Friday, 29 April 2016

Mental Health Accessibility in LARP - part 3

Welcome to part three of this guide. This final section will be looking at the actual game - plot, rules and downtimes. 
Part One started with beginning and bookings and Part Two looked at the logistics of sites, accommodation and your crew.

The plot

Whilst a lot of accessibility comes down to Out of Character considerations, your plot can also have an impact. Considering your players' needs and integrating that into your plot makes everything far more seamless and means that those with additional needs can enjoy the game equally with their fellow players.

  • Think about the pacing of your game - do you have calm periods between action and drama.
    • If you plan on you game being intense non stop drama and action is this reflected in your initial pitch [see part 1]?
    • Can you mix “positive” drama with “negative” drama to temper the mood?
  • Refer to your booking forms and player communication about triggers, phobias and content concerns.
    • Make sure anything of this nature you include is respectful of player’s concerns.
  • Consider plot that can be solved by various means, or having a variety of plot i.e. some things which require a fight; some things that can be puzzled out.
  • Avoid stereotypical portrayals of mental illness or using “madness” as a driver for “evil” NPCs

Qui experiences psychosis, including ‘hearing voices’ and sensory overload. The game is advertised as being “altered reality” and Qui is concerned that representation of this in game might be disorienting or confusing. They talk to the organisers about it. The organisers say there may be some “hallucination like” special effects in game including sound recordings and that they will always be accompanied by a blue light. Qui is satisfied that this is a situation they can play in.

Hannah has claustrophobia and has stated this on the booking form. As the venue includes a number of small rooms/cupboards, the organisers decide not to put any plot directly relevant to Hannah’s character in those spaces. Any items placed in there are capable of being retrieved and brought in to another play area.


Rules and mechanics are how stuff happens in your game world – it's how we make the unreal, real. They can affect and be affected by people's disabilities. Your rules and mechanics are about how people do things, so you should make sure that they let all people do things. I’m also including here suggestions related to how a game is run and general rules.

  • Try and keep your rules as simple, precise and clear as possible.
  • Consider lammies or cards which have effects or rules written on.
    • This can reduce anxiety over remembering small details.
  • Be aware that rules or mechanics that have a time pressure on them can cause stress and anxiety.
  • Consider a system call or method that allows a player to get out of an In Character situation if they become overwhelmed Out of Character.
    • Some games already have a “non-com” rule for players who can not engage in combat for physical reasons. You could extend or vary this to cover mental health related problems.
  • Make it clear who is a point of contact for queries  and have points of contact available in the main play areas.
  • Have copies of rules available for players to check, in an easy to reach place or on a ref.
    • Printed rules summaries on toilet doors or near the main entrance is a great way of achieving this.
  • Pay special attention to rules or mechanics that deal with “personality” skills i.e. leadership or charisma.
    • Ideally rules related to these skills have clear mechanical effects such as a boost to hit points.

Ruby has memory problems due to hir depression and is concerned about being able to remember the rules for magical items. The organisers had originally intended to mark magical items with coloured ribbon but after talking to Ruby, decide to use printed lammies with the relevant information printed on. Ruby is reassured by this.

Example: Darnell has borderline personality disorder and can struggle with strong emotions and reading other people. He asks the organisers if there is a way of disengaging from roleplay should he become overwhelmed. The Organisers create a “Pause” call that Darnel (and others) can use to briefly pause play in their area in order for them to step aside safely. Darnell is reassured.

Downtime Systems:

Downtimes are used in LARP to manage what happens to characters between events. They should be designed carefully anyway, but there are things you can keep in mind for greater accessibility.
  • Provide clear instructions on how the downtimes should be carried out.
  • Provide examples and outline what players can reasonably expect to achieve with their downtime.
  • Set a clear timeline of when downtime will open and close.
    • Provide as long as possible for downtime to be completed.
    • Try and be proactive in giving your players a reminder.
  • It is preferable to avoid free text for downtimes: form fills, menus and limited options can be easier to navigate for players.
  • You may want to include a clear statement of what happens to a character if downtime isn’t completed.
    • A default option such as “perform basic advances/mechanics for my character” can be useful.
  • Offer to talk/email with players to help to work out a suitable downtime

Leanne experiences anxiety related to filling out forms and is struggling to complete a downtime for her character. She is pleased to see that there is a tick box that says “basic character progression” and an explanation that will spend her XP on hit points and improving her primary skill. This is a relief for Leanne.

In this guide I’ve tried to cover as many areas as possible and provide you with plenty of examples of how mental health may impact on a player’s game. It’s by no means comprehensive of every possible impact or every possible accommodation, but it should give you an idea of how to handle a variety of different needs and situations.

Additionally, this isn't a list of things that you absolutely must do every time. There are some things it can be handy to just do automatically that can help all players, but there are other things that are more tailored to an individual. Nobody would blame you for using loud bangs when none of your players have indicated an aversion to such things. However, you should be prepared and know how to provide those accommodations if necessary.

At the end of the day, making a game accessible opens your game up to more players and helps you players have a more enjoyable event. Having more players and players who are happy with our event is really what we, as event organisers, are aiming for and good accessibility can help us achieve that. 

 Remember, it's not about making the game easier for disabled players and crew, it is about making it no more difficult than for everybody else.

NB: I'm not an expert and I may miss things out but I've tried to cover as much as I can. I have tried to give examples where I can and I hope I have not misrepresented anybody. We are all different and that means I can't cover every possible accommodation.

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