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Topic Proposal Redux: Play With Intent American Freeform Larp Techniques

I noted in my first topic proposal, “I will study a particular LARP that I will play between February 28 and March 2.  …  I am currently leaning toward the Jeep Form LARP, which is less structured and more dynamically co-created in the four-hour session via improv and lots of character autonomy and agency. … The game is neither playable nor solvable alone; thus a system or network is needed to experience the reality that is LARP.”

I have indeed selected the larp that stems from the Jeepform tradition, and is categorized by its writers as part of a burgeoning self-defined style called American Freeform [Larp]. The use of the term “larp” to describe it is under debate by the community (see Lizzie Stark’s post), but in the largest genre sense, it definitely is larp — live, embodied players taking on roles and enacting a particular scenario using rules/mechanics and techniques for the purpose of exploration and fun. (Truth be told, the use of the term “freeform” is also contentious, as is the word “American”, but such is larp.) But the American Freeform style takes table-top as a closer progenitor (much like most US larps, as opposed to their European, especially Nordic counterparts), and borrows from the table certain meta-techniques that carve the larp into clear scene breaks and acts, something considered sacrilege to those who espouse that “true larp” is immersive and continuous while in game. Read Evan Torner’s manifesto to learn even more.

The focus of this study will not be whether American Freeform (or Jeepform for that matter) is larp; rather, I will look at the specific meta-techniques outlined by a particular American Freeform game, Play with Intents – -Noir Version. (You can read the system here: Last Chance Noir). According to one of the authors, Emily Care Boss, “Freeform meta-techniques are procedures which interrupt into the flow of the narrative, but which give players access to additional layers of storytelling and embodiment of character.” In this sense, the techniques make for a constantly changing activity system that moves between and among the players and techniques, and among the layers of role-play in-game/out-of-game, in-character/out-of-character, social norms, tropes, motivations, etc. The game is set up for maximum flexibility and is dependent on the players adaptability to change to keep the narrative moving.

I want to take a look at these meta-techniques as creating the protocols and boundaries for the larp to unfold. Each of the techniques functions as a node in the network, and can be called upon at any time during a scene by a player or the GM. I think this particular larp style will work will for Actor-Network Theory, and the actants and actors and various types of agency. In addition, this role-playing style is less about simulation and more about making use of what is available — a dynamic network is created through player/GM-chosen protocols and sustained for the duration of the game. This form is more fluid between in-game and out-of-game, which is why the techniques are called meta-techniques. In addition, individual players have more agency to “direct” the action and control the flow, which to some traditional larp players can feel like less autonomy over their own characters. Costumes (which are far less elaborate than in a traditional larp) are created on-the-fly and are “suggested” via props, often taken up spontaneously. These features, along with the form’s obvious nods to the table-top and Nordic traditions make for an interesting ecosystem and ANT approach. I also envision analyzing the affordances and constraints of each technique individually and how they work to an accumulative system.

To give an example, one of the Nordic larp techniques that is incorporated into  is Monologuing, known in the American Freeform Play With Intent – Last Chance Noir as Inside/Outside Voice. Using this technique a player alternates between character’s inner voice and external narration/dialogue. Players are directed to “Speak interior thoughts other characters would not perceive. May also speak broad connecting information, like a narrator’s voice-over in a film, that fill in pieces of the puzzle or push the characters in new directions.” This gives information to the PLAYERS that would not be known to the CHARACTERS, and is a method of information control in the game, especially as a character can be directed to give a monologue by another character or the GM, whenever s/he is interested in learning the motivation or thoughts behind an action, or to reveal information that would demonstrate a central tension or character trait.

This OOS is important to English studies because it represents a form of collaborative composition and interactive narrative. Using techniques, not unlike writing tools and rhetorical moves, players jointly compose. The GM behaves much like a teacher by planting the seeds, gathering the components, and regulating the action, but also letting it unfold. It models a kind of creative problem-solving that we wish to include in classroom spaces. Furthermore, it is a site of cultural production that makes allusions to literary and historical pieces, adopting tropes from literature and theater. In addition, as these larps are remediations from movies or table-top games, they offer interesting insight in terms of genre study.

I am lucky to be in contact with four of the major players in American Freeform: Lizzie Stark, Emily Care Boss, Evan Torner and John Stavropoulos. I have played two of these games in the past six months, and read many others. I also participated in a workshop about the techniques at the Living Games conference in New York City last month, conducted by Boss and Torner.

Works Cited

Boss, Emily Care, and Matthijs Holter. Last Chance Noir: A Play With Intent Tool Kit. 2014.
Stark, Lizzie. “Introducing American Freeform.” Lizzie Stark. Web. 28 Mar. 2014.
Stark, Lizzie. “Jeepform for Noobs.” Lizzie Stark. Web. 28 Mar. 2014.
Torner, Evan. “American Freeform: A Transatlantic Dialog.” The Guy in the Black Hat. Web. 29 Mar. 2014.
Torner, Evan, and Emily Care Boss. “Transforming the Narrative: Freeform Meta-Techniques.” New York, N.Y: N. p., 2014. Print.

Distributed Cognition of CCCC

I made a Popplet to capture the ecologies of CCCC.

4Cs had several perceived affordances to me:

  • Networking – Connecting and Reconnecting
  • Learning
  • Fangirling
  • Rhetorically positioning myself and my research agenda
  • Play
  • Strengthened bonds
  • Potentialities for the future
  • Fun

The conference’s interfaces afforded multiple ways for me to enact what I had perceived as WIIFM:

  • Physical spaces and subspaces
  • Virtual spaces
  • Artifacts
  • People

The conference is NONE of the things above alone. It exists in the relationship between them and the information that flows (and is transformed) among the nodes. As Gibson notes, the more complex the structure, the more it affords. CCCC is very complex, and its affordances are nearly limitless. I have detailed my own diegesis,  my own experience of the conference on my Popplet, as well as my own perceived affordances. Someone else, however, would perceive different affordances and have a very different experience, even though we all attended the same conference. There is no one conference narrative, or one way to use or modify the conference experience. It exists, and is there to be co-created by those interacting within it.

 

Reading Between the Outlines — Case Study #2 Comments

 

 

I read and commented on Suzanne’s outline re: Rhetorical Situation and CHAT and Summer’s outline re: ANT and Rhetorical Situation.

I’m thinking that I want to maybe switch from Hypertext theory to Rhetorical situation with LARPs, or bring in a third surreptitiously because of the way Bitzer and Vatz (and to a lesser extent Biesecker) allow for the primacy of speech as creating reality, which is so true in larps as once you say something, it is true, and a subsequent speech act is demanded.

Theoretical Application Rubric –> Summer’s MMO Guilds

Ah, rubrics. Ah, humanity.

Discussion of Creating Rubric

Tasked with developing a rubric for an assignment that was already completed, and applying it to content created by collaborative colleagues, rather than developing a rubric prior to the assignment and using it for content created by students who are in a more hierarchical position, I first thought about what the tool should do. I decided that it should be a generic set of questions that advanced thinking about the theory and its application, and set up a framework for a true assessment, which, as authors in Digital Writing Assessment and Evaluation and elsewhere have noted, should be hyper-local to reflect the exigencies of a particular assignment, the culture of the institution in which it is situated, and the population being assessment.  Since the requirement was for it to be a rubric about applying a theory, and not a theory of networks per se, I did not feel that I could start at the logical place, with  the questions asked of us on the first case study, reflecting the parameters of the assignment:

  • How does the theory define your object of study (as a whole, broken into pieces)?
  • What and/or who is a network node?
  • What types of agency are articulated for various types of nodes?
  • How are different types of nodes situated within a network?
  • What are the types and directions of relationships between nodes?
  • What happens to content or meaning as it travels through a network?
  • How do networks emerge, grow, and/or dissolve?

While normally I would have turned to assignment objectives and guiding questions, such as those above, because so many of the questions were directly related to networks, and not application of a theory, I took the first question: “how does the theory define your object of study, as a whole and broken into pieces?” and used that as the basis, breaking that question down into component parts that I divided into two main categories: articulation of the theory and its context, and application of the theory to the object of study.

Daniel and I collaborated on a rubric as we thought it would make sense to both develop a rubric and apply a rubric developed by another (both of which are required in teaching).  I began with the categories and a draft of the questions; Daniel and I discussed and tweaked questions/attributes, and he added a third category regarding local instance of the OoS. I then added the Gold, Silver and Bronze categories below, as a way of rating each category, while he used them as the binary “Yes” or “No”.  We posted the link on our Facebook group, and Amy and Jenny also visited the rubric to offer some comments.

Blank Rubric:
Rating: (with figure skating analogies. I will not be the Russian or Ukrainian judge.)

Gold — Clear, sound, complete, cogent, says something new. You had the difficulty and landed the jumps.

Silver  – Mostly clear, some gaps or rough patches, tends to repeat what is known but may have surprising insights at places. Possible two-footed landings and moments of stumbling, but the crowd loves you and the overall impression is positive; took some risks to earn reward.

Bronze — More nascent view, larger gaps in explanations, reasons; ideas are sound but could be improved with more “fleshing out”; you’re at the games and at the right competitive level, you have the moves, but this particular performance doesn’t demonstrate your full potential.

Theory Clearly Articulated and Contextualized

Rating:

  • Whose theory is it? Who is the theorist?
  • What is the definition of the theory, its main premise?
  • What are the key attributes of the theory?
  • What are the limitations of the theory?
  • To what theories or theorists is the theory indebted or built upon?
  • Where does the theory fall in a spectrum or in relation to others?
  • What is the theory’s importance to the field?
  • Are there canonical or well-respected applications of the theory?

Theory Clearly Applied to Specific OoS and Explained

  • Is the OoS contextualized and explained?
  • Is there clear correspondence of theory attributes to OoS attributes?
  • Does the author explain which portion of the theory is used and which discarded and why?
  • How does the theory illuminate the OoS? What new aspects does it allow us to see?
  • How does the theory change our view of the OoS?
  • What are the limitations (blind spots) of this theory as applied to this OoS?
  • How does this theory application add to the body of knowledge re: this OoS or the discipline?
  • Are the conclusions drawn re: the theory logical and sound?
  • What is gained as a result of using this theory?

Theory Mapped to Local Context (Praxis)

  • Local context(s) to which theory can be mapped are identified
  • Specific person(s) responsible for activated mapping
  • Social and political boundaries defined by theory are identified
  • Aspects of theory mapped to specific lived experience
  • Anticipated social action to be achieved by mapping;
  • Assessment process of localized mapping defined

Rubric Applied to Summer’s Case Study of MMO Guilds

I felt a bit awkward using the rubric with a classmate’s work, as rubrics connote “assessment” rather than “feedback.” I don’t have a problem giving critical constructive feedback that may point out that the item is at the “silver” or “bronze” level, but giving it that label implies a grade that I don’t feel qualified to give, and I don’t want to risk a collegial relationship by appearing to be superior (the position from which assessment generally comes). Thus, I qualify that these are my impressions, and that the levels of Gold, Silver and Bronze are all “top finishers” who are on the podium, distinguishing themselves from the field. My attempts to identify areas of where further attention might be given may point out flaws with the reader and her understanding rather than the writer and hers.

Theory Clearly Articulated and Contextualized

Rating:

Discussion:
  • Whose theory is it? Who is the theorist?
  • What is the definition of the theory, its main premise?
  • What are the key attributes of the theory?
  • What are the limitations of the theory?
  • To what theories or theorists is the theory indebted or built upon?
  • Where does the theory fall in a spectrum or in relation to others?
  • What is the theory’s importance to the field?
  • Are there canonical or well-respected applications of the theory?
Bronze  Brief mention of the theory and a single quote. Mentions again at the end but most discussion is of the guilds themselves. Concepts such as felicity, genre, typification, or Bazerman’s overall take not explained or contextualized.  Thus, it is difficult to know what Bazerman is saying and how Summer is considering Bazerman’s premises (her interpretation of them).

Theory Clearly Applied to Specific OoS and Explained

  • Is the OoS contextualized and explained?
  • Is there clear correspondence of theory attributes to OoS attributes?
  • Does the author explain which portion of the theory is used and which discarded and why?
  • How does the theory illuminate the OoS? What new aspects does it allow us to see?
  • How does the theory change our view of the OoS?
  • What are the limitations (blind spots) of this theory as applied to this OoS?
  • How does this theory application add to the body of knowledge re: this OoS or the discipline?
  • Are the conclusions drawn re: the theory logical and sound?
  • What is gained as a result of using this theory?
Silver Summer does a great job explaining what guilds are, what they do, how they operate, and the difference between game-global and game-local (although I think that distinction is lost some in the discussion). I remain uncertain how the various parts of a guild, such as a perk, an application, the bank, the discourse, the mentors, correspond to parts of Bazerman’s theory and I am not sure how Bazerman helps me understand guilds in a different way.

Theory Mapped to Local Context (Praxis)

  • Local context(s) to which theory can be mapped are identified
  • Specific person(s) responsible for activated mapping
  • Social and political boundaries defined by theory are identified
  • Aspects of theory mapped to specific lived experience
  • Anticipated social action to be achieved by mapping;
  • Assessment process of localized mapping defined
Bronze

N/A

 This is part of our rubric, but not necessarily part of the assignment, so it is understandable if it would not appear. Summer hints at the idea of “game-local” in the beginning, so I hoped I would have Bazerman’s concepts illustrated with an actual instance of game-play in a guild, where I could see the concepts in action. In such a short case study, though, this is impossible, and thus would be something for continuation if this approach were expanded. Screen shots and embedded videos helped with demonstrating a local instantiation of the game and guild activity.

Discussion of Applying Rubric

I found it somewhat difficult to apply the rubric to the Case Study #1, since the assignment was not for a full application of a theory (which is the rubric I developed) and was more of a “sandbox” attempt at moving toward a full application of a theory. Thus, it doesn’t seem it *could* have scored Gold, since the writer wasn’t asked to do all that the rubric asked. However, applying the rubric did help me identify and quantify some gaps in Summer’s Case Study, which did a fantastic job explaining the Object of Study (which would have to be done in any article or research piece about it) but spent less time in the theoretical lens being applied, which was the object of the assignment. Summer did a great job using hypertext to extend her text without impinging on her word count parameters, so that guilds could be defined and examples of applications provided. She contributed to my understanding guilds and how they affect play in WoW, but I was unable to learn how these guilds are a genre system, and I left the case study still hoping for a discussion of this very interesting premise: “Bazerman’s theory of speech acts and systems of human activity can define the local level of MMO guilds through interactions between players and the cohesion and disruption felt once those interactions begin to collect into trends and movements“  (emphasis mine). What Summer has set up in this discussion is the clear proof that the WoW guilds are an object worthy of study, that they are a network of people articulated primarily by speech acts, and that this network influences game play and player affiliation. I still want to hear HOW. I hope she explores this further.

Conclusion

Lastly, I think the rubric that we developed is helpful in  thinking about the components required in applying a theory, and striking the balance between enough context and explanation of both the theory itself and the OoS, and spending enough time tying the two summarized and contextualized pieces (the theory and the OoS) together. It helped me clarify what I need to do with my own Case Studies.

Image from: http://booklovingfool.wordpress.com/2013/05/22/oh-bartleby-oh-humanity/

OOSing Along (de Paris)

I read and commented on Amy’s Case Study on Freshman Composition MOOCs using Hardware/Software/Network theory, and on Jenny Moore’s Foucauldian analysis of La Leche Network.

I enjoyed Amy’s post because she is doing some interesting thinking about the components of networking as related to teaching and technology. It made me clarify my thinking related to hardware and software, particularly with regard to a single CPU and its internal bus and a router regulating nodes on a network. I think there are multiple ways of applying the network concept  related to pedagogy; the diameter of the network will be based on how you apply the concept. Is the classroom function as a network, or the course? What is the diagram of the network? Is it star/radial, tree, or mesh? These decisions matter in terms of visualizing a network as an analogy, which is part of what Foucault seems to be talking about with his interrogation of the choices, processes, relationships, and “unsaids” involved in discourse.

Jenny’s post was an excellent exploration of Foucault’s concept of the tree of enunciative formation as a network that maps how La Leche League functions as an organization with a National/International office and local branches. I appreciated how Jenny discussed the organization through discourse: through the 10 philosophical principles of La Leche, as opposed to an organizational chart. Although they mirror each other somewhat, Foucault was moving away from structure and into the dynamic relationship among principles engaged in discourse, and I think Jenny gets this distinction well. My only thought was that Foucault, I think, might chafe at the idea of this network being mappable as a “unity”. The map seems to be a moment in time; a monument or “capture” of the enunciative formation at a given moment, and not a “map” or “document” or “entity.”

I look forward to seeing where Jenny and Amy take their projects with further theory.

Image from: http://www.opulus.com/faqs/oos.asp (OOS means out-of-specification … which is an interesting angle to think about when applying a theory. Where might it go awry? )