I’m talking LARPing with emotional safety here.
This came up because I was explaining some things about LARP to Anna, who has only participated in one roleplaying game (tabletop) in her life and it’s because I made it happen XD. I mentioned something which I’ve had trouble expressing before. The concern I have for my friends following a LARP event when I see posts for days about how hard it is to let go of the character, or how they’re still grieving for a thing that happened during the game, or how they hate the real world and want to go back to the world of the game instead.
Now, these things are of course totally normal reactions – LARPing is by nature immersive and one of the appealing things about it is that you can experience dramatic, emotional things without it ‘really’ happening to you. You can have the pain of grief or the ecstasy of love, or the difficult conversations that would be awful if it was real life but you’re playing a role so it’s okay.
But what if we’re not doing those things in a safe way. And I don’t mean physically safe here, I mean emotionally safe. The interesting thing is that when I talked to Anna about this she had a simple question ‘what do you do to get out of character?’ and I tried to think and couldn’t honestly think of anything.
Because as a teacher, Anna is super mindful of the well being of the kids in her class, and every time they do drama exercises or roleplaying (especially when it’s dramatic stuff, like about bullying) they do an exercise to get themselves consciously out of character at the end. It can be as simple as ‘walk around the chair, and when you’re done you’re yourself again’. This is especially important with children to delineate that the ‘bad’ things they may have been doing in the game shouldn’t continue to be acted on, and that those actions weren’t ‘them’.
And okay, the LARPers in Wellington/New Zealand aren’t all 8 year old kids, but the fact is that we need to be careful with ourselves and with others and maybe we’re not doing that as much as we could be. The last time I played World That Is I had a traumatic in character experience and found myself crying real, panicked tears for a couple of minutes. I remember thinking to myself ‘wait, this isn’t real. Fraser – your friend – isn’t actually dead’ and I was able to rein myself back in and play the character instead of actually freaking out. I can’t get into the heads of other players, so I don’t know if everyone has these little checks, or maybe they don’t go as far as that all the time.
What I’m suggesting is an increase in mindfulness and conciousness of the people around you, the effect you’re having on them and the effect they are having with you. I know some of my friends have come up to apologise to me in advance of a game, for what they will be acting like – and those same friends checking in with me afterwards. That is incredibly important, because it’s giving me trust in them. They’re saying ‘look, some shit might be about to happen, but I care about you and I’ll make sure you’re okay’.
This is tied also to the ability to call time out on something which is genuinely distressing you so that you can have a breather. Players can do this at any time, but to be able to do this without a measure of shame that you’re somehow breaking the scene for other players is not always easy.
Debriefs are super important, and I don’t think I’ve ever run a LARP where I’ve given them enough thought or care. Usually I’ve used it as a chance to get people to reveal their secrets, share some jokes and that’s it. I remember seeing a suggestion somewhere that you give players five minutes to go and talk to other players and just share something neat that you did, or something emotional that happened. Maybe this could be extended to ensuring you check in on the people you interacted with.
LARP emotion can be faked but it can also be indistinguishable to emotions you would have in real life. This is why it’s important to be aware of what you’re experiencing and ensuring that you’re not going to have repercussions from it as you go about your ordinary life.
Maybe it doesn’t have to be a group experience either. I’m sure not everyone is comfortable with too much talk about feelings with others, or spending too long mingling at the end of a game. In which case there’s nothing to stop you doing something inside your head, or on paper. I’ve found it helpful to do free writing in the form or a diary entry or a fic about my character. Or just sitting and reminding myself of what my real life is and letting go of the character. After the drama of the last World That Is game I got on skype and rehashed the whole thing with Anna, which as extremely cathartic for me!
LARP consists of space and time to experience things deeply and this should be followed by a time of separation: consciously taking yourself out of character, processing what you thought and felt, and letting it go. I know that the LARP community cares about each other, and that means taking care of each other out of the game as well as in it.
I found this neat article about post game debriefs and I’m sure there’s a lot more writing on similar stuff around. Feel free to link in the comments if you’ve read helpful things. I feel very strongly that this is important thing to think about.
Whatever it is you need to do, I urge you to do it ! (also this got long. Add comments, I want to know what you think. Have you got any little tricks that you do? Or methods of coping?)