I was asked by one of the Exec Team to draft a post regarding the subject of managing difficult subjects in the Lost Chronicles (LC) Live Action Roleplay (LARP) setting and to provide general guidelines of what can be done to ensure an engaging and thoughtful experience to all involved while still being mindful of our responsibilities as Storytellers (ST) and Players. This is by no means the final word. Nor should this have been the first word on the subject. Hopefully, this is a continuation of a discussion we have all been having and will continue to have long after reading this. While we may all gain different things from the LARP experience, I hope we can all agree that everyone benefits from a game experience that is more knowledgeable and mindful of ST and Player needs.
So what is a “difficult subject”? I’m sure we all have a few in mind when term is used. Racism, murder, sexual assault are just a few of the subjects that might give a staff or player pause in how best to deal with them. Of course while we might have a list of our own, the player or ST standing next to us at a game or on the other end of the keyboard is unlikely to have the same exact list. We won’t always know what subjects are going to be trying or taxing on our fellow STs and players. It is important that we keep in mind that what we may consider passé or mundane is not always so to the other person. It is not the job of any one ST or player to anticipate everything that will trigger such a challenge. However, by approaching the stories we tell and the other human beings around us with respect and careful consideration we can work to mitigate out-of-character unpleasantness.
Respect is the keyword. Respect for the staff. Respect for the player. Respect for the subject matter. For people, respect often comes from listening, truly listening, to the other person. We are not always going to agree with the other person, but it is important that we come to understand the problem or difficultly as best we can. There will of course be the temptation to dismiss concerns, especially those we don’t understand the basis of. Do bear in mind that until the root of a conflict is found, there is unlikely to be an equitable solution for all parties. There will not always be an equitable in-character (IC) solution to such dilemmas (horror setting and all that), but ultimately we should hope to achieve at least a real-life understanding between all parties.
For subject matter, respect takes on different forms and can be as equally difficult for STs and players to manage. If you plan on presenting some of the subjects mentioned above or others that you expect may produce similar reactions, then the responsibility falls to you to do research on the subject. No one is expected to be an expert on the patterns or mannerisms of serial killers, but if that is a character you are planning on portraying it would serve you and the game well to have read few chapters of a book or watched a documentary on the subject. To not do so risks turning a serious plot point that should be scary or unsettling, into a farce. Additionally, during our research we may find that our preconceived notions about a subject are not representative of reality. While our setting is supernatural, it does not excuse failure to properly represent subject matter that is very real.
The LC setting itself is very important in its relationship to difficult subjects. It is important that we recognize that, at its core, LC is networked LARP that emphasizes a horror setting. In particular this horror is personal horror. Such a genre is one that is uniquely suited to the exploration of difficult subjects. Players are often faced with the knowledge that their characters are in some way (or in many ways) evil. For players used to more heroic or high adventure settings, this fact can be, by itself, very unsettling.
Players often have a sense of ownership of their characters. Sometimes this comes from the knowledge that much of the character is based on themselves as a person. Sometimes it is because they have taken pains to draft detailed backstories and research. Other times, the character has simply been around for such a period of time that they think of it as a fleshed out individual. However, a horror setting is about disempowerment. Facing terrible obstacles and situations that extend beyond the ken of individuals to deal with them is to be expected. Such is not often an easy thing to confront as a player or ST. We often want to feel in control with our characters. Strong enough to manage the horrible things around them. Such is not always the case in a horror setting. Players and STs understanding this reality of the setting goes a long way to having a good set of expectations for their experience.
Finally, on the note of ‘expectations’, we must also recognize that we must come to expect such a situation to come up. That there will be a time that some player interaction or story element is going to make a player or even an ST uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable as a character is perfectly understandable. But ultimately if the people that make up our game don’t feel there are mechanisms in place so that they can cope on an out-of-character level when stressful situations come up, then we risk having a dwindling base. In the past this has taken the form of Player Reps to act as intermediaries when problems arise. But this doesn’t necessarily help in the very short term where a player might feel overwhelmed.
Each game is going to be different in terms of whatever particular mechanisms (if any) they adopt to help players deal with stressful situations. But the conversation of what form any such mechanisms takes is a conversation worth having. In general, it should be something that doesn’t remove a character from any consequences they would face, is publicly known, easily understood and comes without stigma to any player who needs to use it.
I hope this is helpful as a jumping off point for future conversations into what is a complex and nuanced subject.
Andrew T. – player in Winchester, SiV