33. If you went to my larp and didn’t like it, here’s what I’d like you to do

I’ve been organising larps since 1995. Some have been smash hits, some a bit disastrous. At no larp has every participant been happy with their experience (Motherland from 2008 might be the exception to that, but even there, I’m not sure), and at no larp has everyone been dissatisfied. Sometimes, the same element of the larp (whether it’s character writing, location choice, food options or structural design) has caused some players to complain, while other players loved it to death. This is how larp is. It’s damn hard to please everyone, and it’s also hard to please no-one.

This text is written for those who’ve had a bad experience at a larp. It’s written by me, and is how I’d like things to be. Other organisers may feel very differently about it. If you’re an organiser and happen to agree with some of my ideas, you’re more than welcome to share this. If you think I’m full of shit and know nothing (Jon Snow optional), that’s also ok.

And with the intro out of the way, here are some things I’d like you to do if you went to a larp of mine and didn’t like the experience you have. To be honest, it’s more of a list of things I’d like you NOT to do, and then a short comment on what I’d actually like. :-)

  • Don’t tell me all the bad stuff at the afterparty. The Week of Stories (the idea that the organisers should only hear the positive stuff for the first week after a larp) is something not everyone subscribes to. I do. Let me land before you tell me that everything was wrong.
  • Don’t universalise your own taste. Just because you didn’t like something doesn’t mean others had the same experience, and just because your tradition/preference/style/norm says something is wrong doesn’t mean it necessarily is. You may have disliked the weird dream scene in the middle of the larp, but that doesn’t make it objectively bad.
  • Don’t assume that nothing can be changed. Telling your friends that “The characters suck. Don’t play this” is different from saying “There were problems with the characters, and I wouldn’t recommend going unless they fix them.”. In the first case, there’s no room for improvement. In the second, there’s plenty. This is true for all larps, and especially for larps that are run more than once.
  • Don’t ignore opportunities to make things better and then complain later. If I tell you “Come talk to me if you’re bored. I’ll try to help.” and you don’t, it’s annoying to hear complaints about it afterwards. I can’t even try to fix problems I’m unaware of. I’m not omniscient. Not even close.
  • Don’t think you’re omniscient. If you complain about my 90’s doomsday plot and tell me how it’s bad design to have a huge fight Friday evening, then be prepared to be told that there is no doomsday plot and that you’ve pieced together unconnected player-created mumbo-jumbo and made it into something it’s not. You may be right in your analysis. Or you may be wrong. The only way to know for sure is to ask.
  • Don’t assume that I’m an idiot. If the toilets broke down on Friday night, and shit was everywhere, I’ve heard about it and am planning how to make it not happen again. Tell me stuff that you think is relevant, but please remember that there’s a chance I’ve heard it from others before.
  • Don’t confuse fixable problems with design choices. If you don’t like written characters, and the larp is built on those written characters, that’s probably not going to be changed just because you didn’t like it. If you think a four-day larp would benefit from a few hours of workshops before it starts, that’s a pretty easy fix. If you felt there was too little protein in the vegetarian option, that’s not a design choice, but just an error that can be learned from.
  • Don’t confuse effort with effect. I can deliver a meaningful and powerful speech with 30 seconds of warning. If I have to build a dragon skull prop, it’ll look like shit, even if I’ve spent a month on it. That’s why I try to do speeches instead of dragon skulls. If something wasn’t up to your standards, it may have been because of lack of time/effort — or it may just have been because of lack of skill.
  • Don’t “save my larp” and then complain afterwards about how you “had to”. Veteran players are awesome to have at your larps. Some of them are also pretty annoying, because they’ll gladly soak up spotlight and responsibility and then complain about it afterwards. I know I’ve done this myself, and I’m not proud of it.
  • Don’t blame me for stuff that’s outside my control. If your flight was delayed, your boyfriend left you or your best friend was an asshole during the larp, it’s going to negatively impact your experience. Just remember that as an organiser, I can’t control that sort of thing. If you haven’t read the info material because you’re stressed out at home, and therefore thought the experience was different than I’d told you, then you’re to blame, not me.
  • Don’t think your words don’t matter. This is perhaps the most important. You praise matters to me. So do your critical words. You are the one who chooses if you want to help and motivate me, or if you want me to think “Fucking hell. Never again. I’m done with this larp organising shit.”. Even if I didn’t listen the last time, there’s a chance I will this time. It’s your choice how to present things.

So what should you actually do? If you have criticism, write it down and send it to me. Preferably in a structured, well-argued and polite fashion. That makes it more likely to be listened to and acted upon, compared to if you write “You suxxxor!”

When I write to larp organisers after larps, I usually divide my comments into three categories

  1. Things I liked
  2. Things I think were objectively problematic
  3. Things I personally didn’t like, but which are choices

There isn’t an organiser alive who doesn’t want to hear about the stuff you enjoyed. And after you’ve been nice (hopefully you did like some stuff!), you can give them the sour parts. The reason I divide it into #2 and #3 is that there’s usually a little of the former and a lot of the latter. That I didn’t get any food before the workshops because I got bad information by a workshop leader is objectively problematic, and should be fixed if possible. That I didn’t like the ending of the larp is an opinion I have.

It’s also good exercise in feedback; learning to differentiate between personal preferences and general problems is a useful skill for all of us. And of course it’s not an exact science, but practice helps!

Director at The College of Extraordinary Experiences, Coach at McKinsey & Founding Partner at The Global Institute For Thought Leadership. Author of 31 books.

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