How to Ask and How to Tell

Over the past few years it has been amazing to see how accessibility has improved in LARPs across the UK and even further afield. One small yet crucial part of this is seen in the booking or interest forms for events: that little box which says “do you have any medical issues or disabilities”. That itself goes a long way to creating a dialogue between organisers and players and letting both parties know that things can be done to make games accessible and to ultimately improve the player experience. 

waking nightmare pair
black and white photograph showing two people sat in conversation. The person on the left has a walking stick and the person on the right a crutch. The opportunity to sit for NPC encounters is a simple accomodation. Photo by Tom Garnett from Waking Nightmare

The problem is sometimes that dialogue can get complicated and confusing both for the players and for the game organisers. With a few exceptions, most game organisers aren’t also medical professionals, physiotherapists or occupational therapists. What that means in practice is that they don’t always understand the implications of the information that a player is providing. 

I’m going to use myself as an example here, not only because I know my issues well but because I know I have fallen into this particular trap myself on both sides of the page. 

Early on in my LARP experience it was fairly common for booking forms to have questions such as “any medical info we should be aware of” which was usually for the benefit of first aiders should an incident occur. My booking form would therefore looking something like this:

Any medical information we should know:

I have chronic lyme disease which can include dizziness, fainting, extreme fatigue, partial facial numbness and joint pain.* 

Now for a first aid team this was pretty important information – they knew there was an underlying reason should I collapse, and it helped guide first aid if I encountered any issues or got injured i.e. my pain may not accurately reflect the severity of an injury. 

But it didn’t really tell them anything about my access needs. They may gather that I might need to sit down a bit or might get tired and the really on ball organisers might check if I need anything special. This was before accessibility had really become a topic of discussion or a sign of quality in LARP. 

However, as accessibility made its way into LARP consciousness we started to think differently about the way we used this information. Using medical information as a way of considering accessibility was a natural progression but it still didn’t give a full picture of a players needs or tell a player what the organiser was willing or able to provide.

Even now as organisers stat to include requests for information on disabilities or access needs, it can be difficult for players to know what information to give: what will be useful and what’s even possible?

For some of us that is because we are just habituated to writing down a list of our impairments or disabilities. Other times it is because we simply don’t know what accommodations we can expect or are on offer. In a world where accommodations just aren’t the norm and many of us have had to put up with imperfect access to everything from shops to healthcare to our own homes, it’s difficult to conceive what might be available at a LARP. 

Likewise organisers might not know what specific things they can offer in advance. That’s why these open ended questions are important as they develop the opportunity for a dialogue. It may not be practical to have one-on-one discussions with every player to discuss their needs but it certainly gives us a jumping off point to make decisions and were needed to communicate with the player (or with the organiser) and make sure the correct accommodations are in place. 

For players, the key thing to remember is to focus on common impairments or difficulties you face and to state them clearly. You can also include specific accommodations you know help you for example step free access or seating. 

In my case my answer might be:

I cannot walk for more than 10 minutes at a time. I cannot run.

I need the opportunity to sit as standing causes pain and other issues for me.

My fatigue means I often have to nap and I have concerns about missing NPC meetings. 

My fatigue means I cannot remember large amounts of information.

I can have difficulty with flights of stairs.

You can see how these relate to my medical notes but they provide clear indications to organisers about what they can do to make a game accessible. Not knowing the plot or storyline of a game in advance means I don’t know if walking for extended periods of time would even be an issue, but the organiser now knows and can review their plans for the event and if we need to make any changes for accessibility. 

The job of the organiser then is to encourage this sort of answer and to get this sort of clear information from your players. I would suggest a question on your booking form which encourages players to think about their access needs rather than focussing on impairments or health issues: medical info for first aid purposes can be contained in a separate question.

For example:

What disabilities or difficulties do you have and what are you access needs? (i.e. I need level access; I can not hear in crowded situations). 

This encourages clear communication and hopefully gives you the information you need to support your players and to make an accessible game.

This is how players and organisers can work together to create better games for more people.

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