Binge-drinking is a real problem in Live Action Role-Play culture (LARP). It reasons are many and varied, but in this blog post I will try to understand why it is such an issue, and ask what we can do about it to ensure that LARP systems retain the integrity and inspiration that so many hard-working people have put the hours in to make it a great hobby.
In my fifteen years of LARPing, I have seen a lot of things. I have seen brilliant behaviour and deplorable behaviour. I have been utterly inspired by the creativity of the human race, and utterly despairing of their attitudes towards others. Within any large public gathering, there is bound to be a wide variety of people – some lovely, some not so much. It is unavoidable. There are certain rules about behaviour, and the social norms that must be adhered to at all times. Illegal drugs are still illegal, for instance. However, the issue of alcohol rears its ugly head each and every time. Alcohol seems to receive a special leniency at LARP events, I feel, much as it does on Friday and Saturday nights in any city.
I’m no saint. I have gotten drunk at LARP events myself. It’s really, really easy to get drunk.
Again, the reasons are legion, but I’d like to point out one that seems to me to be the most common. We are gathered together, most of us strangers, from all over the country, and even from all over the world. Different backgrounds mean for sometimes awkward first encounters. Not everyone is socially adept when meeting new people. This can be at LARP events, or in bars, pubs and clubs on the High Street – the initial meeting of another soul can be frightening. Many, many people think that alcohol can help alleviate the awkwardness of that social interaction – they believe that it makes them more open, more talkative, more genial than they would otherwise be. This is one of the biggest myths about alcohol – it doesn’t make you do anything you wouldn’t otherwise do. It can impair your motor skills to the point of unconsciousness, but it can’t make you do something you don’t want to do. Kate Fox wrote a very interesting article for the BBC that really struck a chord with me. In it, she stated:
“In high doses, alcohol impairs our reaction times, muscle control, co-ordination, short-term memory, perceptual field, cognitive abilities and ability to speak clearly. But it does not cause us selectively to break specific social rules. It does not cause us to say, “Oi, what you lookin’ at?” and start punching each other. Nor does it cause us to say, “Hey babe, fancy a shag?” and start groping each other.” Viewpoint: Is the Alcohol Message All Wrong? BBC website.
I can only speak for British LARP events, as I have not been to any in other countries. But I have noticed that the “typically” reserved British character can rely heavily on alcohol at these events in order to cope socially. It’s not unusual to see any character walking around the field with a bottle of booze in their hands – and we’re not talking a normal bottle of beer. We’re talking a wine bottle, or bottle of mead that they are swigging from. I’ve been there. I’ve done it. I’ve seen it time and again. It’s not acceptable to walk down the street in this manner is this country, but acceptable here at an event. It’s a private event, so some of the social norms don’t apply.
This reliance on alcohol for these social situations is a complete fabrication, however. You don’t need it – you just think you do. It’s a psychological matter, and it’s a complete fabrication, as Ms Fox states.
“The British and other ambivalent drinking cultures believe that alcohol is a disinhibitor, and specifically that it makes people amorous or aggressive, so when in these experiments we are given what we think are alcoholic drinks – but are in fact non-alcoholic “placebos” – we shed our inhibitions.
We become more outspoken, more physically demonstrative, more flirtatious, and, given enough provocation, some (young males in particular) become aggressive. Quite specifically, those who most strongly believe that alcohol causes aggression are the most likely to become aggressive when they think that they have consumed alcohol.
Our beliefs about the effects of alcohol act as self-fulfilling prophecies – if you firmly believe and expect that booze will make you aggressive, then it will do exactly that. In fact, you will be able to get roaring drunk on a non-alcoholic placebo.”
On the Friday night of most LARP events is when the binge drinking it at its worst. People know they don’t have to drive home the next day (most would still be over the limit) and so they drink recklessly. It’s often hard to know just how much you have consumed, and just what you have consumed while sitting around a fire at night when three different bottles are being passed around. In the last ten years I have been quite careful about what I drink at these events, and have felt stigmatised at times by refusing the bottle. There is a lot of social pressure as well to “fit in”.
For first-timers I am especially afraid. I have known many, and have kept an eye (and both eyes) out for them when they seem to have reached their limit and beyond. All manner of things can happen, and I’ve heard horror stories from men and women at these events – such as attempted rape. I have helped a stranger wandering lost around the tents, to his own tent when he was so blind drunk he was defying gravity – if he fell he would have missed the ground. I also had to deal with the scary situation of him thinking that by helping him I wanted to have sex with him. Thankfully his motor skills were so impaired that it was easy to dodge that bullet, but it doesn’t make it acceptable in any shape or form. I have seen women throwing up in toilets, in all manner and stages of dress wandering about and falling over. I do what I can to help people in that state, but there are so many that it becomes an epidemic, a vast tide that I can do nothing about, especially on a Friday night. Friday night is usually the first night of an event, the first time that you may see old friends since the year before or the previous event. It is usually a time of celebration. It always, in my experience, ends in a drunken mess. Retiring to your tent early is the only option of avoiding it, which if you’ve paid for the event doesn’t seem right.
I think more awareness of the dangers that binge drinking contain should be made at these events. Some events are adult only – over 18s. Others allow families. I have seen all manner of drunkenness at both – from the eighteen year old who’s first time it is to roleplay (and first time to get drunk), to the children dodging the weaving drunken man stumbling from the tavern. I think that tighter controls should be placed – at certain events there are very strict regulations regarding illegal drugs, sex offences and other crimes, but drunkenness is quite acceptable. I just don’t understand it.
People can get very seriously hurt at these events through binge drinking. It is everyone’s personal responsibility to watch how much they drink, but equally it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that every person is treated with respect and has a good time. We are all paying customers, after all. I pay for the event and I don’t want to feel pressured to drink, or fear for my safety. I don’t want to have to care for people who are in such a state and yet I cannot refuse to help them – they are in need. I fear for women who could easily become targets for sexual predators. I fear for the message we send to children at these events. I fear for men who feel pressured to drink in order to keep up with their peers.
How can we raise this issue within the LARP community? How can we make it better for all involved? How can we bring awareness of this problem to event organisers and to customers alike? How can we be taken seriously when it is only “all in good fun”?