Jiituomas (jiituomas) wrote,

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.

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