Safe spaces are integral to sanity within a LARP. They’re also patent, transparent bullshit.
Below is a safe space as you might know of it, courtesy of thelarpforum.org:
I’m glad that as 21st century LARPers on the cusp of a bright cyberpunk future, we can agree that assault is not appropriate at our events. It’s sad that we still have to EXPRESSLY state policies like the one above, but all of us know someone who was assaulted, sexually or otherwise, at a LARP event. Beyond the legally agreeable definition of safety, how do we categorize verbal attacks OOC related to playstyle, in-game choices, in-game morality or in-character disputes?
Don’t be coy with me, you and I have both watched a thousand infantile threads launch into the gaseous nether of Facebook, where LARPers abuse one another over choices that, literally, have 0 value in real life. Costume standards, historical accuracy, gamism vs. simulationism, and every other petty dispute we feel comfortable lacerating our peers over; these debates emotionally damage communities, divide and stunt participants, and generate lasting resentment over stupid, inane, bullshit. For fuck’s sake, the MES has a term for the wrong kind of insane.
When I talk about safe spaces, I mean social groups that shield players from this kind of abuse. Especially when that abuse comes down from on high, from a Cool Kid™, and the staff cannot or will not help deal with it. Or worse, when the staff are part of the problem, which happens somewhere between often and ad infinitum.
And while this abuse is never going to go completely away, so long as LARP is a hobby played by Homo Sapiens and occasionally Amtgarders, a great way to survive with your sanity intact is to create this kind of safe space for yourself:
1. Find people who agree with you: by whatever form of dialogue necessary, pick your divisive issue and find out who stands on your side. In the thick and cloying fugue of LARP communities and their incessant, aspirational garbage, that can be a tougher task than you think. Once you find your people…
2. Propose a group theme: maybe your mandate is “no Drow,” or “I hate economy mechanics,” or “I think X lore item is juvenile;” find a unifying element, and agree upon it. This agreement doesn’t have to be a declaration, a written charter, or anything formal. It can be a vague consensus reached over the depressing “Moon Over My Hammy” at Denny’s after game. It can be a silent pact forged in the aftermath of watching the comments section of a post devolve into a grotesque, Warhammer 40k-like hellscape.
3. Roleplay with each other: this is the part that’s a no-brainer. Prioritize roleplay with these people. It will be integral to your sanity. The right people make the lengthy preparations and travel time for LARP worthwhile. Even if you’re not cool enough for plot, or your costume isn’t historically accurate enough for photographs you can still, at the very least, say with certainty that you spent game in the company of people that didn’t make you want to swerve into oncoming traffic.
4. Understand and embrace the utter powerlessness of this safe space: you sweet summer child, you thought that just hanging out with people you liked would shield you from bullying. Remember that this is an unofficial construct. There is very little protection to be found, unless your specific game offers autonomy or protection to subgroups. As part of a larger setting at some point you will be forced, by rules or by circumstance, to deal however briefly with those who upset you.
And that’s ok.
LARP is about experience, and much like real life, you will experience assholes. The pleasure of a great scene with like minded people is made more poignant by the displeasure of remembering, 30 minutes into an extended combat scene, why you hate building a character to win on ties.
Experiences both good and bad, with people who understand and appreciate you, and do not ask you to kowtow and aggrandize, is what LARP is about. It’s worth every long drive, every insufferable forum post, every self-absorbed jackass, and every smug, arrogant asshole blogger claiming to have answers while fueling discontent from villainous anonymity.
LARP problems resolved! … right?
Take care. Your safe space is liable to quickly and uncontrollably mutate, from its adorable and benign infant form, into a dreaded echo chamber. Within its leaden walls, outside rationality is kept out, and internal insanity is cooped up. In no time whatsoever, opposing viewpoints can metamorphose into the opinions of the fucking devil, and you will find yourself tempted to lash out at those you disagree with.
You may be enticed to lobby the game’s staff to adopt your ideas, by sane legal means, or by manufacturing drama of titanic magnitude. In the name of a “good” cause, mild-mannered geeks can become ideological fundamentalists, creating new and exciting forms of toxicity that they are completely blind to. Consider, if successful, you will merely have reproduced the circumstances by which you were oppressed, and drive others to act as you have in an escalating arms race of bullshit and manipulation.
Enjoying LARP is difficult, because you have to reconcile the fact that your ideal make-believe is diametrically opposed to someone else’s ideal make-believe, and that both are absolute horseshit. It’s a giant melee of subjectivity and heightened emotions, where the rules are complex and badly written, the settings are labyrinthine, and the players pretend the latter two aren’t true. The only golden rule is, or should be, “everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy their made up drivel without preventing others from enjoying their drivel.”
Or in other words “live and let live.”
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