Toolkit: The “See No Evil” or Lookdown

Toolkit: The “See No Evil” or Lookdown

This is the third in a series of posts about the safety and calibration systems used in the New Orleans run of the larp End of the Line. The first was about the OK Check-in and the second about the Tap-Out. The discussion of the Lookdown continues in my next post.

The Lookdown is a bow-out mechanic – that is, a calibration mechanic that allows individual players to fluidly opt out of scenes that other participants are actively engaging in. At End of the Line we used it in two ways:

  1. as a visual cue that the player (rather than the character) was opting out of a situation. Let’s say I as a player walk into a room where sex acts are being simulated. It’s obviously not for real, but it looks real enough, and while everyone else is larping like mad, I perhaps realize that whatever my character feels at the sight (shock, dismay, excitement, inspiration) is not what I feel interested in playing on right now. Then I can use the Lookdown while leaving the room to signal, basically, that the other characters should not follow my character.
  2. as a parallel to the Tap-Out. In End of the Line the Lookdown was how you tapped out if you could not reach the person you were playing with, or if you were interacting with a number of players simultaneously and tapping out seemed impractical. It followed the exact same two step procedure as the Tap-Out, outlined below under “Basic Procedure”.

 

It is absolutely possible to use the Lookdown exclusively for meaning number one (which is what, for instance, New World Magischola did – with an interesting tweak, see further below).

The point of the first usage is to allow for a distinction between:

  • your character being upset and leaving, in which case interesting play is generated only if someone sees this and reacts to it (ideally coming to talk to your character about it, or to beat them up, or whatever fits) and
  • you the player choosing not to engage, in which case of course you do not wish to be interacted with about that.

To enable play on character upset, then, a hand sign to indicate the player is extracting herself from a situation makes perfect sense. This is the “classic” Lookdown, and if you use it in your larp, you will most often give the gesture this meaning only.

However, it is also possible to use the gesture in the way outlined under point 2 above – “parallel to Tap-Out”. The existence of the second usage, then of course also allows the potential third option of using Lookdown as the only gesture for “tap-out” (that is, using Lookdown without allowing the shoulder-tapping gesture). This makes sense in some settings, but not in End of the Line, where many intense situations, like neck-biting, would mean the participants can’t see each other. We needed some kind of tap-out mechanic to allow for continuous calibration within scenes, and decided to go with the ordinary Tap-Out for that.

We also had Lookdown in play in its first meaning, “I do not want to see/play on this”. Therefore, when we realized we also needed a “no-touch” Tap Out, we decided to activate that as an additional meaning for the Lookdown gesture, instead of introducing some additional hand sign. When designing any kind of rules system, especially rules or mechanics to be used in an agitated state, minimizing cognitive load is an important design parameter. Which is big words for “have as few mechanics as possible and make them really easy to remember and use”.

Basic Procedure

  1. lookdownTo perform the lookdown, you raise your hand clearly in front of your eyes like the See No Evil monkey. It makes sense to not actually shield your eyes, so you can see what’s happening in the room, which in practice means you’d keep your hand at brow level and kind of peek out under it (looking down, get it?) or have your hand slightly further away from your face and peek over it. I can’t believe I just used five lines to explain something that you figure out for yourself in a second.
    • If you then turn around and leave, you have used the Lookdown in its first meaning – to opt out of a scene, signalling to the people playing in the scene that they should not follow you, but also not stop – “keep playing, you guys, I’m cool over here”.
    • In the larps I’m involved with, usually this means both the player and the character leaves the situation. For this to work seamlessly, it has to be feasible for any character to walk away from any scene. You can read a little bit more about this in the previous post, which was about about tapping out.
    • If you remain in the situation – assuming of course that the larp is using the Lookdown as a parallel to the Tap-Out – the tap-out procedure is activated as follows.
  2. If someone gestures “Lookdown” and remains in the room, it is essentially a Tap-Out, and everyone stops what they’re doing. Most importantly, if you are holding someone, you release them, to allow them to leave the scene and the room if they want to.
    • If they need to go, they are allowed to go, no questions asked.
    • If they stay, it means they’d like to continue the scene, but with just a little less of whatever was going on. Less screaming, less sexuality, less restriction of movement… Everyone dials it down a bit, and play continues, no OOC language required. (Unless it is required, in which case you speak, but see below)
      • Please remember – no matter whether the player stays or goes, DON’T ASK WHY, DON’T SAY WHY. Not talking about why has a double function. It avoids the creation of a hierarchy of differently valid reasons for self-care. It also creates social protection for people who tap out for very private reasons that they may not want to share.
      • If your mechanics allow for playstyle negotiations, like those of End of the Line did, the player who has looked down (or effectively, tapped out) may offer suggestions on playstyle as long as they don’t say why they have that preference. For instance, “can we continue but without you blocking me in physically? The screaming is fine, you can scream more if you’d like”. It is equally possible to use the Lookdown without allowing this option. As always, it depends on your overall safety design.

 

Credits, Background & Variants
End of the Line (c) Participation Design Agency and White Wolf. Picture by Bjarke Pedersen
End of the Line (c) Participation Design Agency and White Wolf. Picture by Bjarke Pedersen

The “See No Evil” or “Lookdown” is a calibration technique invented this spring in a bar in Oslo, Norway, during a conversation between myself and a bunch of people, in particular Trine Lise Lindahl who suggested the gesture.  A few weeks later in Austin, Texas, I mentioned the technique in my talk at Living Games, from whence it immediately got picked up for some games, including most importantly New World Magischola, where it was also named the Lookdown. NWM’s beatifully integrated safety and calibration systems were by Maury Brown, Sarah Lynne Bowman and Harrison Greene, and have been documented here.

An interesting variant emerged at NWM, where the Lookdown gesture was used, for instance, if a character was late for class, but the player did not want play on their tardiness. (The gesture then doubled as both an “I as a player actually don’t want to see this” and an “I as a player actually don’t want to be seen”). This can make a bunch of sense for all kinds of reasons; maybe the player is late for some medical or other self-care reason and has no energy to get their characters’ head chewed off for something that has nothing to do with the fiction. That said, NWM is a collaborative style larp with a sandbox style and “play for what’s interesting” aesthetic. Just like at End of the Line, getting your character in trouble was explicitly given as advice for a fun experience.

I willingly admit that this “please don’t see me” usage rubs me personally the wrong way, because from the perspective of my larp tradition, why would you ever want to opt out of an opportunity for an interesting scene? Similarly I know many American larpers who worry that more competitive games will break if players have an opportunity of opting out of in-game consequences. (In my original post on this topic, you can read about how a fix to an almost identical mechanic is deployed to counter this worry at Texan Planetfall).

Obviously, when I stop to think for one second, I can think of quite a lot of reasons why being able to slip back into a scene unquestioned is as important as being allowed to slip out as needed. And of course, as I’ve said many times before, what reasons you as a play collective allow for pausing play or opting out of scenes is up to you – but you will usually need a way for players to step out without breaking the larp entirely, for medical and babysitter emergencies if nothing else. Right up there with those practical hard limits in importance is the understanding that players are more important than larps. If a player, for whatever reason, is so agitated they feel they must stop playing, they are per definition not in a state where they are able to play. Which means you need some tool for handling this (as well as a reasonable focus on preventing it).

As always though, these tools are deployed in systems. This means that if New World Magischola was played with exclusively Nordic players, they would have an implicit cultural norm establishing that when I the player am late for in-game class, I will invent some reason for my character to be late also, and then we’d embrace whatever interesting plot that threw our way.

Of course this only works if I trust the players of the classmates and teachers also are playing for what is interesting. If they’re on some kind of power trip about humiliating people and blocking them from plot & play for kicks, then I would not be willing to take that risk. (I’m sure the NWM playstyle isn’t actually like that, but I suspect many players with bad experiences from competitive larps did not fully trust that good and fun play would always emerge from getting your character in trouble).

As always, then, safety and calibration designs have to be understood in the wider context of game mechanics, fictional culture norms, play culture norms, and community design. In the next part of this series, I consider the deployment of the Lookdown in different kinds of systems.

If you like what you’re reading, please consider supporting this blog on Patreon. It is the help of readers like you that make this work possible! The pictures in the post are from the New Orleans run of End of the Line. If you are interested in playing this larp, or in hanging out with other people who are into creating cool stuff in the World of Darkness, your fan fest is coming – sign up to the mailing list on  www.worldofdarkness.berlin

Toolkit: The Tap-Out

Toolkit: The Tap-Out

This is the second in a series of posts about the safety and calibration systems used in the New Orleans run of the larp End of the Line. Today’s mechanic is so obvious that I would assume it’s been “invented” independently in a bunch of larp communities, although I’m relatively certain I hadn’t come across it before I introduced it in my calibration design for Inside Hamlet. I’d be happy to hear about other larps and traditions where you’ve used it, or other variants of it, whether for this exact purpose or something different! (I’m not entirely sure where I picked the concept up myself, but I would assume it was from pro wrestling).

The tap-out is a mechanic for players to communicate to each other about their limits.

Basic Procedure
  1. To perform a tap-out, you tap your co-player’s arm or another convenient part of their body twice, and repeat this action as many times and as hard as you need to get their attention. (Typically, once and quite softly is enough).
  2. Everyone stops what they’re doing. If you are holding someone, you release them; if you are screaming, you take a break from screaming; if you are blocking someone’s path, you make sure they are free to go, and so on. Please note that not all situations have an “active” or a “passive” party, and even when they do, the active party is as free to tap out as the passive party.
  3. In this tiny break, the person who tapped out can choose to either stay or go.
    1. If they need to go, they are allowed to go, no questions asked. In the larps I’m involved with, usually this means both the player and the character leaves the situation. (See farther below for some examples of how this works). Depending on your larp, you might want to add some player care here, but be cautious. Since the problem is created by the specific situation, it is much better to have a staffed space, like an off game room, where the player can retreat, instead of forcing them to interact more with those specific players at that specific moment.
    2. If they stay, it means they’d like to continue the scene, but with just a little less of whatever was going on. Less screaming, less sexuality, less restriction of movement… Everyone dials it down a bit, and play continues, no OOC language required. (Unless it is required, in which case you speak, but see below).
  4. When someone taps out, you do not ask them why, and they should not tell you why. This is to protect both of you and all the other players. Maybe they tapped out because you have terrible breath – do you really want to have a conversation about that right then? Maybe they tapped out because the dialogue suddenly reminded them about a horribly dysfunctional or traumatic situation in their past. Maybe they tapped out because it’s the middle of the night and they already went to bed once and now they’re not wearing a bra and feel weird about it – it’s none of your business. And it’s not about you.
    1. Not talking about why has a double function. It avoids the creation of a hierarchy of differently valid reasons for self-care. It also creates protection for people who tap out for very private reasons. To put it bluntly: if you’re only allowed to tap out because of rape trauma, no one will tap out, because they may not want to share that experience. So you need to be able to tap out at any time when something in the situation is making role-playing too difficult, or even impossible.
    2. HOWEVER – the player who taps out may offer suggestions on playstyle as long as they don’t say why they have that preference. For instance, “can we continue but without you blocking me in physically? The screaming is fine, you can scream more if you’d like”.

 

Additional Rules & Requirements
Picture from End of the Line (c) Participation Design Agency AB and White Wolf. Photo by Bjarke Pedersen
“Naturalistic-looking simulations of violence and intimacy”. (c) Participation Design Agency AB and White Wolf. Photo by Bjarke Pedersen

That’s the basic procedure. There are some additional rules and requirements needed for this to work.

  1. It is almost always necessary to combine the tap-out with other mechanics. A baseline tool that all larps should have in my opinion is a word that signals “I need to say something out of character”. This word in my play culture is “off game” (please remember that new larpers need to be taught this). In my play culture we usually have a pretty absolute embargo on talking about your character off game in the play area during run-time, but we still need the word, to be able to for instance communicate real-world emergencies. It also operates as a good backup for tapout in the dark, or if a player panics and can’t remember what to do.
  2. If you can’t reach your co-player, or if it’s a multi-player situation, you can tap yourself twice on the chest instead. This still requires a line of sight though and may not work at all larps, for instance if it’s dark or many people interact in confused situations. In a game like that, you need at the very least a safe word (which can be “off game”). At our New Orleans run of End of the Line, we used the Lookdown technique as a parallel to tap-out for when you’re not in reach. It also adds some other features, which I will cover in my next blog post.
  3. For tap-out to work, all players must have at least one hand free at all times. This should be in your rules. It is also not good safety design to actually tie people up – you can pretend tie them up.
  4. Remember not all players have the same number of hands or the same mobility, so tap-out may not be an appropriate mechanic for all larps. If only a small number of players are unable to use it, however, you can offer the a verbal cue as a parallel method – for instance “Off game – TAP OUT”. Remember to workshop (=practice) this with all the players. You don’t need to be all ableist about it, if the game area becomes dark or confused, it’s a useful backup for everyone to have mastered.
  5. You can’t tap out of something that has already happened. If tapping out is at the core of your safety design, it must be combined with some level of “no surprises” culture. Not jumping people, not grabbing them from behind… What it works really well with is slow escalation and telegraphing your intent clearly. This is sometimes called bullet-time consent. Basically, you play certain types of actions – like violent or sensual – in slow motion, allowing the other player to make active choices about how to position themselves, how to react, and whether to tap out.

If your players are comfortable with this type of play, they may not even need a verbal negotiation system on top of it. (As long as you have a word like “off game” to be able to sort out confusion if it occurs). In Inside Hamlet, bullet-time consent was pretty much it. At End of the Line in New Orleans, where most players were new both to naturalistic-looking simulations of violence and intimacy, and to consent mechanics in general, we combined tap-out with a VERY detailed verbal consent negotiation mechanic. It worked beautifully!

 

Player Experiences and Character Outcomes
Picture from End of the Line (c) Participation Design Agency AB and White Wolf. Photo by Bjarke Pedersen
(c) Participation Design Agency AB and White Wolf. Photo by Bjarke Pedersen

Please note this technique is about the player’s limits – it does not determine what happens inside the fiction. In the Nordic tradition, where we often put a premium on minimising out of character action in the play area during run time, and our larps do not always have plots in the traditional sense, the elegant solution is to align the rules of the fiction with the OOC mechanics.

For Inside Hamlet, for instance, we decided that in this court larp, where alienation and boredom were important themes, there is an in-fiction culture where it is always OK to tire of a situation and leave. Even if Claudius himself is speaking to you, you can just walk off. If you tap out and walk off, you co-players will make some sense of it and move on. Maybe your character is so defeated by the situation they can’t even handle it, and just drift off. Maybe your character is so fashionable they get bored mid-sentence talking to ordinary mortals and just leave. That’s just the way people behave at Elsinore. In a fantasy larp, maybe you can always go to the holy grove. In a scifi larp, maybe there is something wrong with teleporters. Maybe all the characters are on a lot of pretend drugs and find it difficult to concentrate from one second to the next, allowing their prey to run off.

There are obviously many larps where a plot train that has started can never stop. With tap-out as with many other calibration mechanics you’ll need to combine it with some rules for what to do if one player wants out and the scene still needs a conclusion. The simplest fix for this is a procedure whereby the well-being of both players is first attended to, and then the outcome of the scene is verbally agreed upon.

Picture from the larp End of the Line (c) Participation Design Agency AB and White Wolf. Picture by Bjarke Pedersen
(c) Participation Design Agency AB and White Wolf. Photo by Bjarke Pedersen

In a collaborative style larp, players would typically just negotiate that themselves; in many other larps it would make sense to summon a GM or storyteller at that moment. If the stakes are high (for instance, if the plot of many other players would be affected by how this robbery or seduction or negotiation concludes) a very simple story outcome resolution mechanic could be introduced into the larp. If you already have an abstract conflict resolution mechanic, there is no reason for the tap-out to overrule that. Who ever has the most points or rolls the die right wins the conflict; we’re just not going to play it out. Most of the time, this will work just fine.

I’m not going to state any hard and fast rules here. It’s not because I don’t have suggestions, I do, but you need to consider the specifics of your larp and your players. I can think of a thousand hypothetical scenarios for different types of larps and the answer for what a good system is would be different in each, and this is already getting quite long! (I’m happy to discuss specific situations with you, however! Ping me in the comments).

Fundamentally though? Well.

If your larp is physically intense, engages with potentially triggering topics, or involves realistically simulated aggression with players who are utter strangers, I might tap out because the other player just makes me feel unsafe (whether that’s in anyway connected to a real threat or not). In that situation I might want nothing to do with them, and be unwilling to stick around to resolve a conflict. But you know what? Players are more important than larps. If I’m too freaked out to engage, my well-being is objectively more important than my co-player’s story outcome. If I, having tapped out, go to the organisers for help at that time, a satisfactory solution can usually be found. And if I don’t trust the organisers enough to turn to them in a moment of crisis, then they might not deserve to finish that larp coherently anyway.

Most importantly: if you judge that your players are unwilling to try to negotiate fairly, or if you foresee a great number of situations where players are too afraid of each other to have a conversation out of character, there is no calibration system in the world that will make your larp safe. In that situation, your attention should be first directed towards designing the player culture – a topic I will return to many times on this blog!

 

Safety or Playstyle Calibration?
(c) Participation Design Agency AB and White Wolf. Photo by Bjarke Pedersen
(c) Participation Design Agency AB and White Wolf. Photo by Bjarke Pedersen

The tap-out is a safety mechanic, in the indirect sense of empowering participants to exercise self care and monitor their enjoyment and limits before they become too tired or overwhelmed to be attentive to their surroundings and co-players. It is also a safety mechanic in a rare, trivial but useful sense: at the Helsinki run of End of the Line, for instance, the dancefloor was very crowded and one player reported using tap-out when other players were dancing so intently they didn’t notice they were treading on her feet.

Fundamentally the tap-out is a calibration mechanic: it’s a tool for active player-to-player communication about playstyle intensity in a specific situation. It can fruitfully be combined with playstyle negotiation techniques of different kinds, but even there its purpose is to sort of say, “OK, that thing we agreed upon [whether explicitly or implicitly], having now experienced it so far, I now know this is where I do not wish to explore that further.” Or “Huh, I see that those words meant something different to you than to me, here’s my limit“. Or “Hey, I got really into this scene, and I think you did too, and I just realised I’m not going to be cool with it tomorrow if we continue so we better stop.” All of these are good reasons to calibrate play and really difficult to verbalise in an agitated state. That is why the tap-out is convenient and, dare I say it, elegant.

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider supporting this blog on Patreon. It is the help of readers like you that make this work possible! The pictures in the post are from the New Orleans run of End of the Line. If you are interested in playing this larp, or in hanging out with other people who are into creating cool stuff in the World of Darkness, your fan fest is coming – sign up to the mailing list on  www.worldofdarkness.berlin.

Toolkit: Let’s Name This Baby! (Bow-Out Mechanics)

Toolkit: Let’s Name This Baby! (Bow-Out Mechanics)

I’m going to start off the toolkit series of posts with a really a-typical one, because today I’m writing about a tool that’s so new it doesn’t even have a name. And as is usually the case, talking about this online I was immediately told of an older, successfully play-tested example of almost exactly the same thing! So now we have a category of things. Yea!

Bow-out mechanic: a method used to opt out from a scene without pausing the game, while signalling to the other players that this is the case. Ideally combined with a fiction design where the absence of the character can pass unremarked or always has a natural explanation. (Especially in the latter case, a bow-out mechanic is technically a metatechnique).

Opt In/Opt Out Elements

In Opt In/Opt Out systems, it is common to use methods of active invitation (such as escalation mechanics, warnings about actions, literal gates, quests or other signals that a different experience is about to begin, should you choose to engage with it). Even more common are methods for actively opting out, usually enabling the player to leave situations that have already started – giving the player or the character (or both) ways to pause and/or physically leave a scene they are not comfortable continuing for any reason. A simple example of this is the “cut” rule, where an agreed-upon safe word such as “cut” is used  to pause the run-time to check in with players and allow them to leave.

In addition, there are calibration tools, designed for players to check in with each other during play and to align play styles. The simplest of these involve pausing play very briefly for an out-of-character negotiation; others include physical gestures to calibrate play intensity.

This is very important: just a method for pausing play is in itself useless. The participants must also have a culture of being able and willing to use it. When you’re stress checking your system, you should start by thinking about

  • physical ability – a hand gesture is useless if your hands are tied; also remember not all participants necessarily have the same amount of hands.
  • recollection – will players remember the exit rules in a stressful situation? They need practice!
  • social cost/benefit – is it possible to use these tools without loss of face as a player? How do you ensure this?
  • coherence of fiction – is it possible for the character to leave a situation without the fiction or the entire game breaking down?

I’ll write about the social aspects many times in the future, but for now let’s just observe that the last two are intimately connected. If I realise, or wrongly believe, that excusing myself would stop or negatively affect the play experience of all my friends, I am much less likely to slip out of a situation that is no good for me as a player.

Also, one of the ways we have hacked the social aspect of opting out is that most cut rules stipulate that the other players are never allowed to question, or ask for, the reason for the cut. I might cut because I’m realising I have urgent diarrhoea, or because the story is veering close to personally traumatic territory I’d rather not tell you about, or because I don’t trust a player who just joined the group. Or even because I’m terribly, terribly, terribly bored. None of these reasons are anybody else’s business. And not asking questions is a great social hack. (You’re allowed, even encouraged to, check in – but ask “are you ok, what can I do?”, not “are you ok, why did you cut?” – your co-player will volunteer whatever she wants).

 

When Your Character Can’t Opt Out

Sometimes, in some games, it would be useful to have a little more information about this moment. This is especially pertinent to games where the opt-out system is designed for minimal intrusiveness. For instance, you can build into the fiction that every character always has the right and a valid reason to leave any situation, even if a king is speaking to them. But then, how do I as the player of the king know whether that character is going to pray in the grove or feeling that my aggressive play style was a bit too much? How do I as a player signal that my character isn’t necessarily disinterested or overwhelmed or disgusted, and that nothing much should be read into my leaving?

I mean, there are games where many themes or content types are give or take. Let’s say we’re playing a post-apocalyptic story, and torture has not been outright banned as a theme, and it emerges naturally during play. Maybe I don’t think that’s cool, and that leaves me with two choices as a player: either pausing play and suggesting to my group that we play the scene another way, and/or opting out of the scene either as a player, or as as both player and character. (The calibration rules might also allow for negotiating a different simulation level, for instance agreeing that the content is still there, but that we won’t act it out, and instead talk about what happens in the scene and what it means to the characters involved).

But sometimes you can’t opt out of a theme. A few weeks ago in a bar in Oslo, some friends and I were talking about this (because of course we’d talk about larp safety in bars duh). Our example was Brudpris (Bridal Price), a larp by very talented designers Anna-Karin Linder Krauklis and Carolina Dahlberg that I should immediately admit I haven’t played, and neither of its designers were present in the conversation. But people say the game is good! You should read the design notes on nordiclarp.org and check out the web page for this year’s runs, which are sold out.

If you play Brudpris, which is about honour culture in a fictional Nordic 19th century village setting, patriarchal structures, practices and oppression are woven into every element of the game’s design. That’s the point of that larp. And you’re there specifically to experience it, but maybe there are still specific situations where you want to excuse yourself as a player. Now, if you play female, this is actually very difficult to do in a subtle way, because you are so bound by the male characters’ authority.

FullSizeRender(2)We were talking about how to design opportunities to leave into in-game cultures. I had suggested a while earlier that a physical gesture, like hanging your head very demonstratively and walking away, could be useful as a meta-level “I have seen enough at this time” signal, combined with an in-game “I am weary and must go contemplate whatever” signal. You would stay within the aesthetics of the fiction, and maybe even in character, but signal to other players that the thing you were walking away from was not playable for you at this time.

My friend Trine Lise Lindahl, a kick-ass game designer whose work you should check out (who has also produced a run of Brudpris), said that wouldn’t work at all at Brudpris, because all women hang their head in that culture all the time. She suggested a gesture where you put your hand in front of your eyes. While walking away. Not covering your eyes, just in the air in from of your eyes like a shield, but so you can still see your feet. It’s a gesture that looks pretty natural, especially in a stylised environment, but that no one would actually do day-to-day.

 

Tested Variants & Physical Nitty-Gritty
MWebb
Matthew of Planetfall

Matthew Webb tells me on Facebook his Planetfall larp has this exact mechanic with another gesture. They use, he says, “putting your head down with your hand against the back of the head – mainly because this is a simple gesture that will almost never been done normally.” The source is “an old CIA manual which suggested touching the back of your head seem innocuous but is useful as a signal because it’s extremely rare that anyone does this normally.”

I love this because it’s a much smarter variant of the gesture I originally suggested, which is probably a clue that hanging your head relates to a level of body language that is, some say, universal. (This might be West-centric, but if I recall anything of my cognitive semiotics studies, a bunch of these symbols relating to posture are fundamentally human. I might be wrong, let me know).

Hanging the head connects with submission, exhaustion or being overwhelmed. Adding a hand on the back of head suggests a burden or a controlling authority, which is apropos, and also makes it very intentional, which of course is a million time better than my idiotic suggestion of trying to hang your head “in an intentional-looking way”. So this is a great bow-out gesture!

The hand-in-front-of the eyes might be preferable in settings were a lot of head-hanging is happening anyway. Also, the association between head-hanging and defeat may create an unwanted vibe that opting out would somehow equal “losing”. Then the “I’ve Seen Enough” gesture described in the previous section might feel more empowering.

Although I have to say, just trying it around my office in imagined larp situations, I tend to hang my head behind the hand anyway. If nothing else to be able to see my feet. Lowering the hand half a centimeter so I could actually make eye contact with someone over it made it feel more active. (Also, it is possible to use the Planetfall variant in more submissive styles or in a more authoritarian fashion. You should try and see which you like better and test on people to see how they read!)

Anyway, if this tool works in Planetfall, there is no reason to assume it won’t work in other places, given the above caveats about its place in the wider game and interaction mechanics.

EDIT: NORDIC BIAS ALERT!!!!!!!!!!

It turns out I had completely overlooked an important aspect of bow-out mechanics because I play mostly collaborative, “Play-to-Lose” type games. Thankfully, Matthew Webb spotted my blindness! Here is some additional wise advise from him:

In the context of a campaign game, especially from the American “simulationist” tradition which we come from, players might be tempted to abuse bowing out to avoid consequences for their character for violating in-game rules or undermining in-game forces. For example, a thief’s player might try to avoid being confronted and punished for their theft. There is nothing wrong with this competitive tradition, but it means we have to add an important caveat to our bow-out rule to keep a sense of fair play that many Americans feel is important. If another player feels that a player is using the bow-out rule to avoid consequences for their actions, we explicitly state that this is to be brought before the game staff and that other players should not confront each other directly about it. If necessary, a narrated but not acted out resolution of the scene will be put in place for continuity purposes.

 

Bow-Out Mechanics
sarahbowout
Bowing out at Planetfall. Pic, appropriately, by Sarah Lynne Bowman

A bow-out mechanic, then, is an opt-out tool and a calibration tool. It’s opt-out because you leave – but it’s different from for instance cutting tools, since it is primarily a gauge of your comfort level and has the purpose of signalling that specifically rather than directing the play of the collective.

It’s also different from “brake” /“yellow light” rules (which are typically deployed before a situation has escalated out of your comfort zone). I suppose you could use a raised hand in front of the eyes combined with staying in a situation to signal “brake”, rather like the “tap-out” gesture is deployed in some larps to create a small pause in play where participants can then either stay or leave.

So, let’s say you’re at Brudpris and your character’s sister is being beaten or berated by her father (I don’t know if this specific scene makes sense in context of that larp). They’re larping up a storm of violent judgement and bitter, barely-held-back tears, and you have no reason to believe either of them is unhappy with the scene. You, however, are feeling terrible. Your character might have all kinds of reasons to stay, but you really need to opt out. In a situation like that, you’d raise the hand in front of your eyes, make sure if at all possible that the other players see you do this (so there won’t be consequences for your character afterwards), and leave.

Now, in Brudpris specifically I’m sure you could just have used whatever opt-out mechanic was in play, even though that might have involved interrupting someone else’s play. A good rule of thumb, of course, is to always interrupt if you’re at all in doubt about the participants’ safety, but it seems it is even harder to interrupt on someone else’s behalf than our own, and probably the hardest is to interrupt someone else just on your own behalf!

And indeed, in most larps, you won’t ever need a bow-out mechanic, because the existing rules sets will cover the relevant needs. If your game design involves people pausing play all the time to do stuff like negotiate stats, it’s less of a big deal socially to blurt out “red light for me guys”, and have a small chat or just walk off. But if your game primarily uses game mechanics that are not intrusive,  and the overall play culture prizes fluidity of play and minimal pausing very highly, a bow-out mechanic can come in very handy!

If it is implemented as part of the wider system of the larp your co-players should understand that using it is not a criticism of their play or content choices – that it really is about you, not them. At the same time being on the receiving end of a bow-out mechanic provides useful information. If a lot of players are repeatedly opting out from play with my group, it’s a clue my group might be out of sync with the play style of the wider collective, and might want to limit extreme content to private environments, and escalate very slowly when interacting with players from other groups in the fiction.

 

What Should We Call It & Do You Know More?

Matt Webb used the word bow-out for their gesture, and I love it and adopted it immediately as a category name in my mind. I like it because it’s a little theatrical – you take a bow at the end of your scene and leave, symbolically giving thanks for the play and accepting the invisible applause for your participation, but the performance can still continue. At the same time, of course bowing out is also just a phrase for having had enough of a specific thing.

The gesture with the hands in front of the eyes has no name at this time. What should we call it? I’ve referred to it above as the “I Have Seen Enough”, but maybe something less dramatic and less suggestive of “and now I shall swoon” would be more practical!

Also, I’m sure there are a zillion more bow-out mechanics out there that I either don’t know about, or have not thought about as such. I suppose the tap-out is a kind of bow out from a one-on-one interaction. Do you know of more? Do you think this is a useful category to think in at all?

 

Signups for this years’ Brudpris runs has closed, but keep an eye on nordiclarp.org for new productions. The top image,  by Simon Svensson, portrays the women on Mo apologising for their behaviour the previous night. You should also check out Planetfall, which is hard scifi with actual tech. Upcoming events in Texas!