Jiituomas (jiituomas) wrote,

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 The historical documents focusing on Intercon and Ford Ivey's work are very nice, as are some of the other contributions, particularly the hands-on design guidance of Jason Morningstar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.

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