LARP at Play: The Value of Trust

I’ve recently found out that the entire Knutepunk 2008 book has finally been released in PDF format. You can download it here. I hope you have a great holiday season, and now onto this article’s topic, the value of trust.

“Trust is a peculiar resource; it is built rather than depleted by use.” — Unknown

There is an often unwritten, but understood part of LARPing: The social contract between all game participants that they all will act according to the game’s rules and expected out-of-game policies of the LARP group. This social contract is ultimately built on a key value: Trust.

Before getting too deep into how trust affects our hobby I think it’s a good idea to make sure that a foundation is built of what trust is. Trust can be simply defined as “reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence. Confident expectation of something; hope.”

A really good article entitled Trust and Trust Building stated that “[t]he need for trust arises from our interdependence with others. We often depend on other people to help us obtain, or at least not to frustrate, the outcomes we value (and they on us). As our interests with others are intertwined, we also must recognize that there is an element of risk involved insofar as we often encounter situations in which we cannot compel the cooperation we seek. Therefore, trust can be very valuable in social interactions.

“Trust has been identified as a key element of successful conflict resolution (including negotiation and mediation).”

Isn’t that what a LARP is, an ongoing series of conflict resolution incidents where we use the game’s rules, and in some cases out-of-game policies, as the framework to help us negotiate the resolution process? Thus, in order for those rules and polices to work, we need to be able to trust each other that we’ll all adhere to them as outlined by the organizer(s) and that by doing so it will create fun for those involved.

Looking at a game it can be said that trust is important in many facets of it. From trust that the players won’t cheat or abuse loopholes to the trust that staff will follow the rules and policies they’ve outlined to trust that no one will take an action that will be harmful to another out-of-game and etc. There isn’t a part of the game that doesn’t involve some level or application of trust.

As the quote near the beginning shares, trust is one resource that is indeed built up by use rather than depleted. So, how can a person build trust? The article mentioned earlier gave several wonderful examples of how a person or group can build trust with others. Depending on your situation some of these may have a greater application than others.

Building trust

  • Perform competently. One should perform one’s duties and obligations competently. Individuals should continuously strive to demonstrate proficiency in carrying out their obligations. In some cases, this may entail updating skills and abilities as technology advances. As others contemplate how much to trust you, they will assess your qualifications and ability to perform.
  • Establish consistency and predictability. We can enhance the degree to which others will regard us as trustworthy when we behave in consistent and predictable ways. Every effort should be made to ensure that our words are congruent with our subsequent actions and that we honor pledged commitments. Our integrity is reinforced to the extent that we Do What We Say We Will Do (DWWSWWD).
  • Communicate accurately, openly and transparently.In addition, one should act openly–that is, be clear about the intentions and motives for one’s actions. This helps the other party calculate our trustworthiness accurately, because we are willing to act transparently and to be monitored for compliance.
  • Share and delegate control. Trust often needs to be given for it to be returned. There is symbolic value in soliciting input and sharing decision control with others. Likewise, when such control is hoarded and others feel that they are not trusted (such as with monitoring and surveillance systems), they may be more likely to act out against this with behaviors that reinforce a distrustful image.
  • Show concern for others. The trust others have in you will grow when you show sensitivity to their needs, desires, and interests. Acting in a way that respects and protects other people, and refraining from engaging in self-interested pursuits to the detriment of others will also contribute greatly to the trust others place in you. When you violate someone’s trust, they deem that you are acting in your own self-interest. Accordingly, their attention will be diverted to their own self-interest and self-protection rather than on conflict resolution.
  • Establish a common name and identity. Nurturing a common identity creates a sense of unity that can further strengthen trust. Engage in talk and actions that build a sense of ‘we’ rather than ‘me’. A common name and shared identity reduces divisiveness and encourages individuals to work together.
  • Capitalize on co-location. As conflicting parties co-locate, their more frequent interaction can help them get to know one another better, strengthen their perceived common identity, and reduce distrust by exposing false stereotypes and prejudices. When used in conjunction with the recommendation above, co-location may demonstrate to the parties that they have more commonalities than differences.
  • Create joint products and goals. Working toward the collective achievement of superordinate goals fosters a feeling of “one-ness” that can bring the parties together in a way that strengthens a salient, shared identity. Parties create and build products, services and activities that define their commonality and uniqueness.
  • Promote shared values and emotional attraction. Individuals should model a concern for other people by getting to know them, engaging in active listening, showing a focus on their interests, recognizing the contributions of others, and demonstrating confidence in other’s abilities.

Being aware of the problems and challenges that your group or individuals in your game are facing can help you head off problems before they get too serious, but that isn’t a 100% guarantee that trust issues won’t creep in. A breakdown of trust, or of that social contract, can happen and can lead to a breakdown of the game or at least the quality of the game unless its repaired, but there is hope. The same article also gave some wonderful examples of how to rebuild trust with others when trust has been lost or violated. As before, depending on your situation some of these may have a greater application than others.

Rebuilding trust

  • Take immediate action after the violation. Offenders should act quickly to engage in restorative efforts. This communicates sensitivity to the victim and the relationship, and avoids the double-burden the victim has to incur by both suffering the consequences of the violation and having to confront the offender with the consequences of his behavior.
  • Provide an apology, and give a thorough account of what happened. Take responsibility for your actions if you are culpable, and express remorse for the harm that the victim endured because of the violation. Your remorse indicates to the victim that you have also suffered as a result of your actions, and the victim may be less likely to pursue vengeance and escalate the conflict. Also, be sure to carefully explain the circumstances that led to the violation, so the victim can understand the events that led you to your decisions. This will help them see the rationale behind your actions and give them a better sense of the values and parameters that are likely to shape your actions in the future.
  • Be sincere. The victim is closely scrutinizing your motives and intentions, so it is imperative to sincerely strive to repair the harm from the violation. Take action unilaterally and volitionally, and make every effort to show through your words and actions that you genuinely desire to earn the victim’s trust again.
  • Be cognizant of the day-to-day history of the relationship. If the overall history of the relationship is good, and there are few if any past trust violations, the prospects for trust repair are more promising than in relationships characterized by many trust violations or few trust-confirming events. Make it a priority to honor trust on a daily basis in order to provide a conducive environment for trust repair should the need arise.
  • Provide restitution/penance. Substantiate your verbal claims with concrete actions that demonstrate a good-faith effort to compensate the victim for the harmful effects of the violation. In some relationships, what the victim wants more than your kind words is some tangible aspect of the transaction that he/she was counting on.
  • Restate and renegotiate expectations for the future, and be trustworthy in future interactions. You are likely to be on “probation” for a period, as the victim tests the waters to see if you actually resume trustworthy behavior. Be sure to take this into account, and take proactive steps to manage the expectations of the victim by specifically articulating what standards should be expected. Then commit to following these standards in the future.
  • Reaffirm commitment to the relationship. Reassert shared goals and interests, as well as the value placed on the relational bond between the parties. Re-establish the affective connection in the relationship by expressing your emotional attachment to the other party, and strive to demonstrate that the relationship is a top priority. You can re-gain credibility as you make clear sacrifices that establish the primacy of the relationship over your own self-interest.

In closing, what are your thoughts on trust and LARPing? Do you have any other examples of ways that trust is utilized in the LARPing environment?

The next column will be on a topic is yours to suggest. As always I love to hear feedback and suggestions for further articles. Feel free to leave a comment here at the Mortalis Games site, write Amber at webmaster [at] mortalisrpg [dot] com or once this goes live on, visit the article’s forum thread (there should be a link below the article to it) to see what else has been shared or to leave a comment there.

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