(Negative) Bleed & You…

Someone asked if I’d put up a post about bleed so here it goes. A lot of wise posts have been made before which I will link in the comments but here are my personal thoughts. Bleed, much like meta, is neither good nor bad. It just is. It is something that almost every LARPer will experience in one way or another over their career and knowing how to manage it when it’s having negative effects on a LARPer’s every day life is, actually, the most important thing anyone ever needs to know around bleed.

Tonight, because it’s everyone’s greater concern, I’m going to discuss negative bleed. I hope I have time to get a positive bleed post out there some day, but tonight isn’t it. I consider bleed to be negative any time it’s having a noticeably unhealthy affect on someone’s daily life. This can come in many forms and should be recognized the moment a player is putting any aspect of responsible adult life aside to pursue imaginary lives, but the most common forms of negative bleed are:

1. Drop: Where deep depression comes in the week or so following a game because someone does not experience the strong connections, emotions, or support in real life that they do at a game.

2. Game Obsession: When a person ignores aspects of their regular lives to focus on playing a game, living as their characters, or purchasing things that surround a game. This can go as far as being late on rent and bills in order to pay for a game, neglecting healthy out of game relationships in place of pursuing between game roleplay, or having obsessive thoughts about game/characters between game time.

3. Inability to Distinguish Character from Player: This is some of the most dangerous bleed because we ALL do it at one point or another. People’s minds naturally think ‘that person has been an asshole to me all game, they must be an asshole out of character,’ and because we spend so much more time interacting with people’s characters than themselves, it’s sometimes difficult to get to know the real person or not find yourself reacting personally to the way their character presents. This also comes in forms of crushing out of character on the people you date in character, feeling angry at someone who took away a cool thing from your character, or feeling deep bonds of friendship with people you do not know, because you bonded at a game.

There are a wide variety of reasons people experience negative bleed so much stronger than positive bleed, and can get very deep into it before realizing it’s a problem. Many of these reasons are a greater reflection on the fact that, sadly, life is not great for a lot of younger (or even approaching middle age) people right now. The economy is rough, mental health is not a priority in our society, and support systems are few and far between. But the question is what to do once one realizes they are in the throws of negative bleed. These are my brief recommendations:

1. Compartmentalize: After each game, I generally write in efforts to give myself closure on that game headspace and put it away until the next time game comes around. This is a more personal version of the most popular questions that are used at debriefs around the world. The debrief questions I like to use are: 1. What is something you wish to keep from your character or learn from this game experience? 2. What was the strongest moment you had at that game and why? 3. What is something you would like to leave behind about your character in the space of the game? Once I go through these questions, I remove a piece of the character’s costuming as I talk through the third question, and that piece of costuming (or prop) gets put away until the next game. It is a way of compartmentalizing the character away both physically and mentally so I can return to regular life cleansed and closed of those emotions.

2. DEBRIEF: Everyone debriefs differently. Sometimes people do it in groups excitedly at afters and, if that works for you, you should make an effort to go to afters at each game. Sometimes people need a day or two off and to write in the privacy of their own home. Often my girlfriend and I will go out to dinner the night after a game and speak personally about our experiences, what went well, what went poorly and what we can learn about it from the future. However debriefing works for you, DO IT. If you don’t know what works for you yet? Take a trusted friend and simply start talking to them. Ask them to listen as you walk through the feelings and reactions you are having to the game. Try and find the things which are spilling over into your real life. Give them a name and a box to go in. Listen to any recommendations your trusted friend might have on how to best cope with these emotions. If it doesn’t work with that friend? Try someone else. Stumbling through bleed is really hard the first few times, but if you can develop your own, personal debrief style, it will help catch bleed in the future before it gets truly bad.

3. Self-Care: However you do it, do it. But that self-care has to be about YOU, not your character. Don’t write as them, don’t listen to their playlist, don’t day dream about them. Take YOURSELF out for a drink, take a long bath, listen to your favourite playlist, do whatever you as a person loves deeply that isn’t gaming. If you don’t have anything that you love which isn’t gaming? Well, it’s probably time to take a step back and try a few other things because that spills into the type of bleed under Game Obsession, and everyone needs a break from fantasy sometimes.

4. Time Reassessment: Another version of compartmentalization, stepping back and taking a hard look at your time allotment in any given week then assigning certain amounts to gaming vs to adult-life work can help bleed in a way that it gives you permission to still be excited and focus on game, but also motivation to get other life work done outside of gaming. I often tell myself: “If I finish 1,000 words of freelance work tonight, then I can write about game or gaming.” And it’s motivation to do both things!

5. Give Yourself Permission to Feel: It is okay to be bleeding. It is okay to miss game. It’s okay to miss your friends and be excited to see them. Taking a step back to acknowledge those feelings, to accept them, and then to move on can often help in dwelling on them. At least by giving them a name, you can identify better what is going on in your head and maybe start using one of the techniques mentioned above to manage those feelings better.

As ever, I’m open to hearing your valuable thoughts on how to manage negative bleed. These are just techniques which have worked for me over the years and I hope to pass them down to the younger generation of LARPers, so they don’t make the mistakes I saw all of us making a decade ago!

Further intelligent thoughts from more brilliant minds than myself can be found below. Please share, if you wish, with credit! And, as ever, go tell some kick ass stories.

“Bleed: the Spillover Between Player and Character” by Sarah Lynne Bowman

“Pre-Bleed is Totally a Thing” by Martine Svanevik and Simon Brind

(If you liked this post, please consider supporting my Patreon so I can continue learning, designing, and supporting LARP across the world. Space Between Stories, a LARPing Patreon. Even one dollar a month gets you previews to these posts and includes you in the conversation before they go public!)

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7 thoughts on “(Negative) Bleed & You…

  1. Alexandre Foisy-Geoffroy says:

    I play LARPs as games to win with a good story attached to it, much more so than I do it for the theater experience and emotional roller-coaster. This actually cancels out most of the bleed you mention here, but it adds another type of bleed, or something akin to bleed, that is too rarely mentioned for players imho: excessive downtime.

    I don’t play enough anymore for it to be a problem, and I have a kid so I couldn’t afford to anyhow, but I had to drop a character for this reason once. I guess I must have been spending 10 hours a week or more when I decided it was too much.

    In political-driven chronicles like we often see in Masquerade, where multiple factions meet 1-3 times a week to plan their moves, competing as a player requires a lot of planning, scheming and dealing outside of the game hours. This is similar to the “Game obsession” you mention, but I have only very rarely seen people dominate in those games without such a hefty time investment.

    It also makes the game pretty much unmanageable for storytellers unless it’s their full time job, because keeping up with all of that information is crazy.

    I still don’t know any good solution to this problem when managing a chronicle where player vs player competition is the name of the game.

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    • Ericka Skirpan says:

      I actually have another blog about this coming in the future, it’s on the roster of topics to be written. But, basically, in a lot of our games here (and any game for which I’m staff) we bar in between game actions. Game is at game. We cannot stop players from doing soft roleplay between games, but plot and staff interactions all happen at game. If you miss a game, it’s alright, you can catch up later. But it really is an issue, especially in some of the vampire communities, where downtime actions seem to drive the story more than actual game actions do.

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      • Alexandre Foisy-Geoffroy says:

        Thanks for that. Barring in-between game actions is a good idea. A bit hard to do in some types of games, but there has to be a way for it to work.

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  2. Meinberg says:

    A technique I’ve found very useful for me, post-LARP, is to write about my experience from a more detached perspective. I can talk about the themes and metaphors of the game, or form the events of the game into something resembling a coherent narrative. This provides a degree of emotional distance, while also letting me remain engaged with the community, which can have positive aspects to it.

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