LARPing with a Disability

Amtgard and Disabilities

I have never felt more included than I do when I LARP. LARPing is known as Live Action Role Play, there are many different types of LARPs and hundreds of different games, but the game I am a part of is known as Amtgard (Click the Link for more information).

For the most part, Amtgard is mostly a fighting game in which you whack people with foam stick and throw around “spell balls”. What a lot of people don’t realize is that is has become an entire society, there are parks and kingdoms and households. There is also more than just fighting, there are leadership roles, there is crafting, event hosting, roleplay and much more. “Amtgard has events with hundreds of participants, awards and accolades, titles, and more.”

And when you have probably over 10,000+ people playing a game world wide, you are sure to encounter those with disabilities/illnesses/etc inside of the game. In a short survey that I did to get a general feel of people with disabilities or chronic illnesses within Amtgard I discovered that within just a week of doing a survey there were close to 100 people who filled out the survey and of those hundred 72 had either a physical or mental disability or were chronically ill, and it effected their game play in some way, shape or form.

The purpose of the survey was to see just how accessible people felt Amtgard was to them. A lot of people concluded that their park and kingdom were extremely helpful in making things accessible and adjusting things for them, some others though felt there was a lack of accessibility in regards to sites not always being wheelchair friendly or events not having gluten free or lactose free food.

A lot of people said that when they brought up their needs they were often addressed and handled well, but still some lack of it throughout different places in regards to wheelchair accessibility or dietary needs, these concerns were brought up by players who have been there some less than a year, but the majority of the surveyors had been playing 10+ years.

The majority felt that Amtgard was a good outlet, people were accepting and accommodating and made them feel welcomed, a few felt otherwise.

    Which is where the Amtgard Spoonies Household came into play!

Spoonie Heraldry
Heraldry designed and created by various members.

“People who wish to form a non-fighting group within the club can create a household” so says the Amtgard Rulebook. There are many households within Amtgard, the Spoonies Household (based from “The Spoon Theory” by Christine Miserandino) focuses on being a support group to welcome and aid those with physical/mental disabilities, chronic illnesses, etc.

We are mainly a service household in which our goal is to be of service to our kingdom to make things more accessible for those who need it. Talking to Crats (people who run the events) to make sure people can camp close to restrooms, supplying snacks and food and supplies that might not be available for those with special dietary needs, and working with Crats to start searching for more accessible event sites for those with mobility devices.

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My first event I went to I met two girls, both with disabilities/chronic illnesses. Ashley with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Bella who has Arteriovenous Malformation. We bonded over the lack of immune system we all shared due to our illnesses messing with our immune systems. We created a group that we just labeled as “Team No Immune System”, which later became the start of the Amtgard Spoonies Household.

Over the next year we would add maybe one or two people to the group, but then this year we took off and now have 85 members from various kingdoms. As we grew, we started working on solidifying what we wanted to do within our kingdom first and expand out as we grew.

Now a word from our Serving Spoons!

Ashley (Rowan) says, “Spoonies. The household that started as a little group of three girls who bonded over being sick. I never imagined how much we’d take off and how much it would mean to other people in amtgard. As much as it means to me, I suppose. You see, for a long time in amtgard I felt relatively alone. I couldn’t really fight or go to amtgard a lot because I was sick a lot. Not having an immune system that’s fully functional will do that to you. I felt like I was not meant for amtgard for a long time because everyone emphasized fighting and I couldn’t really do it that well. I remember thinking that when I walked places with my boyfriend, I would force myself to not stop, to keep going no matter how much I hurt because I didn’t want to inconvenience him. I didn’t want to be a burden.

And I remember the relief I felt walking somewhere with Bella and knowing if I said I needed a break she’d be just as willing/needing to take a break too. I remember feeling like someone could understand me. Starting a little group with Grace and Bella as a support network for myself and them was something that made me so happy. It was so nice to have people I could rant to about being sick.

People who would be understanding when I say “I just can’t do it today. I don’t have the spoons.” People who would never accuse me of being lazy, of making excuses. When we started this little household, I never imagined it would grow as quickly and as wildly as it did. I never realized how many other chronically ill people were in amtgard. I never realized how many other people needed that support network, like myself. I feel like I can be myself with the spoonies. I can bare it all, say exactly how I feel and know that I am going to be supported. And to have started that for others, to be that support network, means more to me than any other thing I’ve done in this game.

None of the awards, none of my achievements, could ever compare to the pride I feel about creating this household. This is my greatest achievement in amtgard so far, and I think Bella and Grace feel the same. I can only hope that we continue to grow. That we continue to be the best support we can be. And that one day, we change Amtgard for the better.”

Bella says, “I had just barely started playing Amtgard when my disability became apparent. Amtgard had been this wonderful thing for me for a year and a half. I loved going out, seeing everyone, having fun and feeling like I belonged somewhere (which is a very rare feeling for some of us.)

So when I got sick and I felt like I no longer belonged at Amtgard, it was a terribly isolating feeling. I stayed out of the game for.. I think it might have been nearly two years. I got diagnosed and I started treatment. In the early stages of my treatment, I allowed myself to believe that I would be ‘cured’ soon, then I could go back to my life the way it was before. It was several surgeries before I finally accepted that that was not the case. I couldn’t let my illness ‘pause’ my life, I had to live it.

So I came back to Amtgard, and it wasn’t long before I met Ashley and Grace. We grew close fast, we understood each other on a level that most other people couldn’t.

To me, that’s what the Spoonies household is. A place for people to be understood.

In a game that focuses so strongly on physical activity, being disabled can be isolating. Sitting on the sidelines while your friends are fighting in battlegames, needing breaks more often than your peers might. So, having somewhere to go, having people to talk to who understand.. That’s important.

For a long time, I felt like I wouldn’t be able to contribute much to Amtgard. I can’t fight, and my service abilities are limited – I can’t spend a lot of time on my feet. But being a founding member of Spoonies, I feel like this is the most meaningful contribution I can make to the game. I’m not running an event, I’m not spending hours in the kitchen to cook a feast, I’m not staying up late into the night to work on some big project.. But if what we’re doing helps even one player feel like they have a place in Amtgard, I think that’s just as important.”

As someone with multiple disabilities and devices (Crohn’s with an Ileostomy, Gastroparesis with an NJ tube, and Ehlers Danlos with mobility devices as needed) the people in my kingdom have been nothing but kind and helpful and accommodating, and I want everyone to be able to say the same thing. I want everyone to get to have the same experience I get in regards to accessibility, and to me, that’s why we do this. At some point I want everyone to be able to mark that they feel welcomed and accommodated for and that Amtgard is the perfect outlet for them like it has been for so many others.

When I was in the hospital after every surgery, people all over Amtgard in the U.S and Canada sent me cards, Knights raised money to get me armor so I could fight and not risk getting hit in the stoma, they helped me with medical bills and medical expenses, I could not ask for a more helpful or welcoming community, I have never had to question whether or not I belong or matter because they leave no room for it.

And it’s not just a matter of being disabled, even with crafting and roleplay, being the regent at my park, etc. I still push to do whatever I can even if I can’t be on the field right now, and that’s why I love Amtgard: it’s so encompassing.

Whether you are interested in fighting, battle games, crafting, or roleplaying and quests, Amtgard has a lot to offer to everyone. And we understand that disabilities can affect every aspect of you life and define who you are in character and out.

     If you are interested in learning how to join in on the Amtgard fun:

Click Here!


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