(Photo taken by Bret Lehne at Inside Hamlet. – insidehamlet.com)
Influencers and the LARP community have been a topic of heavy controversy as of late. After several companies coming under fire for using ‘Influencers’ that were deemed unhealthy for the community, there has been a large pushback against using them at all. Other companies have come out clearly with statements defending their use of Influencers and being clear about how those people are compensated. (See this statement by Felbis Productions.) I do not believe Influencers are going away where the LARP community is concerned.
I do believe that the roles, responsibilities, and use of Influencers needs to be better defined by each individual LARP company. Those definitions will be different depending on what their game needs of an Influencer. I suspect that strictly model/marketing Influencers who give little back to the game may be a role which is phased out entirely, but there are many other ways that a player can have influence on a game AND many other reasons a company will bring someone in as an Influencer. Even smaller budget campaign LARPs have players who act as Influencers among their game; often these players are the staff, paid writers, or owners of the game. Their PCs have a greater impact on the world (intentionally or not) and the people themselves are looked up to by the player base at large. By purely who they are in the community and financial power they have over a game, they are influential LARPers in their circle.
Full disclosure, and something I’m going to be examining a lot over my time working up to this game, I’ve been invited to be an Influencer for the 1878: Welcome to Salvation LARP that is taking place in Texas in November. I wasn’t invited to this game because I am an exceptionally pretty face or marketing dynamo. While there is no doubt I have a decent chunk of LARP audience, I’m not down with the social media kids of instagram, Twitter, or YouTube. All the work I do in the LARP sphere tends towards how to blend European and American narrative attitudes, game design teaching, and ways to do healthy interactive roleplay. There is no doubt I was also asked as an expert in the specific genre of frontier/Wild West, considering my extensive work with Dead Legends (which is much the same genre but with more supernatural elements than 1878.) Still, I had to ethically resolve the issue with myself of taking what is still being called an ‘Influencer’ contract, when such roles are being publicly decried by the greater world.
I think it’s important for LARPs and Influencers of all sorts to define what these roles are, and what a specific person’s role in a game will be. LARPs of all sorts need to acknowledge that Influencers exist in their communities, whether they are called by that name or not. Players who wish to step into these roles (as staff members with their own characters OR by formalized contract), need to acknowledge that there comes a weight of responsibility with that place in the community. Therefore, I’m putting down the rules I intend to follow as an Influencer, with hopes that other prominent players may take them as a good guidance or start of an Influencer code.
Roles and Responsibilities of a LARP Influencer
Public Disclosure of Influencer Role: Much of the controversy around Influencers has come from a lack of transparency on both the part of Influencers and the gaming companies using them. In most other fields, people doing marketing for that field need to be honest about being a paid spokesperson for that product. This would include receiving expensive LARP tickets in exchange for free advertising to a large audience. Conversely, many ‘Influencers’ are what would be considered LARP journalists. If they are attending a game specifically to cover what that game is doing, how they do it, and how it goes, they should disclose that journalistic relationship and the running company should have no influence or say over what the Influencer put out to the greater world. Thirdly, I think there is a class of Influencers that come in as a style of consultant — they are specifically there to make the game better. These are strong roleplayers, area experts, safety staff or the like who are brought in because of their expertise. This is a vital use of ‘Influencers’, but also should be disclosed to the public so the players of the game understand why this person is present and their duties. (Editor’s Note: I have been after the fact correct that many vloggers and Influencers do disclose and have been transparent on their YouTube channels. So, this comment certainly doesn’t apply to everyone. I encourage everyone reading to see Cheyenne’s comment below for another point of view about this blog.)
For my part at 1878, I feel I fall into the second and third categories. I don’t do a lot of LARP marketing, but I do a fair amount of LARP journalism discussing the various events I staff and attend with a critically thoughtful eye. However, there is no doubt I was asked to come down because of my expertise in genre and ability to steer roleplay for large groups of players. I intend to focus a lot of my energy on the third type of influence and much of this blog will discuss how to be that kind of Influencer for many types of LARP communities.
Be Honest: While you have an obligation to disclose to the public what capacity you are working for with that LARP company, you also have an obligation to disclose to the company any pertinent history about yourself as a public figure. Have you been accused of harassment or are involved with someone who has? Were you previously ejected from any LARP communities? Is there anything that, were this a full time job that did a background check on you, they might think twice over before hiring you? No one has been perfect in their past and no one should be banned from doing this work for past mistakes, but companies should be able to make informed decisions about who they are bringing into their public sphere of influence. If you have made mistakes in the past, you should be honest about them and prepared to show where you have made strides towards being a different person. It’s better to be upfront and mature about past issues than have skeletons come out of the closet on the internet in attempts to publicly destroy you or the company you are working with.
Work with Staff: You should have at least one or two conversations with the designers of the event about what they need of you once the event is in action. Do they need you to help steer shy roleplayers, direct action on the ground, engage in specific plot events, or stand back and watch to make certain things are running smoothly? Where are the staffs greatest concerns about this event and how can you help them address those concerns on the ground? Is there any pre-game work you can do with them to help others get involved in certain things? A good example of this would be discussions I’ve had with Shoshana concerning Salvation. She was worried about the dance going over well and I mentioned that I had taught period group dances at both Armistice Arcane and Dead Legends, so I’d be happy to offer that service to this game again. It’s a minor thing for me, but a big relief off the game’s shoulders to know that shy dancers will now have a structured way to get involved in that part of the game.
Know Your Safety Rules: During the event, an Influencer the kind of player other players look up to when things go wrong. If someone is having a breakdown, triggering, lost, being shunned from play, or is in a bad situation, it is up to an influential player to know what tools that person can access to get to safety. Influencers should NOT be safety staff (unless they have been specifically and only hired for that job), but they should be acquainted with the safety staff, safety protocols, and the quickest way to get players help when they need it. Often the Influencer is the loudest and most recognizable face in the room, so vulnerable players will go to that person before another random player. Know how to help your fellow players when they are in need.
Know Your Genre: What is this game and why are we playing it? That’s one of the most important questions an influential player can ask the game staff. The goals and atmosphere of the game should be kept in mind during all of your play so you can further support their themes with your character’s actions, your internet coverage of it, the costumes you prepare, and the ties you make. Most Influencers do this naturally, but for ones new to the scene, it should be where you start most of your preparation work.
Lead by Example: Once at game, it is your job to be the best player you can possibly be. This means knowing all the rules, game setting, history, schedule, and mechanics the game designers have put on paper. When people are confused, you should be able to be confident in directing them be it towards plot, game style, or negotiation mechanics. If you are cast in a certain faction, you should be playing to the letter and spirit of that faction, not the special snowflake or black sheep. Eyes will be on you when it comes to all aspects of the game and you should be a prime example of what the game designers want to see for their project. This may involve another conversation with the design staff about the example they want you to set for their community, and why. However, if they are too busy to talk about it, just consider what you would want in the most upstanding, respected member of your LARP community, then be that person 110 percent.
Documentation: Record your experiences. Photos or video (if you are allowed by the game staff), written documentation, pre-blogging, post-blogging, character design, and play experiences. Documentation is vital to remembering what games have done well in the past and the things they can do better in the future. Creators spend hundreds of hours pouring work and love into these games for them to disappear within a single weekend. Players who cannot attend make decisions about which future events to spend their money on by the documentation they see of past events. As an Influencer, it is a part of your job to document your experience and share it with the world. ANY kind of Influencer should be doing some form of documentation, even if it is just to help them learn and grow as a LARPer for their future work.
Make Ties: I generally dislike the culture around pre-game play and preparation because it obligates people to be tied to their computers before a game has even started. However, if you are attending a game as an Influencer, it is a responsibility to make ties with other players (preferably across many factions) so you can help include as many people as possible in your influential play and sphere. People know Influencers, people are excited to meet them and tell stories with them. Just by virtue of who you are, you are going to get more play than your average LARPer. That means you have an obligation to spread that play out to other people. The best way to set yourself up for success in this manner is to make ties before the game, meet with those folks before game on, and really try to roll with some interest history with as many people as possible. No, it won’t always click with every player and some relationships develop organically during a game, but the more ties you make, the better a chance you will have of making an impact on a large group.
Be a Generous Player: This is probably the most important duty of an Influencer: You must be a generous player in every definition of that statement. It means never hoarding plot to yourself, but finding excuses to spread it out among as much of the community as possible. It means purposefully ‘cheating out’ even your secret conversations, so other players can overhear accidentally and get involved in play (cheating out means sitting with your body outwards towards the audience/room so people can better see or listen to what you are doing.) It means pulling other players into the action even if they might not be a part of your faction or friends circle. It means recognizing who the shy players are and trying to engage them no matter your characters feels. Being generous means never having the excuse ‘well, my character wouldn’t do that’ — as an Influencer, your duty is to find reasons for your character to involve as many people as possible, as often as possible. You may often get spotlight just because of who you are or how dynamic your roleplay is and it is your job to share that spotlight with as many people as possible. Use your charisma and contacts to make everyone else feel just as special as you often are among the greater community. Who knows, you might inspire them to be influential players in the future!
Steer from Behind: Get interested in other people’s storylines and then help them build that roleplay by making yourself a supporting character to their story. A big part of being a generous player is knowing when it’s time to not only share spotlight, but upstage yourself so someone else can have the full spotlight. This is often done by getting to know someone else’s character and their goals. Once you know what they want to be doing at the event, use your social power to help steer their roleplay, other roleplayers towards them, or situations around them to help them succeed. I generally try to take between 2-4 players each event I’m working (more if it’s a big, one shot blockbuster game) and focus hard on their story. I’ll manipulate social situations to put them in wonderful places where they can succeed (or fail epically, if they are playing to lose), and help bring them into spotlight of the specific style of story they are interested in telling. Any experienced roleplayer knows well how to steer a scene, but if you are being given the privilege of being an Influencer at a game, it is your JOB to steer to make the game more fun for everyone by highlighting other stories which are your own.