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|Tuesday, November 5th, 2013|
In the time I have been neglecting this blog, several interesting pieces of academic role-playing research with which I am connected have turned up.
First of all, the fourth issue of the International Journal of Role-Playing has been published. It contains five articles selected from the Role-Playing in Games seminar at the University of Tampere, Finland, April 10-11, 2012. You can find it online for free here
Also, my own doctoral dissertation has now been made available online
, freely, in full. And in case you have not noticed the fact yet, Markus Montola's dissertation
was selected last year's best at our university - a very big, impressive honor.
My wife and I have a chapter on larps in high schools, in Moseley and Whitton's excellent book "New Traditional Games for Learning"
Soon arriving will be more news, as certain journal issues, books and other things with which I have been involved start appearing.
|Friday, May 17th, 2013|
|Book review: The four Knutepunkt 2013 books.
Things escalate and shrink at the same time - this year saw Knutepunkt publish no less than four volumes, one with just photographs and the others with a light, journalistic style. The reasoning behind the style is obvious, and something mentioned already by last year's editor, Juhana Pettersson: with enough academic channels already available, KP editors both can and want to concentrate on what's (to them anyway) important. For me, that feels like a cop-out, but it seems to suit a big part of the audience.
While several of the essay subjects would in my opinion deserve a much wider and more reference-grounded presentation (esp. Heath's nice and accurate but anecdotal-seeming edu-larp piece and Ström's nifty text on milsims), all in all, the editors have succeeded in making something that was easy to contribute to, without sacrificing too much content or quality. I know from experience that several of the more academic authors could have been much more thorough, but their appetite-whetters here do serve a purpose too. And I do love the increasingly international angle in all of it.
High points for me were too numerous to mention, once I got past my innate "He should have referenced X here, instead of just writing conjecture", but if I had to pick one, it would be Andresen & Nielsen's "The Mixing Desk of Larp". So light, so easy, so clever. Even more impressively, this is the first year, among both KP books and all their siblings, that I did not find a low point, an essay that would have annoyed me with some grandiose claims based on nothing but not knowing what's been done before. Well done, editors. Well done, indeed.
Karete Jacobsen Meland & Katrine Øverlie Svela (eds.) (2013):Crossing Habitual Borders
Crossing Physical Borders
Crossing Theoretical Borders
Online versions of all but the photobook can be found here: http://www.knutepunkt.org/page/book/
|Monday, February 18th, 2013|
|Book Review: WyrdCon Companion 2012
WyrdCon's 2012 Companion came out some time ago already, but it's taken me a surprisingly long time to read it. Its expanded version 2 can be freely downloaded here
. The book consists of two parts. The first one is journalistic, edited by Aaron Vanek, and the second an academic (non-referee) section edited by Sarah Lynne Bowman. The book also makes very efficient use of hyperlinking, making it a rare larp volume that has gained significant advantages (beside the obvious open access) from not being printed as a hardcopy.
Most of the journalistic contents are new, and what has been chosen for reprinting deserved that reprint. The historical documents focusing on Intercon and Ford Ivey's work are very nice, as are some of the other contributions, particularly the hands-on design guidance of Jason Morningstar and Lizzie Stark's piece on using Nordic techniques in North American larps. Likewise, John Kim's update on the history and influence of the Threefold Model is very welcome, even if it remains quite thin, as the model has over the years been used and discussed by numerous practitioners and scholars of larp. For me, however, the true highlight of the first part was Gord Sellar's wonderful account on using larps for language teaching in Korea, a mixture of culture commentary and methodological analysis. The sole problem point of the section is Maria Alexander's shallow and misinterpretative essay on religious behavior, narratives and fan participation. While her idea is clever and well worth exploring, the execution remains ignorant of basic theories of acting-as-if, social pressure, the impact of a faith component on religious activities and so forth, with the result that the author confuses correlation with causality.
The academic section, after its introduction, starts with the weakest piece: Strix Beltrán provides an eclectic mixture of depth psychology, archetypes, bleed and various other subjects, but whenever she steps outside of her own primary area of expertise, the result reads like an undergraduate summary rather than a research piece, and it, frankly, provides no new results - at least for someone versed in numerous key works Beltran does not quote. In contrast, Rafael Bienia builds on exiting research, providing field data on larper motivations, all the while recognizing and admitting the limits of his claims. Especially nice is that even though the material is German, the project is based on American ideas presented in an earlier WyrdCon book, making the work part of a longer continuity.
I'd already seen an earlier version of Nathan Hook's chapter, and liked the way it had evolved. Discussing immersion, Hook well shows through interviews that certain attitudes and ideologies regarding it exist, even if the comments remain individual opinions the prevalence of which cannot be currently assessed. Yaraslau I. Kot, in turn, presents a fresh look at edu-larp, from perspectives not yet common in the constantly growing corpus of literature on educational larp. In addition, the chapter is important in that it provides fellow scholars with English-language remote access to key work done on that subject in Russian, masses of which appear to exist.
The book wraps up with a very nice report from Neal McDonald and Alan Kreizenbeck, who ran an university course on larp in 2012. Explaining their goals, successes and failures, they present a very intriguing look at larp in an artistic context, its reception by non-larpers, and so on, with moments where intriguing cultural differences show through, and with solid data behind their claims. There's a funny mishap included, however: the authors occasionally use "player" to denote in-character behavior, leading to statements like "Players shot and stabbed each other, wrestled for the gun, defiled the shrine, mourned their children, and died meaningless, pitiful deaths."
The WyrdCon 2012 Companion is impressive, intriguing, and even at points where I felt certain essays would have required serious re-writing, inspiring and innovative, at least on which ideas were discussed. The book is strongly in dialogue with earlier larp literature, and for the most part its authors seem aware of relevant works in the field. It is definitely worth a read, not just skimming, and I believe several parts of it will see very active citation from academics as well, in the coming years.
|Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013|
|Book Review: Larp - Nur ein Spiel?
Along with the MittelPunkt 2013 conference was published the fifth book of their series, this time called "Larp: Nur ein Spiel?", edited by Rafael Bienia and Karsten Dombrowski. (It's available for example from the publisher, Zauberfeder
A hundred pages long, the volume contains six essays and some reading tips. The language is German, and the book is obviously directed towards a German audience, not really abroad. Following the tradition of many Knutepunkt volumes, and earlier MP books, the tone is mostly semi-academic, with the occasional opinion piece in the mix.
Several of the earlier MittelPunkt books contained some original research alongside more generic presentations and clever game reports. This one mostly does not, but that's not really the point here. Larp: Nur ein Spiel? is obviously written and edited more as an introductory piece to several key subjects of larp theory, not as an academic volume. And in what seeks to do, it succeeds extremely well.
Starting on its least academic part, the volume opens with an essay by Dr. Heinrich Dickerhoff. In it, the author ponders larp's relationship to adult education, fun, his own religious views and so forth. What connections are presented to wider themes are anecdotal, not referenced, so it's all an opinion piece - but a nice, personal one at that.
Daniel Steinbach, one of Germany's leading experts on edu-larp (and a contributor to all but one of the earlier MP books), provides an excellent short description of two larps that set out to teach the effect of Germany divided by the Berlin Wall. He skillfully presents enough details to give a reader a clear picture of the concepts, yet stays away from excessive minutiae, keeping the text interesting at all times. It's something many a larp educator shoud read, despite the potential language barrier.
Gerke Schlickmann presents a gender analysis, one that's solidly anchored to existing, earlier research and shows that the author has done homework. The text remains on quite a basic level, probably due to it being a re-worked part of a thesis, but it functions very well as an introductory piece to a complex subject, and the data gathered from 50 larpers is good, especially as it's contextualized by other researchers' works.
Likewise, Dennis Wienert-Risse too provides a good, easy introduction to a popular subject: frame analysis of larps. He too has done his homework well, shows that he knows the key references, and explains the key concepts in a relatively light, yet sufficiently complex manner, and when necessary, dips into issues of immersion and metainformation as well. Again, the purpose of offering something useful instead of heavy precision shows through, in a very good way.
Carl-David Habbe adds one new step on the discussion on the theatricality and performativity of larps, while showing that he knows what's already been said. At the same time as the work contains some novel points, it also functions as a good introductory reading list for people interested in the subject - a subject that keeps popping up.
The first place it pops up is the following essay, in which Bodo Jentzsch tackles with the same issues, but without the necessary references. (Dates in footnotes hint at the text being an older work, which excuses some omissions, but not all, as the author would have had access to a good reading list in another article of a book he quotes...) This lack of anchoring makes the book wrap up with anecdotality once more, but to Jentzsch's credit, his interview data is good and he uses it well.
As a whole, Larp: Nur ein Spiel? is the most solid, most professional MittelPunkt book so far. It is for the most part in exemplary dialogue with earlier research, easy to approach yet offers some new research as well. It's semi-academic, layman-friendly larp writing at its best. For a larp studies professional there isn't much that is really new, but still some, and it is obviously targeted to a wider audience, so that's no fault. The only thing I had a problem with were the different referencing styles and the occasional mis-written author names, but that's a small detail.
All I can say in judgment is that I hope this good book gets the readership that it deserves, in both Germany and abroad.
|Monday, December 3rd, 2012|
|Games, Social Media and Information.
Today, after a month's wait, I received my own author copy of the Emerald book Social Information Research
, edited by Åbo Akademi luminaries Gunilla Widén and Kim Holmberg and published by Emerald. It's a peer reviewed publication about various facets of social media research (from a LIS perspective), with the author list including several brilliant people whom I really admire, from professors to fellow post-grad students.
My own contribution to it came as a part of "Information Phenomena in Game-Related Social Media", which I co-authored with two friends who share my interest in using LIS to understand games (and vice versa), Richard D. Gough and Olle Sköld. It continues to surprise me how little the connection of games, social media and information has so far been explored, so getting a book chapter out about that feels almost like trailblazing.
The book is very expensive, but also very important reading for researchers of social media from various fields and perspectives, not just LIS. (I especially liked Olsson's analysis of SoMe in the context of drama, something many a larp scholar should read, and Heck's chapter about SoMe in academic networking). So I wish what copies of it end up in university libraries will see heavy use, and that the occasional pre-publication draft will make its way into the right hands.
Damn proud to be included in such fine company, with such fine co-authors.
|Monday, November 12th, 2012|
|Polish Edu-Larp Book.
Normally, I'd write a review when I come across a new book on role-playing studies. This time, however, I can't understand what I have (just like I can't read the Russian or Czech larp works on my shelves...). In any case, LARP. Myśli i szkice
, published by Gdanski Klub Fantastyki, looks very intriguing. Low on references, high on content - both essays as scenarios that have commentaries alongside them. It includes my own 2009 article, "Notes on Designing Repeatable Larps" as a translation, and also a Polish version of Morgan Jarl's "Creating a Character" from the same KP 2009 book. The local contributions appear intriguing to even a foreign eye, making me want to understand them.
The first print is apparently dealt out (as it wasn't sold, but rather just given to interested people), but there is hope for a second, expanded edition, I hear.
|Wednesday, October 24th, 2012|
I defended my doctoral dissertation
successfully last Thursday against the brilliant Dr. Whitton. Today, I was formally granted the degree of Doctor of Philosophy by the School of Information Sciences, University of Tampere, Finland. I am very happy, also with what I heard of the appraisal, even though formally our School only recognizes two grades of "accepted". I placed on the high end of the lower degree. And that's awesome, because:
Markus Montola, who defended his
a few weeks before me, got his degree in the same board meeting, rightfully earning the absolutely deserved "with distinction", which SIS gives just one per year, if at all. So it's been an extremely good day for academic role-playing scholarship.
On a related note, I've finally created a formal web page of my own
, so as to make the promotion of relevant role-playing scholarship and teaching easier.
Also, a new peer-reviewed article by me, Richard D. Gough and Olle Sköld was apparently published today. More on that later, however, once I get the book.
|Saturday, October 6th, 2012|
|Book Review: Dungeons & Dragons and Philosophy (2012).
(This is a copy of the review I posted on Amazon
, partially in reaction to an extremely biased one that was already there. While I too remain critical, the book certainly did not deserve all the prejudiced crap the first reviewer had uttered.)
Jon Cogburn & Marc Silcox (Eds.): Dungeons & Dragons and Philosophy (Open Court, 2012)
Shallow, at times clever, consistently entertaining (three stars)
This isn't a deep book about the philosophy of games. Nor is it one that's in proper discourse with preceding books on the philosophy of games (role-playing or other). What it does do, however, is entertain its reader with philosophy-connected examples from Dungeons & Dragons and certain cultural phenomena connected to it, and now and then raise questions deeper than where it manages to go on its own. Unlike several other books on role-playing, this one is obvious about why it has chosen a certain style of approach and excluded some pathways, language tone included. I also enjoyed that it at times presented points where the authors critiqued one another.
It is unclear, however, whether the authors (excluding two) were aware of existing research on what they talk about, and this (apparent or factual) ignorance at times causes significant problems. They make claims that should be presented in discourse with established works on the same subjects (the most obvious omissions being Suits and Tavinor, but the list is quite long), not as personal statements. The only one of the authors who says something really novel is Chris Bateman, in certain parts of his second essay. The biggest problem part in the book is Olson's gender essay, which falls into the same fallacy as did Nephew (2003, 2006) and confuses the games' supposed inherent attitudes with those of their subject group, American males, blaming the games for what appears to rather be an issue of local male culture. Likewise, several authors seem to be fixated on the old ludology/narrative split in game studies, which is for the most parts considered rather obsolete (or irrelevant) by the majority of game studies scholars these days.
Dungeons & Dragons and Philosophy is light reading and an easy introduction, but it would frankly function a lot better if the authors would have cared to include some more of the philosophy of games already in existence, instead of trying to re-invent the wheel once again.
(LJ addendum: the list of ignored but very relevant earlier works at the very least includes Arjoranta, Bergström, Crookall, Oxford & Saunders, Lappi, Montola and Nephew.)
|Wednesday, September 26th, 2012|
|Book Review - Peterson: Playing at the World (2012).
Here's a copy of my Amazon review of Jon Peterson's book Playing at the World. A History of Simulating Wars, People and Fantastic Adventures from Chess to Role-playing Games
(San Diego: Unreason Press).
Wonderful in some areas, worthless in others. (three stars)
Jon Peterson has written a huge, very ambitious tome. As far as historical data goes, the work is incredibly devoted, including almost-unnecessary minutiae, but there is good reason to include it all, in order to give credit where due and to debunk myths in other places. The author has done a massive amount of work to provide as much information as possible.
However, the minute Peterson starts speaking of the influence of rules on play, narrative, and especially immersion, the fact that he is almost totally ignorant of existing research shows through. I therefore found the book very valuable (5 stars) on some parts, harmfully oblivious on others (barely even one star).
For anything beyond exacting details of the early years, Michael J. Tresca's "The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games" is the weapon of choice. For the precise history of how and why it all began (and that alone), Peterson's absolutely great.
|Thursday, September 6th, 2012|
|My Dissertation Now Online (Plus some Thoughts on Polishing)
My doctoral dissertation, Systemic Perspectives on Information in Physically Performed Role-play
was published online
today, without two of the articles. Those are still copyrighted by Sage, and will be added to the pdf next August, when the embargo period ends. The defence is at the University of Tampere, Finland, at noon, on October 18th.
Looking back at the dissertation, and my other recent works, I have come to understand that I suck at final wrap-ups of my texts. When I think something is finished, I can't bear to look at it with any thoroughness any longer. That's a very bad thing, when combined with how a lot of publishers do sloppy work and leave it for the author to correct their errors. I don't furthemore like reference-checking software, as it doesn't fit my writing style, and my experiences with proofreaders over the years have left me distrustful of them (too many try changing content along with language corrections, doing more harm than good). So I do things by myself, leading inevitably to some typos getting past me. So too here. As soon as things come out from the press, I start seeing all the errors I missed, once more, with annoying clarity.
|Tuesday, September 4th, 2012|
|Montola's Diss, Now Online.
Markus Montola's doctoral dissertation, On the Edge of the Magic Cirle: Understanding Role-playing and Pervasive Games
, which I reviewed some time ago here
is now online. Here's the link
to that completely free piece of essential role-playing research. Go read.
|Monday, September 3rd, 2012|
|Book Review: Immersive Gameplay (2012).
After a long wait, Immersive Gameplay: Essays on Participatory Media and Role-Playing
, edited by Evan Torner and William J. White, is finally in my hands. I co-authored one chapter in it, due to which I won't be posting a review on Amazon, just here. McFarland, as a publisher, isn't always exactly as academic as it claims to be, but in the case of this book the authors have done a very good job at balancing layman-friendly with a suitably academic approach.
The key concept is immersion, one of the most debated things in game studies, making the volume a very important contribution. Examination takes place from many perspectives and on many subjects, ranging from psychology experiments to extreme role-playing and reality television - the last of which has, surprisingly, been tied really well with the game studies content, through analyzing its visible game-components. A big plus goes to the editors for that, and for the fact that Torner himself has in his own article (which I thought the best of the book) built an exemplary bridge between the two subjects, one I hope gets both cited and emulated in the future.
The essays present various important points, with varying thoroughness. Some might just as well have come out in academic journals, others are more like openings than thorough research, but they too have their function in the mix. Even the ones I had problems with, due to lack of in my opinion mandatory references (Writing on Nazi representation in games without citing Frasca, 2000? Or on casual games without Juul, 2010?), I will probably cite a lot. I also hope that the authors will produce more - I can for example see a lot of potential in Fuist's work on self-improvement through tabletop combining with that of, say, Meriläinen. (I personally lament the fact that I did not have access to Newsom's data before I submitted my dissertation the most.) And the fact is that while I may think articles with just 10 references may be somewhat shallow on one side, the findings themselves can nevertheless be very impressive. In addition, the shared bibliography at the end is quite remarkable, and is something especially inexperienced role-playing scholars should pay a lot of attention to, when they think about making off-handed remarks about immersion, bleed, game presence, or so forth.
All in all, a solid book, an approachable book, and a good academic contribution to the study of immersion. Were I an outsider reviewing it, I'd probably give it four stars out of five, with some harsh words on the references of a couple of authors and a lot of praise for the clever audacity of certain others. As one of the authors themselves, however, I settle for saying "I like this, and I'm proud to be included in such fine company".
|Monday, August 13th, 2012|
Three new master's theses (or the equivalent) on the market, all freely available through the right channels (and it's possible to buy Hook's in print
1) Nathan Hook: Identities at Play
. Available here
Nathan presents some really nice points on in-play identities, in a rather abrupt manner. Some typos disrupt the flow, but all in all, good work. (Nathan has severely misunderstood my ilinx idea, but I see now that it's my own wording's fault). Nathan is in strong contact with other researchers, so no surprise that he's well informed. Clever ideas.
2) Kivinen, Sari: Spin-Fold-Spill : a textual investigation about role-play, narrative, and fictitious truths
. Available here
Coming from a theatre studies angle, Kivinen presents a game/artpiece design, and its theoretical framing. Some ideas I liked a lot, as I did her permutations on what the medium allows, but the fact remains some very relevant key works (at least one of Harviainen, 2008, or 2010, or Lampo, 2011, or Stenros, 2010, should have been there...) were not at all mentioned. So: nice, but lots of unused potential because of a limited frame of reference. If you're into the larp-theatre angle at all, however, do check it out. Valuable.
3) Mosley, Ian: Beyond the 4th Wall: Exploring Identity in Live Action Role Players
. For this one, you need to contact Ian personally.
Mosley looks at larps from a sociological viewpoint, especially with serious leisure as a concept in mind. Sadly, his reference base is strangely limited (rumor has it, at least partially due to supervisor bias), and key works like Brenne, Balzer and Stenros aren't used - nor is the absolutely seminal Fine. Some important others are there, however, as are some surprising texts, and the arguments are mostly well presented, so I get a very mixed reaction from it all. In any case, the author shows obvious talent that in my opinion just needs a bit of more reading to get into full bloom. Larp sociologists, do ask him for a copy.
|Friday, August 10th, 2012|
|Bizarre Philosophy Triangle.
Some months ago, I spotted the CFP for a Blackwell book, "Dungeons & Dragons and Philosophy, to be edited by Christopher Robichaud. I, like a dozen colleagues, sent in an article proposal. Then, nothing happened. Not even a confirmation of proposal reception. Through indirect means, I eventually found out that the editor had apparently decided to put it on indefinite hiatus, without informing any of us. He then stopped answering messages about it.
Imagine my surprise when I saw an ad for "Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy", edited by Jon Cogburn and Mark Silcox, scheduled to appear from Open Court Books. Asking around I found out that yes, it'd formerly been a Blackwell concept. So I fumed for a while, and then decided to send a message to one of the editors, to find out what the hell had happened.
Turns out, it's a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT BOOK - compiled some months before Robichaud's, without any open CFP, and first offered to the same publisher. Therefore all search engine uses led to the impression that it's the same volume, and that some authors had been very rudely dropped. Not true. Just synchronicity and some bad manners from one person.
You can find out more about the real book here
. I know some really good authors are included, so my hopes for it are very high. I have already pre-ordered myself a copy.
|Thursday, August 2nd, 2012|
|Thesis on Religion in D:tF.
Through a hint, I came across a recent Canadian master's thesis on religion in Demon: the Fallen. Given my history and own research, it naturally interested me. You can find it here
. Trenton Streck-Havill bases a lot of his ideas on Cover's book on tabletop rpg (which as you may know I don't think of as a very high-quality piece of research), and he uses the classical paradigm of study of religion, without addressing the cognitive angles at all, so the work itself had little initial attraction for me despite the topic.
I don't criticize master's theses much these days, but honestly, when someone writes "I do not deny that Huizinga, Caillois, and many other scholars of both religion and game theory, are right in their assessment of the gaming ritual as religious. Instead it is my opinion that these scholars have not yet studied the full breadth of religious expression provided by gaming."
while himself completely ignoring cognitive study of religion, I do get somewhat irked.
Likewise, "An emphasis on narrative has likewise sparked the first vestiges of interest in the internal reality of the game setting. This is what I focus on in this discussion, and for the most part it is an entirely unexplored part of game studies. Jennifer Cover is perhaps the only scholar to give any theoretical thought to the notion of game reality, and even then it remains a survey of methodology and theory meant to assist others in tackling the subject."
makes me wonder through what use of search engines he came to that conclusion of an unexplored territory.
Nevertheless, the author had some very insightful points about game rules relating to religion, and on game-internal logic. Demon is a very good choice of rpg for that. I've for fun analyzed it myself
many years ago. So while I dislike certain parts of the work that seem to me both arrogant and ignorant, I can easily forgive those as common masters-thesis symptoms, and concentrate on the solid parts. I really liked several ideas on Setting, in Chapter Two, and it makes me in a way sad to know just how well those could have been presented with a wider set of references at the author's disposal. So I sincerely hope he continues his line of research.
(A note to scholars of role-playing rules: Even if you're not interested in the religion angle, give the thesis a look. It's got stuff on game mechanics creating game-internal reality that you may want to cite some day.)
|Tuesday, July 31st, 2012|
|Fat Man, Down.
By request, I ran Frederik Berg Østergaard's jeepform "Fat Man Down" to quite a mixed group. For those who don't know it, it's about people being mean to an overweight man - a social commentary on how people treat others, in the form of a freeform game. One of the harshest games on the market (actually, it's downloadable for free, here
. Being mean to someone is actually very taxing for a mostly sane person - as is finding out just how easily the slurs do surface.
We had some problems due to a language barrier, and the safe word use could definitely have benefitted from a clearer explication at the start. And the GM has actually very little control on the pacing or the tone, once the game starts. Therefore, I concentrated on running scenes for escalation, a trick I've tried to hone when organizing Nathan Hook's excellent "Black Dog" several times before.
While I don't consider the run a complete success, we had some great moments (feel free to steal, should you run it somewhere). Mikko Pervilä did a great job increasing his level of sloughing, as the Fat Man, creating a palpable atmosphere of tragedy. Peter Adkison came up with a really powerful scene where the Fat Man passes his favorite restaurant after two successful days of dieting. A phone call between a skinny brother and the Fat Man who had just been rejected from a flight (as too big for a seat) to their father's funeral was really distressing, as was a job interview where he was promised a job - if he'd ever drop under 85kg. FMD is one of the games that makes you feel really bad about laughing, even as you can't avoid doing so.
More experiments with it are definitely needed. Even at moments when it did not really work, I could feel the inherent potential in the script.
|Book Review: States of Play.
Last on my list of delayed reviews comes the Solmukohta 2012 book (with varying covers), States of Play
edited by Juhana Pettersson. After the Danes presented three books last year, a change of style was needed, and Juhana provided just that. The book reads like a cross-over between game documentation and game journalism, in a good sense. The key idea guiding it is the spread of Nordic larp concepts around the world, and the resulting interaction with other larp cultures, which in turn may have a lot to offer of their own. Spanning a hefty 35 essays, it documents old and new Nordic games, grants a look at songs in Russian larps, and on introducing larp to Palestine, and so forth.
Most of the texts are very short, and remain on the level of descriptive anecdotes. They are nevertheless surprisingly good. Those that are not descriptive tend to be opinion pieces. As I am a theorist and a designer, for me the highlight of it all was Michal Mochocki's theory-framed description of Polish historical larps. And on a totally subjective note, I am very happy about having finally written about our intriguing success of a failure, "Valokaari". Most of all, however, I liked the way some games were presented through multiple viewpoints, bringing them a lot more to life than a single essay would have.
All in all, however, the book reads to me more as an advertisement of ideas and larps past rather than a serious new contribution. It manages to create loads of interest in what's in there, and inspires more questions, but does not answer them by itself. I would prefer the texts to be at least double-length each. The upside of this all is of course that it's an easy book to pick up, skim, read here and there, appreciate, and be intrigued by. It may no be as deep as the ones that came before it over the last few years, but as promotion it is excellent. After so many increasingly heavy volumes, perhaps that's exactly what we needed?
|Sunday, July 29th, 2012|
|Book Review: The Book of Kapo (2012)
The documentation tradition amongst Nordic larpers has reached the point where people are starting to demand a focus on design rather than just documenting others' works (see Talk Larp...
), I know. Some documentary works, however, nevertheless not only merit their existence but also justify loads of promotion. The Book of Kapo
, edited by Claus Raasted, is definitely one of those. In its 200 picture-loaded pages, it documents the design and play of Kapo
, a brutal prison camp larp run in Denmark in 2011.
It was not a fun game, but rather something played for the harsh experience itself, and the book very much reflects that. A very big part of it consists of personal reports - to the point of frankly becoming somewhat repetitive. That's a small issue, however, as the book in general is a very impressive piece of documentation, easily able to open the concept - including its essential motives - to also people who did not attend, and even to interested non-larpers. I highly applaud its existence. It does have one big problem, though - it's clearly been designed for aesthetics rather than readability. The changing fonts are often small and messy, making it a slower read than it should content-wise be.
Harsh, visual, effective, this is a game-documentation book that should be found right next to Nordic Larp on the bookshelves of all afficionados of serious larping. It sets a new standard for how extensive larp documentation can - and in the case of certain games should - be.
|Thursday, July 26th, 2012|
|Book Review: Playing the Learning Game.
The short book, Playing the learning game: A practical introduction to educational roleplaying
, edited by Martin E. Andresen, is a layman-friendly guide to the basics of edu-larping, in a very hands-on manner. Born out of the Larpwriter Challenge project, it gives example scenarios, a few experience reports and some practical ideas for people interested in either using such games or just reading about them. What it does not provide, however, is any sort of an educational science framework on game-based learning, and in many ways seems to represent black-box thinking on that part.
Nevertheless, the fact that it's based on actual experiences and well-tested games means that it can be trusted as a guidebook for actually functioning ideas. The editor's excellent introduction outlines that point well. Of the short essays, of particular interest to me was the one by Malik Hyltoft, which while quite blatantly advertising role-playing pedagogy also remained wisely critical of it. In turn, Aarebrot and Nielsen, presenting the intriguing edu-larp "Prisoner for a Day" provide an excellent example of the necessity of proper post-game anchoring in order to avoid harmfully situated learning. Some more language correction would have done each of the pieces good, however, as small but frequent linguistic errors may make the book seem amateurish to some readers, and it most certainly is not. While it may be down-to-earth in style, the authors are notable experts in what they write about.
Included are also three mini-larps and one jeepform game. Two of them are inspirational, two directly educational, yet the inspirational ones can be used for education, too, and the edu-games played without educational goals. In the first category goes the brilliant "Family Andersson" by Nolemo & Röklander, a game about dividing an inheritance that uses shared character ownership. The other one is more an outline than a complete game: "Hostage" by jeepers Fritzon and Wrigstad functions as a system of scenes, which can be played in multiple ways. It's very powerful, but left me wondering if it's really as beginner-friendly as all the rest of the material in the book. Then there's my own "The Tribunal", which has now been run more times than I can count, in a dozen countries, with a wonderful new illustration next to it. The fourth is the winner of the Belarusian Larpwriter Challenge, Sergey Loparev's amazing "1942: The Police". Sharp historical drama and commentary, packed inside a smartly streamlined, stylish and brutal mini-larp.
Rounding up the package is a set of tools, with discussion on debriefing, workshops and warm-up. Quite elementary, but all the more suitable for use by beginners as well as reminders for experienced organizers. All in all, while not very complex (excluding the game designs), Playing the learning game is practical, useful and oftentimes also impressive. It's the kind of user-oriented larp theory that critical voices from outside ivory towers have been clamoring for, so I seriously hope it finds the right audiences - the people who will put it to good use.
The book can be purchased from Lulu
. It's a bit pricey compared to its size, but I nevertheless recommend it for any serious enthusiast of edu-larping.
|Thursday, July 19th, 2012|
|Dissertation review: Montola, 2012
While to be defended in September, 2012, Markus Montola's doctoral dissertation, On the Edge of the Magic Cirle: Understanding Role-playing and Pervasive Games
, has already seen print, and I had the privilege of receiving an advance copy (and I admit to commenting on its manuscript at several points, so I may not be totaly objective here, to be honest).
The cold, hard fact is that this book and the seven constituting articles form a cornerstone that should be nearly mandatory reading for game scholars, both the next generation as well as the luminaries who have established many of the conventions and core concepts of the field. The reason for this is that while questioning various existing definitions and concepts, Montola opens up an expanding view of how just big a phenomenon we are talking about, on its various platforms and in its varying forms. After reading this dissertation, a scholar has to be an idiot to still consider digital games (or larp) to be the sole significant facet of the subject at hand.
Central to Montola's argument is a social constructionism approach, applying especially Searle, for understanding gameplay as a process. Other key issues are rules, the concept of how games can be pervasive, and how all three things may converge. While I don't agree with every point of Montola's, I have to admit that the scientific reasoning presented is simply brilliant. (At this stage it's furthermore obvious that he and I are discussing many more of the same phenomena than we've thought, just with different terminology and somewhat paradigmatic viewpoints.)
After a third read of the book, I feel quite certain when I say that this dissertation is the research equivalent of the Nordic Larp
book: An eye-opener about just how large and impressive a phenomenon we are dealing with. Furthermore, it's written in a style that I think will be quite readable also by laymen who do not possess a vast knowledge of role-playing theory, increasing its value as also a community contribution and not just science. I hope it reaches the right hands, from interested game designers to book editors and fellow scholars.
EDIT: Here's the link to its online version: http://acta.uta.fi/english/teos.php?id=1000161