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Case Study #3: The Ecosophy of Larp

Note: This case study is building towards a larger theory, as proposed in my Topic Proposal Redux. In that theory, I will use Guattari, Gibson, Bateson, Norman, and other theorists related to the affordances and constraints of an ecosystem and ecologies. I will also bring in multiple levels of play (as written, as played, as remembered) and the types of play displayed by various members of the ecosystem (Forge Theory, Edwards, Bøckman). I will relate that to the larp as a rhetorical situation with multiple rhetors (who are simultaneously the audience) and to the movement between diegetic and non-diegetic worlds (a system within a system) as expressed by Montola and others. The graphic below is a chart that delineates some of the connections I am making among the various theories. Though this is too complex to entertain in the short space of 2,500 words here, I am giving a taste of what is to come. In this space, I will discuss how I arrived at the idea of larp as an ecosystem, discuss how it behaves as one as well as how its phases correspond to Guattari’s ecologies. I will also discuss a pedagogical tool that can be used as a theoretical lens to analyze the designed affordances and constraints of a given larp. I will not yet discuss the tension between these designed or inherent affordances and constraints and those perceived by the players or characters – that will be developed in the final theory.

Literature Review
Finnish larp theorist Jaako Stenros delineates what he calls three “aspects” of larp in his Aesthetics of Action conference presentation. He lists the “framework” as designed by the larpwrights as the first or primary aspect, consisting of background material, the sketch of the roles and their social network, game mechanics, and sometimes character outlines. The second aspect is the larp runtime, during which the larp’s first level is turned over to the influence of the players, who create the experience. Stenros notes that this larp aspect is ephemeral and dynamic: “the players can run away with it” and “it is lost the moment the larp [allotted gametime] ends.”  His third aspect is the larp “as remembered, interpreted, and documented” during which the players come together to share their individual experiences of the larp as played, and to co-create a kind of communal meaning of the experience. Markus Montola (2009) notes that larps use the principle of equifinality, or multiple paths to the same end state. This agreed-upon end state is co-constructed during the third aspect of larp, which follows the actual game.  However, as Stenros reiterates, this is not to be considered a finite resolution that is simply decided upon once and codified. Rather, “as the piece [the particular instantiation of a larp] is debated later, discussed and critiqued, its meaning continues to shift” (Aesthetics).

I will summarize Stenros’s three aspects as 1. Larp As Written; 2. Larp As Played and 3. Larp As Remembered or Narrated, noting that the three levels take place before, during, and after the runtime of a particular iteration or instantiation of a larp. Stenros goes on to discuss the activity of the three aspects as framing, building/enriching and negotiating. The table below summarizes these simultaneous concepts:

Phase or Aspect Timeframe Primary Activity
As written Prior to game-play Framing
As played During game-play Building, enriching, interpreting
As remembered After game-play Negotiating and narrativizing

Here is a brainstorm of the activity that takes place pre-larp, during-larp, and post-larp:

Larp Wall Charts Brainstorm three phases

These three phases of larp seem to create an ecosystem of larp, where any given larp is an interactive system moving within and between these three aspects — as the network or system is created, enacted, and dissolved. Ecosystems are ways to explain things that are dynamic, in a state of flux, and whose outcomes/outputs cannot be fully predicted mechanically or even computationally or logarithmically. An ecosystem is concerned with movement, distribution, exchange, and transformation enacted by invested, adaptable members who together co-create the system through production and consumption in relationship with one another.

Layers of rainforestEcologies are fundamentally dynamic networks in that they exist only in the relationships, in the movement among the nodes, which operates according to protocols unique to each member, but translated into a working, mutually beneficial partnership. Of course, a larp is a constructed ecosystem, a world made by intelligent design – at least the geometry and geography or framework of it, as discussed above. In a larp, people are portraying roles within the constructed game-space ecosystem that is nested inside the outer ecosystem of the mundane world. This system is an ecosystem because it is dynamic, teeming, and alive, with each player occupying a particular niche and behaving according to his/her own perceptions and interpreting his/her own diegesis. Indeed, as Stenros notes, “Role-play is pretend play with a social context and shared rules” (Aesthetics, emphasis added).

In an ecosystem, every entity has a role, according to his/her affordances and constraints, in order to keep the system moving toward its goal of homeostasis, during which an individual population or an entire ecosystem regulates itself against negative factors and maintains an overall stable condition (Spellman 20). Spellman identifies roles into two categories: living (biotic) and non-living (abiotic) (15). He further divides the abiotic components into three categories: inorganic substances, organic compounds, and climate regime. I will return to these three levels as depicted in a larp later, when I discuss artifacts and The Mixing Desk.  Defining an ecosystem as “a cyclic mechanism in which biotic and abiotic materials are constantly exchanged”, Spellman delineates levels of production and consumption of these materials (15-16). I have added this column to my larp grid below to demonstrate how these roles and levels of production/consumption fit into the ecosystem of a larp:

Level or Aspect Timeframe Primary Activity Ecosystem Role
As written Prior to game-play Framing Primary producer
As played During game-play Building, enrichingInterpreting Primary Consumer
As remembered After game-play Negotiating and narrativizing Secondary consumer &Decomposer

We can then add the actual larp roles:

Level or Aspect Timeframe Primary Activity Ecosystem Role Larp role
As written Prior to game-play Framing Primary producer GameMaster/ Larpwright
As played During game-play Building, enrichingInterpreting Primary Consumer Individual players
As remembered After game-play Negotiating and narrativizing Secondary consumer &Decomposer Community of playersGameMaster/ Larpwright

So the larp ecosystem continuous cycle would look like this, with the green level being before a larp runtime begins, the blue level being during larp runtime, and the red and orange being post-larp runtime:

Demonstrates the dynamics of play among the roles of production and consumption. Upon completing one cycle, another instantiation of the larp as played is ready to begin.

Demonstrates the dynamics of play among the roles of production and consumption. Upon completing one cycle, another instantiation of the larp as played is ready to begin.

Indeed, both players in a larp and members of an ecosystem appear to continually assess its affordances and constraints, with their own survival and needs as paramount. A player-character in a larp also functions this way, following a path and plan in the game ecosystem that is based on two types of survival/needs assessment: in-game and out-of-game. In game elements: skills, relationships, goals, revealed secrets, mechanics are designed by the GameMasters or co-created against constraints given by GMs, the genre, or the world of the game. Out-of-game elements may refer to the player’s preferred play style, as a Gamist, Dramatist, or Immersionist, to use Bøckman’s “Three-Way Model” (2003). This dominant play style for each player helps determine the approach they take to the ecosystem, and how they perceive their niche within it.  Dramatists, called Narrativists in Edwards’ Forge Theory Model (2001) are concerned with in-game action and plot, with the primary goal to create a satisfying story (Bøckman 14; Edwards Ch. 2). Dramatists perceive the game as affording opportunities for a cohesive and believable narrative, and choose to use or conserve resources with that goal in mind. Gamists are problem-solvers who use strategy to advance their in-game (and, often, out-of-game) social or material capital. Their goal is to survive and thrive, and will make calculations about resources in the game (or mundane) ecosystem(s) to ensure their own longevity and comfort (Bøckman, Edwards). Lastly, Immersionists (known as Simulationists in Edwards’ model) want to be fully engaged in the game ecosystem without any bleed from the outside mundane ecosystem that constructed it. As Bøckman explains, “a fully immersionist player will not fudge rules to save its role’s neck or the plot” (13). If the character is meant to, must, or otherwise cannot avoid harm in the constraints of the game’s ecosystem, an Immersionist will allow that to happen and focus on fulfilling that given role.

So, we may further break down the ecosystem roles into the three role-playing models of Gamist, Narrativist, and Simulationist as three types of protocols governing the design and play of the larp in the three phases of writing, playing, and remembering. It is important to remember that these are neither static nor fixed roles: a player may be predominantly Gamist but also enjoy a good story, or may consciously seek an Immersionist experience but become more Gamist when a character’s survival is threatened. These typologies are also not necessarily fully inclusive; some theorists suggest a fourth level: the social. Under that paradigm, I would agree that the larp ecosystem itself is the social level, providing the space of enactment for players and Gamemasters to interact and enact their fluid play styles. This notion of role perception, which is how I see this theory as being valuable, is both a design element and a play element.  A good GM should design games with elements of all three types of interaction with the game: an ecosystem that affords activity and enjoyment for all members.

The three play models of Gamist, Dramatist/Narrativist, and Immersionist/ Simulationist cannot be easily added to the matrix we have been building. They exist within each of the ecologies, not strictly within a single phase or role. Players make choices both during the game and in the post-game debrief that are based on their preferences, but, I am arguing, more on their perceptions. These include perceptions of their role, themselves, the Gamemaster, other players, other characters, their abilities, their character skills, the physical environment, the game environment, their likelihood of success, their energy level, gametime remaining, and a host of other ecological factors – both in the ecosystem of the game and the larger mundane ecosystem surrounding and influencing it. GMs design games with more of one interaction than another, and steer characters and game development toward that preferred end during a game.  In short, both GMs and players design, steer, and enact role-playing games based on the affordances they perceive at a given moment in time, what Syverson refers to as a spatio-temporal reality.

J.J. Gibson (1977, 1979) introduced the concept of affordances, which he defined as “an action possibility available in the environment to an individual” (127).  According to Gibson, these “actionable properties” are objectively measurable, independent of an individual’s ability to recognize them. To Gibson an affordance exists in relationship with an individual; it is intended to offer an action to another; however, the affordance exists regardless of whether any actor perceives it.

Gibson Ambient Optic Array

From Gibson, 1979

Gibson puts forward the Law of Ambient Optic Array as a theory of optics that attempts to demonstrate what and how individuals see in a given environment. He notes that perception is determined by the individual from information accessed in the environment and then assessed in terms of its possibilities and usefulness to create the aforementioned affordances.  Gibson notes the importance of the position of the observer to what is perceived, since “at any fixed point of observation some parts of the environment are revealed and the remaining parts are concealed” (136). This idea of the personal position of experience in an ecosystem is hugely important in larp. As Stenros reminds us, when role-playing, “You will only see what your character sees. You will only be able to witness those parts of the larp where your character is present, where you, bodily, are present. You are the lens or the camera through which you see the work unfold around you” (Aesthetics).

As an individual player, you create an individual perception and experience of the larp; the game exists for you, in your mind, in relation to the environment. Montola (2003) states that, “every participant constructs he or her diegesis when playing” and “the crucial process of role-playing [is] the interaction of these diegeses” (83). This takes place in the second phase of larp, or larp as played, as well as, to a lesser extent, in the third phase of larp, larp as remembered.  A  single player’s diegesis is their view of the world, which they interpret as a series of affordances and constraints based on abiotic and biotic factors from the diegetic and non-diegetic world, such as (but not limited to) character sheets, skills, experience, knowledge of plot, knowledge of game world, information from other players/characters, etc. In Actor-Network Theory, this information would be the connected nodes flowing into an actor; here, these are affordances of an ecosystem perceived and interpreted by agents who make decisions based on this information, within the constraints of the physical or brute world and the in-game world.  In larp, as a constructed ecosystem, this relationship between agent and his/her environment is complicated, because the character/player exists in a layered double consciousness and simultaneity, even though s/he intends to interact in the diegetic world via immersion and will attempt to make decisions based primarily on that environment.  As Stenros points out, “[l]arp is embodied participatory drama. As a participant, you are experiencing the events as a character, but also shape the drama as it unfolds as a player (Aesthetics). However, as Montola, Saitta and Stenros (2014) note, a player/character will often “steer,” or use information and impetus from the non-diegetic world with the purpose of affecting the diegetic world for individual or community goals. Gibson noted this duality of position as he remarked about the law of ambient optic array, whereby “the observer himself, his body considered as part of the environment, is revealed at some fixed points of observation and concealed at the remaining points” (Gibson 136). There are times in an ecosystem, and certainly in a role-playing game, when the individual is aware of him or herself. In the case of a larp, I propose, these are moments where immersion breaks, and a player makes an in-game decision based on out-of-game knowledge or preferences, the definition of “steering” put forth by Montola, Saitta and Stenros (2014).

According to ecologies theorists, ecosystems can be measured in terms of their abundances and their efficiencies, what resources are plentiful and how they are distributed, used, and used up within the system. These are the kinds of settings that are engineered, or designed, in a constructed ecosystem, such as a larp.  Don Norman (1988) revised Gibson’s idea of affordance to create the concept of “perceived affordances” which amount to what a user/actor believes to be possible (or not possible), and are independent of the real affordances an object or environment may have. Thus, for a Gibsonian affordance to be actualized or enacted, it is dependent on the individual actor’s ability to both perceive it and his or her capability to use it. Norman cares about perceived affordances because that is what the designer has control over in terms of a user’s experience.  And designing, interpreting, and analyzing a larp’s affordances and constraints is where we now turn.

As we attempt to determine what a larp affords, and what makes a good larp, I will turn to a recent development out of the Nordic community, “The Mixing Desk of Larp” (2012), which uses the analogy of the audio-visual technician creating a live experience to create a series of “sliders” or “faders” that can be manipulated to produce a desired type of play. The Mixing Desk is a visualization of the inputs that go into an ecosystem to determine outputs, and it helps to describe the protocols and territories in play in a particular game ecosystem. One of the primary creators of the system, Martin Andresen said, The Mixing Desk “allows us to visualize the opportunities in larp design” and functions to “make larpwriters/designers aware of their default positions” (Andresen).

Mixing Desk of Larp

While primarily developed as a tool to help take something complicated, such as larp theory and design, and turn it into a pedagogical aid that visualizes important concepts and organizes around a simple metaphor in order to help inexperienced larpers and larpwrights to design playable games, The Mixing Desk of Larp is an excellent tool to use to analyze the affordances and constraints of a particular larp, both as it is written and as it is played. The faders each represent a design element of the larp, or a construction of the relationship between players, players and GM, the outputs of the game. The faders are the INPUTS and the game is the OUTPUT, at least on the first level of being written. The first level “Larp as Written” is the wireframe that becomes the larp. Using The Mixing Desk of Larp to consciously construct the first level of larp: “As written” is an excellent way to afford “The Larp”, which is “as played”, the level of interaction within the ecosystem created using the faders on the mixing desk (controlling the inputs into the system). However, as the larp is played, a Gamemaster, or in some cases, a player or group of players, can change the levels of the mixing desk dynamically during play, either as a result of individual or collective action that required intervention by the GM to keep the levels at their desired positions, or as a result of “steering” or conscious behavior that uses non-diegetic knowledge to affect the dramatic experience and/or outcome of the larp as played. The Mixing Desk of larp can be used as a Mobius strip to continually test and tweak the desired inputs and outputs of the larp to achieve homeostasis – the desired characteristic of the ecosystem.

Where this is going (undeveloped thoughts, not part of the “complete” Case Study #3)

(I’m including this in case you wish to offer feedback re: the direction and conclusions)

  • More about the mixing desk and the affordances listed there
  • These are notes and quotes re: relationship of player/character to environment
  • Perceived vs. designed affordances
  • Outcome of play phases 2 and 3
  • Relationship of self to world — dual world consciousness
  • Steering & Metagaming

What happens when, as Bateson outlines in his  chapter “Form, Substance, and Difference,” we see ourselves as separate and above the natural world– “If you put God outside and set him vis-a-vis his creation and if you have the idea that you are created in his image, you will logically and naturally see yourself as outside and against the things around you. And as you arrogate all mind to yourself, you will see the world around you as mindless and therefore not entitled to moral or ethical consideration. The environment will seem to be yours to exploit. Your survival unit will be you and your folks or conspecifics against the environment of other social units, other races and the brutes and vegetables” (468)?

Steering – Metagaming:  But, what happens when a species consciously decides to adapt the environment to its own desires rather than adapting to the environment?

“We may have modified, as put by Gibson, our surroundings in order to escape from this cycle by making “more available what benefits [us] and less pressing what injures [us]” (130).

Fictional world as an ecosystem (within a larger non-diegetic ecosystem)

The way one interacts with the ecosystem depends on one’s perspective

  • single player diegesis, yes, but also how one perceives one’s ability to interact and make change within the ecosystem; what one’s role is; whether one sees self as part of something bigger (diegetic or non-diegetic, as in a community experience, a game that has responsibility for the fun and custody of self AND of others)
  • if consider self PART of the game or ABOVE the game; Montola would say that no one has an uber-view of the game, not even gamemaster. This is true. But some players act as if they have a greater knowledge or calling or purpose OR do not care about communal but engineer to “win”  — God-Trick
  • “Play to lose” in a sense, means to allow oneself to more fully embed in the diegetic world

Abiotic Items in the ecosystem

Affordance - is part of the relationship between the environment and animal that can be found through “the terrain, shelters, water, fire, objects, tools, other animals, and human displays,” but  it “must be measured relative to the animal” as it is what the environment “offers the animal, what it provides, or furnishes, either for good or ill” (Gibson, “Theory of Affordances” 127).

Objects  (attached and detached) can also offer animals (humans included) affordances, but what they offer is often “extremely various;” “detached objects must be comparable in size to the animal under consideration if they are to afford behavior. But those that are comparable afford an astonishing variety of behaviors, especially to animals with hands. Objects can be manufactured and manipulated” (Gibson, “Theory of Affordances” 133).

Cybernetic Epistemology - “The individual mind is immanent but not only in the body. It is immanent also in pathways and messages outside the body; and there is a larger Mind of which the individual mind is only a sub-system” (Bateson 467).

Guattari defines three ecologies: the environment (or nature), social relations and human subjectivity (mental) and posits that they make up an ecosophy, or an interconnected network. Only by looking at all three, can we have any effect on the environment proper or enact a holistic methodology (24).

So we may add a fifth column, corresponding to Guattari’s layers or ecologies that together make up an ecosophy:

Level or Aspect Timeframe Primary Activity Ecosystem Role Ecology (Ecosophy layer)
As written Prior to game-play Framing Primary producer Physical
As played During game-play Building, enrichingInterpreting Primary Consumer Mental
As remembered After game-play Negotiating and narrativizing Secondary consumer Social
This chart attempts to map the three phases of game play, to roles in an ecosystem, Guattari's Three Ecologies, and roles and levels in a Larp.
This chart attempts to map the three phases of game play, to roles in an ecosystem, Guattari’s Three Ecologies, and roles and levels in a Larp.

Works Cited

Andresen, Martin Eckhoff. The Mixing Desk of Larp – Martin Eckhoff Andresen. Knutpunkt: Nordic Larp Talks, 2013. Film.

Bateson, Gregory. Steps To An Ecology Of Mind: Collected Essays In Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, And Epistemology. Northvale, N.J.: Aronson, 1987. Print.

Bøckman, Petter. “The Three Way Model.” As Larp Grows Up. Knutpunkt, 2003. 12–16. Print.

Edwards, Ron. “GNS and Other Matters of Role-Playing Theory.” The Forge: The Internet Home for Independent Role-Playing Games. Adept Press, Oct. 2001. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.

Gibson, James Jerome. “The Theory of Affordances.” The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Psychology Press, 1986. Print.
Guattari, Félix. The Three Ecologies. London: Continuum, 2008. Print.

Montola, Markus, Eleanor Saitta, and Jaakko Stenros. “Steering for Fun and Profit.” Knutpunkt 2014. http://dymaxion.org/talks/KP14-Steering-Final.pdf

Montola, Markus. “Role-Playing as Interactive Construction of Subjective Diegeses.” As Larp Grows Up – Theory and Methods in Larp. Ed. Morten Gade, Line Thorup, and Mikkel Sander. Frederiksberg: Projektgruppen kp 03, 2003. 82–89. Print.
Montola, Markus. “The Invisible Rules of Role-Playing: The Social Framework of Role-Playing Process.” International Journal of Role-Playing 1.1 (2009): 22–36. Print.

Norman, Don. “Affordances and Design.” jnd.org. Web. 22 Mar. 2014.

Spellman, Frank. R. Ecology for Non-ecologists. Lanham, MD: Government Institutes, 2008. Print.

Stenros, Jaako. “Aesthetics of Action.” Jaakko Stenros: researcher, player, writer. 28 Oct. 2013. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.

“The Mixing Desk of Larp.” Nordic Larp Wiki. N. p., 22 Feb. 2014. Web. 13 Apr. 2014.

This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs. Your brain is not yours. You just *think* it is.

JJ Gibson’s “Theory of Affordances” set off waves of thought for me in terms of my object of study, Live-Action Role-Playing games. In 1977, Gibson revolutionized the field of evolutionary psychology and systems theory by making up the word “affordance” to explain what something (an object, an environment) offers to an individual. (127). It is a theory that situates itself not in the physical properties of an object, but in the perception of it.  Affordances are measured in relationship to the subject doing the perception. The more complex the object and the subject, the more complex the set of affordances, which, Gibson notes, are perceived primarily through optical and sensory information (128). Gibson further defines a niche as a set of such affordances, and he problematizes the subjective-objective dichotomy of thought prevalent in the social sciences vs. the sciences. Affordances, he states, cut across this constructed border and demonstrate its limitations. Affordances exist in the relationship between the object and the user doing the perceiving.

This then relates to Bateson, whose theory is about the reality of perception, and how what one perceives becomes what is true, real, possible.  This, in turn, leads to Norman, who states that Gibson’s affordance really is a “perceived affordance”; if a user perceives something is possible, then it is possible, if s/he perceives it is not possible, then it is not possible. This is regardless to whether it actually is possible with the object at hand. An affordance isn’t an affordance unless it is perceived by the would-be user.

When reading Gibson, I had some ideas about the dangers of perceiving objects solely in terms of WIIFM, “what can be done with it, what it is good for, its utility” (129). This narrow perception can lead to a Benthamite fetishization of utility, and a late-capitalist concern about commodification.

Bateson says that what we perceive is difference (differance?), patterns and ways one thing is not like another. To me that means that our perception creates discourse; discourse is created as a result of perceived difference, of some sort of chasm to cross or something to bridge via language. Perception then, creates the exigence for the rhetorical situation. A rhetor perceives, and interprets, and as Bateson notes, his perception is real and personal, and not absolute. As Gibson notes, what the rhetor perceives are affordances, ways to obtain something from the object or situation, which speaks to Bitzer’s goal-oriented communication, and even to Bazerman’s genres. This perception of “Certain facts” distilled from an object (Bateson 459) is what Bateson calls the extrapolation of information. A rhetorical situation then, affords information. What information is extrapolated and acted upon, then depends on what the rhetor perceives.  The discourse that is created then travels along pathways and is “energized at every step by the metabolic energy latent in the protoplasm which receives the difference, recreates or transforms it, and passes it on” (Bateson 459). This relates to the rhetorical situation in that we are measuring the effect on the audience. Furthermore, the perceiver/rhetor, in Bateson’s analogy, adds energy to the object and recreates it into the map of it, into something other than its physical properties. In this way, it resembles the idea of a mediator (rather than an intermediary) from Actor Network Theory.

Bateson quotes Jung, who says that “as a difference is transformed and propagated along its pathway, the embodiment of the difference before the step is a “territory” of which the embodiment after the step is a “map.” The map-territory relation obtains at every step” (461). To me, this is demonstrating the iterative nature of the interpretation; as the information is mediated along the pathway from physical object to perceived object, it ceases to be the object itself, but a representation of it, colored by the available information and perceived affordances of the person doing the perceiving. Remembering the object then is an image of the represented image, and further removed from the original object. Any “phenomena” is “appearance”, Bateson says. In other words, all of the world is rhetorically constructed by the seer, who perceives it.

 little-thor Bateson’s comments about “immanence and transcendence” (467) are making me think about whether they can be used to express the classic_thor_by_lostonwallace-d4xn712[1]dual consciousness of the player-character during a role-playing game. The player is, simultaneously, him/herself, and the character. The player is the immanence, physically in the world with the other players and symbolic objects, but the player becomes transcendence by being more thanThor_Avengers2

themselves, by entering the imaginative space of the game. If I am Thor, I am myself playing Thor, the character Thor, all Thors before me – representations that are both there and not there, here and beyond, all working together to recreate, remediate and present “Thor.” When Bateson discusses the “false reifications of the ‘self’ Thor-female-13and separations between the ‘self’ and experience’ I am transported to the notion that live-action role-playing is unmediated space; that the self and the experience are one. The play exists in a co-created imaginative space that is experienced through the body; the mind/body split is reconstituted as player.

Bateson says:

“it is the attempt to separate intellect from emotion that is monstrous, and I suggest that it is equally monstrous – and dangerous—to attempt to separate the external mind from the internal. Or to separate the mind from body” (470).

This fetishization of “pure mind” is the idealistic focus of Enlightenment thinking and cybernetic theory, commonly embodied in the person of a digital avatar. Yet in larp, which is face-to-face interaction unmediated by technology, people are liberated by the concept of imagination – of the alibi of portraying a character — that lets them have emotional and embodied experiences in interaction with others in a shared relational ecosystem. There is not difference in perception between character and player in these scenarios. If it is happening to the character, it is happening to the player, whose body is at risk, and whose bodily reactions perceive no intellectual distance between the constructed character and the player portraying. We constitute the reality of the game by “information processing, i.e. by thought” (Bateson 471). As Gibson says, what we perceive is an “ambient optic array” that “at any fixed point of observation some parts of the environment are revealed and the remaining parts are concealed” (136). A larp is only constructed by the person playing it, and one person’s diegesis will be unlike another’s. No one, not even the Game Master or Story Teller ever has all of the information; thus all reality is based on what the player perceives and interprets. Information may exist, a secret may lie latent, but it does not “mean” or “matter” or “exist” in the sense of being perceived as something that can be acted upon until it is seen or heard, and thus brought into the mind of the player and the diegesis of the game.

Gibson’s use of the biological term proprioception is fruitful in looking at larp. The notion that “to perceive the world is to coperceive oneself” is a theory of how interactive role play and world building happens, dynamically in the larp. The character is iteratively constructed in relation to his/her environment and to other characters. Gibson goes on to say something that I think can be very useful in studying larps: “Only when a child perceives the values of things for others as well as for herself does she begin to be socialized” (139). This seems to refer to a kind of shared empathy, that is fundamental to the kind of collaborative interactive play that is a larp. Call it the “empathy bump” or “alteric escalation”, if you will. When you realize, as a player, that your experience will be all the richer if you play in such a way as to enrich the experiences of others, then you have a social realm. A network is created by this sort of social contract that recognizes (perceives) the self in relation to others and the affordances of the game as being collaborative and shared. The game exists as a set of affordances in the relationship of the players to the environment and the information.  A kind of discursive community, a rhetorical triangle (player – environment – information) is created, and through the act of speaking, the reality is created and perceived.

I’m also tossing around this idea that the more divergent the thinking of the perceiver, the greater the number of affordances will be perceived. Thus, the boundaries of possibility – in short, the reality – of something who thinks divergently is much richer than that of someone who thinks convergently. This has implications for the discourse produced. In the case of larps, this affects the outcome of the game, which is only confined to what the player believes is possible for his character within the constraints of the game world and its mechanics.

Works Cited

Bateson, Gregory. “Form, Substance, and Difference” Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. 454-471. Print.

Gibson, James J. “A Theory of Affordances. An Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 1979. 127-139. Print.

Norman, Don. “Don Norman’s Jnd.org / Affordances and Design.” N. p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2014.

Images:

Avengers 2 Thor. http://img2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20111215055347/marvelmovies/images/b/b2/Thor_Avengers2.png

Classic Cartoon Thor. http://static.comicvine.com/uploads/original/11111/111111405/3008667-classic_thor_by_lostonwallace-d4xn712%5B1%5D.jpg

Female Thor. http://hqwallpapersplus.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Thor-Wallpapers-13.jpg

Little Thor. http://0.tqn.com/d/paranormal/1/0/q/I/2/little-thor.jpg

Theory Application Rubric: A Class Construction

This rubric really is a social construct: class members collaborated (with a great deal of momentum generated by Maury’s contributions) on the beginnings of our rubric. While each of us likely added or removed bits of the collaborative work to personalize the rubric, I’m proud to be part of this socially constructed, class-sourced rubric development process.

We recognized two major areas of focus for the rubric:

  • Articulation and contextualization of the theory
  • Application of theory to specific OoS (explained with clarity)

After reading the hypertext theory readings, I recommended a third area of focus, which I’ve included in my rubric:

  • Mapping of theory to local context (praxis)
seattle awareness map from 1978

Seattle Awareness Map, 1978: Mapping Seattle’s historical landmarks. Creative Commons licensed image from Flickr user Rob Ketcherside.

While we can apply theory to our OoS, I think it’s important to be able to map the theory to localized instantiations of the OoS. If theory can’t be mapped to specific aspects of practice in the field, then it hardly seems useful (in a pragmatic sense) to the field or its scholars and practitioners. Not that every theory needs a Spinuzzi-like operationalized exemplar to be valid — but we need to be able to identify specific ways that teachers in local contexts will be able to apply theoretical constructs and principles to pedagogy, and how scholars will be able to apply theory to specific recommendations for action in the field.

We also discussed how or whether to assign grades or points to each aspect of the rubric. Most of us chose to avoid assigning grades: our goal was to develop a rubric that could be applied to both assessment and praxis, and my sense is that assessment needs to be localized at the assignment level rather than generalized at the development level (see Discussion below for more on this subject). As a result, I did not include point values, nor would I want to do so without first sharing the rubric with the person to whom I applied it.

My (class-sourced) Theory Application Rubric

Articulated and Contextualized (Theoretical Understanding)

  • Theorist(s) who developed the theory
  • Influential predecessors to the theory to theorist
  • Main premise(s) of the theory and key attributes
  • Limitations of the theory
  • Relationship to other theories in the field and importance to the field
  • Existing canonical or well-respected applications of the theory

Applied to Object of Study and Explained (OoS Understanding, Application)

  • OoS contextualized and explained
  • Theory attributes mapped to OoS attributes
  • Portion(s) of the theory used and discarded, and why
  • Contribution to understanding or re-seeing the OoS
  • Practical benefits of applying the theory
  • Limitations (blind spots) of this theory as applied to this OoS
  • Additions to the body of knowledge surrounding OoS and/or the discipline

Mapped to Local Context (Praxis)

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

Applying the Rubric

Foucauldian Analysis of Live-Action Role-Playing Games as Networks

Maury applied specific aspects of network construction with Foucaultian theory to LARPs. Below are the results of applying my rubric to her case study.

Theoretical Understanding
Characteristic Addressed Comments
Theorist(s) who developed the theory Yes Foucault
Influential predecessors to the theory to theorist No The assignment did not call for the need to contextualize the theorist among others.
Main premise(s) of the theory and key attributes Partially Foucault offers a broad range of theories; those applicable to the OoS were appropriately selected.
Limitations of the theory Partially The limitations of the theory may have been demonstrated by absence in the case study.
Relationship to other theories in the field and importance to the field No This was not a required component of the assignment.
Existing canonical or well-respected applications of the theory N/A The scope of the assignment did not require this level of exploration of the theory.
OoS Understanding & Application
Characteristic Addressed Comments
OoS contextualized and explained Yes Thorough explanation of the OoS and its context made it accessible to a complete noob.
Theory attributes mapped to OoS attributes Yes Of special note were connection to archive, positivity, absence, and monument.
Portion(s) of the theory used and discarded, and why No It’s difficult to nail down Foucault to a single theoretical stance or even set of stances; as a result, this is an appropriate omission.
Contribution to understanding or re-articulating the OoS Yes Among the strongest aspects of the case study. Application revealed relational and contingent character of the game’s discourse.
Practical benefits of applying the theory Yes Among benefits noted are recognizing the change in meaning that occurs as the game is played.
Limitations (blind spots) of this theory as applied to this OoS No Given the broad range of theoretical position Foucault offers, it’s difficult to identify limitations.
Additions to the body of knowledge surrounding OoS and/or the discipline Yes The networked description of the OoS via Foucault focuses attention on specific connections within the game, and it broadens an understanding of Foucault’s archive and monument.
Praxis
Characteristic Addressed Comments
Local context(s) to which theory can be mapped Yes LARP as distinguished from cosplay, historical re-enactment, creative anachronism, and boffer-style LARP.
Specific person(s) responsible for activated mapping Yes Very detailed; notable are Game Masters along with many other actors on the network.
Social and political boundaries defined by theory Yes The field of game play is clearly articulated and connected to the field of discourse.
Aspects of theory mapped to specific lived experience Yes Another strength of the case study, mapping specific lived experiences of LARP to theoretical aspects.
Anticipated social action to be achieved by mapping Yes Closing statement addresses the specific social action expected: multiplicity of discourse emerging from a single LARP.
Assessment process of localized mapping defined Yes In the same closing statement, successful mapping with be demonstrated by multiple discourses from a single LARP.

Discussion

Theoretical Understanding

The rubric we crowd sourced was intended to address broadly the way a theory is constructed in its time-space and context. Since our assignment was to apply a theory that we had all worked on together in class, neither the assignment nor our execution was expected to spend a great deal of time explaining the key components of the theory, its place among theories, or other contexts related to the theory itself. It was assumed that we’d bring to the assignment that understanding without having to articulate it in the blog post.

However, as a hermeneutic, the rubric offers a useful set of tools for assessing and presenting major theoretical aspects to a reader. Of particular importance as we move forward in our case studies will be explaining more of the influential context of the theory — its predecessors, its influences, its turns and negations, its relationship to other theoretical stances. And a conference paper-length application would certainly be expected to use a literature review to place the theoretical stance(s) in appropriate context. As a result, although this case study implicitly precluded most of the contextual background of Foucaultian theory, the rubric itself is likely hermeneutically sound.

OoS Application and Explanation

In the case of Foucault, nailing down a single theoretical stance, or even a set of theoretical positions, is quite difficult. As a result, omitting some of Foucault’s theoretical positions is necessary in anything but a monograph-length study (and even then, I’m not sure). These omissions don’t necessarily mean they don’t apply to the OoS or that there are no mappings between the theory and the OoS. I take these omissions to be practical realities, and would likely consider them so even in a graded assignment (unless major issues were left unaddressed, like statements or discursive formation). That same breadth of theoretical perspective necessitates the OoS itself to define its limits within the frame of theoretical reference. In a more narrowly focused theoretical stance, I’d expect more explicit statements about the OoS boundaries as defined by the theory. In the case of Foucault, I sensed little of LARPs that Foucault would not address. While this was never explicitly stated or even implied in the analysis, the results speak for themselves — there is no shortage of LARP when applying Foucault. As a result, even though the application does not always address every aspect of the rubric, I don’t think the rubric is faulty.

Praxis

I surprised myself in finding the Praxis section of the rubric the most informative and applicable section of the rubric. I found concrete mappings between theory and localized context. I don’t consider this section to repeat the OoS application and explanation section; to me, the object of study is not necessarily localized. In the case of LARPs, for example, the localized mapping went so far as to specify a single LARP (Three Muskateers), while the OoS itself remained a more general discussion of LARPs. However, even this general discussion worked to localize the LARP by differentiating it from other similar activities. My mapping the OoS in lived experience to theory, both LARP and theoretical understanding benefitted. As a reader with no LARP experience, the localized mapping offered a clear theoretical underpinning to the concept and practice of the LARP while clarifying in concrete examples some of the more difficult concepts of Foucaultian theory. Mapping theory to localized experience offered a win/win experience for me as reader, and I believe that same experience applies to extending knowledge and understanding of both fields.

visualization of map of the internet, 2005

Map of the Internet, 2005: Mapping a global theory to a localization. Creative Commons licensed image from Flickr user Cesar Harada.

Localization

This rubric, like all others, requires a flexible, local application bound up in real experience. The fact that the assignment did not fulfill all requirements of the rubric makes neither the assignment nor the rubric unsuccessful. The assignment called for different expectations than the rubric (which, of course, reveals in practice the importance of developing rubrics prior to, rather than in response to, assignments), so the rubric could not be fully applied to the assignment. Furthermore, the rubric addressed a broader conception of theory and OoS than the format and length of the assignment could achieve. I believe it’s important to recognize ways the rubric can’t or won’t measure exactly what it needs to measure in each and every instance. Every assignment — and every response to every assignment — is a localization, and each requires a flexible application of the rubric. This does not make the rubric an inefficient or inaccurate measurement tool; on the contrary, it reveals the value and significance of local context in measurement.

[Top of page: rubric - Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user Diana]

Foucauldian Analysis of Live-Action Role-Playing Games as Networks

Please feel free to visit the Google Doc and submit comments there.

Background

Live-Action Role-Playing Games (LARPs) are a type of interactive role-playing game in which the participants portray characters through physical action, often in costume and with props. LARP is distinguished from cosplay, where individuals demonstrate affinity and allegiance to a particular character within a fandom through authenticity in dress and manner; historical re-enactment, in which costumed participants embody and bring to life historical figures and events; and creative anachronism, where participants create their own characters based on history, genre or a particular time period. The distinction arises primarily because LARPing involves elements of a game – plot, goals, conflict, points and other in-game capital, and stakes for the character – which are regulated through various structures created by game designers, writers, and game masters (GMs). Boffer-style LARPs, which use homemade weaponry made of PVC pipe covered in foam and duct tape to enact combat scenes, are more about weaponry, hand-to-hand combat, battle strategy and adrenaline than theater-style or freeform LARP, which focuses more on character-building, and storytelling. Often called Interactive Storytelling or Interactive Literature, theater-style LARP uses a system of game rules adapted from table-top role-playing games in order to determine position within the game, advance plot points, create more authentic characters and settle conflicts. These “mechanics” are ways that the Game Masters (GMs) control the game environment to keep it fun, safe, and interesting while enacting the plot. Mechanics are rules of engagement and also unbreakable actions and codes within the game itself. They are intended to “level the playing field” by augmenting a participant’s physical and mental skills to more accurately portray their assigned character in the world of the LARP.  Mechanics are also used to artificially impose limits and to circumvent the human nature of participants who may behave over-competitively or proffer unwelcome sexual advances or harassment. Lastly, mechanics are used to mitigate the tendency of players to bring socio-cultural stereotypes or dominant discourse into the realm of the game.

Foucault’s theories relate to my Object of Study because Live-Action Role-Playing games (LARPs) exist in a realm of delimited concepts and enunciative formations. LARP is a “formulation” (p. 107), or “an event that can always be located by its spatio-temporal coordinates, which can always be related to an author, and which may constittue in itself a specific act” or “performative act” to use the British term (p. 107). As the author, the Game Master sets up a situation and characters are created; the game is a “verbal performance” or “linguistic performance” produced on the basis of language and other signs (costumes, props, theatrical effects) that takes place in an actual physical location with tangible boundaries, at a specific time (spatio-temporal coordinates). The game exists as a series of statements used in a discursive formation. The statements create the reality of the game; the statements execute the play. The game become real through enunciative formation and meaning is derived through the play and interplay in the game. Meaning is constituted temporally and contingently, depending on the discursive practices (and all the relationships, constructs, prior knowledge, etc.) of the characters. Gameplay is constructed relationally, not individually. And then it is over, and if one looks to the documents left behind (character sheets, rules, scenarios) one can never recreate or even understand the discourse that was the game. The archive of the game, which may be found in a wiki, game scenarios, character sheets is a positivity of discourse that is marked profoundly by absence. It does not contain what was said and enacted relationally among the players, who are nodes on a network exchanging information. It exists as a monument to the game but not a document of it. LARP is a set of contingencies enacted in a particular time and place.

Foucault states that a language (langue) is “a system for possible statements, a finite body of rules that authorizes an infinite number of performances” (27). Unlike a computer game or a table-top game where choices are forced by the spaces on the game board or the software, in a LARP game mechanics and a character are only a set of protocols. The game itself is a discursive irruption and the live, autonomous players can perform an infinite number of copies or instances using the same protocols and rules and, each will be different and distinct, and unable to be replicated. Foucault’s concept of “points of diffraction of discourse” (65) also seems to bear fruit in looking at a LARP, since it deals with simultaneities of enunciation and “points of equivalence.” A LARP’s mechanics attempt to regulate and mitigate such incompatibilities and potential conflicts which exist within this particular “discursive constellation”, which Foucault recognizes is in conversation with other discourses. Analyzing the system that surrounds a LARP and what is in place to allow or disallow such reconstituted representations seems to be fruitful. This could be imagined as a “tree of enunciative formation” and visualized in the shape of one of the networks below. Foucault’s tree is described as more of a true tree network, with leaf nodes. However, I see a LARP as always looping back on itself, thus it may appear more as the Tree of Life vs. a Tree Network:

* *

Foucault’s description of how Doctors are situated as subjects in their institution can describe the position of a player in a LARP. A player is “also defined by the situation that it is possible for him to occupy in relation to the various domains or groups of objects [other player-characters, non-playing characters, props,  the physical space, his own body within the space]: according to a certain grid of explicit or implicit interrogations [his character sheet, character goals, abilities, status], he is the questioning subject [seeking information] and, according to a certain programme of information, he is a listening subject [in conversation with other information-seekers]; according to a table of characteristics [physical and character abilities] he is the seeing subject, and, … the observing subject; … he uses instrumental intermediaries [questions, actions, gestures, objects, character traits and abilities] to modify the scale of the information” (52). A gamer does this to interact with others, learn the exigence of the scene, further his own in-game (and perhaps, out-of-game) goals, and in order to experience pleasure. His boundaries are circumscribed some by the system (the game protocols), the materiality/physicality (his own and the physical space) and the constraints given him by the Game Master (GM) or the exigence of the scene, or the actions of others. This unfolds dynamically, discursively and ultimately narratively between and among the interactions of the other subjects, who occupy this same theoretical and discursive space, and who, collectively or individually, can derail this game by making choices about what is said and done that are possible, but not necessarily probable, given the situation. When an unexpected discursive act occurs, it is no longer the same game, the unity is broken, and a new unity must be co-created, instantaneously.

Who is the discourse between?

First attempt listing the relationship between the actors on the network:

  • Participant to Participant
  • Player Character (PC) to Player Character (PC)
  • Non-Player Character (NPC) to Non-Player Character (NPC)
  • PC to NPC; NPC to PC
  • Player Character to GM; GM to Player Character
  • NPC to Game Master (GM); GM to NPC
  • PC to GM; GM to PC
  • GM to GM (if more than one)
  • GM to Core Game Mechanic
  • NPC to game artifact (character sheet, scenario)
  • PC to game artifact
  • GM to game artifact
  • NPC to “archive”/canon
  • PC to “archive”
  • GM to “archive”
  • Archive to archive
  • NPC to setting, in-game objects
  • PC to setting, in-game objects
  • GM to setting, in-game objects
  • GM to mechanics
  • PC to mechanics
  • NPC to mechanics
  • Scene to scene
  • Scene to Scenario/Module
  • Scenario/Module to Campaign
  • PC to costume; costume to PC
  • NPC to costume; costume to NPC
  • Player to costume, in-game objects
  • Costume to setting, in-game objects

First attempt at visualizing the network:

Network Nodes, Agency, Types of Nodes, Relationship Among Nodes

Various actors in the network, both tangible artifacts and subjects with agency, are nodes.

The GameMaster is a programmer; the archaeologist, the interpreter of the data generated from the nodes/actors; the one who decides what is sanctioned and not; the one who makes the discursive irruptions into “meaning” in the game and connects it to the historical a priori (of the game) and the archive. The Game Master and the Core Game Mechanic (designed by the GM) sits at the network’s Central Node, with the network configured in a radial formation, spreading out from the Central Node

I learned that in computer networking, there are Types of Nodes: Coordinator, End Device, and Router and that networks have three configurations: Star/Radial, Tree, and Mesh.

I see the GM/Storyteller fulfilling the network role of Coordinator, as s/he is integral to initializing the game and game system. In a computer network, the Coordinator Node selects the frequency channel and establishes which protocols the network will use. In a LARP, the GM determines the game genre and core mechanic, and either creates, adapts or adopts a game mechanics system to regulate the game play. A coordinator node starts the network, as a GM opens and closes gameplay. A coordinator node allows other devides to connect to it (e.g. join the network); a GM/Storyteller approves new characters, assigns NPC roles, mitigates and arbitrates in network activity between nodes. A coordinator node also may control message routing on a computer network; the GM/Storyteller controls information flow in the game, keeping certain plot points secret until the appropriate time.

According to Zigbee topologies, “in some circumstances, the network will be able to operate normally if the Co-ordinator fails or is switched off”.  However, if the coordinator provides a routing path through the network, this cannot happen.

LARP gameplay seems to be a hybrid network (or hybrid genre, see Spinuzzi), arranged generally in the Star/Radial formation with the GM and the game’s Core Mechanic at the center, but with routers that connect tree and mesh networks. Nearly all network traffic in a LARP is two-way, either immediately feeding back or eventually looping back to the routers and central node. This makes sense in a game where the object is interactivity.

Types of Nodes: Router

Networks with Tree or Mesh topologies  – or, as I said above, a hybrid network of all of the basic structures — need at least one Router. Routers relay messages from one node to another; translate between protocols; embody decision-making authority for what continues along the network; increase the size of the network by allowing child nodes. A router may fulfill some of the functions of the Coordinator and may create hierarchical information structures as information is passed up and down a tree. Zigbee Topologies notes that “a router cannot sleep.” While a GM may feel like s/he never sleeps, due to the hybrid nature of the LARP network, portions of it may run properly without his/her approval or intervention, but information will eventually loop back to the GM.

I see the Routers on a LARP network as being four main protocols (these are coded by color on the visualization below):

  1. Game Genre: governs costuming, characterization, setting
  2. Game Rules/Mechanics: (governs how game is played; settles conflicts
  3. Game World/Structure: governs what belongs and doesn’t, pacing, plot
  4. Game Players: governs who enters game, interaction, roles

An End Device on a network sends and receives messages, but cannot allow other nodes to connect through them to the network. These are sometimes referred to as Perimeter Nodes or Leaf Nodes, depending on the type of network. While Players may propose scenes or invite others to the game, those decisions are controlled by the routers and coordinator, the key functions of the game or the GM. I am still struggling a bit with labeling certain things as End Devices or Routers. It is my belief at this time that the Game Players are individual routers themselves, especially since this portion of the hybrid network is a Mesh Configuration with traffic between and among this nested network before it is relayed to other sub-networks or the GM as Coordinator.

Second Attempt at Visualizing the Network:

Travel/Traffic, Evolution and Dissolution

LARP game meaning deviates from the original skeletal description given by the GM and in the Core mechanic as it travels through the network. Like a game of telephone where actors have agency and even encouragement to deviate within parameters, what returns to the GM/Coordinator is not what was originally sent out. This is due to nodes in the network, PCs and NPCs enacting their character goals and coming in contact with other nodes, such as game mechanics and objects.

The network DURING game play may shift as nodes are reorganized along sub-networks and alliances as they attempt to solve the Core Mechanic, the game problem that requires dynamic collaboration. An in-game network may pause when a scenario is finished and resume when another session is in play, or it may dissolve when the LARP is finished. If that occurs, it is the responsibility of the GM to make meaning of the network’s in-game activity and integrate it into the archive.

Overall

Foucauldian analysis allows me to see how the discourse enacts the game, and to think of the game as a series of relationships rather than rules. It also allows me to think about it as a set of constituent parts that can be regrouped in various ways and make different meaning.

Foucault’s formulation of the enunciative function (p. 91) seems to provide a useful lens for understanding what goes on in a LARP. According to Foucault, the enunciative function seeks to describe the discursive conditions that would allow something to be said (91). It does not analyze the grammatical, propositional, or material conditions under which the statement could be formulated and spoken (including the exigence); rather it seeks to describe the who, why, and how that would enable the “what” that is said. This position is determined relationally, among those currently on the field of discourse. I like to think of the field in terms of game play, and what players are “on the field” at the time. The way those players are working together determines the pace, aggression level, strategy, etc. of the game; they are articulating an enunciative function that is controlling or driving the game play. Thinking of LARP relationally, and of the discourse as being afforded by the particular mix of speakers/players on the field at the moment is a useful analogy, since a single LARP, such as Three Musketeers, can be run multiple times, but each time it will be very different, depending on which players are there, what roles they are assigned, where the game is run, and who the GM is.

References:

Foucault, M. (1982). The archaeology of knowledge ; and the discourse on language. New York: Pantheon Books.
Node Types. (n.d.). Retrieved February 12, 2014, from http://www.jennic.com/elearning/zigbee/files/html/module2/module2-3.htm

Live Action Role Playing Games — Object of Study

Live-Action Role-Playing Games (LARPs) are a type of interactive role-playing game in which the participants portray characters through physical action, often in costume and with props. LARP is distinguished from cosplay, where individuals demonstrate affinity and allegiance to a particular character within a fandom through authenticity in dress and manner; historical re-enactment, in which costumed participants embody and bring to life historical figures and events; and creative anachronism, where participants create their own characters based on history, genre or a particular time period. The distinction arises primarily because LARPing involves elements of a game – plot, goals, conflict, “points”, and stakes for the character – which are regulated through various structures created by game designers, writers, and game masters (GMs). LARP is a live improvisational performance without an audience; everyone present is an active participant and has a stake in the outcome of the game.

Boffer-style LARPs, which use homemade weaponry made of PVC pipe covered in foam and duct tape to enact combat scenes, are more about weaponry, hand-to-hand combat, battle strategy and adrenaline than theater-style or freeform LARP, which focuses more on character-building, and storytelling. Often called Interactive Storytelling or Interactive Literature, theatre-style LARP uses a system of game rules adapted from table-top role-playing games in order to determine position within the game, advance plot points, create more authentic characters and settle conflicts.  These are known as “mechanics.”

Mechanics both limit and augment a person’s natural tendencies, and are used as a means of controlling the large groups of people assembled in a closed space, as well as to create the game world through enhanced verisimilitude and what are intended to be clearly enacted boundaries. Yet these mechanics become objects of negotiation between the GMs and the players, each pursuing their own goals and agendas while maintaining their identity and autonomy within the Ludic System.

Mechanics fashion a common reference point across groups, standardize the methods of conflict resolution and plot points in the game, and provide a model and/or map of the shared game space. They do so to allow knowledge transfer without enforcing a particular shared meaning – which is essential to game autonomy and enjoyment. The mechanics are mediating artifacts that encode etiquette to create a controlled game reality that mitigates aggression, harassment, and other problems that may be brought in from real life and allows for the identity exploration essential to role-playing games.

I see the information movement before, during and after the LARP and the co-creation of the live game by sharing the roles as author, narrator, and character as functioning as a kind of distributed network.

I will study a particular LARP that I will play between February 28 and March 2. I will play three games during that time span; 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. Alternatively, another game is very structured. The Game Master is the “software” of a live-action game, so I am interested in the protocols (rules/mechanics) used to govern the game, which has as its core interactive problem-solving. The game is neither playable nor solvable alone; thus a system or network is needed to experience the reality that is LARP.