Organizers Self-Care: Rules to Break Bad Habits

I’ve got another blog in the works on torture, but this one seemed particularly relevant —  especially after this weekend where I realize I myself broke half of these rules. As event organizers, many of us preach self-care on multiple levels. We put safety mechanics in to help protect our players both physically and emotionally; we remind everyone to constantly drink water, eat, and sleep; we make sure there are safety staff on hand in case someone has a breakdown; many games offer organized player debriefs afterwards; and we moderate plot in response to player physical needs. It’s amazing how player-support-focused the gaming community has become and I appreciate it every day.

However, organizers are notoriously crappy at doing this for themselves. We push ourselves to the edge of our limits (sometimes beyond) trying to provide an amazing experience for our players. I have seen organizers forgo meals, sleep, and literally give the shirt off their back to players because that’s what they felt the game needed at that point in time. And yes, we have a greater responsibility to the game and the players we have promised a good experience. But the constant organizer burn out I see in the community comes from somewhere. We also have a responsibility to ourselves so we can continue doing good work and, more than that, can be healthy people who set a good example for the others around us. We are respected in the community, we should be leading by example.

Therefore, while I recognize these all are going to be nearly impossible to follow every game, I’m setting down a new series of goals for myself as an organizer. I’d like to make certain I do at least HALF of these at any given game I’m helping to run. I invite all my fellow organizers to do the same. Maybe, some dream day, we can all follow an ideal of self-care priorities and check off every task on this list.

Before the Game

Set Communication Boundaries: I wanted to call this ‘Lack of preparation on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine,’ but it seemed a little too wordy. Still, organizers need to set boundaries for communication and stick to them. This goes for dealing with staff AND with players. Examples include: Backgrounds turned in after a certain time before the event will not be approved pre-event; player questions that come in email within one day of an event will probably not receive an answer until after the event; staff plots are due 48 hours before the event and anything turned in late will not be printed; prop requests must be submitted a full week before the event, etc. By not setting communication boundaries, organizers are often the most harried and overwhelmed in the last 24 hours of the event when they are already incredibly stressed with their own personal, last minute organization and packing. Give yourself that last evening time to rest, relax, and organize last minute personal things.

Eat, Sleep, Hydrate, Shower: You need to go into the event as healthy, rested, and prepared as possible. I know getting a full night’s sleep is hard on a ball of nerves, but try. Take NyQuil or something, if you have to. Don’t just drink water, but drink some Propel or Pedialyte, or something that extra hydrates and prepares your body for the hell you’re going to put it through. Shower that morning and have at least two good, solid meals of healthy food before going in. You’re going to abuse yourself physically and mentally for the next 40 hours, give your body the best fighting chance of making it through without getting sick or breaking down.

Baby Any Injuries: Wrap those bad knees. Ice that shoulder. Take your pain meds and pack your braces. I keep joking that we have to train the next generation of storytellers because none of our knees are going to last, but it’s not really a joke. If you know something is prone to breaking down, take all precautions you can to help support it for the long weekend.

Make a List(s), Check Them, Put Them Away: Checklists seem annoying and self-helpy or corporate buzz speak, but they really are helpful. You can add to them as events grow or change. Making a checklist of everything you need as an organizer (or separate lists for plot things and personal things depending on your organization brain), then getting everything on that list organized the night before is a great weight off your shoulders. My check lists tend to follow these categories: Player character props (things I need for my PC and myself as a regular human person), plot props (important props to all the plots I’m running that weekend, separated out of their mods on a single list so I can see everything in one place), directional oversight duties (this this is things like ‘Print story witness and storyteller modules, opening announcements, and NPC character write ups.’ It’s often not things to pack, but organizational pieces that fall to my job as a head organizer.) When an entire list is checked off, I can sleep far easier not worrying I forgot something vital.

During the Event

Eat: I know it seems nearly impossible. I’m bad about doing it too. But your body needs fuel to push that hard. Even if you just carry protein bars or the like, it’s something to help you keep running. Make certain it’s not just junk food sitting around ops that you are putting in your body. Make the fuel you are consuming something with protein and, probably, a bit of salt to help you absorb the next thing on this list. Make sure you do it more than one time a day and preferably before 2 am. (I’m looking at all of you, you know who you are.)

Hydrate: Keep a massive bottle of water (or gatorade) right next to your organization book. Every single time you go back to look at that book, take a gulp. Once it empties, refill it. Rinse, repeat. Hydrating is about the only thing I’m really GOOD at doing, and when one of my witness staff asked me if I’d drank water this weekend, I shook my bottle at him and he told me to drink more. So, I went and refilled it to drink more. He was right and smart (thank you, Dana!) and we all need that reminder, even if we think we’ve hydrated enough. Then you can have that coffee. But have water first.

Sleep: It should be obvious and almost none of us do it. I average about 4 hours a night of sleep at any given weekend event and THAT IS A STUPID IDEA WHICH I NEED TO STOP. In giving advice, I’d recommend any organizer get a minimum of 6 hours sleep to give your best to your players and staff. I fear for the day someone falls asleep behind the wheel of a car driving home from organizing an event. Please, don’t let it be one of us that becomes the warning story to everyone else.

Delegate: You have to trust your staff and pass off duties and tasks as possible. I know it’s tempting to cling to getting that plot YOU wrote out the door, but you probably also have another three things to do and your staff members can handle it. Even if it’s set up of a certain scene, preparing NPCs, or cleaning up the fake blood spilled in the bathroom (another example from this weekend, thank you Stuart!), many things that you will feel responsible to take ownership for CAN and SHOULD be delegated to others who can do them just as well. Focus on the bigger picture. Delegate the small stuff.

Emotional Checks: Organizer drop is just as much a thing as player drop and can happen during an event or after. (Drop is the feeling people get after having a heavily emotional/social experience when they crash down into difficult, depressed, or lonely emotions.) Organizers spend the entire weekend putting their friends and players through intense emotions and scenes. We sometimes fake torture our friends, often make them really cry, betray their PCs, work ourselves to the bone, and feel intense emotions ourselves. When the players feel these emotions on screen, their characters usually get immediate and intense support. However, organizers usually just disappear back to operations and are expected to carry on with the next part of the event with little self care, emotional check in, or debrief. After any particularly intense scenes, take a few minutes to yourself to check in and calm down. Debrief quickly with the rest of your staff so they can help you process any emotions before you go back to running things. The five minutes you take in the middle of an event to reset your body and soul will help you a lot in the future.

Take Notes to Fix Later: Issues during games come up. Problem players, unsafe conditions, plots that didn’t go off well. If something comes up as a problem, start a quick list of notes and then walk away from it. Dwelling on the things that didn’t go well can easily sully the rest of an event. If I’ve written myself a fast note of things to address later, then my brain can move on from what has gone wrong knowing it won’t be forgotten about. At the end of an event, I generally have half a dozen things I can work on in the future, without those issues having spoiled my current experience.

Celebrate Successes: Not afterwards. Right there, on the ground, in the middle of things when a plot has wrapped. If NPCs did an extra good job on a mod, I’m immediately praising them as they are coming back into operations and giving positive reinforcement to all the awesome things I’m seeing RIGHT THEN AND THERE. Organizing an event is exhausting. Taking a five minute cigarette, coffee, or high-five break is a good way to catch breath and regain some energy during exhausting activities. If a player gives good feedback, I try to immediately feed that to staff or the NPCs (when they aren’t in game) so everyone is feeling good about the work they are doing.

Recognize When You Are Emotionally Compromised: This comes from some thoughts I got after reading Joanna Koljonen’s blog about  when players rage quit. As an organizer, things will happen which push us over emotionally. A player rage quitting our game is one of the hardest, when we will feel defensive and hurt that someone did not like the universe we put forward. One of the worst things we can do is just ignore the situation (though sometimes we have to do so and no one should feel trapped at a LARP), but the worst thing we can do is over-react to it in defensive emotions. This goes for any situation, not just rage quitting. Player complaints, in character or out of character drama, a plot going poorly. If you are having an emotionally compromised reaction to a situation it is your responsibility to go to other staff, inform them, and let them handle it. It’s healthier for you, the players, and the game itself.

Practice radical self love: As an organiser it’s really important to recognise the importance of emotional self-kindness as a key tool. As important as it is to set boundaries (why can that be so hard for people running events?) and to physically self care, take some time to regulate your emotional state…

If you need to give yourself a timeout from being the organiser, if you are experiencing stress or feeling tense.. Allow yourself a break, tell the team you are stepping out for a few minutes and let yourself settle.. Allow yourself to breathe, relax and come back to a grounded place.

Also listen to how you are talking to yourself, are you voices and words being kind? Would you talk to others the way you talk to yourself? If not.. Stop it! Treat yourself the way that you would treat those around you. Remember you are amazing! And that you’ve been working hard to make this event happen. Even if things may not 100% go to plan or if there’s something that has happened that you haven’t planned for, in the moment allow that kind voice to be the one that you listen to. There will be time after the event to unpack the learnings. Make practicing self-kindness something that is an essential tool in your self-care kit bag.” – Jonathan Goldsmith 

After the Event

Debrief: While organizer drop can happen specifically after intense mods, it’s more often to happen after a whole intense weekend. I’ve run several organizers through debriefs and find it helps to have another party on hand to talk about the successes and challenges of the weekend. While I don’t use the exact same questions I use for player debrief, I usually use a modified set of them. My favourite organizer debrief questions are as follows: 1. What was your personal favourite moment of the event and why? 2. What is a major takeaway you have from this event? 3. What was a difficulty you had at this event? (This is not the space to talk about how to fix the challenge, just to name what the challenge was. Write it down and move on.) 4. What is something you want to leave behind in the event space? (This last one can be a player, a plot, a personal moment. Anything that you need to divest yourself of. Name it. Leave it behind. Move on.)

Enjoy Your Success: Read player memory threads, favourites, quotes, and fiction. Focus on the things you did well and recognize the reward you get for hard work. Yes, there will be some criticisms, but right after the event is not the time to dwell on it. Make sure you have a feedback form or email address and if players are bringing you those complaints immediately, direct them to the proper form to have it recorded. A polite: “We still coming down off the exhaustion of the event and would like to hear your concerns, but cannot address them at the moment. If you please use this feedback form, we will get to them in a week,” is a good way to address the complaint without dwelling on it. The first few days after an event are not the time to dwell on the negative. Constructive criticism and feedback can be dealt with a week or two later, when you’re preparing and building for the next event.

Physical Self-Care: I know I sound like a broken record, but eat, sleep and hydrate, please. Your body is in recovery mode and if you don’t baby it a little bit more after the event, you are going to be prone to a miserable week and leaving yourself open to sickness and exhaustion.

Focus on Life:  For some organizers, it’s an immensely wise idea to simply disconnect from the entire event for the first 24-48 hours after the game. Wrap up any clean up and actual business you need to do, but then entirely step away, even if that means turning off notifications on groups or ignoring email. Refocusing on real life outside the event will help cut off organizer drop and enable you to get out of the organizer headspace (which can be problematic if you aren’t an organizer in other parts of your life.)


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