Badass Larp Talk #16: A Hand to Head Disease PSA

Hello, larping.

Today I’m here to talk about a growing problem in our community, a spreading sickness that threatens the shared realities we work so hard to create. What you’re about to read may shock you, may disgust, may even horrify you, but don’t worry – there is help, and there is hope.

It’s called Hand to Head Disease.

Some of you may know it by different names – Finger-Crossitis, Headbanding, Clarificosis, HTH, and many more – but the effects are much the same no matter what you call it. A scene is humming along, everyone playing their characters as the world comes to life around you, when all of a sudden an HTH sufferer experiences an outbreak of symptoms. Right in the middle of your unfolding moment, their hand goes to their head, their whole character falls away and they vomit up reality all over everyone. Sometimes it’s a joke, sometimes it’s a compliment, sometimes it’s a reference to a movie or a book or even another game, but whatever it is, now it’s all over you and you’re having trouble wiping it off and staying in character afterward.

What’s worse is that HTH is highly contagious, with others exposed to it often displaying symptoms almost immediately, leading to more outbreaks as hands fly to heads and more reality comes up. The whole scene can get pretty disgusting pretty quickly, leaving a huge mess that wrecks the scene and a reality stink that can follow you around for hours afterward, making it hard to stay in character. Before long whole games can be infected, until it seems like no scene goes by without at least a few outbreaks, and people are spending more time with their hands to their heads than they are in character.

Unfortunately many HTH sufferers don’t even realize what they’re doing can be disruptive and unpleasant for those around them. They believe that spewing that little bit of reality actually increases the enjoyment of others, not realizing that what seems like a momentary splash of reality to them makes a total mess of the environment for everyone exposed to it. They also don’t realize that even people who can’t hear what they’re saying as still affected, as just witnessing an outbreak of HTH from a distance can still be enough to damage someone’s immersion in the world as they watch the game fall away and reality go all over the place.

But don’t worry! There are some simple steps you can take to treat HTH symptoms when you see them emerge. So the next time you see an outbreak begin, just follow these steps, 1-2-3:

Treating HTH In Others
1) Isolate the Outbreak – Try to convince the HTH sufferer to take their aside somewhere more private, quietly but quickly.

2) Explain the Symptoms – Explain to the HTH sufferer politely that unnecessary out of game comments should be saved for after game is over.

3) Dive Back In – Don’t linger, don’t scold, don’t dwell – remember, most HTH sufferers don’t realize what they were doing! Just be friendly, dive back into game and help others do so if needed.

If these steps don’t seem to help, don’t be rude and don’t confront the sufferer further – that just makes the problem worse. Instead, find a member of staff and inform them of your concerns as politely and discreetly as possible, and let them decide the proper course of treatment at that point.

Of course, that all fine and good when treating HTH symptoms in other people, but what if you realize you might be suffering from a bout yourself? Don’t worry! Self-administered treatment is effective in 95% of cases.

Treating HTH In Yourself
1) Stay Your Hand – Before you put your hand up, ask yourself: Is what you were about to say really worth shattering the shared reality of everyone around you? If not, wait on it, and skip steps 2 & 3.

2) Isolate Yourself – If you do feel something needs to be said, try to take aside only the individual(s) you need to address, and say it away from where others can see or hear you.

3) Limit Your Exposure – Say what you feel is necessary quickly and quietly, then resume play as soon as possible. Try to avoid prolonged outbreaks – if you can’t, take them away from the game until they’re over.

Just by following those simple steps, you should be able to minimize the impact of HTH outbreaks at your favorite games, as well as make sure you don’t catch the infection yourself. But don’t forget that the #1 way to prevent HTH from spreading is simple vigilance – the more you focus on staying in character and encouraging others around you to do the same, the more likely that it is you will be successful in blocking HTH transmission in your game.

Remember, it’s up to all of us to be on the lookout for Hand to Head Disease – but if we work together, we can beat it in our lifetime!

~Your friends at the C.D.C. (Character Defense Coalition)

HTH Disease FAQ
Q) Is every character break always a case of HTH?
A) No!  This is a common misunderstanding. In fact, many games encourage players to use certain gestures or phrases ask rules questions, which can look similar to HTH in action but is in fact a vital part of gameplay. Let’s be clear: Asking rules questions, raising safety concerns or clarifying vital story matters (that cannot be resolved in character) are valid reasons to drop character. However, it is still recommended that players try to make the disruption to play as brief and minimal as possible – when you can, take people aside to ask questions in private, for instance, or try to phrase it in at least vaguely in character terms so it doesn’t sound too harshly real to others nearby.

Q) So I want to share a little joke or tell someone they rocked that last scene  - what’s the harm?
A) Some people might not mind if you drop character, it’s true, but other people probably will, even if they don’t tell you so. And remember that even if you’re telling it to some friends who don’t mind, if someone else overhears you break character or witnesses your HTH gesture, you’ve just broken game for them, whether or not you intended to do so, and that’s not fair to them when the default at a larp is a continuous immersive environment. Trust me – if it really is a funny joke or witty reference, it will still be amusing later on. If it’s not, well, you didn’t need to break game for it, did you?

Q) What if something is so wrong in the game that the only choice is breaking character?
A) Apart from things like safety concerns, which as noted always justify dropping character no matter what, I’d say file that under “extreme and unfortunate circumstances” for sure. If something about the current scene is so broken – or at least, appears to be so broken – that the players have no choice but to break character to try to find some way to resolve the problem, then no, I wouldn’t hold that character break against them by any means. (“Hang on, this is a Vampire larp, not a Dr. Who episode – what do you mean the play area just fell through a time rift into the Jurassic period?!”) Just be careful not to jump to this option too quickly, though. A situation may seem difficult in game for perfectly in game reasons, and not necessarily require dropping character to resolve.

Q) Aren’t you being a little bit of a larp nazi?
A) (Hang on – do we really have to use the term “nazi” for something so trivial as larp? We do? OK, fair enough.) Well, this whole thing is more than a little tongue in cheek, so relax. Plus I want to make it clear that as much as breaking character can be disruptive and annoying, the solution is not to be obnoxious back – as noted above, I want to stress that it’s important to be polite and laid back when talking to players breaking character, not confrontational and rude. And there’s always the chance that your your game is cool with people breaking character, then hey, feel free to ignore any and all of this. Seriously!

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Badass LARP Talk is a semi-regular advice series for gamers who enjoy being other people as a hobby. Like what you read? Click on the BLT or Badass LARP Talk tag on this entry to find others in the series, follow me on Twitter @WriterPete, or subscribe to the blog for future updates! 

6 responses

  1. Kyle

    Sometimes H2H happens because a scene has become overpowering. Emotionally, psychologically, socially, there are many reasons where H2H happens because a player needs to escape back to reality due to how uncomfortable things have become for them. I can’t begrudge a player that; trying to re-assert some form of control or levity. That can be extremely important too.

    August 23, 2013 at 1:15 am

    • I agree, but only to a point – if you need to leave a scene because it’s too emotional, that’s one thing. At Dystopia Rising, they specifically say that if something is too scary or intense for you – say because something hits a trigger – then you can call a walk away and leave the scene. No harm, no foul. It’s not often used, because at a horror game some of the enjoyment is pushing the limits, but nobody begrudges it when someone hits that point.

      However, at the same time I very strong feel that your need to assert control/reality for yourself should not come ahead of the enjoyment of your fellow players. Stepping away from the scene for your own sake? I file that under safety concerns, as emotional safety is important for a fun play environment. If you need to put your hand to your head and walk away – explaining why if someone asks – that’s one thing.

      But breaking character and cracking a joke? That’s something else entirely. Now you’re forcing other people who might be into the intensity of the moment to come out with you, and that’s not cool. That’s the part that I object to, when people drop character in ways that break character for other people around them as well.

      August 23, 2013 at 1:27 am

      • Yeah, I’ve seen that and it can be quite heart-breaking for the Storyteller and High Tension Fans who were lapping it up. It can be so hard to build that tension, and so easy to remove it with a single crack. If the tone needs to be lightened up a bit, a realistic IC crack or joke can break the ice a little without bringing down the whole thing. Humour and Horror go hand in hand, with one often building the poignancy of the other, but I’ve seen people make movie comparisons which not only kills the tension but ensures it’ll never come again. Once you’ve heard the comparsion, you can’t *unhear* it.

        On the other hand, if I had a player walk away due to distress that’d crash the scene as I try to make sure everything’s okay. Rock and a hard place, I guess? Perhaps an article in it’s own right? *nudge, nudge*

        December 31, 2013 at 12:29 am

  2. If effects of HtH syndrome last longer than 30 seconds, please consult with a doctor. Side effects of prolonged exposure to HtH syndrome may result in genre loss, broken immersion, second hand annoyed players, and anal leakage.

    August 23, 2013 at 12:54 pm

  3. I’m not a LARP’er, but I do RP quite a bit — and honestly, this has *always* been one of my pet peeves. I kinda hate it when I’m in the middle of a great, engaging scene and someone drops character to be silly. While I don’t have a problem jumping back into things, it *never* stops at one person — it always rolls into a bigger interruption.

    August 27, 2013 at 1:02 am

  4. Pingback: Why Is Your Hand On Your Head? | Albion Adventures

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