Shoshana Kessock distinguishes between the idea of ‘safe’ and ‘responsible’ spaces. For me, this is really useful. Game designers might do everything possible to make a larp ‘safe’, but if one or more of the players behave irresponsibly, then it’s going to be unsafe.
I’m interested that women seem to be producing most of the thoughtful material on this subject at the moment – as well as Shoshana, I’m thinking of Sarah Lynne Bowman and Johanna Koljonen.
A larp is an environment co-created by all of the participants. It’s not an ‘experience engine’, because the most important parts of the machine are human beings. How can we foster a responsible space?
Drawing on my experience working in counselling groups, I would suggest that where a larp is going to venture into difficult areas, it would be useful to have a fairly lengthy ‘check-in’, where players disclose *as much as they feel they need to* about how they are touched by an issue. This doesn’t have to mean harrowing hour-long accounts of traumatic abuse – if a player feels the need to do this, then they are perhaps not in the right place to play a larp.
The check-in not only alerts others to what may be sensitive for an individual, but just as importantly speaking about an issue also alerts the person speaking to what may be unconsciously going on within themselves. The most powerful triggers are probably at least partly unconscious. This also deepens everyone’s empathy and attunement around the sensitive topic.
I know that some will feel that this is boring and unnecessary. But I would argue that responsible play is deep play. This was my experience at the larps I played at Knutpunkt. To the extent that danger areas had been acknowledged pre-game, we were able to take risks with ourselves and others. Where they had not, game play was restricted.