This past weekend was Dexcon, one of the Double Exposure cons.
I’d told Shoshana Kessock of Phoenix Outlaw games that I would come play her game Dresden Lives, to let her know how it played for someone with a disability like mine.
So I decided that since LARP isn’t my usual form of gaming, I should step out of my tabletop comfort zone and play a bunch of LARP’s, in the interest of coming up with feedback for designers.
I’ve done LARP before, but never at this level, and I’ve certainly never had the kind of weekend that I just had.
So first I’ll tell you what I played:
– At What Cost – run by Chris Amherst. Agents for shadowy government agencies are interrogated for information about their previous missions.
– Dresden Lives – run by Shoshana Kessock, John Adamus, Josh Harrison, and Ericka Skirpan and I think more…. The Gotham City Chronicle is about magic users in the world of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books.
– Battlestar Galactica – Rising Star.
Oh yes, a BSG based LARP. Run by the same crew as above.
– College of Wizardry – Run by Michael Pucci of Eschaton Media. This game used the chronos system which was different from everything else I played.
The first thing you should know is that I was not the only disabled person playing in games. I was also never the only woman in a room. These games were diverse, and I was so grateful for that.
The second thing I should mention is that with the exception of College of Wizardry, I knew the storytellers outside of the game, even if it was only a little. So people were aware of my disabilities ahead of time.
I don’t know what it’s like to play in a LARP with full sight or vision, so I asked people what they wanted to know about my experience, and here are the questions, answered for your edification.
- What’s the one thing you’d ask designers to think about in regards to keeping disabilities in mind when designing?
Well, I think the first thing I’d say is that you should have realistic descriptions of disabilities in your games. I have literally never played a character in a LARP who did not share my trait of blindness. Some people might call that playing myself, but I call it practicality. No matter who I play, I’m going to need my cane. No matter what I do, I’m still going to need my hearing aid. So my characters are disabled. This affects my roles differently depending on what game I’m playing. For example, my Dresden character uses her cane as a staff and weapon, whereas my BSG character is inquiring about what the rules are for pummeling a cylon to death. The cane may not change, but the uses for it do. Make sure that your disability descriptions are not only accurate to the real world, but also that they fit into the world you’re creating. (Corollary to this is to make sure that non-disabled players don’t physically disable themselves to play a character. If you’re fully sighted, please don’t wear an eyepatch that will blind you. It can effect your eyesight.)
- What are interactions with props like and the steps LARP runners should take in preparing for you?
Be mindful of things like font size. In one game the font used for a particular section of the game was difficult for me to read, and I couldn’t tell the difference between c’s & o’s, and l’s and i’s. I was told by one of the GM’s later that I was an MVP when it came to the cryptography section, but I definitely paid in eye tiredness after because of the font. Basically, I’m asking to be able to interact with the game at the same level as my peers. Another thing to consider is environment, better lighting = better interactions for me.
Basically, make it a level playing field. You don’t have to print things in 14 point font, but do try to make them accessible.
- What do you do to deal with rough terrain issues?
Like I said, I always carry my cane in game. It’s important because 1) I don’t trip over/into things and 2) it is a physical reminder to my fellow players that I cannot see them.
I also haven’t played an outdoor game in 10 years, but I remember that was pretty challenging, and I’m honestly not sure I’d do that again.
- What kind of in-play considerations have you had to work out with GM’s, other players, NPCs, etc?
When it came to the games run by my friends, it was easily accomplished for me to make an announcement saying “Hi I’m Elsa, I’m legally blind, please don’t sneak up on me on my right side.” I didn’t have any issues with other players on that account once the game had started because people knew ahead of time. Negotiating the disability thing is always way harder in character than out of character.
- What do you wish we knew? What can we do to bring you into game?
I would say consider lighting. Mood lighting is definitely awesome, but try to make sure that while mood lighting is used, it’s still possible to navigate dark areas. Single lightbulbs are not enough light for me to see by, and I suspect I’m not the only one. As for bringing me into game – well, I’m pretty good at making trouble for myself, but again – ask me questions. If you’re worried about a specific space, let me know. If you think something might be difficult for me, ask. I’ll have a lot more fun if potentially challenging situations have been worked out ahead of time. If I need my reading glasses, tell me!
I’ll say that overall, I prefer games which don’t require me to use my character sheet much. I struggled a lot with the chronos system in College of Wizardry because reading cards during any kind of speed related situation is difficult for me. I was definitely glad that I managed to stay out of combat during CoW, but when it came to trying to go up and play Devil Days (1950s demon gang warfare) I decided that trying to negotiate the combat system wasn’t worth the frustration. I don’t really do much with combat in general because I suspect that will be a different thing for me. Maybe someday I’ll get to beat a cylon to death with my white cane, but for now I’ll stick to my magical books, and my space government position.
The takeaway I got was this: I actually really enjoy LARP. So long as I’m safe, so long as it’s a diverse environment where I feel welcomed not only by my storytellers but by my fellow players, and so long as everyone is on board with the blind lady versus LARP, then let’s get my theater addiction fed.