Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Where LARP is Going Wrong 1: Blaming the Players

Sometimes I think to myself that I’ve got it wrong - that I’m worrying too much. But I’m beginning to realise I’m not. I’m seeing this kind of attitude more and more - I think it existed when I started LARPing 12 years ago, but I think I’m recognising it more and more. And, unfortunately, a lot of organisers do it - and even know they are.

When I recently released a half-made, poorly written guide for a LARP I was going to do, one of the “Referee Commandments” in it was “never blame the player”. It’s one of my biggest rules that I’m most passionate about. It’s decidedly important to the running, success and social balance of LARP in general.

I remember once in my old game system that I had to amend a rule. This was a low-hit, locational based game, but each player species was capped at how much extra hits they could have through the ‘Endurance’ (+1 to body hits) skill alone. Goblins and Elves were at the bottom of the rungs with 1 Endurance, Humans and Orcs at 2, then Ogres and Trolls at 3. Ogre also started with 2 hits per, not 1 like everyone else.

Another referee pointed out to me that that Trolls needed to move from a cap of 3 to the same as Humans at 2. Why? Well, Trolls had is easier with buying Resistance skills – making them more-or-less immune to poisons, diseases, mind control, magic and fear. Ogres had the same cap as them and… one extra hit. Trolls could buy skills that made them like magical warriors – ‘Digestion’ that made them a veritable alchemical factory, ‘Gnosis’ that allowed them to channel magic through the weapons they carried. Ogres got… well… not much else. Those only thing going for them was their high hits. Trolls needed to change.

I put a notice on the boards and changed the rule on the website. Within moments I had one of my Troll players call my mobile and shout at me down the phone for not consulting him first. At the next linear he kicked off, arguing the toss with me over the design of my game.

Not at any point did I condemn his reasons for being angry. Not at any point did I call him names (unlike he of me) assault his character or demeanour. Eventually, when we talked it through, it was because he thought the cap was absolute – I highlighted that it was only through skills. Rituals, arcane runes and whole bunch of other stuff will allow that cap to be broken – but he might need to work harder at it. He then admitted (in private, of course) that he’d approached the situation wrong and should have asked, instead of attacking straight away.

However, having the argument in front of the other players left a bad feeling all round and the referees felt harmed. As much as I attempted to deal with the situation by cutting the player off and saying “we’ll deal with it later” the player wanted to shout and be angry and continued to shout at me. Apparently, I was the one wrong in this because I “shouldn’t have engaged in the argument with him” – I was trying to explain the decision, not argue. I cannot control other people (people have told me this enough before). If he wanted to argue, that’s up to him, not me.

But, despite all this, I never once condemned him as having a problem. Turns out, it was a misunderstanding of the rule.

This is what I mean by not blaming the players. If I had blamed the player in the above, the situation might never have resolved itself.

That being said, the player’s behaviour was disgraceful – and I admit, I got angry too, which probably didn’t help his attitude. Mind you, after putting up with his shit without intervention from other refs or to help close the situation down, I think it’s understandable I got snippy.

The difference, as a comedian once said, is the difference between acting like a cock and being a dick. You can act like a cock, and still be a reasonable person. However you are a dick.

My player was acting like a cock because he thought that stomping his feet would get him somewhere. But I wasn’t going to condemn him as a dick.

Which, unfortunately, the other referees, did.

“He’s just a cunt

“He’s just being a fucking child
“He’s not showing us respect, so why should we deal with him?

The player hardly got anything at all the next event because each referee astutely avoided him.

When he attempted with a friend to craft some silver blades, the crafting time given was way too long – and the silver application was temporary because they hadn’t researched into correctly moulding silver.

Now, the player had got the rule wrong, again. Magical materials such as silver can’t be used straight away – and I was shocked that he thought that he could just get silver and do whatever he wanted with it.

But… running through the rules with him so he’s not disappointed doesn’t require much effort, and should have been done to highlight the facts to him. Running through advanced rules should take place every time they’re used, just to make sure the player is aware – and it also takes the burden of responsibility for player’s actions from you to the player.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find out till the end of the event – where he’d already decided I’d set the game against him.

An event later, the player was refused a Ritual due to the refs “not having enough time” and also much of his magic was greatly reduced in effect for no specific or given reasons. It was no wonder the player felt left out – and an argument ensued between myself and my refs, my so-called ‘support’.

So, let’s TL;DR. What does it mean when you blame your players? It means you unconsciously put them into a category (whatever you want to call it: “whinger”, “bitch” etc.) whereby from then on you don’t have to deal with them.

It means the player gets treated disproportionately unfairly – simply ignoring them doesn’t mean they’ll go away. It does mean they’ll get very upset – in my experience, players treated this way will behave like kids, and will act out against you because they feel they’re being ignored – and the only way to be recognised is to misbehave, because they’re certainly not getting anywhere any other way.

Doing it once means you do it more often. Let’s face it – it’s easier to label and blame rather than handle a toxic situation. It’s easier to call someone something demeaning and then write them off than approach them as see how you get along – such as calling a gay person a ‘fag’ or blacks as ‘niggers’. Just because it’s a different kind of discrimination – and nowhere near as horrific as others – doesn’t make it any less discriminatory.

And lastly, it means dismissing the player’s concerns, feelings and your part in them. You’ve absolved yourself, without actually taking a look at yourself, the game rules or whatever, and considering you might actually be at fault.

Don’t blame the players. It’s not nice.