July 31st, 2012

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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?
  • Current Music
    Donis - Ein Saulelė Aplink Dangų
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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.
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    Theodor Bastard - Remixed