(Featured photo by The New York Public Library on Unsplash.) As someone who is considered a community leader within larping circles, there’s been pressure to make a statement or take clear action against the current COVID-19 crisis that our country is facing. Communities all around the world are cancelling public gatherings because social distancing is vital to preventing this spread and flattening the curve to help mitigate the novel nature of this virus; by doing that, we let healthcare providers get ahead of the worst of the emergency to give the care they need to the most affected. Games are large social gatherings in tight knit quarters which are a hotbed for this thing spreading. We also have a large amount of immuno-compromised individuals for whom this is one of their only social outings. But, frankly, that has always been the case. The amount of con-plague or larp-plague I see on a routine basis is honestly concerning for the makeup of our community in general. We should have been more careful in the past, and we MUST be in the future. It shouldn’t have taken a novel outbreak for us to examine the fact that we all have some shitty personal care habits, but here we are.
We have a responsibility to do better. This responsibility is to the immune-compromised people in our communities, our high-risk family members when we go back home, and our own ability to carry on with the hobbies we love. I really hope when society gets through this, we can take the lessons and habits we developed and keep them going through the future. It’d be great to see the number of con-plague cases drop in future years instead of our community shrugging and going “Well, that’s a risk of attending a gaming gathering! Whoops, got sick again!”
I’m not a doctor, a pathologist, or any expert in this. I’m simply a woman who acts as a community leader and has been working as a project manager in my day job’s response to COVID-19. So, take everything I say with a grain of salt because I don’t have answers, but I’ve definitely got some better practices that we can all start doing now.
A Game Manager’s Responsibility
You aren’t going to have answers either. You cannot control your community; gamers are notoriously horrible for taking care of themselves, and this situation is changing faster than any of us can understand. I recommend you read the World Health Organization’s list of getting ready for COVID-19 preparations, especially part 2, and follow all their guidance. I’ve laid some of it out in larp terms below.
Put Out an Action Plan: Do your research and, if you are still holding your event, put out clear rules and an action plan to your community loudly. Then STRICTLY enforce it at your events. Sure, we’re all getting tired of being told to wash our hands, but say it again. Here’s some basic elements you can put in your action plan to start making things safer:
- Offer hand washing stations at your events if possible. Let players know where all accessible water, soap, and paper towel products are across your site.
- Implement social distancing rules. Make a firm statement that sick players should not attend your event and offer a proactive refund policy (where you can.)
- Stop running plots that put people in close contact with each other.
- Make it clear to your staff how they can help enforce healthy practices and encourage them to be firm on the ground about it.
- Stop running plots off hours and encourage your community to get a full night’s sleep, even if that means limiting your content.
- Run a cleaning shift BEFORE game as well as after, especially for any food preparation areas.
- Cease offering public food all together (during an outbreak) and put out notices that players must bring their own sealed food.
Cancel Your Event When Possible: This is the hard one. Most of us are not able to get refunds on sites, catering that was reserved, and many other already dumped expenses into events. Cancelling an event and giving refunds means financial ruin for a lot of larp companies who are operating on razor thin margin. For some runners, it might mean foregoing a rent payment or basic life necessities. Therefore, it means cancelling without giving refunds (or only minor, partial refunds, which is a whole lot of other work.) This isn’t something our community is great at accepting yet and might mean another level of financial ruin as people decide not to return to your event. It’s a high risk many of us are not comfortable with at the moment.
But, if you are financially able to do it, and you have a community that understands, canceling your event in the middle of an outbreak is the responsible thing to do. I don’t know how the larp community will handle this in a month, much less six months, but it’s a real possibility we need to look in the mirror and face right now.
Put your Refund Policy in Place: Even if you don’t cancel at this moment, putting a [no or limited] refunds policy in place to set player expectations NOW can help you in future situations. Players will be far more understanding about such problems when they have been told upfront what will happen to their money in a time of crisis.
Draft a “Someone May Have Been a Carrier” Letter: Before your event, make a basic draft of a letter that you can send out notifying your community that someone may have been a carrier at your event. If you draft it ahead of time, then you aren’t writing it from a place of hurt and fear after the event. Also, as you write it, consider if you are actually willing to put yourself and your community in a place of needing to send this letter. If you aren’t willing to send it, you need to seriously evaluate canceling your event. If you host a public gathering, it’s your responsibility to inform your audience if they have been put at risk. Be willing to accept that responsibility.
A Player’s Responsibility
So, you’ve decided to still go to your larp. That’s fine, but please take a moment to consider how bad the community is at collectively setting boundaries. Even if you aren’t sick now, there is a very real possibility there will be someone at the event who did not self-care, came while sick, and now has infected you. What are the things you can do to help be a better community member for all of us? Is it worth risking your health, or a loved one’s health, to go to a game?
Don’t Come If Sick or Exposed: End of story. If you are sniffling at all, your throat is tight, or your temperature is up, DO NOT COME TO THE EVENT. It sucks if you lost money or your social outlet. It sucks more if you get someone else sick or worsen your own sickness because gaming is a social and physical hobby. And if you were likely exposed to it, absolutely don’t come, even if you aren’t under ordered quarantine!
Monitor Your Temperature Pre-Event: This means proactively checking your temperature in the days to the event and if there is any upward trend, listen to your body. Take your temperature at the same point in every given day after the same level of activity. Here’s a good guide on checking if you have a fever and temperature checking practices.
Follow Your Event’s Action Plan: Hopefully your event has put out an action plan. If it hasn’t, go look some up on the internet for attending social gatherings during cold and flu season. Follow it to a T. Be ultra proactive about consistently washing hands. Keep all your holes clean (nose, mouth, mucus membranes, etc. KEEP YOUR HOLES CLEAN.) Physically distance yourself in most scenes possible. Don’t share food, drinking vessels, or handshakes. Double check yourself and remind other players. It’s better to be annoying than to let larp-plague spread.
Self-Care: The old rules of 6/3/1 (six hours sleep, three meals, one shower) are tired practices and the bare minimum to keep you going when we’re not in cold and flu season. Assume your body is already fighting something off. It doesn’t have to be COVID-19 for your immune system to be cranky about something, then it starts having to fight other things because you’ve shoved yourself in a social space and not slept enough. Eight hours sleep; three meals from your own, un-shared stash of food; consistent water from a clean drinking vessel; 1 shower and hourly handwashing sessions. Proactive self care is the name of the game. Give your body every chance of fighting the larp-plague off. If this means opting out of night time plot or those deep midnight conversations, opt out. You can do that again when cold and flu season isn’t assaulting our bodies.
Cover Your Face and Holes: Don’t go out and buy medical grade masks, they are in short supply for the healthcare staff that needs them already. But, if you have a risk of being a carrier (I’m looking at ALL of us from NYC who might be carrying without ever knowing it right now), put some sort of barrier between yourself and anyone you might deal with closely. Even a bandana over your nose and mouth in close contact scenes could help stop unknowing spread. If your holes suddenly need to expel something (sneezing or coughing because of a dusty plot site?), cover your holes into your own elbows, kerchief, etc, and get away from people ASAP. Wipe down any surface that droplets from your holes might have come in contact with. Every ounce of prevention will help.
If You Are Feeling Sick, Leave, and Communicate to Staff: So, you start feeling like crap mid-event? Tell a staff member (so they don’t have a missing persons situation worry) and get out of there ASAP. Once you are off site and away from people, monitor your own condition and keep the larp staff updated as much as possible. It sucks to have to give away personal health information, but if there is a chance you spread something, the quicker the community knows the better.
Understand and Support Cancellations: Your event being cancelled without getting any refund SUCKS. Money is tight for everyone. But, if your game staff decides to cancel, supporting the fact that they made the best decision for their community will help them run you great games in the future. Not demanding refunds and understanding that you lost money in an emergency situation means your game runners can keep providing services and companies won’t collapse to financial ruin. Most of us larp companies are operating on razor’s edge budgets, trying to keep tickets financially accessible as possible. If we can’t refund money in the event of true emergencies, having the support of our player base is essential to being able to continue doing the work in the future.
All of this is hard to read. I know we’re all a bit scared, annoyed, skeptical, and overwhelmed by the world right now. But we’re also all adults who love our hobbies and care about our community. Let’s get into these habits NOW so we’re prepared the next time flu seasons comes around. Maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll have dealt with my last round of larp-plague because we all learned some valuable lessons in hard times.