Making LARP More Accessible

I’m a massive nerd, I love Star Trek, I studied geology at uni, I love a chance to cosplay, and I love gaming of all sorts. One of the types of gaming I love is LARP (Live Action RolePlay). Murder Mystery events are LARPs, just never given that name. You play a character for the event, wear a costume, solve some puzzles, and mostly have a great bit of fun with others.

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A picture of me using my wheelchair at a Empire LARP. Photo courtesy of the talented Tom Garnett.

The ones I tend to attend focus on fantasy settings (magic & monsters), though futuristic, horror, survival, regency, and a whole host of other LARPs exist to choose from. They’re a great way to get away from the daily grind of living under an increasingly oppressive government regime of service cuts and poor access. The problem is that most LARPs are run by folk that consider themselves non-disabled, so all those access barriers we meet in day to day life can pop up there. I thought it might be an idea to list a few ways that we can work to minimise access issues and maximise fun in these environments:

[this list has been edited to add some suggestions]

Overall accessibility

  • Have a diversity policy that includes a commitment to minimise barriers to access (this needs to include social barriers as well as physical ones). Think about ways you will handle breaches.
  • Decide who is your go to person if problems arise, and let players know.
  • The hardest, but most crucial thing to do is to try and create an environment where players are happy to talk about these things. By incorporating the above bullet-points (even if you think it’s just common sense so there’s need, do it) you make a good start. Asking disabled players to advise when building your world and sysytem might also help.
  • Think about your combat system if you have one, ask questions like these; Is it suitable for someone that might struggle to hear or make calls? Is it suitable for a wheelchair user? Is it suitable for someone with chronic pain or fatigue? Most systems are only partially accessible at best but it’s important to recognise where those limits lie.
  • Think about how your game will keep non-combat characters entertained, especially if your combat system is inaccessible or partially inaccessible.
  • If non-combat players will not be able to access a large part of the game and there will be little to do outside of combat will you consider offering cheaper tickets by way of a consolation?
  • Think about how you will collect basic information about any medical conditions that players are willing to provide so you can manage any emergencies. Also think about how you will securely dispose of that information after the event.
  • Think about access to power for any equipment that needs to be charged (such as wheelchairs, music players for those that need them, and some medical monitors).
  • If a player needs to bring a PA, will you give them a free/reduced price ticket?
  • Let potential players know what are the sleeping conditions like, is it indoors, camping, or something else?
  • If using caterers, are they ready & willing to cope with variable dietary needs? Ask them to contact players, and seriously consider letting them know how many people have listed food allergies on their booking form. Will the caterers provide ingredient breakdowns if required?
  • Try to ensure that your costuming requirements suitable for people of all body shapes, sizes and strengths. Things like “[x] is indicated by a red band on the left arm” is going to be much harder for an amputee, or someone with peripheral neuropathy to physrep than “[x] is indicated by a red ribbon visibly attached to your costume”.

Mobility

  • Ensure accessible seating for those that need it.
  • Make sure there are sufficiently wide and clear walkways.
  • Ask yourself “does this need a step?” if creating buildings and large props.
  • If you are using a youth hostel or hotel, find out;
    • if there is step free access to the game area
    • if there is step free access to the sleeping area
    • if there is an accessible loo and if it is easy to get to from sleeping and game areas
  • Will you be giving players the option of pretending to have a mobility impairment? Listing mobility impairments as “flaws” is not particularity cool. Think about how the way the language you use around disability frames peoples views. [uncool story; I once played a game that had being “lame” as a flaw, so I picked it as I clearly wasn’t walking anywhere fast. I then got told that because I was already “lame” I couldn’t choose it for my characters!]

Mental Health & Neurodiversity

  • Does your game encourage/require players to act out actual mental health conditions? If so then consider the effect that insensitive portrayals can have on people living with those conditions. Consider using more generic ways of handing out roleplay effects such as; “you feel more/less [insert emotion]” or, “you can’t stop thinking about [x]”. They can still create the effect you are looking for without running the risk of causing offense.
  • Consider having a quiet area that players are allowed to go to if they need some time out of the game for any reason.
  • Think about the language your game uses around mental health. Terms like crazy and deranged are generally frowned upon.
  • Brief your crew to be compassionate in the face of someone experiencing mental distress. It can be easy to get carried away and forget that the player’s well being must come first. A quick check in, or offering a exit can go a long way.
  • Would you be happy to provide an easy read synopsis of the rules?
  • Think about providing YouTube clips which explain the rules & the world. They help folks that don’t take things as well in by reading, and they act as a platform to advertise your game!

Sensory

  • Do you have sufficient lighting in key areas? Will you allow people to carry lights that are appropriate to them, rather than the system, unhindered?
  • Ensure clear pathways that are safe from tent pegs.
  • Placing bright ribbons or glow-sticks on unavoidable protruding tent pegs can really help.
  • Remember assistance dogs have requirements too.
  • Can you provide transcripts of important information for players?
  • Briefing crew to speak to Deaf players/ those with hearing loss in an appropriate manner to allow for lip-reading is key. Ensuring adequate lighting, speaking face on, not covering the mouth etc… all help.

Pain & Fatigue

  • Remember that LARP puts a massive extra drain on individuals; those that might not appear to have problems outside of an event may find themselves flaring up after a day of shenanigans. Avoid making judgements.
  • Ensure accessible seating. If you can’t then remind players that they’ll need to bring their own if they need it.
  • Will you have somewhere out of character for players to sleep and rest? Pain can be fatiguing, and fatigue is often best dealt with by rest.
  • Encouraging crew to be compassionate towards those that are exhausted or in a lot of pain is another thing that can go a very long way.

This list is by no means exhaustive (do add suggestions in the comments, or tell me where I’ve missed something), but I hope it helps provide some inspiration. No one would expect you to be able to implement changes which make everything 100% accessible to 100% of the player base straight away (though it’s a great aim). This stuff is often trial and error based and sometimes you’ll find what works for one player inadvertently disadvantages another. Of course this isn’t a reason not to bother at all. The smallest changes can really improve accessibility and player satisfaction – and not just the disabled players; everyone likes an easy walkway and places to sit!

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