Why mandatory debriefs suck


Shoshana Kessock has an interesting article on the growing trend in overseas larps of mandatory debriefs, and why it sucks:

TL;DR: Pretty obviously, not everyone wants to talk about their feels, even after an intense game. Forcing them to stay in a room and say something publicly can itself be an unpleasant experience. There’s also questions about what the mandatory debriefs are for - whether its really for “emotional safety”, or so organisers can see if their larp produced the expected emotional effects and get some feedback (or worse: subtly criticise players who “did it wrong” and felt the “wrong” things). While GMs running intense games should care about emotional safety, having a range of options and recognising that not everybody wants to talk (or not everybody wants to talk to them) is probably better.


I cannot get behind this idea enough. I personally hate debrief sessions - frothing, sure, but “sit down and talk about your feelings” sessions have never been my thing.


I’ve found debrief sessions useful when coming out of a particularly emotionally intense game, but I find I need to sit silently and listen to everyone else talk in order to move from character back to regular life after those. I’ve never had a GM push me into talking during a debrief when I didn’t want to, and I imagine I’d have a similar hissing-cat reaction as the article writer if one did try.

For a game that wasn’t particularly emotional or doesn’t require any space/processing to get back to “normal”, I’ve never really seen the point in debriefs for the players (although they’re super useful for poking holes in your game/throwing around what worked and what didn’t as a GM, and I’m always happy to engage in that sort of debrief as a player).


Oh, that sounds horrible. If I’m giving feedback at all, I much prefer thinking about it for a day or two and then writing a summary/review in a forum or something.


There’s plenty to unpack about whether debriefs are good or not, how to do them, etc. but taking something that’s supposedly for the good of the players and forcing it on them without regards to their own feelings is just bafflingly terrible. The prime point of most emotional safety rules I’ve seen are about trusting players to be the best judge of their own emotional needs.


The debrief starter I usually use is “Something you want to take with you from the game, and something you want to leave behind” which hopefully people don’t find too prying. Although hanging out and trading war stories strikes me as a pretty good wind down for a lot of games, so it feels odd in that article that the larp runners tried to redirect people from that. Is that part of the Nordic scene? From what I’ve read about their games they seem to tend to the more interventionist end of the spectrum?

I tell you what, though, when I’m a GMing I hate getting feedback just after the game that’s any more complex than “good game, Steph.” I’m feeling really vulnerable and sensitive and all that. I really like getting more constructive feedback, I just prefer it a day or two after the event when I’ve had time to process my own feelings about how it went first.


Its a Nordic and Nordic-influenced thing. Their games tend to be rather more hardcore than ours in terms of content, and parts of their larp culture seem to have got a bit prescriptive about how to respond to that, without recognizing that their preferred format doesn’t suit everybody.

The good news is that the response on Facebook to this article shows some recognition of this, and a need to ensure that debriefs are seen as voluntary. Having a GM say “I’m off to to $PreferredEstablishment, anyone want to join me and just kibbitz informally” goes a long way towards that.

I feel much the same way, though partly that’s also about rush and trying to unpack my own impression of what went right and what went wrong before I can cope with other people’s input.


I don’t really like the “sit in a circle, and everyone says something in turn” debrief, but I have found many of the debriefs for more emotionally intensive games useful. I really liked what we did at the end of 33ar, where those who wanted to brought something that belonged to their characters (past or present), and said goodbye to them as they placed it in the middle of the circle.

I’ve never experienced a mandatory debrief. I’m not sure who thought that was ever a good idea, though. Its especially ill-conceived when dealing with games that require a lot of emotional investment. Not everyone wants to talk, and not everyone will be ready to talk at the same time. For games with so much emphasis on helping people deal with extreme emotions, that include a lot of outs in game, its really quite odd that game runners have made debriefs mandatory (or peer-pressure mandatory).


I’m off to to $PreferredEstablishment, anyone want to join me and just kibbitz informally

That’s a plan I’m always willing to get behind. :slight_smile:

Most of the immediate debriefs I’ve had in overseas games just involved sitting down with the other players in the group and have a burger before going home. Not quite the same thing as giving feedback to a GM but a lot more relaxed than a formal session.


I think it is important to take care of the impact of emotionally intense LARPs. making intervention mandatory is not a good idea as the best way to have someone open up is to force them to speak, it just doesn’t work.

What I usually tend to do is organise a short debrief at the end of the game (using for the example the idea of saying goodbye to your character), I usually make it short, ask all players to attend but not check who is actually attending, an then hang around after so player can talk to me.

I also like the debrief buddy tool : pair your players and each pair has to check on the other a few days down the line, just to make sure they are OK. It is then private and personnal and gives time to reflect on the potential effect of the LARP (most of the time the answer is I’m fine, no worries, what about you?)


I’d be a bit cautious about this. The pairings in this scenario should probably be arranged by the players. It would be quite hard to pick pairings who would be honest with each other rather than just respond as society trains us to do with people we aren’t close to: “I’m fine, thanks”. And worse still you could match people with those they are explicitly not comfortable sharing with (due to either outside or inside game events).


I usually let the players decide.

However, I don’t really understand why you think we should be cautious. Are you saying that because this might not work we should not use it?
I think it’s a great tool and with the only downside being that it might not work.


The only downsides come from not letting the players decide, which you’ve said you do.


Ah, I see.

I try not to force them, but with your input I’ll make sure I endeavour to make sure it is voluntary to do so. :smiley:
(if I run a LARP in NZ… My last try was unsucessful because not enough people answered)