Navigating Consent-Based Play

Temet Nosce is a consent-based larp where we strive for collaborative story built out of mutual trust. The design emphasizes the principle that players are more important than games: the emotional safety of players is more important than story, plot, or consequence. At all four prequel events, we will workshop consent mechanics which are used to pre-negotiate interpersonal conflicts, romantic interaction, and other intense scenes.

One question that we hear from larpers with a traditional U.S. boffer larp background about consent-based design is this: “How do you make someone fight with you?” The answer is: you don’t. You ask or negotiate it, and they can say no. Then you get to choose some other approach.

In traditional U.S. boffer larp, sometimes it feels like “staff versus player”; in many U.S. parlor larps, it can feel like “player versus player”. Staff is out to kill your character and you’re trying to survive the game world; even if that isn’t actually staff’s intent, it’s often player perception. Players are out to get their character to become more powerful, often at the expense of other characters – even if, again, that isn’t the design or intent. This competitive style of play can be exciting, satisfying, and enjoyable for many people. But this is not the design of Temet Nosce.

In consent-based larp design, staff and players are working together to maximize play and story. The focus is on the story, character development, character relationships, and the emotional experience. No one is killing your character without your permission. So what do you want to happen to your character, and how can you collaborate with others to achieve that? What experiences do you want to have, and how do you make that happen? If you didn’t get the experience you wanted or it wasn’t what you expected, how do you handle that?

Player-staff responsibility

Staff responsibilities in Temet Nosce involve providing workshops to facilitate character development and story negotiation, as well as to train players in safety and consent mechanics. Staff also facilitate debriefs after the event to process the game experience.  Beyond that, staff are there to mediate out-of-game disputes, hold players to the code of conduct, and provide non-player characters, props, setting material, and player character information.

Player responsibilities are being aware of their personal boundaries, needs, and wants to the best of their ability, and communicating these as needed in a clear, direct way. Players are expected to use and respect safety mechanics. in order to participate actively in the game, players have the responsibility to initiate story interactions with the game environment and other characters. In other words, players are as much responsible for their game experience as the staff are, if not more so.

Limits of consent-based play

Obviously no one can control everything that happens in the game environment. We cannot create a safe space, only a safer space. You can only allow or deny consent for what happens directly to your character – so you can choose for your character to survive the whole game, but another player might choose for their character to die halfway through, which might impact you or your character emotionally. Two characters might get into a heated argument in your presence when you didn’t want to be around an argument. These are limits to consent-based play.

What you do have power over is how you choose to engage. If two people are arguing, you can find an in-game reason to leave the room – or you can simply use “lookdown” to remove yourself from the room. If a character died and you aren’t up for engaging with that, you can choose for your character to not care much about it, or to avoid dealing with the death – even if what you think your character would be most likely to do is cry over the body.

Any person has multiple ways they can respond to a stimulus. Even as an immersionist player (some people know this as simulationism, but current larp theory describes it differently) who plays as close to your character’s essence as possible, there is more than one option for how your character would realistically respond. You can steer towards what is most interesting for you, for the story, and/or what is most enjoyable (or least stressful) for you as a player.

Making the most of your game

If you get to choose whether your character lives or dies, and the major things they succeed or fail at… then how do you make the most of your story?

  • Know what’s fun for you, and play towards it.
  • Know what you don’t enjoy, and steer away from that.
  • Play generously. Learn what other players want and look for opportunities to help them with that. Invite people into your story, and be interested in theirs, too.
  • “Play to lose”, or at least play to maximize story. Play for drama. Failing at things, struggling with goals, falling down before you reach the metaphorical finish line… all of this makes for way more interesting story and roleplay than succeeding easily at everything.
  • Ask yourself: What do I want from this scene or interaction? Ask that of others if you feel stuck, too. If you make a scene request, it’s also the first thing staff will ask you. You can say “surprise me”, or something vague like “emotional intensity”, or something specific like “I want to find out more about the creepy artifact”. You might not always get exactly what you want, but you’ll get closer to it than if you don’t ask at all.

Play the game you signed up for

The game is designed to evoke a certain mood, theme, and experience; this is spelled out in the event sign-up page and the design document. By playing the game, you are opting into those themes. Play the game you signed up for; help enrich the experience of everyone around you by staying in-genre and playing up the game’s themes with your character. Characters were written to evoke the game’s stated themes, and the events of the setting add to that.

If you want a cyberpunk revolution sort of adventure, play Operation: ReForge, the Etamui event in March. Don’t expect the horror/mystery game The Darkest Space (which you can register for now!), set in the Fanseeth system, to fit that desire.

In summary…

  • Players are more important than games.
  • Know your limits and don’t ignore them.
  • Communicate your needs, wants, and boundaries.
  • Absolute safety cannot be guaranteed, but we can collaborate to  create as safe an environment of trust and consent as possible.
  • Collaboration over competition.
  • Play generously.
  • Play the game you signed up for.
  • Embrace ambiguity and uncertainty.
  • Play to lose, or at least play for drama.
  • Players are more important than games.
Written by: Dani Higgins