lördag 3 januari 2015

Safer larps for young larpers - relationships between younger and older larpers

A safe place to rest.

Background information:
This is translation of the same post in Swedish
I have for some time now, and it's hard to pinpoint when I started become one of the people larpers in Sweden turn to when they want to talk about abuse, both sexual and not that they have been subjected to at larps or in larp related setting and relationships. Earlier during 2014 I brougt up the subject in a semi-public arena, a newly started Facebook for female larpers. This conversation soon lead to the article on Spelkult called A tsunami of testimonies

In this particular post my intent is to target a common situation that can be an indication of abuse or at least uneven power distribution. I mean when there is a considerable age gap between larpers. What I'm going to write will apply to many different situations, not just for larps but there is a lot of my readers that like when I relate what I write directly about larp and that makes it easier for them to recognize problem situations and to do something about them. This post is about people that larp and not about the characters they larp and is about what happens to their physical bodies no matter what character they are playing. The post is not about when two mature adults are playing a relationship where the characters have a considerable age gap between them. When I write relationship I mainly mean sexual relationships, both short and long.

This post also heavily relies on my ethic. I am more of an consequentialist and not as much as am ethics of the intent of actions. I care very little about what people where thinking and feeling about what they did. I am also group oriented and think a lot about what is good for groups of people. In this context, what is good for the group is to stop sexual abuse within the group and to attain that goal I am willing to sacrifice the opportunity for young people to have sex, even consensual sex with partners that a many years their senior. (as a sidenote one can add that this is not a personal sacrifice, I am 34 yo myself and not interested in teens, I lose nothing.)

Now, I know many of you prefer if texts about this are kept gender neutral, but this is based on a lot of stories about cases of abuse in the Swedish larp scenes which I got from the source and my audience prefers when I am concrete and stay close to the reality it is based on. I can say that the absolute majority of stories contains a much older man and a younger woman or a non-binary person with a feminine gender expression

If we turn to look at Swedish law the age of consent is 15 years old. But there is another factor that a lot of people don't know about and that is that it also states that if you are in the care of the older person or you have a relationship comparable to that, there is a higher age limit of 18. My ethics also tells me that although we agree not to break the law when it comes to consent this is only a low set bar. We are capable of, and we should, have higher set sexual ethics, high enough that we do not commit sexual abuse and then use excuses for ourselves.

As with a lot of other subjects this comes down to power and influence. A friend of min offered up the ethical guideline that if there is to be a sexual relationship between two people who are uneven in power and influence it is the person with less agency that should be the initiating part. That mean that the older person have to follow the lead of the younger person. But, a lot of people have a hard time to realize they have more agency, room for action than other people. Some people don't care when it comes to sex. Some don't care because they don't recognize undue pressure unless it comes in the form of physical constraint, the older person holding the younger person down. Some don't care because they simply don't care. If they want to do something to someone they will do it and other people will have to deal with the consequences.

Something organizers, volunteers and other larpers can be on the lookout about is how alcohol is handled at the game and at pre and post larp meetings. Alcohol can be present at larps that prohibits it. Alcohol is easily hid at most larps. It is poured into other containers. It is also very easy to hide inebriation in someone younger that 18 (drinking age in Sweden) by claiming they are just larping that their character is drunk. 

Be on the lookout for people that look young and that seem to be inebriated. See if someone you suspect have alcohol are providing someone who is younger than 18 with something to drink. You might call this high minded of me, but so be it. I know that it happens that people who are looking to have sex with a woman many years their junior uses offers them alcohol. Alcohol lowers your defenses and anyone who is not used to alcohol can quickly become more intoxicated than they planned. In addition, a person below drinking age who is given alcohol and accepts often feel they should be grateful. People with access to alcohol have the opportunity to build a influence based on this over people below drinking age who want that access to alcohol. A 30+ year old man giving a 17 year old girl a drink of whiskey or several helpings of wine.

Organizers: Think about what alcohol rules you want at the event. Be careful how you write them, inform participants about them in such a way that as many as possible know what they are saying. If a participant is below drinking age and seem to be intoxicated, bring them in and find out. You might not want to be the one who "tell" on them, but hey if they are below 18 they are kind of your responsibility now. If you have a mentor system in place, please bring in their mentor.

Volunteers: Read and learn the alcohol rules of the event by heart. Help other people know them and follow them. Don't be afraid to talk out of game with someone who seem intoxicated and you worry for them. If they are more sober than they seem in game, this should become obvious out of game.

Larpers: You know your own group best. Discuss before game what attitudes you will have towards alcohol in your camp. Get involved if someone is giving alcohol to a person below drinking age. Tell them out of game that that is not ok, nor tolerated. I know a lot of you drink no matter what the rules of the game states, but at least have some kind of ethics in place about what you think about getting teens drunk. I'm sure you don't want some asshole to take advantage of them.

In game relationships
I belive most subjects can be used in larping. However, a lot of the stories told to me by victims show that even though a lot of larpers have found wonderful relationships with people they played with at larp games abuse is also hidden beneath the alibi of larping. "it's just a game" is a common lie. If you choose to in game portray a relationshop with a larper many years your junior, please examine what the age gap between the two of you out of game look like. Is the younger one younger than 18? Younger than 15? Has the younger person finished High School? Is the younger person living on his or her own? My thoughts are a lot about maturity and the ability to care of yourself. The ability to withdraw from the in game relationship if it starts being uncomfortable. This look at maturity is not something I think should be used to excuse an extremely uneven age distribution. Someone who is 30+ shouldn't play an intimate relationshop with a 17 year old player just because "Oh, she is so mature!". If she is mature enough, she can play a intimate relationship with someone who isn't 30+ out of game. in fact I recommend it. Playing relationships of different kinds helps us mature.

I'm ok. Just larping.
Organizers: Even if you are organizing a larp where you do not provide plot, only setting, I would recommend you ask participants to send you something about what kind of relations their characters will have to other played characters. If you then spot relationships between players that makes you uncomfortable, you could always say you want to talk to them, and make up your own mind about if you will allow it at your game.

Volunteers: Have the courage to talk out of game briefly if you see something between players you feel doesn't look good and you are uncertain it is just role played. Listen to your intuition. Sometimes a quick "Hey I saw what happened back there and I just wanted to ask if you were ok" in the line to the toilets mean the world to a larper stuck in a relationship plot that is starting to feel uncomfortable.

Larpers: You know your own group best. If people in your group prepare or start a relationship with a much younger player, who is also younger than 18, please ask them out of game how it's going and make up your own mind. Listen to your instincts. Reach out to volunteers and organizers if you feel you need their help.


There are many different kinds of dependecy, but these are some that might be relevant to young larpers and newcomers.

  • Being dependent on another larper to be able to get to the larp location and to get back home.
  • Dependency on another larper for a place to sleep before, during and after the game.
  • Another larper knows a secret about you, that they could tell other larpers/the organizer or your legal guardian about that your fear would make you either unwelcome or unable to larp again. (Like, you have a hidden disability, you have committed a minor crime, they have naked photos of you or you broke the rules of the larp you are at. Even possible they had sex with you and they might tell your legal guardian and you can't come to larp again). Alternatively just the fear they will bad mouth you.
  • An older larper is your only way into a certain social group, for example the group you are going to larp with, the in crowd or they are the gate keeper for the kind of role or race you want to play at the larp.
  • An older larper owns most parts of equipment you are going to be using at the larp/use for your most beloved character. if they don't like you, you will have to get that equipment some other way and you can't afford it. You owe them.
Organizers: Arrange for one extra place to sleep during the game or for pre game workshops you organize. This is to be used by a larper who contacts you during game and says their sleeping arrangements didn't work out. Unfortunatly there is some risk involved for any young person, especially girls, who quickly have to find a place to sleep. Also the space can be used by people who got hurt and are waiting for pick up.
Before the game it can be nice to make lists that makes is easier for people to find others to car-share to the game. This makes it possible to have more agency in who you go to the larp with. The Swedish Thule-campain often does this. If possible, offer participants to be picked up volunteers from the local train or bus stop for a fee. Young people rarely have drivers licenses or their own car and are more dependent on public transport.
If there will be a pre game workshop, have workshops where you mingle and get to know other participants, it makes you less dependent on the people you came with.
There is a merit to different ways of communicating with participants before the game. If you have a system where you are in contact with each individual participant this lessens the amount of influence the group leader has over his group.

Volunteers: If you meet a young person who seems to have lost their group and seem a little bit down, please show some empathy and ask them how they are doing. Check up on them if they want to find their way back immediatly or if they rather hang with you for a little while, have a cup of tea and a chat. Do not have sex with them (I can't believe I have to write this.)

Larpers: If someone is "new" to your group, or mostly just hangs around because they are associated with "that guy". Please introduce yourself to the newbie. Facilitate them getting to know the rest of you. The night or hours before you go in game, have a little get to know each other-workshop just in your group.You don't have to like everyone, but you can't you let them be a tag a long who just knows one of you. Certainly if they are very young and "that guy" who brought them has a bit of a creep-vibe. Some of these guys seem to always bring a new person, often a girl and this girl often stops larping after a while. Ask yourself why that is. (It's not always abuse, but sometimes it is. Sometimes it is hidden as a "bad breakup")
Some finishing words.
Be brave enough to intervene. Do you have any other suggestion? Contact me, it's ok this time. You can post it in a facebook larp related group. Sharing is caring. Dare to talk to other larpers around you about these subjects.
Sure, we larpers often want to be open minded, but we don't want other people to come to harm right under our noses either, do we?

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