARPs get criticized, and game designers and organizers should expect that. Similarly, they should also prepare for praise (something that’s also difficult for some of us to accept).

Organizers should structure the feedback form to prompt persons to enter both positive and negative feedback.  “What was something you liked?” “Where can we improve?” “Was there anything you did not like?”

To track trends in feedback it may be beneficial to request “star” ratings (like one through five) that when averaged together give you a view of how things have changed over time.

Designer beware: It is easy to listen to those who shout the loudest, but that may not serve the community as a whole. Make sure you check in with your trusted advisors when you need to check your perspective.

Participants should respect the method(s) of communication set out by the organizer, provide criticism in a constructive fashion, and refrain from slamming a game organizer on social media if a private resolution is possible. Lastly, balance your criticism by mentioning a few things you liked about the event.

Specifically, How To Issue Negative Feedback:

Inevitably something will go wrong during your larp experience. Either a rules call will not go your way or a scene will have been written badly or a participant will be disrespectful or any number of other things. Sometimes these bad experiences are singular and sometimes they are the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Either way, you may feel compelled to complain and you are right to do so. But there are multiple things you can do to turn your complaint into effective feedback.

Step 1: Identify when is the proper time to complain

  1. The majority of larp event issues can be solved at the event with the appropriate staff member. By quickly fixing small problems, bigger problems can be avoided.
  2. But if the problem is not an immediate problem, then perhaps you can wait to bring it up until between events when the staff can focus on the issue while not also trying to run the event.

Step 2: Identify the appropriate person to complain to

  1. If there is an identifiable person who made a mistake, and you have a good rapport with them, perhaps you should simply approach them directly.
  2. But if the problem is more systemic, or you do not have a good feeling that your words will be heard directly, seek to find an official method to complain first. Is there an event feedback form or email address? Perhaps a player advocate or a listed safety staff member you can start with? Use what is provided first.
  3. Failing all of that run right out to your favorite social media and accuse everyone of being horrible people in a vague post… no, I’m kidding of course, do not do that. While it can be tempting to use your social media soap box as a means of venting it can cause more problems than it solves. Rare is the social media post that contains all of the necessary context, clear explanations and list of names of persons involved sufficient to solve the problem.
  4. Failing all of that, is there a senior player, mentor or trusted friend whom you could talk to privately about the issue. Perhaps they will know how best to navigate you through the process of finding the right person to complain to.

Step 3: Explain the complaint

  1. Be prepared to clearly articulate why you are upset. This may require that you talk the problem through in advance so that you know what it is you are actually complaining about.
  2. Try to phrase the complaint without being accusatory. Saying things like “Your game is terrible” will only make people defensive and tend not to hear what comes next. Instead use “I” words. “I felt that this scene could have been better if the fake blood didn’t get in my eyes” or “I was caught unaware by that rules change and the ensuing conversation destroyed my immersion, the scene, and made my event less enjoyable”.
  3. Be prepare to name names. This is not the same as throwing anyone under a bus, but if there is a staff member who was present then they can help clarify problems that perhaps were either strictly situational, miscommunications or they can identify participants who were there that you do not know their real names. Complaints about people who behaved badly are especially important to have names or at least descriptions and witnesses.

Step 4: Listen to the reply

  1. You have said your piece. Now you need to potentially wait for the staff to investigate. They may come back with an explanation or an apology or with other questions. Be prepared to participate in the process.
  2. Decide if the response to the complaint is sufficient or if it misses the point.
  3. Reengage with the staff members if needed. Escalate it up the chain of command if that seems like the better option.

Organizer tip: Does your game get a lot of feedback? Create a simple spreadsheet and log the feedback. Establish a required turnaround time for your response to feedback and strive to meet that goal. Additionally, the players should expect you to have a process for handling feedback. Make sure you have one in place before you even receive your first complaint.

Personal Safety Concerns

For most organizers, personal safety concerns are paramount. These should be the primary design decisions as well as the most important. From testing through after-LARP bleed, designers and organizers want to know immediately about any physical or emotional safety concerns.

Designers need to make this expectations clear and maintain a receptive attitude. They shouldn’t blame the participants or make them feel bad for bringing up a safety concern, even if it is a critical flaw.

Participants should report any problems as soon as they can safely and comfortably do so.

People Over LARPs

At the beginning of New World Magischola events, the organizers express: “People are more important than LARPs.” That includes various aspects of LARPs, such as immersion and even game rules that don’t directly relate to safety and consent. By valuing our LARP communities above any one aspect of any game, we are able to take more risks and put safety first.

When it comes to issuing feedback about safety and consent, LARP players and game staff often face unique challenges (which can hopefully result in making our communities safer). Certain conversations may take longer – and may even need to go through legal channels to protect you and the game organizers.

The LARP feedback process differs for every game, and there are varying points of view on whether the organizer-player relationship is that of service provider-customer, especially when the games are nonprofit and volunteer run. Regardless, LARP communities should work together whenever possible to encourage feedback intended to improve the community – and help it evolve.

What types of feedback processes do you have in place at games you run or play? Tell us what works and what doesn’t in the comments.

 


Joe Hines lives in Sterling, VA, USA, with his family. With two decades of experience at multiple larps, quite often on staff, he has embarked on the journey of forming The Lost Colonies LARP with a small core of staff to express their new vision for the larp experience.

May 31, 2018

If there’s one thing cartoon and LARP villains have taught me, it’s this: be prepared. What villainous thing could strike out of nowhere, at any LARP, at any time, rendering you helpless? It’s called THE LARP CRUSH. And it could happen to you. While some are immune, most people are susceptible to experiencing the LARP crush at one time or another. It can sneak up out of nowhere. It can catch you unaware. So LARPers of all stripes, you’d best…

be prepared

You never know when the nefarious LARP crush feelings will strike! | Source

I’ve noticed that this occurs in stages. Not that I’ve ever had a LARP crush. Nope. Never. I’m totally not the type to have one. Moving on…here are those stages I was talking about:

1. It happens to your friend. At first, you’re not #AskingForAFriend. It actually happens to a friend. They come to you with a very important confession. In the midst of dealing with fatigue, bleed, or drop from a recent LARP, they’ve made a discovery: they have a LARP crush.

anguish

It looks like torture. You know it’s torture. For your friend, it started as a post-apoc LARP interaction when they joked about a time-traveling car, but now there are feelings. | Source

2. You laugh. You jest. You know it confidently enough to say it: “It can’t happen to me.”

And there it is, like one of those silly cartoons. Like you’ve taken a broom to the back of the head. You’re seeing stars.

starsAlso, maybe you’ve had a good hair day. Or maybe you just live in space, like Thor. | Source

But the point is…you notice each other.

Them:

khal drogo

Their thoughts: I’m just walking into this LARP like the badass that I am. NBD.

Your thoughts: Consent negotiation. Consent negotiation. Consent negotiation. | Source

You:

woman winking

“So. Have I mentioned I’m a…game designer? Want to try this totally in-game dessert I made before anyone else gets to?”

Yeah, that didn’t sound as smooth as I thought it would.

Their thoughts: “Do they have something in their eye? Maybe they’re just getting into character. Ooh. Dessert.” | Source

3. And when the game is over and you part, you say something ridiculously awkward. What were you thinking?!

Call me!

“Call me!” — Like people even use phones for talking anymore. UGH. | Source

4. You have a LARP crush. And they totally friend request you on Facebook. Or Insta. Or Snapchat. Or whatever the cool LARPer kids are using nowadays.

the friend request

Did that happen? Yeah, it happened. No. It totally didn’t happen. Aaaah! What event are they going to next? | Source

5. Then, you ARE #AskingForAFriend. Why? Because it’s totally happening but you’re in this stage of denial.

luke and lorelai

Me? Them? Ha! No way. That will never happen. [Insert random excuse here.] | Source

6. Crush mode. It’s happening. You’ve stayed up until 4 a.m. talking to them. In the words of Mrs. Potts, “There must be something there that wasn’t there before…”

mrs pottsShe ships it. Don’t disappoint her. Besides, speaking of ships, you’ve already made up a ship name, and you’re shipping it, aren’t you? In AND out of character… | Source

7. You must confess. You have that BFF who’s probably also your debrief buddy. And for whatever reason, you might be a little bashful about asking after this crush. But surprise! They already ship it.

friends

Okay, they don’t think I’m weird. They get me! | Source

8. You’re gathering intel (but not enough to be creepy, please). Are they interested in people of your gender? Polyamorous or monogamous? Who are their friends? Do they avoid posting problematic things? (You hold your breath as you scroll their feed, making sure they aren’t an overtly horrible person.) Maybe you’ve looked at your crush’s Facebook pictures a lot. Maybe your heart skips a beat when they message you, even though you’re mostly just enthusing about the past LARP or the next one you might be at together.

dance

But in reality, you sense this is a dance. A super sexy LARP dance, because many LARPs have formal balls and this is what you’ve always wanted. | Source

Okay, hopefully you’re in the clear. They appear to be as cool as you think they are. Maybe it could be a match…but how do you know if they’re interested?

9. Tell them. Tell them. Tell them! And then you start to wonder… was Mrs. Potts right? Only one way to find out. Ask. Them. Out.

kiss

You might have a real connection. Could be super passionate and kissy like this one. Or it could be platonic. Or maybe it’s a romantic asexual kinda thing. Whatever floats your boats… or rather… your ships! | Source

I hope your LARP crush ends up working out for you and your crush in the best possible way. Have you ever had a LARP crush? How did it work out for you? Let us know in the comments!

May 30, 2018
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