Processing Feedback: We Can Lift Without Putting Others Down

(Featured photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash.)

(Disclaimer: This post concerns feedback that is given honestly, in good faith, and out of an attempt to better things for the game. Sometimes players give feedback merely to rip people down, make them feel back, or scare others away from participating. This isn’t about that sort of feedback. Secondly, if someone or something is an active danger to the community, that is feedback that needs immediately addressed. The sort of feedback I’m discussing above is about design, plot, or other issues which are not immediate dangers, but something that was a negative experience that a participant wishes to address in good faith.)

Goodness, larpers of the internet, this has been a WEEK. If you are tuned into social media at all, you’ve no doubt seen the shit storm against “Larp Saltposting” (a well deserved one, I think) as well as the ‘revenge group’ of “Larp Wholesomeposting.” Top it all off with the backlash  concerning enforced positivity being just as toxic as negativity because it allows toxic elements to fester in a community and makes reporting truly problematic things even more difficult. What a week! ! I’m not exactly talking about any of the things above. I agree with most of what is being said and think there is a proper middle group between being excessively negative, pointing out toxic or dangerous elements, and being sunshine constantly. Most middle of the road larpers are aware of these things and are reasonable about it over all. What I do want to talk about is how we process critical feedback given to our games as players and as organizers.

Processing Critical Feedback as a Player

You can lift your game up without having to put others down.

As a community, if you feel a need to defend your game against things that are being said about it, you can lift your game up without putting other games down. I wish I could end the blog there, because I think that’s the most important thing to get across in our community right now. Critical feedback is important — it’s how we learn, grow, and make all our games better. It’s also a way that toxic elements of the community can be called out and removed. Sometimes, that feedback is given publicly and not everyone in the community agrees. If you find yourself reading negative things about your game and becoming defensive about them, I invite you to stop, walk away from the internet, and take at least fifteen minutes to process your response to that posting.

An immediate emotional response is almost never a healthy thing to post on the internet — doubly so if that response involves calling out or putting down other games while saying yours is better. If you are doing that, you are falling into the same trap of public critique that the person who posted first has done, but your critique is even less useful because you are not in a space that the other game’s creators can even process that feedback! Putting games down in defense of your own game does nothing but make your community look unfriendly to outsiders. So, I invite players to take the following steps when receiving critical feedback about their game:

  1. Read the feedback a second time and then walk away from the computer, do not respond.
  2. Process the critique that has been given.
  3. Try to see the poster’s point of view from their shoes, not your own.
  4. Consider how best to approach staff about how these issues can be addressed, or if they need to be addressed.
  5. If you really want to respond, once you’ve taken the time to critically process, then lay out a few examples of when you saw better things at your game surrounding that issue.
  6. Once you have figured out examples of what DID work in your community and articulated them clearly, give those in feedback to the staff so they can figure out how better to highlight or push that more healthy type of play in the game.

By processing critical feedback this way, you are lifting your own game and community without putting others down. There are lots of negative things that DO need to be called out already in the gaming sphere, but on a different game’s webpage is not a place to do that. If you listen to the feedback and help figure positive ways to address it, then other players feel heard and your game can actively work on doing better in the future.

Processing Critical Feedback as an Organizer

It stings. We’ve put so much time, energy, and heart into our work that hearing something wasn’t a good experience for someone can be a huge let down. I learned first hand this week why the week of stories/three days of joy exists in the larp community. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, it’s an ideal where the first few days after an event are dedicated to the good stories and feedback that happened at the event. If there is critical feedback, it should be written down by the participant giving it while it’s fresh (or processed in personal, non-organizer spaces), but it’s respectful to wait a few days before giving it to the staff. I realized why this has been an unspoken rule a lot of places. I was not in the headspace where I could take in, give proper respect to, and process critical feedback in the immediate hours after game. I was still exhausted, emotionally raw from the weekend, and in the middle of celebrating successes when all that came crashing down because of two posts on the internet.

They were IMPORTANT posts as well. They brought up some issues that we need to address (and are now actively working on) to make our whole community better. But in those first hours, I couldn’t look at the feedback with the necessary objective and thoughtful eye. So, I put it down for two days. I acknowledged the participants’ feelings were valid (and they absolutely were), thanked them for the honesty, and talked to other staff about how we could address it a few days down the line.

Once I got a bit more recovered and more emotionally distant from the event, I was able to read through the feedback line by line to acknowledge the issues that were presented. Then, with a more objective eye, a few of us made a game plan for bettering our design for the game going forward. I think, because of this critical feedback, we are going to be a more welcoming community overall. As I said before, this is how we learn and grow. However, as an organizer, it’s important to take time and space from an event before you process the feedback — no matter how quickly or in what form that feedback is given.

Just like I recommended players step away from the computer before defending their game, I invite you to step away a few days before trying to ‘fix’ your game. Sometimes, things don’t need fixed. Not every game is for every player. But sometimes the feedback is important and designs can always be better. You can’t evaluate that objectively when you are still in the first 48 hours after a game; your body and hormones ALONE are still coming off of adrenaline space, much less how your brain is feeling. Steps I recommend to organizers processing critical feedback:

  1. Acknowledge the participant’s feelings and hear them out. Don’t let them feel like they are being ignored.
  2. Thank the participant for their feedback and explain (if you need it) that you are going to take a few days before actively processing, so you can be certain you are in the right headspace to give it the weight it deserves.
  3. Take as much time as you need to get yourself recovered and emotionally distant from the event.
  4. Pick apart the feedback, when you are ready, for every problem presented.
  5. Evaluate each problem, get feedback from others around you if needed, make a plan of action on the problems that need addressed.
  6. Rinse, repeat.

No game is perfect. You’ll be processing feedback until the day we all die if you’re doing it right. But, as players and organizers, the above ways are the best to keep ourselves and our communities healthy while still having the door open to hearing out participants who didn’t have the same great time we all did. And honestly, after this week, maybe we should all just take a weekend off the internet and go enjoy the spring? I have a feeling we could all use it…

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