The Force of Feedback: Tips for LARP Organizers and Players
Written with Joe Hines
A LARP can be an experience, a work of art, a competitive game, or all of the above. A LARP can last for four hours or four days – but one thing most LARPs have in common is feedback. Participants usually change, even in a small way, as the result of a LARP, and often times they want to provide their thoughts on elements of the game such as rules, setting, logistics, and other features.
As an organizer, it’s a lot to handle. As a player, you likely want to provide feedback in the spirit of helping the community. Every now and then, the feedback process is a point of further frustration for both player and staff member(s).
Here are some considerations and tips for managing feedback – and for sending it in.
Personal Branding and Methods of Contact
In a niche like LARP, personal branding is crucial. This means upholding an upstanding reputation not only as a ‘brand,’ but as a person in the community. LARP can involve a lot of trust – after all, you’re trusting a LARP organizer with physical and emotional safety to a degree – and the personal branding required in a comparatively small community helps defend against missing stairs and ripoffs.
Even the most successful professional LARPers haven’t had an easy road to success, and somewhere along the way, they’ve built their professional statuses on their personal successes.
In this industry, most game designers are immersed in their own worlds frequently, and that means a cross between the personal and professional brand. This is what we do for fun, but it’s also what we do as a business in many circumstances. Nonprofit LARPs also live and die based upon their organizers’ reputations. And when worlds collide, it gets a little overwhelming. Designers might get messages on as many as ten separate social media channels and email accounts at a time.
LARPs, LARP organizations, and in some cases, organizers often have their own separate Facebook channels for connecting with fans. There’s a process for answering questions. Most LARP organizations aren’t very big, though – and that means everyone knows that the fastest method of communication means pinging a designer or organizer directly. This can lead to overwhelm for the organizer and inconsistent response times for the player base.
Designers should be clear about their preferred channel of communication, especially if they aren’t the only one monitoring an inbox.
Designers can also:
- Post messages about availability
- Delegate responsibilities to other team members
- Ensure their game organization’s site provides their preferred method of contact information
Designer tip: Feedback isn’t limited to post-testing and post-event. If you’re willing to be transparent about your game design process, you can ask your players questions about their preferences as you design. This can help you avoid some problematic issues or simply structuring things against their preferences – and they’ll come up with features or problems you haven’t noticed before.
Participants should be respectful of everyone’s time and remember that organizers don’t always have time for an impromptu one-hour conversation, especially if they have families, freelance work, or day jobs. No organizer is simply that: even full-time designers and organizers fulfill other roles in their lives.
How to Provide Feedback
Game organizers should provide one or more clear channels for feedback, such as direct email or player feedback surveys. Like other media, LARPs get criticized, and game designers and organizers should expect that. Similarly, they should also prepare for praise (something that’s also difficult for some of us to accept).
Organizers should structure the feedback form to prompt persons to enter both positive and negative feedback. “What was something you liked?” “Where can we improve?” “Was there anything you did not like?”
To track trends in feedback it may be beneficial to request “star” ratings (like one through five) that when averaged together give you a view of how things have changed over time.
Designer beware: It is easy to listen to those who shout the loudest, but that may not serve the community as a whole. Make sure you check in with your trusted advisors when you need to check your perspective.
Participants should respect the method(s) of communication set out by the organizer, provide criticism in a constructive fashion, and refrain from slamming a game organizer on social media if a private resolution is possible. Lastly, balance your criticism by mentioning a few things you liked about the event.
Specifically, How To Issue Negative Feedback:
Inevitably something will go wrong during your larp experience. Either a rules call will not go your way or a scene will have been written badly or a participant will be disrespectful or any number of other things. Sometimes these bad experiences are singular and sometimes they are the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Either way, you may feel compelled to complain and you are right to do so. But there are multiple things you can do to turn your complaint into effective feedback.
Step 1: Identify when is the proper time to complain
- The majority of larp event issues can be solved at the event with the appropriate staff member. By quickly fixing small problems, bigger problems can be avoided.
- But if the problem is not an immediate problem, then perhaps you can wait to bring it up until between events when the staff can focus on the issue while not also trying to run the event.
Step 2: Identify the appropriate person to complain to
- If there is an identifiable person who made a mistake, and you have a good rapport with them, perhaps you should simply approach them directly.
- But if the problem is more systemic, or you do not have a good feeling that your words will be heard directly, seek to find an official method to complain first. Is there an event feedback form or email address? Perhaps a player advocate or a listed safety staff member you can start with? Use what is provided first.
- Failing all of that run right out to your favorite social media and accuse everyone of being horrible people in a vague post… no, I’m kidding of course, do not do that. While it can be tempting to use your social media soap box as a means of venting it can cause more problems than it solves. Rare is the social media post that contains all of the necessary context, clear explanations and list of names of persons involved sufficient to solve the problem.
- Failing all of that, is there a senior player, mentor or trusted friend whom you could talk to privately about the issue. Perhaps they will know how best to navigate you through the process of finding the right person to complain to.
Step 3: Explain the complaint
- Be prepared to clearly articulate why you are upset. This may require that you talk the problem through in advance so that you know what it is you are actually complaining about.
- Try to phrase the complaint without being accusatory. Saying things like “Your game is terrible” will only make people defensive and tend not to hear what comes next. Instead use “I” words. “I felt that this scene could have been better if the fake blood didn’t get in my eyes” or “I was caught unaware by that rules change and the ensuing conversation destroyed my immersion, the scene, and made my event less enjoyable”.
- Be prepare to name names. This is not the same as throwing anyone under a bus, but if there is a staff member who was present then they can help clarify problems that perhaps were either strictly situational, miscommunications or they can identify participants who were there that you do not know their real names. Complaints about people who behaved badly are especially important to have names or at least descriptions and witnesses.
Step 4: Listen to the reply
- You have said your piece. Now you need to potentially wait for the staff to investigate. They may come back with an explanation or an apology or with other questions. Be prepared to participate in the process.
- Decide if the response to the complaint is sufficient or if it misses the point.
- Reengage with the staff members if needed. Escalate it up the chain of command if that seems like the better option.
Organizer tip: Does your game get a lot of feedback? Create a simple spreadsheet and log the feedback. Establish a required turnaround time for your response to feedback and strive to meet that goal. Additionally, the players should expect you to have a process for handling feedback. Make sure you have one in place before you even receive your first complaint.
Personal Safety Concerns
For most organizers, personal safety concerns are paramount. These should be the primary design decisions as well as the most important. From testing through after-LARP bleed, designers and organizers want to know immediately about any physical or emotional safety concerns.
Designers need to make this expectations clear and maintain a receptive attitude. They shouldn’t blame the participants or make them feel bad for bringing up a safety concern, even if it is a critical flaw.
Participants should report any problems as soon as they can safely and comfortably do so.
People Over LARPs
At the beginning of New World Magischola events, the organizers express: “People are more important than LARPs.” That includes various aspects of LARPs, such as immersion and even game rules that don’t directly relate to safety and consent. By valuing our LARP communities above any one aspect of any game, we are able to take more risks and put safety first.
When it comes to issuing feedback about safety and consent, LARP players and game staff often face unique challenges (which can hopefully result in making our communities safer). Certain conversations may take longer – and may even need to go through legal channels to protect you and the game organizers.
The LARP feedback process differs for every game, and there are varying points of view on whether the organizer-player relationship is that of service provider-customer, especially when the games are nonprofit and volunteer run. Regardless, LARP communities should work together whenever possible to encourage feedback intended to improve the community – and help it evolve.
What types of feedback processes do you have in place at games you run or play? Tell us what works and what doesn’t in the comments.
Joe Hines lives in Sterling, VA, USA, with his family. With two decades of experience at multiple larps, quite often on staff, he has embarked on the journey of forming The Lost Colonies LARP with a small core of staff to express their new vision for the larp experience.