Jiituomas (jiituomas) wrote,
Jiituomas
jiituomas

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Subjective Review: Playing Reality - The Book for Knutpunkt 2010.

This year's book had a load of articles, in various styles and qualities. A really mixed bag, ranging from academic-style theory to outright fiction. The editorial work has apparently been done in a haste - several texts have language issues, and at least ten references are missing in total. The book is wisely set in chapters, differing heavily from each other - although some articles could just as easily have been place in completely different section. Some brief comments on each follow:

Semenov describes the history of Russian larps, including the development of certain schools of thought regarding it. It is a highly welcome and clear piece, but there isn't that much on the larps themselves. So while happy about this first step, I am eagerly looking for more on Russia's larp scene.

Hook's two papers gave me a very mixed reaction - having already versed myself quite well with both Campbell's monomyth and with the idea of demanding solid info from organizers before signing up (a recurring theme in the book, by the way), I thought "nice to have these here, but some solid examples on how to apply these to various games would be necessary".

Berger's piece on stories in larp was likewise a two-reaction thing. I found it a really good and useful text, with a lot of solid content. However, I can also understand why certain others have felt differently - I knew the examples and metaphors included, most don't. So some more thorough explanations would have made it a lot more layman-friendly. And I would have liked to see a few words on Lehrskov's and Westlund's ideas of larp story along with Berger's otherwise really impressive list of key references.

Widing gives one of the three definite highlights of the book. His list of how to do things wrong in organizing a larp is familiar, yet certainly needed to be said out loud anyway. And he's also aware of exceptions, which is a plus. I do not subscribe to his idea of people being scared of the power of larp and thus making errors of judgment when designing, but the practical stuff is worth a lot regardless of how one feels about that assumption.

Kim's paper on status and its effects on and in larp is also quite good. He has some really nice examples and carries his point well. I was left wanting a section on emergent status, both as something that the organizers have prepared and as something that arises on its own, but that's no big loss.

Lassila's A to Z on running a campaign is clever and useful, but it has one big problem: It's a guideline for running her style of campaign, and thus some of the advice should be taken with a grain of salt. I for one don't believe in excessive praise or the avoidance of certain kinds of feedback, but to each their own. The author's success in her chosen genre shows that the advice does indeed work in at least that context, so it is expertise worth spreading.

Koskinen's text is a hard read, but when really concentrated on, it does reveal quite a lot of the construction of games and playfulness. I especially liked the parts on dogma-pretence, as it corresponds to stuff I have been doing over the years with religion-themed mini-larps.

Springenberg & Steinbach have a paper re-published from the MittelPunkt 2009 book, Larp: Hinter den Kulissen, as an English translation. Highly welcome, as it's a good, well-balanced text on an educational ARG and deserves a larger audience.

Karalevich and Springenberg give us a continuation from last year, on the Belarus larp 1943. Important game documentation on a game certainly worth mentioning. A well-done article, but seems a bit dissonant due to the "we did not want realistic Nazis" cop-out mentioned near the end. I can understand why, but find it nevertheless problematic.

Gotthard and Zlatohlavek also give us documentation, an excellent piece on the totalitarianism-critique larp Project System, with analysis included. A fine text, in the tradition of the material produced on System Danmarc. One of my three favorites in the book.

Tidbeck's story on rapture is a very good read, but seems to be in a completely wrong book. It may work as inspiration, but has very little per se to do with larp.

Petrén's fake newspaper report is the third of the top three in the book, and my personal favorite. Using a journalistic approach discussing fictional larps (quite Fluxus-reminiscent ones) of the future as art events, she catches the very essence of how things will eventually look if/when the art-larp people get their wish and the medium is accepted as legitimate art equal to other forms.

Snan's text is more a larp-themed short story than an essay of any kind, even if it does touch on the larp-psychodrama connection. Has some nice ideas about blurring characters, but left me rather cold.

Jungblut's article is also a reprint from the MP2009 book, and I still felt the same way about it: Highly narrativist regarding larp, lacking proper references (especially on larp semiotics), but in any case very clever.

MacDonald raises some good questions about immersion, the need of character and the nature of the larp play experience. I disagree with her on the character issue, though - in my view, she simply constructed a character for herself in the process, as opposed to playing without one, when she was drawn into the example piece. Will have to debate that in the future.

Lappi has done (an already forum-debated) text on the contra-moral included in certain games. He's effectively following on the footsteps of researchers like Suits, but the essay seemed to me quite layman-friendly, as long as the reader is familiar with the basics of philosophical debate on games and their properties. He also includes his own critique in a way, making the approach more easy to absorb - if one accepts the idea of a contra-moral in the first place, that is.

Jordan has some nifty, if light stuff about reality-perspective construction and larps. A nice read, but not really that special in content, though. It does, however, have some very quotable sections, meaning I will certainly end up referencing it on multiple occasions.

Harding discusses larp play as an approach to late modernity, in the context of refuting certain pieces of Swedish anti-roleplaying critique. A well-written text, carrying its point well, and in my opinion succeeding in both saying why the opposition is wrong and in explaining a certain part of the lure of larps, both style- and equality-wise.

Ilieva offers the next step in understanding role-playing games through discourse, and does well in extending the subject to larps more than has been done before. Some very clever stuff there, but would have benefited from a bit less wheel-reinvention - stuff she speaks about has been already introduced by other researchers inside (White, Hendricks, Lacy) and outside (Kristian Bankov comes to mind) of role-playing studies. It's an impressive start, though, and I eagerly wait to see more material from her.

My own article I will of course not review, I'll just settle with saying that I limited my approach to manifestos of either Nordic origin or with a publishing on a Nordic forum such as the KP books - I wanted to track down not just the texts, but also their game legacies. In the case of a few, the latter was not possible for me at the time. This means interesting stuff like the Swiss and Czech manifestos had to be left out. (Do read them.)

Bjerkås, Rånge and Valentin write about two example cases of larps done in co-operation with other parties. The examples are good, and the authors do not shy away from talking about failures, too. They also offer a good checklist, but it's a bot too black-and-white for my taste - certain exceptions should have been mentioned. In any case, valuable documentation once again, and mandatory reading for people who plan to run municipally co-operative larp works.

Gullbrandson's article offers two very nice things: Some background on the famous Hamlet project, and a connection to one of larp's siblings, business games. Both are valuable things, and they are presented well.

And finally, we come to the problem piece: Nurmi writes about educational larps, with insight. he's also doing a hell of a lot of wheel-reinvention. I'd understand this in some other book, but here? The KP books have since at least 2004 contained papers talking about the very same things - Henriksen, Harder, Hyltoft, etc. A tiny bit of research would have also shown him similar stuff in books from Germany and Denmark, as well as at least a handful of articles in journals like Simulation & Gaming. So it's very, very hard for me to take him seriously, no matter how many good parts there are.

All in all, Playing Reality (with its Winnicott-reminiscent name and tight paperback look to boot) is a nice book and a welcome addition, but it's frankly not as impressive as the two KP books which immediately preceded it

Remember that all this can be downloaded for free, from the Interacting Arts home page.
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