My LARP Heroes: Johanna Koljonen

When I began to advocate for change within my LARP community, I was left feeling very isolated. Not only because LARP itself is a niche gaming genre, but also due to the lack of productive conversations about social justice in local games and online LARP networks. This landscape is changing, within LARP and the world at large, but there is a lot of education and understanding that still needs to happen.

I think the current state of LARP in Southern Ontario boils down to the fact that many of us just haven’t been given the tools to build safer communities. So, this post is my salute to an author, LARP theorist and game-maker who provides some of these vital community building resources, and who has really furthered discussions of LARP ethics and safety on a global scale. Thank you, Johanna, for making me feel less alone.


Johanna as Professor Vellamo at ‘College of Wizardry’. Picture by Nadina Wiorkiewicz.

Johanna is a co-creator of Nordic LARP Talks, an ongoing series of lectures that peer into the world of LARP in the Nordic style. These talks delve deeply into LARP theory, and the psychology surrounding game play and design. To my delight, many lectures are focused on creating a safer and more harmonious game environment – especially for games that push emotional and physical boundaries. LARP safety and calibration are concepts that Johanna continues to evolve through her work. Her videos have a wealth of practical applications, and are delivered in a friendly and light-hearted manner.

Johanna recently launched a Safety in LARP project – it’s presently a blog, but may be a book in the future! I highly recommend it for players and game facilitators alike. If you can, lend some spare coppers through Patreon to further support this work.


More Links

Video: Safety and Calibration in LARP

Video: Introduction to Nordic LARP

The Basics of Opt-In, Opt-Out Design

Nordic LARP Talks Author Archive: Johanna Koljonen


Roleplaying Disability


You may not realize it, but role-playing mental and physical disabilities can have harmful effects on people who live with similar issues Out Of Game (OOG)! This post is going to outline some of the ways we can dismantle our own assumptions about disabled people, Role Play (RP) ethically, and (ideally) strive to make positive changes on the world through our LARP experiences!

“Maybe you’re wondering what all the fuss is about? Obviously people have different views on the matter, but the main issue is that these so-called “mental patient” costumes are an extremely negative and ridiculous portrayal of an already marginalised group of innocent people (who make up a substantial chunk of the population)”Dean Burnett

Stigma and discrimination are real, and they make living with disabilities even -more- complicated and stressful. In fact, the beliefs / judgments that we attach to disabilities – and how they affect our behaviour towards disabled people – actually make people’s problems *WORSE*! Stigma and discrimination against disabled people is called “Ableism”.

Ableism – a set of practices and beliefs that assign inferior value (worth) to people who have developmental, emotional, physical or psychiatric disabilities.

So, what are some ways that we can (even unknowingly / unintentionally) contribute to violence against disabled people? One dominant issue is portraying people with mental health issues as violent, dangerous, evil or inherently abusive / bad / immoral. This is a stereotyped belief that does not reflect the realities of living with mental illness. Research has shown that disabled people, even people living with mental illness, are more at risk of being victims of violence, or inflicting self-harm, than harming others. (Source: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4)

“The situation is exacerbated by the media. Media reports often link mental illness with violence, or portray people with mental health problems as dangerous, criminal, evil, or very disabled and unable to live normal, fulfilled lives.”

When non-disabled people mimic a disability, we are exerting our privileges over disabled people. This means that we are able to ‘put on’ a disability (for fun) and then take it off at the end of the day / when it’s no longer fun. People with OOG disabilities are not afforded this luxury, and they can experience a variety of negative effects as a result of this form of RP.

Gaming is supposed to be fun. But when you start out with a character creation system which takes something that impacts your life as much as say, blindness does, and reduces it to a five point flaw, it hurts. It hurts because it feels a lot like erasure. I have never been able to see myself as a character in a game.Elsa Henry

Also, these depictions of disabilities are often just plain wrong! When we display inaccurate portrayals of disabled people, reducing them to stereotypes (often for our own entertainment? yuck!) we are contributing to ableism. Our roleplay is only reinforcing the harmful misconceptions that people already have about disabilities! This is not acceptable behaviour! Imagine how your fellow players – many of which may have visible and invisible disabilities – must feel about this type of play.

As LARPers who care about each other, the community and the world at large… shouldn’t we strive to make our RP a vehicle for positive change?

RPing disability is problematic.


If you are “Playing” a disability that you do not have OOG, you are stepping into a role that can potentially harm others. Regardless of your intentions – all non-disabled people need to keep this in mind when they decide to RP disabilities.

Before people get up in arms about freedom of creative expression: This discussion does not actually have the ability to make you stop RPing a certain way. It is just a discussion. I’m facilitating this conversation so that we can recognize & accept how we all contribute to ableism (even unintentionally). Let us all strive to RP more ethically! (Aka learn how we can lessen the harmful impact of our behaviour on already-marginalized people, and hopefully learn to use RP to help instead of harm others!)

Whenever I talk about ethical roleplaying / social justice in LARP, I try to focus on the IMPACT of our behaviour rather than the INTENT. After all, if our actions hurt someone – they are still experiencing that hurt… whether we intended to hurt them or not! (Read more on Intent vs Impact). It’s not about whether you, the player, personally hates disabled people or purposely goes out of your way to be awful to disabled people… rather, this conversation is about making us all aware of how our game play can have real life effects on people – especially the people who are already marginalized in our society.

When it comes to RPing disabilities, we need to ask ourselves this simple question: “Is my behaviour contributing to harm against real life / OOG disabled people?”. No one can answer this better than disabled people themselves, btw!

More Links

Mentall Illness is not a Halloween Costume

Alternatives to Oppressive Language

7 Ways my Nondisabled Friends Get it Right

Can You Tell the Difference Between Acommodation and Accessibility?

10 Answers to Common Questions People Ask When Being Called Out for Using Ableist Language

You’re Breaking My Immersion! Or, How To Inadvertently Enable Ableism