6 Ways to Accommodate LARPers with Chronic Illnesses

Live action role play has changed considerably for me over the years. In addition to attending a wider variety of experiences, my body has undergone many health changes since I started to LARP in boffer combat games back in 2007. A few years into my LARPing career, I was involved in a series of car accidents. I pushed myself hard to stay on the team that ran the LARP until I couldn’t, and when another former staff member lost her struggle with chronic pain due to similar issues, I knew that I had to eventually make some changes.

Ten years later, I primarily LARP in indoor, low-combat settings. I’ve been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and experience lifelong chronic pain as a result of those car accidents. While I was still at the combat-inclusive game before my diagnoses, I’d started limping around the field. I wouldn’t understand why I couldn’t handle extreme temperatures like I used to, why my bruises stuck around longer, and why my body swelled so drastically when I spent a lot of time outdoors.

I had been walking around with illnesses that weren’t very obvious to the casual observer – or to the first dozen doctors I visited, for that matter.

Here, I’m focusing on some things that have helped (or would help) me with my experiences and issues. Illnesses and disabilities are personal subjects, and I do not feel comfortable speaking for everyone. However, I encourage other gamers with accessibility needs to comment on this post if they wish to offer more suggestions.

Like 96% of people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, mine are invisible. That means it’s easy to look at me and assume I’m okay. In reality, these illnesses affect my life in many ways:

  • Sometimes my hands are in so much pain I cannot write by hand. I used to enjoy chronicling at medieval fantasy games, but I can’t do that anymore.
  • Some days, it takes me three hours to get out of bed. I completely ignore this at LARPs and push my body. Even at hotel LARPs, my body takes about three or four days to recover when I do this for the entire weekend.
  • I can’t sit or stand for long amounts of time; I have to alternate between the two. I love playing powerful characters, and I’m short on top of it. Imagine portraying that kind of character, then having to sit down and renounce your physical presence because you can’t stand.
  • I am unable to wear heels or clothing that is too heavy for long amounts of time. This means I might look less “in-game” than others or that I can’t stay outside in cold weather for as long as others.
  • I get cold really quickly because I have an autoimmune disease, and my hands turn white and blue. That means I can’t always go outside for hours when it’s cold.
  • My body swells when I’m having a flare-up. I look about 20 pounds heavier than I did the day before, and this has a big impact on how comfortable I feel. That makes it tougher for me to role play because I’m very self-conscious, and my face in particular looks noticeably bigger.
  • Minor issues like outdoor allergies become major, because they induce flare-ups and swelling. That outdoor LARP I could afford to attend? Not so much anymore.
  • Brain fog sets in and my short-term memory is gone. You might think it’s cool to have an in-game memory test, or expect your bard to memorize songs – but I can’t do that anymore.
  • Since I live in the U.S., I don’t always have access to healthcare, which means I need to take care of myself to avoid getting sick. Lots of people come to LARPs when they aren’t feeling well, and when I am on immunosuppressants, I could get sick a lot easier.
  • Too much tomato sauce or rice? That makes me very ill. I don’t have too many dietary restrictions, but I have to limit how much I can eat of certain foods.
  • Some chronic issues come with mental health side effects. For me, car accidents are a trigger. I don’t encounter this theme very often at LARPs, but others could have issues resulting from or associated with assault or combat experiences. Additionally, some chronic health issues are primarily mental health issues in nature. I also get really frustrated when I just can’t participate.

I’m not listing these examples as complaints – instead, I’m doing it because a lot of people who have LARPed with me over the years have no idea. That’s because my illnesses are invisible. Unless I’m having an extremely high pain day, you won’t even notice. And on top of that, these are just my symptoms and struggles. Even someone with the same illnesses will have different symptoms at different times. Everyone’s needs are different – and they fluctuate.

Some days I can run. Other days I should probably be in a wheelchair. It’s very difficult for people who do not experience chronic pain to understand how much things can vary from day to day. What they see is my ability to work a sixteen hour day when I’m feeling okay – what they don’t see is the random struggle when I can barely move four days later.

Knowing that so many illnesses are invisible, how can you help as a game organizer?

Ask Your Players About Accessibility Needs Prior to the Game

I feel more comfortable disclosing my needs when organizers ask in their pre-game surveys about accessibility requirements. Although my needs aren’t great, I like letting them know (so I don’t feel guilty if I have to miss a scene), and I usually request a room that is on the first floor or near an elevator. I also find that when roommates are randomly assigned, I’m usually paired with someone who has similar issues, or who is especially sensitive to my needs.

Inform Staff of Accessibility Needs

Generally inform your staff about accessibility needs. Players have them! I don’t need them to know that I specifically have needs unless I really need help with something, but it’s helpful to remind able-bodied staff members that sometimes not everyone can run up the stairs or go on their knees for a ‘hold’ call as many LARPs expect.

Remind Players About Accessibility

A simple reminder is all it takes: please remind your players to be courteous, and mention that some illnesses are invisible. This really makes me feel more comfortable asking for help when I need it and disclosing that I have a medical issue. You can do this during your pre-game workshop or speech.

Include People with Accessibility Needs on Your Team

Not only will staff members with accessibility needs help you solve some problems preemptively, I’m also going to feel a lot more comfortable coming to them about accessibility issues. If they feel comfortable disclosing, it would really help to know that they experience similar issues (as so many illnesses are invisible). Additionally, inclusion in general on your staff is helpful when it comes to discussing sensitive issues. As one of two women who GM on a particular team, I know that I’m more often approached about potentially problematic behavior, how to play out romantic scenes with consent, and more mundane issues that impact player experiences, like needing a tampon or medication for cramps. (As a note, some transmen, agender, and gender fluid individuals also experience menstruation.)

Provide an Out of Game Area to Relax

Especially important for longer games – make sure there’s a place where players can go to de-escalate or just take a break. I dislike breaking immersion and try hard to push through, but when my body needs a break, it needs a break! Sometimes I only need ten minutes to relax. Other times I just need to vent my frustration about my body and then I’m good to go. This helps set the expectation that players are more important than games and that you value my health and self-care practices more than you do my presence in every scene. A safe area is also an ideal place for an emotional safety team member to hang out, and it’s generally ideal for all players. I like the idea of having a space and an exit mechanic like the lookdown that doesn’t force me to explain or blame my pain every time I need to rest.

Make Sure All Players Can Have an Impact

The easiest way to eliminate my frustration over not being able to do something is to have an alternative that I can do. Can I always run up a hill and slay a monster? Nope. Could I perform a ritual to buff the team that will be able to run up the hill and do that? Absolutely. I love an impactful, immersive role play opportunity.  Don’t give me something to do to placate me: give me an impactful option or create an environment that gives me enough freedom to improvise.

There are dozens of ways to improve a LARP experience for players with all types of accessibility issues. The best way to learn about how to help is to ask. How can you do that?

  • Hire a consultant
  • Ask openly for feedback
  • Gear a feedback form question to accessibility and accommodation.

Further Resources

Would you like more resources for or about LARPers with chronic illnesses?

Header image credit: free for commercial use.

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