First and foremost, this post is heavily inspired by a post on tumblr that's currently going around the SWTOR RP community -- I'm going to be referencing a lot from it. It's geared specifically toward abuse in online roleplay partnerships, but the symptoms of an emotionally abusive relationship are the same online as they are in LARP and in real life. It can be very easy to fall unwittingly into an abusive relationship, especially in something like roleplay where part of yourself is already vulnerable.
When you roleplay, you inherently open yourself up and expose a piece of yourself into your character. Sometimes you watch it happen to a friend; sometimes you can even have abusive habits and not recognize them for what they are. We, as a community, have to be a self-policing force since looking into a mirror often only shows us exactly what we want to see.
I've been manipulated as a roleplay partner, and as a human. I've watched my friends struggle with seeking the approval of someone who has only self-serving or selfish motivations. I want to start this off by saying it's hard to deal with abuse, whether it's in your real life or your fake ones, but as they said on PBS, knowledge is power. Recognizing the signs of abuse are the first step.
Edit: As a side note -- keep in mind that there is a difference between in character and out of character. There are characters who are bad people -- I even play one myself -- but it should end at the end of game. If you, out of character, are feeling like you are being manipulated or abused, that's not acceptable and that's what you need to look out for.
Always make sure to communicate with your roleplay partner to make sure you understand the boundaries, and try your best to separate yourself after game to give yourself the cleanest view of any situation.
Idolize > Isolate > Devalue > Discard
Idolize, aka The Honeymoon Period
You've never received attention like this before. The abuser constantly seeks you out for roleplay when you're at game together and you spend all of your downtime talking about your characters together. They write stories for you, or commission artwork; they make plans to attend games that they know you're going to, even if it's out of their way. This can be easy to mistake for someone just being enthusiastic, but if the conversations are nothing but your characters, your relationship, and the attention is non-stop, the implications are unhealthy.
It can be really gratifying and exciting to talk about your character with someone, but if it is the only focus of the other person and the attempts to insinuate themselves into your life is constant, this can be the first sign of a manipulatively abusing individual.
Isolate, aka, They're Out to Get Me
Anytime you're at game, the abuser tries to get you to roleplay with them and only them. When you're in a group of friends, they will deliberately try to pull the attention on themselves and alienate the conversation from your friends. Inside jokes, making roleplay difficult for anyone else but you, or verbally/physically assaulting them (in game) might happen, as a tool to drive you further apart out of game. They'll bemoan on how your friends are mean or have been cruel and try to get you to pull away from them both in and out of game.
This sounds like it should be a much more obvious stage of abuse, but it's not. Emotional manipulation can be subtle and it might seem like your friends are being jerks or that your new LARP partner could be getting the shaft from them. All the meanwhile, they'll be giving you the same level of attention and excitement you've been receiving.
Trust your friends. Your friends have known you, maybe for years, both in and out of game. If they think something is off, try to take a step back and listen to them. Hell, even listen to strangers if someone from outside of your immediate roleplay group mentions that things seem odd or creepy. People have inherently good instincts when something is off and sometimes when we are too close to a situation, we're blind to it.
Devalue, aka, You're Out to Get Me
Away from your friends, things start getting intense. The roleplay situations at game become uncomfortable. You find yourself in roleplay situations that you didn't agree to, but it's difficult to fight back. When you make any mentions of being unsure or unhappy, the abuser becomes distraught, in and out of game. Their character might become suicidal, which the player insists is something they don't want and is your fault, not your character's. The player might cry or be upset out of game, saying that you forced their character into this situation, that its your fault. They threaten to break off the roleplay and abandon you and your characters. Now that you're alone and they've broken you off from your friends, you might feel vulnerable and continue to play in or agree that you were wrong.
The post-game attention from before diminishes. Now it's only about the abuser, the abuser's character, using you and your character at game to further those ends. You only receive attention, like writing or gifts or between-event RP, as an apology.
At this point, the abuser has trapped you in a cycle: they keep making you feel uncomfortable at game, but your friends have been pushed away and you might feel like you have no place to go, so you stay. It can be easy to talk yourself into thinking that you were the wrong one. You aren't. Remember: no one is ever allowed to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable as a player or play your character in a way that's disingenuous. You are never beholden to someone else's character or roleplay at game.
Reach out to your friends again; check in to make sure that you aren't seeing something that they are. If you don't feel comfortable talking to them, reach out to the staff, or someone who has been able to observe your roleplay with the abuser. You are never, ever alone at game.
Discard, aka, You're The Problem
The abuse hits a crescendo. The abuser abandons you, stating over and over again that you're the reason that they're not having fun and everything is terrible, you're the reason why you never want to play that character again and why you'll never show up to that LARP. They'll inform others of their experiences with you and a rumor mill will grow. If the abuser isn't recognized within the community, you might start to gain a false reputation for yourself as someone not to roleplay with or interact with at game. Your character, who was so deeply tied to the abuser's own, might feel useless and broken now.
It's common for abusers to have deep ties in the community (because lots of people experience that same honeymoon phase you did), and you might feel driven out of the game. As someone watching the victim, it can help to do your research. Has this player had a history of hopping between games, having one bad experience after another? Have they left drama and broken hearts? History repeats itself. Now is your chance, as a member of the community, to reach out to the abused player to make sure they know that they aren't alone.
And for the abused player -- stay strong. You are not an abuser. You are a victim. It may feel hopeless, and you may feel trapped, but remember that you always have a choice and there are people in the LARP community who do want to help you.
What to Do
- Talk to Your Friends & the People Around You
These people see what's happening to you. Talk to them. Get someone to look out for you and be aware. If you see it happening to someone else, tell them. Be honest and open, because right now, honesty is a commodity in the abused player's life at game. As the abused, what you're hearing might seem totally off point or difficult to hear, and you might not be able to listen to it at that moment, but remember it. And if you're watching it happen, keep trying. Keep reminding them of what you're seeing, and that they have options to get away from it.
- Talk to Your Staff
If you worry that a player might be emotionally abusive, let staff know. They might not be able to deal with the situation directly, as some games don't have the capacity for that, but making them aware of what's going on and asking for advice will help down the road when the abuser tries to discard and devalue you. The staff has evidence that the abuser has acted inappropriately and can alert their peers to be aware of the abuser's behavior.
Just like your abuser might talk, it goes both ways. The more people are aware of an abuser's habits, the more likely they are to not get any openings to be abusive.
- Don't Give Up
LARP is more than a hobby to a lot of us. It's a passion. It's saved lives. It's educated and changed us. Don't allow your abuser to take away the thing you love. We, as a community, are here for you. We're in this together -- we've been the nerds in school, we've been shoved in locker rooms, and yelled at on the streets. No one should have to feel that way, especially about something they care so deeply about.
And we care deeply about it with you, too. You are in a huge, wonderful community of humans that might occasionally get a bad egg. You're not a bad egg. You're a wonderful human too, and we're here for you. If you need anything, just remember: all you have to do is reach out.
We love you.