Maybe It’s Us: Clarification

Hey everybody. So my last post has sparked some online debate, with folks taking my words every which way, and not necessarily in the way I intended.

And that’s OK: debate and discussion help spark new thoughts and push the conversation along.

In that spirit, I’m posting some responses to common queries and objections I’ve gotten, that have pushed me to be more descriptive and specific about what I mean. Here they are, couched in the form of questions and answers.

But just telling people “to be an adult” is like telling them organizers have no responsibility for designing safely. Do you hate safety tools?

I am pro safety tools, and I’ve written and published quite a lot about safety tools on my blog over the last eight years. We need workshops, debriefs, calibration, safe words, off-game space, to make reasonable accommodations, to design supportive communities, to design inclusive communitiessocial design, etc. We should continue using these tools and methods and working tirelessly to improve them.

So why publish that post?

It seems the safety debate has touched every corner of this issue–community design, social design, safety tools, etc–except for one key component: the individuals upon whom these design elements act.

I think safety tools mean nothing without a culture of personal responsibility that asks people to take responsibility for using them.

Why is personal responsibility important?

Because it is metaphysically, physically, and psychologically impossible for one person to take full responsibility for another person. The only person who can know with 100 percent (or say, even 60 percent) certainty what your triggers or limits are is you. If you don’t take responsibility for yourself, can you expect anyone else to do it? Will anyone else do it?

All this is doubly problematic when we consider that part of what we get out of larp is the thrill of testing our boundaries and exploring unexpected situations.

It’s not fair–to organizers or designers or to co-players to ask them to take on the bulk of the moral responsibility for your limits.

So, organizers and co-players have no responsibility for safety?

Safety is everyone’s responsibility, per the first question in this post. Psychological safety is a chain, and ideally every link in it–design-organization-community-individual should be strong.

But this also means that individuals must accept some risk and some responsibility.

“Be an adult” is kind of vague. What do you mean when you say that?

Other definitions may vary, but to me “being an adult” means:

  • doing appropriate self care
  • taking responsibility for your own limits
  • asking when you need help
  • you don’t have to be a beacon of sunshine, but you should:
    • put at least some positive energy into your community
    • voluntarily provide some emotional labor to support your community
    • be conscientious about using up the reservoirs of community emotional labor

What’s with all this talk about emotional labor?

Emotional labor is a valuable community resource. While in the long term it’s a renewable resource, over short periods of time, the reservoirs can become depleted. For this reasons, so we must deploy it wisely.

When everyone is constantly using up emotional labor, it makes that labor less available for those who really need it–it creates organizer fatigue and community exhaustion. And that creates an unsafe community.

Let’s talk about “Larper’s Munchausen Syndrome.” I find it offensive that you used a real medical term and mashed it up with something from real life. Do you hate people with mental illness?

No. I am well acquainted with mental illness, and you will just have to trust me on this because I don’t want to be more descriptive in a public forum.

I also understand that language can be harmful. However, as a writer, I think it is OK to use metaphors, and I think that it is OK to use illnesses as metaphors.

It is OK to describe environmental pollution as a cancer on the face of the Earth, for example. That is not a knock against people with cancer, it’s a vivid metaphor. And of course, in many places in the world, and for many generations in the US–and among some people here still–having cancer was seen as a sign of personal weakness and sin. But I still think it’s OK to use the word “cancer” in that way.

I also understand that this is a point upon which reasonable people can disagree. Perhaps you disagree with me. That’s OK. You do you!

What do you mean by “LMS”?

I have noticed that when we have all these safety tools in place, people will use them, and also misuse them. The existence of all these safety tools can produce a dynamic in which all of the emotional energy and attention goes to people who feel harmed or distressed by a larp. This, in turn, incentivizes people to feel–or at least to display feelings of–harm and distress.

These continuously high levels of harm and distress use up emotional labor in a frenzy. The people who are not harmed then become armchair psychologists, doing unpaid, un-ending emotional labor until they become exhausted.

This is part of why self care is community care.

Can you ‘diagnose’ LMS in someone else?

Basically, no. That is why, as I say in my post, it’s a very fine line to even bring it up.

I want to be part of a community in which people help one another. But good fences make good neighbors, and the larp community is not and cannot be a bottomless well of emotional support. Just as individuals have boundaries, the larp community as a whole should probably have them too.

It’s OK to use safety resources in the larp community frequently–that is what they are there for. But, as I have written above, it’s a delicate line. At the same time, over-use of these resources strains the community reservoir of emotional labor. And our safety resources are not and cannot be a substitute for mental health care.

What’s the solution?

I honestly don’t know. We should probably find a way to incentivize self-care. Building a culture of personal responsibility would help. Asking people to be conscientious about their use of emotional labor resources might help.

Managing the emotional labor resources might help, as right now, the emotional labor is unequally distributed to a few people. I thought the safety volunteers at Living Games Austin were an innovation, because by making an official channel for emotional labor that volunteers positively assented to made it less likely for unofficial channels to cause undo burden.

But it’s a real pickle. Because as a community, we do want to help people get the support they need–we just can’t do it infinitely.


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5 thoughts on “Maybe It’s Us: Clarification

  1. Thank you for taking the time to post a follow-up article. This is an important topic in our hobby, and as long as people are respectfully and seriously discussing ways to improve emotional safety, I honestly believe things will continue to improve.

    • Thank you for your comments on my first post. I know we don’t entirely agree, but I am also glad to have had your perspective on the matter, and the chance to clarify my thinking.

  2. Thank you for your willingness to put your thoughts out for everyone in this area. It’s a complicated area and we’re still exploring it. Only by putting ideas out there and asking people to think critically about matters do we make headway in exploring and understanding this landscape.

  3. Thank you for writing all this. Our hobby is maturing, and as more games proliferate and try new business/volunteer models, there should be a better definition of the social contract between players, staff and community. Expecting a basic level of self-care and responsibility shouldn’t be outlandish. This is our hobby, not our emotional basement into which we can upturn boxes and expect someone else to clean up the mess.

  4. Pingback: Maybe It's Us: Larp Safety and Larper's Munchausen Syndrome - Leaving Mundania