You know the drill: saw something on Facebook, thought it was gold, asked permission, posted here. This is from Helly Bean of The Quota fame, now with Carcosa Dreams – who run Alba, Tenement 67, Forsaken, and Sisyphus.
They’ve got some general advice as to what to do during an event if you’re “feeling not engaged or would like your character experience to be more or less in one direction or another,” They call it: “calibrating your experience.”
This is more on that, and it’s very useful…
Simon noted above “Thing is, as an organiser, I know how hard it is as an organiser to hear that a player is struggling with your larp”
So to me, the crux of the communication issue is that. So many people drift off and don’t ever even speak to an organiser – and even when they do it isn’t always easy to give them a good or, even better, a helpful response. I think that, as organisers, we should work on hearing that a player is struggling and responding in a helpful way – in a positive way.
Responding in a positive way – positive for both player and organiser. I do not expect an organiser to plaster on a smile and thank a player for making them feel bad, what I mean is finding ways to approach negative experiences without making them hurt you, personally, emotionally – and allow you to see through clearly to possible solutions.
It’s not easy – even in places where the lines between professional and personal are a lot clearer (the workplace, for example) people still find it extremely hard to be given negative feedback on their work and to not take it personally, to blame themselves or others, to shut down, to assume there’s no fix.
I’m gonna say here that, for me personally, hearing negative feedback or that players aren’t having a good time isn’t hard for me, or at least – not that hard. I worked in failing schools for years – being told everything is shit became pretty standard. It still sucks, but I found ways to shortcut through the pain and get to moving forward. Action plans, improvement plans, next steps – all these kind of workplace mitigating-factors damage-limitation type exercises are probably things we can really use in this situation. Having a standard way to respond and perhaps a grab-bag of next-steps and action plans already figured out for negative feedback (during or after a larp) will probably cut down on the pain and lead to better, quicker outcomes.
I don’t have a useful ready pack of worksheets and policies for this, but I think it is good to have at least thought through this stuff and have some for your larp, preferably written down, and have some kind of team policy that includes “no-one should have to deal with a player having a negative experience alone”.
Dealing with negative feedback post-game
I have a pretty standard way of dealing with negative feedback post-game, it involves a spreadsheet with columns (either in my mind, or literally typed out) you work through it, preferably with others, the headings go:
“What is the actual complaint?”
Not a space to copy-paste the complaint, but a place to think about the actual complaint content, perhaps to try to articulate the complaint and to interpret the words of the player. For example, the player might say “This event was shit, I was wet and cold, I didn’t do anything and there was no plot.” what they might mean is “It rained” or at best what they mean is “It rained and there wasn’t enough to engage me as a player who didn’t or couldn’t just ignore the rain and cold.”
“What are the factors around this complaint?”
Here is a place to note stuff likely to have also affected the player and their complaint. Things like the weather, if their group/character had an IC negative outcome as well as an OC one, weather this player just always complains, weather this player was told, repeatedly, that this event wouldn’t be for them, but they insisted on booking anyway and then had a shit time.
“Is this complaint valid?”
The controversial one. I don’t strictly mean valid – I mean, is this complaint anything I could have improved upon at the time by having thought more about design stuff, or that I can fix going forward. I can improve workshops and rules, I can’t make it not rain or a fantasy game be gritty sci-fi. If a player literally always complains that they are underpowered while others are overpowered, I can’t fix that – that’s on them, and should be ignored.
The actually important bit. Note here what you’re going to do next, things about the game to re-design, improve, add, remove, change. Throw the rest of the table away – this is the only bit that matters.
Why do I use this system?
Because it helps to shortcut emotions – it gives me something specific to work through that has a positive outcome and steps for moving forward. Essentially, it stops me either crying or murdering someone – it gives me steps to take when I feel shitty and to walk me to a better place out the other side. It makes dealing with negative feedback not-as-hard.
I’ve often thought I ought to have a similar “worksheet” for players coming to me mid-game with problems – some kind of step by step guide to work them through it and hopefully re-engage them or improve and tweak their experience. Maybe we all should.
We tend to have at least thought about how to re-engage players in games for all our games – but it’s not always entirely codified and written down, so it’s not always as slick is it maybe could be.
Basically, I think my point is, maybe we should work towards a place where hearing that a player isn’t having fun doesn’t hurt us – it’s normal and we have a plan for that, and we can enact it for the player. It won’t be a silver bullet – we aren’t going to cure all negative experience, but it’d make the process more likely to succeed and be less painful for all.