The great debate about “larp safety” crops up about four times per year on my social media feeds, as it recently has, jogging loose some thoughts I’ve been holding on to for a while.
Today I want to talk about two related phenomena, what I’ve come to think of as the “adult” rule–“we are all adults and responsible for our own well-being,” and Larper’s Munchausen Syndrome.
Just Joining the Conversation Now?
This post relates to a broader debate about larp safety–do safety rules work? why don’t safety rules work better? safety techniques don’t work for me, so maybe we shouldn’t have them, etc. I don’t have the space to rehash it here, but if want to catch up:
- Johanna Koljonen has a nice talk about how it’s odd that we use these words to indicate both physical safety from bears and also emotional responses to larp. In fact her whole blog is great.
- You can read a (now two years old) summary of safety techniques and my take on the safety debate here.
Blaming the Technique, and Never the People
I’m pro-safety tools. I think every game should include some tools for helping people opt in and out of game, as Joc’s talk linked above suggests.
All safety techniques are limited. The world is wide, people are varied, and sometimes the same person can be quite different during different days or even times of day. At best, a safety technique gives you a graceful way to leave a situation you don’t want to be in within a game, for example, by saying “cut.”
I also think the safety debate in my community ends up being driven by personal experiences. “I didn’t feel safe in using a cut word, therefore we should come up with a new thing to use,” or “Safety tool X didn’t work for me, and therefore it is useless.” Dissatisfaction should be the lifeblood of innovation, yes, and of course we should continue experimenting with new tools.
However, I’ve also seen people have a bad time in a larp, not tell anyone, and then blame the safety techniques. Heck, I’ve done it myself on occasion. That’s not a failure of safety techniques, that’s a failure of personal responsibility.
As the saying goes, “a poor carpenter blames their tools.” In other words: maybe the problem isn’t the tools. Maybe it’s us.
Larper’s Munchausen Syndrome
Munchausen syndrome is a real illness in which people feign physical sickness in order to get attention from medical professionals. Sometimes they are unaware that they are doing this.
What I’m calling “Larper’s Munchausen Syndrome” (LMS) is a somewhat-tongue-in-cheek way of naming a dynamic I see playing out within larp communities. It’s the desire to show that you were “so devastated” by a particular game or event in order to receive quality one-on-one time from some other person or community. It’s the equivalent of walking up to someone you kind of know and saying, “I’m feeling so sad,” and then staring meaningfully at them until they ask you why.
Sufferers of LMS use up a valuable community resource: the emotional labor of other people.
Diagnosing LMS is a fine, very delicate line to walk, as it can be really difficult to know whether someone is in genuine need of help and support, or whether they are being a bit histrionic. It’s one thing to spend emotional labor on someone who really needs it–we could, and should do this for one another. But it’s another thing to spend emotional labor on crocodile tears, or to comfort someone who is triggered by bees because they chose to go to a larp called “Beelarp: The Bee-ening. With extra bees.”
LMS is also contagious. How many of us could ‘fess up to being a bit histrionic in our communities on occasion? I know I’ve done it. What eventually sent me over the edge was feeling I had done so much emotional labor for others as an organizer, and wanting others to do emotional labor for me.
LMS turns us into emotional piles of goo, competing with one another to be the most hurt, the most mind-blown by a game, to get the most attention from our peers as a result. It’s a destructive dynamic.
But We’re All Adults
In my opinion, the antidote to LMS is a community of individual responsibility. The rule “We are all adults and are responsible for our own well-being” covers a lot.
For example, we know that many larpers don’t bow out of scenes because saying “cut” and stopping play is socially awkward. One solution is to work and workshop community norms to reduce that social awkwardness. And that’s important. At the same time, humans are pack animals and on some level it will probably always feel bad to leave, the same way it feels terrible to leave a dinner party early. It feels bad to stay, and it feels bad to go. No safety technique is going to change that. (Designer Shoshana Kessock underscored this in her talk about “responsible space” in larp.)
We should cultivate individual responsibility as much as we do community and shared sensitivity to the boundaries of others. Safety techniques are tools, but we are the ones who will implement them. Taking responsibility for ourselves and owning our decisions will reduce LMS, and LMS by proxy, making the community more pleasant. It will also increase larp safety, because we will be relying on people to know and enforce their own limits, rather on a set of one-size fits all tools.
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