February 26th, 2012

formal

Book Review: Larp und Ich

For the fourth time, the German larp convention Mittelpunkt and Zauberfeder Verlag together bring us a (mostly) German-language book on larp theory. The 2012 version, Larp und ich, contains six texts, some of them articles, others personal essays.

It starts off with a nice essay, in which Christian Mayer tells of how his perspectives on what he wants in a larp have changed over the years. The intriguing part is that whereas a Nordic account (or avant-garde American, for that matter) would likely talk about switching game genres, Mayer's account stays within traditional fantasy. It drives home the important point that innovation and personalization of larp experiences do not always have to include drastic changes.

Carl David Habbe applies Judith Butler's ideas on larp characters. His style is heavy to read, yet entertaining, using ideas such as how a tentacle monster would represent itself on Facebook. The subject is important as well, as it ties into question of "characters worth playing" and so forth, so I am happy to know that the author will be continuing this line of research.

The sole piece in English is from Rafael Bienia, and it too deals with an important idea: Bienia talks about creativity, of borrowing ideas and doing fanfiction-type larps, and encourages readers to do so. His encouragement is very nice, even if my knowledge of certain "cease & desist" orders makes me more sceptical than he is about copyright holders accepting fan adaptations as flattery and admiration. The language of the article could furthermore have used some proofreading, but that's no big deal in a book like this.

Nathan Hook's article is a direct translation of his Larp of a Thousand Faces, first published in the KP2010 book. As then, I now still feel the same way about it: Good ideas and fine observations, but I would have hoped that this new version would have included some of the grounding I felt was missing in the original.

It has seemed to me that in every MP book, someone tries re-inventing a wheel and calling it his or her own. This time it's Klaus Peill, who writes about the relationship between player traits and those of the character, and about systemic views on larps. I liked many of his observations, but they were frankly left as just anecdotes, because the author had completely ignored earlier research on the subjects (lots of which exists on both) and thus lacked proper grounding and comparison for what he claimed. Thus the result sounds arrogant, not clever.

The book ends with a translation of Markus Montola's The Positive Negative Experience in Extreme Role-playing. It is an excellent article, one of the key works on exploring both bleed and the way some people prefer "interesting" to "fun" in larps, and so on. Especially given the earlier discussions in Germany on depicting sexual violence in a larp context (see the Borina & Mertins article in the 2009 book), I think it was a very good choice for translating into German.

I don't know if it's true, but it seems like the new offerings were a bit thin this year, but the translations thankfully back the volume up nicely. I would have liked to see half a dozen texts more, but maybe next year. In this volume's case, i don't think the book offers much for foreign audiences, but for German readers, the Montola article alone makes it a worthy purchase, and I think several of the other essays will inspire useful thoughts in such people as well. And I applaud the fact that after providing the first publication route for several articles that have later been translated into English, Karsten Dombrowski has also started importing good stuff from abroad to German audiences.
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