Killing with Kindness

I have two cats from the same litter of kittens, Calamity and Fiasco, or Callie and Fia. I tend to treat my cats like my children (yes, I’m one of those people), but there are a couple of ground rules in the house. One of them is that the cats aren’t allowed on the counter. This is mostly because I do a lot of cooking and I don’t want them to accidentally jump up onto something that might hurt them. Up until recently, both of them have been content to weave their way between my legs while I cook and get a couple people-snacks along the way – but now Callie has started jumping on the counter. You guys are lucky you're so cute. Just sayin'.

While it is notoriously difficult to get cats to do Basically Anything, with a little patience and some clever thinking it can be simple: when Callie jumps onto the counter, she gets returned to the floor. Fia, who has been sitting on the floor the whole time, gets a treat. It took about two times for this to happen before Callie realized if she stayed on the floor, she got a treat too. Problem solved. Now no one is at risk of getting hurt, everyone gets treats, and it’s a great day for cats and people.

Cats aren’t too unlike people; if I could find a way to put ‘cat-herder’ on my resume in regards to LARPing and LARPers, I would. People don’t react well to negative reinforcement, such as being yelled at or talked down to about their behavior. No one likes being brought to the Principal’s office to be told what they did wrong. But if you encourage them when they are displaying the correct behavior, it reinforces what’s good rather than what’s bad.

As you might expect, it’s a great habit to build into LARPing too. This brings us to this week's topic -- negative behaviors at game:

Negativity at games can be like a tornado sucking you in. How do you avoid it and if it's too late how do you recognize it and break out of it?

How do you stay in character/genre when others break immersion or have modern items?

Recognize the problem.

Whether it’s negativity at game or immersion breaks, the first step is to recognize the problem and why it’s happening. Do your players have a feedback loop when they’re having problems at game? Do they feel safe expressing their opinion through the proper channels, or is there a history of repercussions? Sometimes negativity is built off an inability to direct player concerns in a meaningful way. If you’re the game designer, make sure that there is a feedback loop, whether it’s a post-event survey or a Customer Service Rep who is available for players at game to talk to. Additionally, make sure that avenue is neutral and open so your players don’t feel intimidated or that they have to worry that their complaints might impact them personally at game. If you’re a player, make sure your peers know where feedback can be addressed, because if they’re having a real problem then it’s worth bringing it up to the chain of command.

If you find yourself caught in bad behavior, whether it’s a negative attitude or less unsavory habits at game (like breaking immersion), take the opportunity to examine why it’s happening. Look at the people you’re playing with and the environment you’re participating in because--

Problems breed problems; success breeds success.

Be the behavior that you want to see in those you play with. If a behavior isn’t corrected it becomes a habit. If Callie keeps jumping on the counter and continues to receive positive feedback for it (her treat and my attention), then Fia will start doing the same thing, because why wouldn’t she? There’s nothing to reinforce her positive behaviors. Players who see that their play partners are needlessly negative or break immersion and then see no consequence – good or bad -- to their action will grow that trait in themselves. However, if players see reward in constant immersion and positivity (like the opportunity to interact with others in roleplay or compliments to their behavior), they themselves will portray those good habits.


It might require you to take a step back from your current play partners, especially if you find yourself stepping into their bad LARP habits. Don’t be afraid to pull yourself out of a situation if you think you might become a part of the problem. However, the more you’re able to stay in game around them maintain positive LARP habits, the more your play partners will do the same. When we LARP, we’re here to play with each other – LARPing is about people, not individuals -- and if you, as a player, start to see people pull away from you because of bad habits, it will often become a self-correcting problem.

This is especially true for new players to a LARP. They’re going to mimic the first behaviors they see as they try and fit into a community that’s new to them. If the first thing they see are veteran players who are encouraging, open, and always in character, they are going to pick up that positivity. For players who already have bad behaviors that have turned into bad habits, you’ve got to --

Kill them with kindness.

Bob the Troll is not having fun. He has no idea why he’s not having fun, but he sees everyone else having fun around him and it’s just making it worse. Without realizing it, Bob has stopped interacting with others around him and has become a font of vitrol that’s driving every other player away and has no way to self-correct his habits. Sam the Dwarf, recognizing the problem, decides to step in. “Hey,” Sam says, “do you remember when you and I killed that dumb elf?”

“Sure. Once. When’s the last time that happened. We don’t get to do anything like that any more. It’s so boring,” says Bob sourly. “What about it?”

“That was the best. Hey John, didn’t you kill a gross elf recently?”

John the Bear-Man turns around. “Yeah! Hey Bob, do you kill elves too?”

Bob grins. “Do I kill elves,” he scoffs.

Elves are terrible. It is known.

Bob the Troll, Sam the Dwarf, and John the Bear-Man start discussing how terrible elves are and comparing their kill counts before deciding that you know, it has been awhile since they killed some elves. They go out and seek an elf to kill together. Sam remarks on how great it is to see and be with Bob at game, and how much he enjoys playing with him. Bob has been drawn back into playing with the group thanks to Sam, who was able to reach out and kill negativity with kindness.

John the Bear-Man is sitting around in a crowded room; in a moment of inactivity, he pulls out a cellphone, which considering that he is a Bear-Man and should not even have thumbs, begins to break the immersion with the rest of the group while he checks his Facebook messages. Sam the Dwarf sees the cellphone and immediately claps John the Bear-Man on the shoulder. “WHAT HO, BEAR-MAN! I’ll bet my entire beard I can outdrink you.”

John immediately shoves his cellphone back in his pocket now that he is in the spotlight of attention. “Pshhh. No one can out-drink a Bear-Man.” The rest of the group comes over and the two of them start an engaging, immersive scene of competitive drinking, drawing others into it. Sam compliments how much John was able to encourage other players to drink and roleplay with them by being engaged. By dragging John back in character, Sam was able to maintain the immersion and let John step into the spotlight, rather than being bored.

If you see a positive behavior in another player, encourage it. When you see a negative behavior, ignore it or try to refocus it. When players get a treat for doing the right thing (like a great roleplay scene or a compliment on their LARPing), they’re going to remember it. But if all else fails –

Sometimes people just like being sad.

I’ll preface this by saying that 90% of the time, a bad habit can be corrected by positive reinforcement at game. But sometimes there’s nothing you can do about a player who just wants to be negative or immersion breaking. You might go so far as telling them “hey, let’s all go back in character” and you’ll see it happen again and again to no avail. In these cases, what’s causing the bad habit might not be something that you can fix – like something that’s happening in the real world outside of game that may be effecting their behavior.

There’s nothing you can do about these people other than continuing to be the gamer that you want to see. Eventually the negative player will adjust, or sometimes they might leave game, and that’s okay too. If someone is struggling to fit into the culture of your community, it might not be a good fit for your LARP. If you’re a player, talk to your CS or staff rep about it. They might not be able to do anything either, but if it’s causing problems at your game, they should know so they can attempt to address. If you’re the CS or staff rep, observe problem player for awhile and see if it gets better or worse. If you don’t see the problem fixing itself, you may have to talk to the player about how they’re doing, and if you find that they’re in a bad headspace that’s not going away with positive reinforcement, it might be worth suggesting to them to take some time off. There are absolutely times when a negative headspace will impact your game, and taking a step back is the best thing you, as a player, can do for yourself and your friends.

Have other ideas on how to deal with bad LARP habits? Head over to our Facebook and join the discussion.

See you next week!