Critical Strategies of Larp

Live action roleplaying games are the art of experience. Renowned game researchers Markus Montola and Jaakko Stenros go through a wide range of live action roleplaying games, explaining how the games can be understood as escaping, exposing, exploring or imposing a certain world view. 

Markus Montola (M.Soc.Sc.) has worked as a researcher both at University of Tampere and at Nokia Research Center, with role-playing and pervasive games as main research interests. Currently he is a doctoral candidate at the University of Tampere with a 3-year grant from the Finnish Cultural Foundation. Together with Jaakko Stenros, Montola has edited two books on larp, Playground Worlds (2008) and Beyond Role and Play (2004). They are also authors of Pervasive Games: Theory and Design (2009). They are currently editing a coffee table book called Nordic Larp, forthcoming in 2010.

Jaakko Stenros (M.Soc.Sc.) is a game researcher at the Game Research Lab at the University of Tampere, Finland. Currently he studies larps and social games, and is working on a dissertation on games as an activity. Together with Markus Montola, Stenros has edited two books on larp, Playground Worlds (2008) and Beyond Role and Play (2004). They are also authors of Pervasive Games: Theory and Design (2009). They are currently editing a coffee table book called Nordic Larp, forthcoming in 2010.

Further reading

Anthologies on larp edited by Markus Montola and Jaakko Stenros, electronic editions:

Beyond Role and Play (2004)

Playground Worlds (2008)

High Resolution Larping

Bringing both love and violence into a game can take players to a high resolution game experience. Andie Nordgren talks about ways to give players power to express conflicts and intimacy inside the game fiction rather than simulating them through abstract rules, and shares some of the mechanics used in the tribal larp Totem.

Andie Nordgren produced the Interactive Emmy Award winning game The Truth About Marika and is currently working as a technical producer at CCP Games. She is one of the co-founders of the Geek Girl Meetup, a member of the change-through-participation think tank Interacting Arts, and was recently chosen one of ten people whose advice the next Swedish prime minister should heed by Internetworld magazine.

Further reading

High Resolution Larping: Enabling Subtlety at Totem and Beyond by Andie Nordgren in Playground Worlds.

Larp as Borderland Festivals

If you don’t party day and night, you get arrested! Massive art project Futuredrome built a Mad Max style city in an old quarry, and invited 1000 people to join the neverending party, live action roleplaying game, festival and movie-in-the-making. Mathias Gullbrandsson talks about lessons from the project and introduces Borderland – a new project in the same vein.

Mathias Gullbrandson is a film-maker and games producer with 13 years of experience in storytelling, game and service design, and innovation processes. He has produced or been highly involved in games like Futuredrome, Knappnålshuvudet, Hamlet and Virtual Galileo. Gullbrandson is co-founder and CEO of The Story Lab.

Portraying Love and Trying New Genders

The story of a small village marriage on a desert planet was the canvas for an exploration of how to portray gender, relationships and sexuality in roleplaying games. While fighting uses large and bold gestures, love is a glance across the room. Emma Wieslander explains how the game Mellan Himmel och Hav (Between Heaven and Sea) had the ambition to let people out of stereotypes they might not even be aware of.

Emma Wieslander works with development of organizational management and leadership in social economy and non-profit organizations. Much of these theories has evolved from her years as a chair person of Sverok, the Swedish organization for role-playing, LARP, computer-gaming etc. She was the conceptual designer of the multi art production Mellan himmel och Hav (Between heaven and sea) that combined roleplay with light art and modern art music at Swedens national theater. The game was highly political and deconstructed the idea of gender as we know it. She is currently working on a new political vision focusing on environment issues among other things.gen

Further reading

The 2004 Solmukohta anthology Beyond Role and Play has 3 articles concerning the game:

Positive Power Drama: A Theoretical and Practical Approach on Emotive Larping
by Emma Wieslander. Download article pdf

Rules of Engagement by Emma Wielander, in the 2004 Solmukohta anthology Beyond Role and Play. Download article pdf

Infinite Possibilities: Mellan Himmel och Hav From a Science Fiction Point of View by Karin Tidbeck, in the 2004 Solmukohta anthology Beyond Role and Play. Download arcticle pdf

You can also have a look at the pre game website:

Mellan Himmel och Hav webpage
Swedish http://www.ars-amandi.nu/mhoh/
Translated with Google Translate

The Quest for the Perfect Manifestation of a Dream

Martin Ericsson explains why live action roleplaying totally beats computer games when it comes to immersion. He goes on to talk about his use of 360° immersive aesthetics in the games Hamlet, a decadent 1930’s version of the Shakespeare play, and Carolus Rex, a Swedish space drama staged in a submarine.

Martin Ericsson is senior designer. Over the past fifteen years he has instigated, written and designed more than twenty pieces of participative art ranging from reality games and Shakespeare adaptations to massive sci-fi and fantasy larps. Ericsson’s recent work includes four years of pervasive games research at the Interactive Institute’s Game Studio, culminating in the creation of the Interactive Emmy Award winning The Truth About Marika, the worlds first fully integrated participation drama. Through work at The Company P, Ericsson has collaborated with some of the world’s most respected showrunners, like Joss Whedon and Tim Kring.

Further reading

Eye-Witness to the Illusion: An Essay on the Impossibility of 360° Role-Playing
by Johanna Koljonen, in the 2007 Knudepunkt anthology Lifelike.

Five Weeks of Rebellion: Designing Momentum
by Staffan Jonnson, Markus Montola, Jaakko Stenros and Emil Boss, in the 2007 Knudepunkt anthology Lifelike.

“I Could a Tale Unfold Whose Lightest Word Would Harrow up Thy Soul”:
Lessons from Hamlet

by Johanna Koljonen, in the 2004 Solmukohta anthology Beyond Role and Play.

Introduction to Nordic larp – Johanna Koljonen

Johanna Koljonen introduces Nordic larp by talking about her bodily experience of a fallout shelter outside Tulsa during an alternate past Cuban Missile Crisis. She explains how you can understand what goes in to creating ambitious larps by comparing the process with a birthday party, and goes on to answer the question of wether these games are games at all. Watch this Nordic Larp Talk for a brief introduction to Nordic Larp and why it’s an art form worth knowing more about.

Johanna Koljonen is a writer, Radio and TV host, critic, and a popular lecturer on larp and related topics. Her groundbreaking larp criticism, in essays like “Eye-Witness to the Illusion: The Impossibility of 360° Role-Playing” and “The Dragon Was the Least of it: Larp As Ephemera and Ruin” are widely quoted in the field.  She is a co-founder of the TV, radio and web production company Rundfunk Media AB and has a BA in literature. She has hosted several popular radio shows such as “P3 Kultur – Nördorama med Johanna Koljonen” and “Jättestora frågor med Johanna Koljonen” on Swedish national radio and writes columns for Dagens Nyheter and Fokus. She is the scriptwriter of the Oblivion High series of graphic novels and the co-author of the book-length larp autopsy Dragonbane – The Legacy. Read more: johannakoljonen.com

Further reading

Eye-Witness to the Illusion: An Essay of the Impossibility of 360° Role-Playing
by Johanna Koljonen, in the 2007 Knudepunkt anthology Lifelike.

One of the dominant design ideals in Nordic larp is the 360° illusion, the ambition to create a physically realized virtual reality in which “what you see is what you get” – everything in the game area representing its fictional counterparts exactly. In this essay, Koljonen traces the development of this ideal, charts the experience of interacting with such an environment, compares it with real-life role-playing situations and challenges the assumption that a complete physical illusion will always bolster the experience of being “in character”. The essay includes descriptions of the larps Föreningen Visionära Vetenskapsmäns Årliga Kongress (a conference of mad scientists), Carolus Rex (retro-futuristic space pulp staged on a Russian submarine), Knappnålshuvudet (a combined lunatic asylum and therapy centre watched over by guardian angels).

The Dragon Was the Least of it: Larp As Ephemera and Ruin by Johanna Koljonen, in the 2008 Solmukohta anthology Playground Worlds. 

Dragonbane – The Legacy by Johanna Koljonen, Tiina Kuustie and Tiinaliisa Multamäki

PDF download

This book-length post-mortem and the theoretical essay that preceded it describe the design, production and outcome of the fantasy larp Dragonbane, in which an enormous international team of volunteers created a fully-functional fantasy village in the remote forests of Swedish Älvdalen. The game had functional magic, special effects and pyrotechnics and an animatronic dragon the size of a building.

24 Hours in a Bomb Shelter: Player, Character and Immersion in Ground Zero
by Heidi Hopeametsä, in the 2008 Solmukohta anthology Playground Worlds.