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Below are 20 journal entries, after skipping by the 20 most recent ones recorded in Jiituomas' LiveJournal:

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Thursday, July 19th, 2012
10:11 am
Dissertation review: Montola, 2012
While to be defended in September, 2012, Markus Montola's doctoral dissertation, On the Edge of the Magic Cirle: Understanding Role-playing and Pervasive Games, has already seen print, and I had the privilege of receiving an advance copy (and I admit to commenting on its manuscript at several points, so I may not be totaly objective here, to be honest).

The cold, hard fact is that this book and the seven constituting articles form a cornerstone that should be nearly mandatory reading for game scholars, both the next generation as well as the luminaries who have established many of the conventions and core concepts of the field. The reason for this is that while questioning various existing definitions and concepts, Montola opens up an expanding view of how just big a phenomenon we are talking about, on its various platforms and in its varying forms. After reading this dissertation, a scholar has to be an idiot to still consider digital games (or larp) to be the sole significant facet of the subject at hand.

Central to Montola's argument is a social constructionism approach, applying especially Searle, for understanding gameplay as a process. Other key issues are rules, the concept of how games can be pervasive, and how all three things may converge. While I don't agree with every point of Montola's, I have to admit that the scientific reasoning presented is simply brilliant. (At this stage it's furthermore obvious that he and I are discussing many more of the same phenomena than we've thought, just with different terminology and somewhat paradigmatic viewpoints.)

After a third read of the book, I feel quite certain when I say that this dissertation is the research equivalent of the Nordic Larp book: An eye-opener about just how large and impressive a phenomenon we are dealing with. Furthermore, it's written in a style that I think will be quite readable also by laymen who do not possess a vast knowledge of role-playing theory, increasing its value as also a community contribution and not just science. I hope it reaches the right hands, from interested game designers to book editors and fellow scholars.

EDIT: Here's the link to its online version: http://acta.uta.fi/english/teos.php?id=1000161
Saturday, July 14th, 2012
11:56 pm
The Odraz 2012 Book.
The Czech larp conference, Odraz, managed to catch me by surprise with their latest book in more ways than one. Truhlář, S. M. (Ed., 2012). Odraž se dokud můžeš, has done something most clever, and included short content descriptions in English or Czech, depending on in which other language the article itself was published. This is of course common in academic theses, but not at all in other works. So kudos. The book contains an inroduction and nine essays, two of which are in English.

Of the Czech language ones, I cannot make much sense. Some are just short comments, others far longer works that either deal on a personal-view level with subjects relevant to larping (e.g. problems of developing a communicating larper sub-culture, educational larp, promotion, and so forth). The reference bases of all are rather limited, but the main approach very solid: Native-language texts relevant for the local community, yet with short descriptions for foreign audiences too, so that if someone gets interested, they can ask for more details. (Given the importance of the subjects, I really hope people do ask.)

One of the two English-language articles is mine, "Experiences with Emergent Plot", which expands on my 2009 "Notes" and 2011 "Games for testing". Short, not very deep, but I do like it myself. The other one is on larp promotion in Croatia, by Ivan Žalac. Elementary, down-to-earth, based on his own group's experiences. In summary: Really interesting, as between the lines one gets many new glances to larps in Croatia, in somewhat of a continuation with the Rajner & Špoljarić article in Larp Graffiti (2010).

All in all, I found the 2012 Odraz book to be intriguing, to say the least. Furthermore, some of the articles produced in the Czech Republic between the books have also been interesting, as far as I can understand from the list of references that I saw online. This book is a sign of a vibrant community, one that seems to desire communication with scenes abroad, even if its contents can't, due to language barriers, contribute much to international larp theory discussions. I hope the coming years will see the excellent summaries develop into wider abstracts, and the essays themselves to start including relevant references. The scent of high potential is very much in the air with the Odraz series of books.
10:55 am
Dissertation review: Bergström, 2012.
(There's been a long silence on this blog, due to my moving, starting in a new job, and finishing my dissertation. Within the next few weeks, however, I intend to review a bunch of books here so as to get up to speed again. Here's the start.)

Karl Bergström: Playing for Togetherness: Designing for Interaction Rituals through Gaming (Doctoral dissertation, 2012).

In his compilation dissertation, Bergström addresses the promotion of a sense of community and togetherness through game design. The focus is mostly on digital gaming, apparently more due to publication channel requirements than personal interest, but there's plenty of relevant material for tabletop role-playing and larp as well. A main concept, interaction ritual, relies strongly on Goffman, of course, and Bergström applies it well. (The short foray into the game-ritual connection contains some misinterpretations, though, but it's much due to the shorthand reference style of an article of mine he quotes, so I take partial blame for that myself.)

In a rather short work (127 pages, the articles included), Bergström manages to say quite a lot of important things on goal-oriented game design, ranging from interaction to aesthetics, from rules and narratives to senses of community. My favorite parts are the last two articles that deal with less studied aspects of rules - implicit ones in board games, and creativity-fostering in tabletop role-playing. The design approach and grounding should also make the book easier to read and appreciate for the many who keep complaing about role-playing theory not discussing actual design and practical matters enough. To be honest, I could point to several indie designers from the (post-)Forge scene(s) who would benefit a lot from a thorough reading of Bergström's ideas.

The dissertation can be found freely online here. I suggest reading it, especially for designers of educational role-playing. It also resonates nicely with Lankoski's design ideas, so if you have read and liked his dissertation (2010), this will probably interest you a lot, too.
Wednesday, April 4th, 2012
4:43 pm
Tuesday, March 20th, 2012
12:26 pm
Friday, March 16th, 2012
12:16 pm
Solmukohta 2012 Book Online.
The PDF version of the Solmukohta 2012 book, States of Play: Nordic Larp Around the World, edited by Juhana Pettersson, has been published online. You can download it here: http://solmukohta.org/index.php/2012/Book

The printed version will be published on the 11th of April.
Monday, March 12th, 2012
5:46 pm
Stalker, in English.
Stalker, by Ville Vuorela, is in my opinion the best tabletop role-playing game currently on the market, and one of the best ever made. This Finnish design gem is now, finally, available in English as well, in pdf format, through DriveThruRPG. Go give it a look. I most highly recommend it.
Tuesday, March 6th, 2012
12:32 pm
Sunday, February 26th, 2012
10:28 am
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.
Tuesday, February 21st, 2012
10:53 am
Thursday, February 16th, 2012
9:21 am
Last Dissertation Article Published.
After months of waiting, the sixth article of my dissertation, "Ritualistic Games, Boundary Control, and Information Uncertainty", was published yesterday. Despite my wishes, some paragraphs were condensed together, making it a heavier read than it should be. Other than that I am very pleased with it. The abstract can be found here. Access to the full article, however, requires a university license or its equal to Sage journals.
Tuesday, February 14th, 2012
11:49 am
Wednesday, February 8th, 2012
10:17 am
Playground Magazine returns.
With Danish energy, Playground magazine has been resurrected. I was not exactly pleased with the previous incarnation, but I think this is great news indeed. It's an important publication. You can find more information, and subscription guidelines, here: http://www.playgroundmagazine.net/
Tuesday, January 24th, 2012
1:38 pm
Tuesday, January 17th, 2012
11:32 pm
Book Review: Lizzie Stark - Leaving Mundania
(Note: This book review is a slightly audience-profiled version of the one I wrote for Amazon. That one will be posted there when the book is out.)

In her book Leaving Mundania: Inside the Transformative World of Live Action Role Playing Games, American journalist Lizzie Stark describes her experiences with larping. As fits her profession, the style consists mostly of reported experiences and long human-interest anecdotes, such as the life stories of some gamers and descriptions of events. It's like reading a lighter version of the Knutepunkt books - the key concepts are basically all presented, just in layman-friendly terms and with few yet enough references: historical precedents, artistic aspirations, escapism, education, economy, prejudices, connections with siblings like re-enactment, and so forth. (I found especially the sections on re-enactment, military excercises and business role-play to be solid gold.)

The start may seem somewhat off-putting to more artsy Nordic larpers, as the games described are escapism-heavy, and so appear many people playing them. But once past the initial shock, their commitment to the illusion of play starts shining through. Not only is the book an excellent foray into North-American larp (and elsewhere), it is also an intriguing bit of Americana, a testament to how people can easily adapt to strange roles, yet still remain very conservative. That, in its good and bad, is something supposedly rather alien to the typical Nordic larper mindset, but I do see in it a reflection, in that the typical Nordic larper is just as fixated - towards a leftist, queernormative approach with strong artistic aspirations on his or her hobby.

So in addition to being an extremely enjoyable read, a good document and a nice reference even for academics, Leaving Mundania deals with issues far more complex than they initially seem. It records the silly along with the very serious, and discusses the differences between the two with a clever tone. It is the most descriptive, all-encompassing book about larp and larpers on the market, and highly recommendable to anyone interested in the subject.

Leaving Mundania gets the full five stars from me.
Wednesday, January 4th, 2012
1:31 pm
Call for Papers: Finland and simulation/gaming
Call for Papers

Finland and simulation/gaming


Special issue of Simulation & Gaming: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Theory, Practice and Research

http://sg.sagepub.com/ | http://www.unice.fr/sg/

Guest Editors:
J. Tuomas Harviainen, Tampere Research Center for Information and Media, University of Tampere, Finland
Timo Lainema, Turku School of Economics, University of Turku, Finland
Jaakko Suominen, Department of Digital Culture, University of Turku, Finland
Erno Soinila, School of Engineering, Aalto University, Finland

Finland has a vibrant and creative simulation/gaming academic community and industry. We therefore invite both researchers and industry professionals to participate in a special symposium issue of Simulation & Gaming: An Interdisciplinary Journal. The aim of the symposium (special issue) is to bring together, consolidate and promote contributions from Finnish knowledge on gaming, so that it will contribute to simulation and game studies and design worldwide.

High-quality submissions from various disciplines are welcome. Potential topics for the issue include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:

- Business, management, economic and/or military simulation/games in Finland
- Recreational gaming in Finland
- Finnish game design
- Future studies simulations and scenario planning in Finland
- Surveys of existing Finnish simulation and gaming research
- Educational games in Finland and gaming in Finnish schools
- Role-playing in Finland

The concept of “Finnish” is to be interpreted broadly. We would welcome, for example, research conducted by Finnish scholars, writing about Finnish players or games, or work done by a foreign academic currently working at a Finnish institution or design company, or multi-national author teams, with at least one from Finland. If articles combine the idea of “Finnish” and notions of “simulation/gaming”, they are a potential fit, regardless of the exact medium, platform or design intent. The editors are especially interested in seeing high-quality articles that build bridges among the various game and simulation scenes in this country and beyond.

Accepted articles will be published relatively fast electronically (and thus count as a published article) before the actual printed symposium appears in print. Please send to the Guest Editors a one- to two-page outline proposal (.doc, not .docx) containing the following elements:

- Your name, e-mails, phone, address, etc.
- A working title, an abstract and a plan for the proposed paper.
- You may, if you wish, also send copies of any relevant already-published articles of yours.

J. Tuomas Harviainen - jushar |@| utu.fi

Timo Lainema - timo.lainema |@| utu.fi

S&G at Sage - http://sg.sagepub.com/

S&G Author Guide - http://www.unice.fr/sg/

Editor: David Crookall - simulation.gaming |@| gmail.com


Schedule

Receipt of proposals until end of Feb 2012.
Response to proposals in a month.
Writing & submission of ms.
First review sent in about 2 or 3 months.
Ms revision (maybe 2nd review), editing, proofing.
Publication online as articles are accepted.
Articles are published on an ongoing basis.

For further details and updates, see http://sgfinland.wordpress.com/
Monday, December 19th, 2011
4:45 pm
Friday, December 2nd, 2011
8:59 pm
My Otava Lecture Online.
My lecture on the narrative frame of larping, held at Otavan Opisto a couple of weeks ago, is now online. They also host a lot of other interesting videos, such as Mikko Meriläinen's speech on the Heureka science exhibition's larps, Jari Takatalo's talk on psychophysical measurement of game experiences, stuff on the Danish larp school, and so forth, here. Great stuff in many of them. do check them out.
Tuesday, November 29th, 2011
1:44 pm
Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011
12:52 pm
Minsk, plus some Otava.
The last few days, I have been busy lecturing. First, I went to Minsk, for the finale of the Belarusian larpwriter challenge. The challenge itself was, well-deservedly, won by Sergey Loparev's excellent Police Units. I also had a lot of free time for tourism, as all the rest of the delegation had visa trouble and could not come. So instead of meetings, I got to go to the National Library, which is simply absurd (and has to have been an economic strain to the country), but very impressive nevertheless. On Sunday, Sasha drove me to see the gorgeous castles in Mir and Nesvizh, and a bunchy of spontaneously selected, very beautiful churches.

At the main event were run all three contest games, the two others of which had been developed further also. Plus there was a workshop on warm-ups, one on edu games (by me), a panel on the state of Belarusian larp, a run of my Tribunal, Lukka's Prelude, as well as some Family Anderssons. And many great talks with, and between, the locals. Old friends were met and new ones made. A great trip, made especially easy by the fact that our voluntary tour guides the last time had done such a marvelous job explaining things that I could simply wander the city - and even navigate the metro system - on my own.

After Minsk, I went straight to Otavan Opisto, where I was one of the guest lecturers for the Scandinavian Game Seminar. The videos of both of my lectures will be made available online later on.
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