This is not an easy thing for me to write and it is very long. If you want actual engagement about everything regarding right now with LARP, you are going to have to read a very long document. If you want to pull pieces without reading the full content, or make commentary without giving it consideration, I am not going to give any of myself to you in response. I don’t have much of me left right now, and if you do not want to listen, then I will not speak.
To some of you I am the person who creates cool things that gives you a place to have a community away from the world. To some of you I am a strange concept of “authority” that is either loved or hated based in our hobby. To some of you it would seem I am the anti-christ.
About 10 years ago I created the world of Dystopia Rising because there was something I saw in LARP culture that I hated. I hated the fact that a player’s social status was based on their character. I hated the fact that most females were treated as “ghoul-friends” or “healer girlfriends”. I disliked fantasy as a core concept of play, and I wanted to build something that was different culturally and as a game.
And over the past 10 years we have been able to initiate many changes that not only effect our game but also LARP as a hobby. The removal of sexual assault as casual content, the streamlining of mechanics, and opening the door to work with the international LARP community have all been huge steps forward. Increasing transparency in LARP event design, using new techniques for checking in and tending to the care of the player, and focusing on community over game design have also been groundbreaking steps we pushed forward in American LARP.
As the years went forward we were asked to address larger and more complex issues that even politicians and religious leaders don’t handle well. Pushing the limits of “what is game culture” we did our best to work with LGTBQ and groups that are often unjustly marginalized socially in the world to push for safer spaces and finding a place of respect for all gamers.
And with our successes and losses, with our growth and development as a larger and larger network, our efforts became more and more removed from directly influencing and doing the thing we love. After the first five years of running the network live my friends and loved ones saw the weight of being the point of contact have a serious effect on me. When one in three hundred people treat you viciously and cruelly, and that ratio turns from three hundred to six thousand, it reaches a point where you give more and more of yourself up to the job. I had a number of failed relationships, lost friendships, and lost opportunities that were without a doubt directly related to the parts of my soul that I had given up.
Around that time, I also had one of the worst scares of my life. I had a false positive for a terminal illness diagnosed, and for a handful of months I was functioning under the idea that I had a year left to live. In retrospect, I did one of the most telling things ever. I had, what I thought, was maybe a year left to live and instead of taking that time to live and experience and travel or do whatever else a dying person is supposed to do with their last days… I pushed myself to write 2.0. I didn’t want to die knowing that I didn’t leave a legacy and template to make things better for my family. That was how much of yourself you have to give to do what we did. We gave up ourselves because we loved what we did. Also, as an unrelated aside, that is the reason why there are so many small errors in 2.0. There is no deadline in the world like the one where you think you may actually end up dead.
As time moved forward the negativity related to the job did not go down. Ashley took over being the leader instead of my partner and “threw me in my writer cave” so that I could create instead of dealing with all of the aspects of the job that were making me hate what I was doing. After a couple of years Ashley too started becoming overloaded with the toxicity, the demand, and the weight of handing the network as well as handling business decisions.
And the scope and scale of the shit we dealt with wasn’t some “so-and-so cheated at make believe” stuff. We were dealing with issues that involve lawyers to protect our IP, trying to help people who were in distress between members of the DR community for events not happening at DR, and dealing with being the mouthpiece and visual go-to for explaining that our hobby was not everything wrong in the world.
And it just wasn’t the exterior aspects that were big deals. We were dealing with the LARP culture attempting to claw itself apart and cannibalize each other with the interests of individual people driving horrible actions. Lawsuits between Directors and now former Directors. Spite/anger games being launched trying to push down other games to make their own look good. TV shows attempting to make a farce of what we did and who we were. Major magazine and news “reporters” digging to find the “this is what is wrong with this hobby you never heard about” stories that don’t exist. We have spent as much time in court rooms, working with accountants and lawyers, and forging forward in the uncharted areas of LARP business taking hits and dealing with stress as we went.
And as the external aspects grew, a voice started to grow saying “It’s a business. We are customers.” That voice became a really big issue. As the people who made everything that is DR, that write the books, that do all of this frustrating and ulcer creating and unappreciated (and often unseen) labors yes, it is a job. We run a business where we franchise our materials to smaller businesses so that they can do in other areas what we did in the north east. They pay us to use the books, to have us share thousands of pages of documentation, to get access to training, to get the tools that they need to build their local business and community. The local chapters sign contracts to have access to privileged and proprietary information that include unpublished (and with that partially unprotected) book content, they get a wide array of resources that are not only important for the running of a game but also give them direction and knowledge that if it were put public could negatively affect our entire business.
The items that Directors get wind of early includes when we are looking to release novels, deals we had with TV companies, business decisions that influence us greatly, and items that when we were younger and looser with our information, without a doubt bit us in the ass.
But the community as a whole doesn’t really see that. They see the fact that we focus on building community and culture and assign the concept of their “Dystopia Rising Experience” to a large and vague bubble instead of all the smaller companies that run it. They see “national” as a team of people that come in and kick down doors and watch over things with a magnify glass. They see us as the big brother that engages an area and over-rules their loved local Directors.
And I don’t blame the Directors for not changing this perspective, because no one likes being the bad guy.
But when the three of us actively get involved in a direct situation it is because one or multiple of the following have happened: A) the Directors asked us to help address something that they feel they are incapable of handling, B) there is a situation that directly effects the business and operation of the network as a whole, C) we have gotten enough feedback that there is an issue on national level, or D) there is something large enough to effect the greater community on a high percentage scale.
Every time there is a “rules update handed down from national” what is actually happened is multiple Directors disagree about how a rule works, they ask what the initial intent was, and then the Directors let their games know.
With all of this as the background, let’s get to the part that is the conversation of the day. Understand that as I talk about this, that I am going to purposely remove the emotional ties and connections to the conversations involved because of how vehement people have gotten.
A Director shared screen shots of materials in the franchise and NDA restricted area with a player.
The player approached one of the national team members and said, “A Director gave me screen shots from the Directors area, and I don’t like what you wrote in it.”
The player then talked for a period of time with Jeff.
That Directors area included (and since have been pulled) links to download the chapter specific DR operations materials, content such as local game stats for threats, yearlong meta plots, details about Downfall, posts from Directors asking for assistance and feedback on issues ranging from rules calls to how to assist sexual assault victims who have confided with them at game, to a wide arrange of business decisions.
The scope, scale, and content of the screenshots and access have never been turned over so there is no current confirmation of how much access this player was given (in theory by a Director).
The player refused to say how they got the information. At first it was stated that a Director sent a screen shot. Later the player said that someone they knew found a way to have access to the boards and send a screenshot. It was then said again that it was a Director. Please note that this was later rescinded, but without a doubt is the reason for the next step since it was rescinded after the letter was sent.
The letter sent to the player, after attempting for twelve hours to find out how much information was leaked and how, was that the player would not be welcome at Dystopia Rising events for a indefinite (meaning un-known or uncertain) volume of time unless we could settle where he got access to said information, and how much information was attained. This had to be worded by our lawyer because a if this this information actually came from someone breaking into the systems this then could potentially fall into the realm of computer crimes and would require a very measured and specific email due to potential legal involvement.
To the time where this is being written, the player is still not banned. He was given a choice as to either give the details of the information and how the information was received or not be welcome at the events. (Post note- This was written before we had a chance to talk with the player in question and was posted after decisions were made. Since then the ban was dropped because there was noone entering the restricted areas and we found that the player did not ask for these details).
Now that this part is out there, now is where the first part and the second part come together.
Since this has all gone public, here are a small fraction of the comments and quotes from those close to the player.
“I own pigs and land. So does my neighbor”
“Ill burn the game to the ground.”
“Bunch of assclowns running the game..."
“Good job, corporate asshats!”
“This motherfucker better hope I don't run into him.”
“Lets just fucking riot and kick the shit out of them.”
And let’s make it clear right now, none of this actually came from the player involved. According to a post he put up he too was getting shitty attacks from other members of the DR community, and I have no reason to not believe him. In addition to these public posts came a number of private emails, private messages, and incredibly vile threats to different members of the DR creative team.
So that is the part that is not only going to stop, but will never be allowed to happen again. These people threatened my family. They threatened my friends. The people who said these things will never, ever be forgotten. I am a person who has grown to react slowly when I am informed, and when there is a threat to me and mine, to never forgive. Ever. We take every ounce of the weight that comes with the actions we take.
The player in question was emotionally effected, but was engaging. Even as it was going on I reached out to the player and we both agreed that we saw each other’s side of things. I understood that he felt that a friend had taken a huge risk, and done him a solid, and that he felt a responsibility to keep silent because he owed that person a debt. He understood that from our perspective the person who shared access or content with him potentially has endangered not only the network of businesses but also exposing other forms of sensitive information regarding players.
So, I sit here looking at a lose – lose – lose situation.
I have a player who I like, who despite having this huge issue in the middle we could talk and express our sides without conflict. But because neither he, nor the Director, are willing to step forward I have to look at not only how everything got here but also reconsider what materials are trusted to Directors.
I have a company that created the entire shell of the community, and was the focus point of creating the safer space that I wanted back when I was a gamer instead of a game designer. The structure and security of the business requires ensuring sensitive information is kept private and creating a space where the Directors can discuss details that shouldn’t be public.
I have a community that a portion of is attacking itself because they love the player, and love the game, and the entire scenario is shitty. I can’t force the Director to stand up, and if I just go by the system logs it will add accelerant to the fire.
I have Directors who are caught in a limbo between their community and needing to do what is right for their business where many of the players will not understand the needs that the Directors have and the Directors can’t completely be a part of the passions and thoughts the players have.
Lastly in the lose – lose – lose tree is the fact that I don’t know if I have the heart to keep doing this.
Running a network is like taking all of the enjoyable parts out of game design, writing, and events and replacing them with being the fire-fighter for other people’s playgrounds. We get called in where there are issues, problems, and we always end up having to work through proxies and other people. I spend more of my time creating tools for other Directors to use than actually developing and moving the hobby forward.
Every week there is a new fire somewhere, and a new argument somewhere, that the Directors reach out to us about. There is always some new giant-larp explosion due to the size of our network, and there is only so much ability to care and give that I have in me.
When I thought I was dying I gave everything I could to making a legacy and making sure that the community could go on without me. If I were to get that same life situation today, I would not hesitate to spend my last months with my perfect wife and my friends and loved ones.
Also, when I ran a game that averaged 300 people, I could talk to everyone individually and take care of what problems happened in person. If two people had a conflict, I could just work with them to make it better. If someone broke the law, I knew that I would be the one to call the police. If there was a problem with the rules, or something needed an update, I could just make the update without having to work 16 other branches and thousands of people through the process.
We have been bridging the line between community and business for so long that I feel like I have nothing of me left to give to help. Every time there is something that is instituted, introduced, or brought forward there is a group that are abusive because of it (or use the change as an excuse or tool to do so).
This is still discussions, and I am not 100 percent sure of process, but I can’t see a win in this situation that involves me still being actively involved as both a community leader and a resource developer. I feel that the “national team”, otherwise known as the people who actually make DR, need to be a business and step away from the day to day community engagement. Much in the way that other LARP networks have a core group that develop their resources, tools, and materials and then licensed companies that buy rights to run networks… I think that maybe there needs to be that division between the creation and operation aspects of the game and the community.
I love you all, but there is only so much of me I can give. I need other people to lift the weight so I can do what I am great at, and still be me.