How To Win Arguments On the Internet

Internet debate is a double-edged sword. It can help us undertand each other, but it can drive us apart, too.

In the past year, I’ve watched lots of internet arguments — some ugly, some not — unfold within the gaming community, most recently around issues of gender and inclusion in the aftermath of the Knutepunkt convention.

These debates have crystallized some thoughts on argumentation and tone. Forgive me for meandering a bit below: my core point here is that tone matters — sure, it doesn’t affect the content of your argument, but it does affect how that argument is perceived by your core audience, and therefore it affects your overall persuasiveness. This is my pragmatic world view — that if you want your argument to achieve maximum effectiveness, tone matters.

Yeah, “Tonal Arguments” Are Problematic.

I should point out that, yes, I am familiar with the inherent problems around tonal arguments. In a nutshell, the problem with tonal arguments is that when used abusively, they can derail the content of a debate and silence people who need to be heard. In other words, if I’m  just in from two weeks of exposure in the desert and I say, “I’m dying of thirst, fetch me a glass of water, jerk,” you might respond with “hey there spanky, you get more flies with honey. Say please!” you do have a point, but your point doesn’t actually negate the contents of my speech. I still really need a glass of water, like, now. The idea is that you should respond to the content of my speech, rather than the manner in which I’ve made it. And in general, I agree with this. But the tone of an argument also hits people on a gut emotional level, and that means it affects how likely your message is to penetrate your audience.

To reiterate: I agree that tonal arguments can be problematic, especially when they’re used like a weapon to deliberately derail productive conversation. I also acknowledge that sometimes, people — often people from non-dominant groups — just get tired of explaining stuff over and over again. If I had a flame thrower for every time I’ve had to argue about concepts that seem like feminism 101 to me, well, let’s just say there’d be a lot of crispy bodies scattered around the earth. I assume that trans people get tired of explaining trans issues, that people of color get tired of explaining racism, that larpers get tired of explaining larp, etc. etc. For me, at least, this fatigue causes the phenomenon of “ragesplaining” (it’s what mansplaining makes me want to do!). This is what happens when I feel like I have to explain X to a new group of people for the bazillionth time for me, although perhaps it’s only the first time for my audience.

I think all of this comes into play when talking about sensitive stuff on the web, or honestly, in person. And while tone doesn’t negate the contents of anyone’s speech, it makes a huge difference in how your message is received by others.

(Sidenote: Though the “basic” conversations can feel frustrating to have repeatedly, I think they’re some of the most important conversations to have, because they bring outsiders up to speed on what must sometimes seem like inside baseball. And usually, people who haven’t encountered basic concepts before simply haven’t thought about the issue very deeply yet, so it’s a good opportunity to spread some basic knowledge, and persuade these noobs over to your side.)

Pick a Tone Appropriate To Your Audience

Though there are lots of reasons to to engage in debate about sticky wickets like, say, gender or free speech, or whatever, I see four main reasons:

  • To rally the base that agrees with you
  • To change the mind(s) of the person(s) that you disagree with, but who are weighing in on the debate
  • To persuade people on the fence who may be listening, but not necessarily posting.
  • To give voice to people who may feel the same way you do, but who don’t feel comfortable speaking up.

All of these audiences are important. But to my mind, the middle two are the most important because they are the most likely to create real change by growing the base of people who agree with you. Persuading someone who is a fierce advocate of an opposing position has ripple effects as well — if I can change Darth Vader’s opinion on planet explosion, how many storm troopers will follow? My argumentative mantra is: every “enemy” is a potential ally.

To my mind, ragesplaining may feel really really good, but it pretty much only appeals to an audience that already agrees with you. I think it alienates fence-sitters, and it makes the people you disagree with feel attacked. It also takes focus away from the issues at hand and gets people’s pride involved.

How do I know this? Well, I’ve been on both sides of the equation.

During and after Mad About the Boy, I had a lot of arguments about feminism with different sects of people. Early-on, this argumentation meant persuading some men in the community that it was OK to have a game and invite only women. Later, the game took a lot of heat around gender issues from a number of feminists. I don’t want to reopen what was a painful episode for people on many sides of the equation, but this discussion felt frustrating to me, and others on the organizing committee, in part because we consider ourselves feminists and felt we had many goals in common with our adversaries. However, from our perspective, the tenor of the arguments made it difficult for us to want to engage in debate. Plus, we’d used up much of our energy for debate before the game. For me, this felt like a wake-up moment, because I learned what it feels like to be told that you are not being politically correct/understanding enough, and so I feel like I have some empathy for both the critics and the criticized.

Giving the Benefit of the Doubt

To me, the best arguments begin by giving your opponents every advantage — by giving them the benefit of the doubt. Here’s why I think it works:

  • If you couch your opponent’s position in the strongest way possible, then your devastating critique is that much more damning. It doesn’t leave them the wiggle room of, “you misinterpreted me.”
  • As much as we like to think debate is abstract and about the issues, most of us identify strongly with the beliefs we hold and the activities we do. Attacking these can feel like an attack on a person’s identity. That gets pride involved, which makes it emotionally more difficult for the opposition to “give in” on points you might have otherwise persuaded them about. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt, generally includes assuming that:
    • most of us are normal human people who sometimes make flawed decisions
    • most of us don’t intend to hurt others, but sometimes do so inadvertently
    • most of us are thoughtful people who have tried to do their best

As the saying goes, “intent isn’t magic.” To borrow a metaphor from the Knutepunkt debate, even if I didn’t mean to kick you on the dance floor — even if my intent was good — your shin may still hurt, and perhaps you’ve got a bruise to contend with for a few weeks. No apology can fix that. But surely, “I don’t know if you noticed, but you kicked me rather hard, and I’d like to talk about the dance moves you try to bust,” is likely to get a better return than “you’re a horrible person. Why’d you kick me, jerk?” (By the same token, “I’m really sorry I kicked you, but this is the dance style I strongly prefer,” will get a better response than “Stop being so sensitive, it was just a little shove.”)

I don’t want to put the burden on the person who is already hurt to be extra understanding and extra nice and to overcome lots of natural rage. That isn’t fair. It sucks. It’s a nearly superhuman demand. I think people in the position of handling critique should also exercise their empathy, to understand that perhaps this isn’t the first time I’ve been kicked on the dance floor and that I’m having a compound reaction, to give me space to calm down, perhaps to help calm me down so we can have a productive discussion, and so on. Of course, that can be difficult as well. But as Lewis Carroll put it, we should all try six impossible things before breakfast, right?

I think this is particularly important to remember within debates about charged topics within the gaming community, in part because most people do gaming stuff on a hobby level, not for money, but because they want to create things for others. Hostile debate and not giving organizers the benefit of the doubt can produce a chilling effect on the community. After all, we want to encourage people to organize stuff because then there’s more cool stuff to go to — if the perceived social cost of organizing an event becomes too high, that’s going to discourage well-meaning people from participating, and I think that’s not good for the community in general.

Venting vs. Arguing

When I’m really mad, it’s hard to argue, because I can’t control my tone, which doesn’t effect my goal of bringing people around. It can alienate fence-sitters. It can make the opposition dig in its heels merely out of pride. For that matter, it can make me dig in my heels out of pride.

So before I argue, I vent privately to a small circle of trusted people I know won’t judge me for saying stuff that will be mean. And sometimes, I really need to say stuff that is mean, to get it out of my system. To calm down. Only then am I ready to argue, that is, to give my opponents the benefit of the doubt and try to win them over to my side.

I’m not anti-anger. Anger is important — it’s part of what drives us toward passionate and needed debate, but it’s possible to explain why you’re angry/hurt/etc without making the person you’re talking to angry as well.

TL;DR

I’m not concerned here with what’s fair or easy — the world is neither — but I’m concerned with what works. And in general, I think a kind tone, working hard to understand your opponents, and giving them the benefit of the doubt works. Sometimes that means dampening the natural urge to ragesplain things, even though that feels SO JUST AND GOOD.

When things get heated, try to remember that the point of communication is to get ideas across, which means considering what your audience is able to hear.

American Jerkform: There’s No Negotiating with Bees

My friends, the jerkform revolution has begun. And it comes to you in the form of….

bees

Those of you not familiar with American Jerkform (catchphrase: “There’s no negotiating with bees.”*) may wish to read the original manifesto. Simply know that jerkform is for everyone and no one. It loves babies and alligators, sometimes together. And when the moon is full and the scent of jasmine fills the air, or when the bird is upon the wing and the sun beams with all the beatific perfection of Steve Buscemi, simply whisper its name onto the wind, and a swarm of bees will sweep down and render justice upon you.

Jerkform is not meant to be played, it’s meant to be smeared all over your body, like poisonous berries, or stared at intently until one of you spontaneously combusts. Seriously, do not attempt to play jerkform.

Here is a new collection of games written by about fifteen people, working singly or in groups.

 

LONDON BURNING by Sex and Bullets

Burn yourself with a cigarette. Tell the cigarette how it feels.

 

HAUNTED BY BEES: An American Jerkform/Beeffor LARP by Terry Romero

You’re trapped (as in actually locked into for a week) in a post-apocalyptic warehouse on the edge of town populated by hungry slow moving zombies and even hungrier freegans. Each team of two and a half people gets a 10 hour supply of extra spicy jerky and 5 hour energy drink.

You must defend your turf and loved ones and crap armed ONLY WITH BEES. Throw some actual f***ing bees! They can be real live bees, handfuls of dead bees, or a sock full of d4s.

  • If you’re hit with one bee you die.
  • Two bees, you die in real life.
  • Three bees, you die and come back as an emo ghost.
  • Eat all the bees, and you become the Beelzebub.

Last player standing marries Beelzebub, then breaks it off due to overwhelming guilt of being responsible for the death of thousands of bees.

There is no bleed in this game because you have chosen in real life the most dangerous game of all!

 

THE NORDIC LARP COLLECTIBLE CARD GAME by James Stuart

Each lovingly hand-painted card contains the image of a Nordic larpwright, a catch phrase, and a function (+3 bleed, +2 theory burn!, +5 historical accuracy). Gotta catch ‘em all!

 

THE RULE OF PHILOSOPHY CLASSES by Lizzie

Just like every party has a pooper, every philosophy class has an a**hole. Sometimes, it’s you. Deal with it.

 

FAT MAN SITTING DOWN by George

A game for 11 GMs, and a large ensemble of furniture.

The largest chair in the room — preferably a sofa if one is available — is the fat man. Arrange all the side tables and chairs in the room in a circle around the fat man. Tell everyone there is a fire extinguisher.

The GMs form a circle around the furniture and yell at it, forcing it to be meaner to the sofa. The game ends when a dining room chair breaks and sets the sofa on fire.

If anyone asks about the fire extinguisher, laugh maniacally.

 

FAT MAN DONUT by James Greenan and Sara W.

The largest member of your gaming circle is assigned the job of “driver.” He drives you an hour from home to a discreet artisanal donut shop in Brooklyn. There is no parking. Fat Man Donut must sit in the car while the rest of your party enjoys donuts from behind a plate glass window. Once donuts are consumed, Fat Man Donut is told how he feels by each donut-eating individual.

Actual play report: We’re now at the idling part of Fat Man Donut.  This game sucks, I wish there were more bees. — The Fat Man

 

WE MUST IMAGINE SISYPHUS HAPPY by Lizzie

Mention X. Try to convince Y you haven’t just insulted them. Pick up a bronze statue of Foucault and beat the opposition with it.

There are many play sets. Post them in the comments.

 

GAME THEORY THUNDERDOME by Sex and Bullets

Two game designers enter. One interpretation of GNS theory and/or the “magic circle” leaves. Flamethrowers.

 

MAGRITTE by Megan J.

Put some props on a table.

 

TALKING STICK by Sex and Bullets

Agree to use  a talking stick. But who gets it first? Whoever yells the loudest.

 

ANGSTY HANDF*** by Graham

You are attracted to various people. While you work out who you are in a relationship with, rub hands with them and pretend to have sex.

 

NOIR by Joanna Charambura

Sit in a dark room until one of you decides to switch the light on.

 

UNIVERSAL BLEED MECHANIC #2** by Sex and Bullets

Knives.

 MANIFEST THIS MOFO by Bryant Johnson

1: Walk into a room where people are larping; preferably something introspective or foreign. (Listen at the door; if you hear the word “bleed” and it isn’t preceded by the phrase “stabbed in the stomach with a scimitar” you’re probably in the right place.)

2: Kick over a table, or a chair, or someone with small fashionable glasses.

3: Yell “MANIFEST DESTINY!” as loudly as you can. (You may also help yourself to any drinks you spot.)

4: Repeat. (I find conventions work best for this.)

5: Skip any attempt at a debrief. You need to let that s*** simmer.

 

FORTHCOMING JERKFORM GAMES

Manic Pixie Dream Girl Prostitute by Sara W.
Catch Me if You Can: A child’s first story Christmas story with cannibalism by  Terry Romero

 

*We know this first-hand thanks to cohort A.A. George, who was once attacked by a swarm of bees, thus proving that there is no negotiating with bees — only screaming. Seriously. Buy M- George a beer sometime — a bee attack renders you in permanent need of sympathetic beers — and ask to hear the story. And the audio.

 

** We’ve recently learned that game designer JR Blackwell has previously designed a game that employs this mechanic.

American Jerkform: A Manifesto

by Elizabeth Snark and George Flocke

Mr. Humveeform (a/k/a http://brooklynindiegames.com/) will make you WEEP. With gasoline fumes. Credit: John Stavropolous

Jerkform

Bigger. Badder. More dice.

Playing games is so 1990. American Jerkform is part of the new wave of unplayable games. (Note: Do not attempt to play any of the following games.)

No one knows exactly what American Jerkform is. Don’t mistake it for the similar Libertarianform games (not to be mistaken for freeform), or the newer, spankier Humveeform. They are both subsets of its marvel.

American Jerkform cannot be defined. Literally. By definition. Its intensity is so intense that if you even think about trying to pigeonhole it with a definition, Jerkform will imagine itself into being like the Greek God Gaia and burn down your house.

American Jerkform is too intense to be played. It’s meant to be ridden, like a motorcycle through town, stereo cranked up, moustache hair tangling in the hurricane of emotion oozing off you like cheap cologne as you belt out Bon Jovi with your dude-bros in a dive bar because Jerkform does not CARE about mixed metaphors, continuity, or consistency.

All Jerkform wants out of life is for you to love it.

Jerkform is not meant to be understood. It’s meant to be grokked.

THE HANDBOOK FOR DUCHAMP SCOUTS

Collect 3-5 friends and head to the men’s room. Everyone puts two found objects into a bag. Stand several standard stoppages apart in a big circle. Ululate and call the spirit of the great artist Duchamp into you.

One by one, each person grabs one or two objects from the sack, joins them into a readymade and tags someone else to perform a short skit around that object. At the end of the skit, decide what Duchamp Scout motto has been uncovered and write it down into a little book.

Eat the book.

WAITING FOR BECKETT

Grab a friend and head to the local Cheesecake Factory. Tell the hostess that you are waiting for your friend X. Drink at the bar until you are broke. Stand outside and talk with your friend until you realize that X isn’t a person at all — X represents an abstraction, like the futility of life, or your own inability to score a date under honest pretenses. Roll for bleed.

HIPSTER GOLF

This is a pervasive game meant for a several-day conference event or other large social gathering. It discourages hipster behavior.

Prep
Give each player a false moustache, or teach them how to make a finger moustache, by placing a finger on their upper lips. Hand out the scoring cards, which should have the list of banned strokes on the back. The goal is to reach the end of the event with as few points as possible.

Banned strokes

  • unnecessarily introduces Foucault (or a similar intellectual figure) into conversation (+1)
  • unnecessary or irrelevant introduction of technical terms, esp. without explanation (+1 or +2)
  • referencing having liked people or cultural trends before they were cool (+1)
  • references a small band, author, or other cultural object as if you should have heard of it (+1)
  •  exuding apathy about political, social, or moral outcomes. (+2)
  • <insert your own>

Game Play
When a player executes a banned stroke, everyone around him or her simultaneously lifts false moustaches to their noses and solemnly intones “their first album was better.”

You may wish to handicap anyone wearing skinny jeans, plaid, or natural facial hair.

MURDER, SHE COMMITTED. (MURDER, SHE WROTE MY CONFESSION?)

Collect 6-10 friends and reenact an episode of Murder, She Wrote. One person plays Angela Lansbury, everyone else plays her web of “friends” in Cabot Cove. The rule is that everyone fears Lansbury’s rage, since she’s a sociopath masquerading as a kindly old mystery writer who solves crimes. She kills at random, and no one is safe. She’s skilled and fearsome enough that even the police try to cover up her crimes with their own ineptitude. The game ends when the killer she’s framed confesses, and the player of Lansbury mimics her classic face of disgust and horror/contempt.

This game can also be played by adding Lansbury to any boxed murder mystery dinner party.

COOLNESS ABOUT COOLNESS

Coolness is a morally bankrupt currency. Take a minute and think of all the things you’ve done to seem cool. Do you feel bad yet? Good. This pervasive game teaches you how to overcome your natural tendency toward coolness by forcing you to do un-cool things like:

  • talking to people whose relative coolness level has not yet been established.
  • listening to people whose coolness score is equal to ½ of your own or less.
  • singing along to a pop song in public.
  • dancing without inhibition
  • caring about anything.

AMERICAN SAUNA WORKSHOP

Everyone meets in the sauna wearing a bathing suit and an overcoat, and feeling a decent, God-fearing sense of shame about the human body.

The winner is the person who studiously ignores everyone else’s bodies, and/or  pretends that this situation isn’t totally awkward for the longest continuous time.

AMERICAN JERKYFORM

by Terry Romero

We play for the bleed. We play to be chewy, salty, and richly seasoned by fear, loathing, and nitrates.

There is only one game we play: close your eyes, chew on some jerky. Don’t care if it’s meat or soy or a doggie toy. Imagine the following, in no particular order

  • It’s your left arm
  • The first time you realized you are dead inside
  • The cat
  • The sweet taste of freedom

Trade your jerky with the person to your left. Repeat until all the jerky is gone.

Humveeform

Humveeform is a special subset of Jerkform so avant garde, that not only are the games unplayable, they are uncreated, intangible, and existing only in the deepest, darkest, most gasoline-inefficient corners of your mind…

But that is only how we define Humveeform. For each Humveeer defines the genre differently.

Humveeform is aimed at making you cry. Most of the games utilize a universal bleed mechanic designed to ensure that you do.

The bleed mechanic tells you how similar you are to your character and how bad you should feel about that.

Remember:  not every Humveeform involves a bleed mechanic, and not every game with a bleed mechanic is Humveeform.

Bleed Mechanic 1

Roll a d-20. On a:

1: You’ve forgotten what sort of game you are playing. Get the powerup and win the game.

2-3: You don’t feel very bad at all. Feel ashamed about your inability to commit to the role.

4-5: Is someone cutting onions nearby, or is this room just dusty?

6-8: That thing you really hate about your character? It’s true of you too, but everyone’s been too polite to say it until now.

9-12: You aren’t just bleeding now, you’re hemorrhaging. Put on a headband (size, shape, and color corresponding to your race and class) soaked in red Kool-Aid.

13-15: Break up with your significant other.

16-19: Make the sound of ultimate suffering.

Crit 20: Total success!  Kill yourself.

 

We invite you to add your own Jerkform or Humveeform games to the comments.

 

*Marc Machjer’s Twenty-Four Game Poems, an awesome book of completely playable super-short, almost prep-less games that you should immediately buy, inspired this post, as did the collective of gamers that attended a recent jeepy weekend in southern NJ.

** Also: have you bought my book? You should probably buy my book. It is journalistic nonfiction about larp.

Solmukohta Ahoy

After my stop in Denmark for Fastaval, I headed to Helsinki to participate in Solmukohta, the Finnish installation of the Knutepunkt conference that rotates its way around the Nordic capitals, changing its name according to the local languages. The event features larps, workshops, run-downs of completed or upcoming games, and tons of talks on larp theory.

The convention took place at a building that seemed like a cross between a hotel and a boarding school, a labyrinthine complex of hallways, lounges, and classrooms that seemed built into a hill.

Zombies and Bleed

Rather than attend the opening ceremonies, my Fastaplague-ridden body required a nap. When I awoke, I stumbled through the corridor, blithely ignoring the “game area,” signs, since I wished to find the info desk without wandering out into the snowy forest. (Although the skinny, red-barked pine trees looked lovely).

Scores of groaning conventioneers shambled through the hallways, their mindlesss half-witted expressions and limping gaits perfectly mirroring my physical well-being. Apparently, I had stumbled onto the convention’s opening scenario, a zombie game. The zombies inexorably advanced, and I could find no escape from their gnashing teeth, which latched onto my shoulder.

I, too, became a zombie, damned to wander the corridors, limping, until the government arrived and killed us all.

Rants

Later that evening, I attended the Hour of the Rant, where various folks get up on stage and make pointed comments, sometimes funny, sometimes serious, often a mixture between the two. There were rants on why larps may not change the world, and why they should. Rants on how current measures for psychological safety don’t work as well as they should, and rants on how larpers should do a better job of giving out credit to everyone involved in a project. American game designer Jason Morningstar zinged the crowd with a rant on why they ought to play more and document less.

Like an American jerk, I delivered a rant titled “Write a damn rulebook.” Last year, while reporting for Leaving Mundania, I’d gotten frustrated that there weren’t readily available easy-to-understand materials explaining basic concepts on the scene. In what may have been a case of “arrogantly demand and ye shall receive,” (or just serendipitous magic) the Nordic community has remedied this as of Sunday, with the delightful, searchable, work-in-progress Nordic Larp Wiki. Run! Run to your nearest new browser tab and check it out!

Mistakes

I love the Beckett quote “Ever tried. Ever failed. Try again. Fail again. Fail better,” so I attended a panel titled “All the Things I’ve Learned From All the Mistakes I’ve Done,” a run-down of larp-organizing errors, presented by larp organizers, including panel host Rasmus Høgdall. Among the lessons learned:

  • as an organizer, it’s possible to spread yourself too thin
  • know when it’s going to be a disaster and don’t be afraid to cancel
  • it’s better to have a few awesome things in game than lots of mediocre ones
  • also, bribing your players with booze only works if you buy a lot of booze

Safety

When explaining Nordic larp — with all its serious, emotional impact — to Americans, their first response is usually something like, “that’s not a game; that’s therapy” or “that sounds like the Stanford Prison Experiment. Do people come out of these things permanently damaged?” So I was fascinated to attend The Great Player Safety Controversy Panel and listen to a well-reasoned, in-depth discussion of these issues. I took tons of notes, so check back here later this week, when I’ll post them. (4/26/12 update: here are the notes.)

The Roleplay Contract

Riffing off the safety panel, larp maker Bjarke Pedersen gave a talk titled “Five Things We Lie About in Larp,” which generated some interesting discussion. He suggested that the “roleplay contract” is a lie, which was doubly interesting both because I’d never before heard of the roleplay contract, and because lies are fascinating.

The roleplay contract, apparently, is an agreement between players not to judge players for their characters and vice versa. So if I’m a jerk to you in game, you agree not to judge me for it later at the diner. Or if we’re both dark elves in game, I’ll roleplay with you even if I don’t personally like you, because that’s what makes sense for the narrative.

As Bjarke pointed out, this isn’t always true in practice. People want to roleplay with their friends and may shut others out. Sometimes we dislike people after seeing the way that they roleplay. I came out of the session thinking of the roleplay contract as being a bit like philosophical debate around freewill: whether or not we have it is irrelevant, because we behave as if we do.

His point that not everyone is equally capable of playing every role also generated some discussion. He suggested that super-tall dudes can’t really play hobbits, because it breaks our idea of what a “hobbit” is too much. Some members of the audience disagreed, noting that players have a remarkable ability to overlook out of game stuff during games, and that “hobbit” is a fictional category anyway, arguably one capable of expanding or contracting according to the game’s surroundings.

Saturday

I had a big Saturday at this con, but since I flapped my yapper instead of listening, I didn’t learn all that much. I caught the end of a really interesting talk on a game based around a Norwegian brass band (I think), and a bit of Sarah Lynne Bowman’s talk on social conflict and bleed, which I’m hoping to catch in its entirety at WyrdCon.

I went to Johanna Koljonen’s fantastic talk, “Designing Supernatural Terror,” in which she outlined myriad ways to make players feel creeped out, frightened, and terrified. Her slides are definitely worth a look, especially if you organize horror games!

I gave a talk based on my paper “We Hold These Rules To Be Self-Evident” in the convention book States of Play (free download!), which was about American larp as emblematic of American national values. I also incorporated some ideas floated on my blog that had to do with American hyperbole and lack of historical accuracy and American litigiousness. In addition, I sat on the panel “How to Communicate About Larp to a Mainstream Audience.” More on that at a later date — including some press tips — in this space.

The Next Episode

These formal programming items only capture half of the fun of this con. Stay tuned this week for the second installment, featuring more of a social angle.

For some takes on Solmukohta by other bloggers, check out blogs by:

Thomas B: part 1part 2, part 3, part 4
Evan Torner
Annika Waern
Rafael Bienia
Mike Pohjola
Oliver
Twinners
Story Games Forum
The Solmukohta documentation page has tons of content from other panels too!

(Got more links? Post them in the comments, please!)

Link Love: Gaming As Women

Stop reading this post right now and head over to Gaming As Women, one of my favorite new reads, where  bevy of incisive women gamers write about gender representation in D&D, crossplay, game design, and more.

You’ll never ask, “where are the awesome women gamers?” or “am I the only one who gets annoyed about stereotypical representations of women in game?” again.

Seriously. Go there. Right now.

Gaming Read: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Verdict: An absorbing read, recommended with reservations.

Ready Player One is the kind of book that makes me want to use the words “rollicking” and “romp,” as ina “rollicking romp through the 1980s.” If you hold any sort of nostalgia for that era, or are at all into video games, there’s a good chance you’ll like this novel, the first by screenwriter Ernest Cline.

The book follows the adventures of Wade Watts, a teen living in the dystopian future after the oil crisis ruins everything. He and everyone else in his world are obsessed with the OASIS, a mashup of virtual reality, Second Life, and World of Warcraft.  When OASIS creator James Halliday dies, his will stipulates that whoever first completes the baroque Easter egg challenges — all pertaining to 1980s culture — that he’s left behind will win the rights to his entire estate.

The chief candidates for this prize include an evil multinational corporation bent on — gasp — commercializing the OASIS and a ragtag band of five misfits, including Wade Watts, a girl who is almost but not quite as awesome as Wade Watts, Wade’s best friend, and of course two Japanese guys who spout totally non-stereotypical stuff about honor.

My husband and I genuinely loved listening to this book — Wade’s journey to find Halliday’s Easter egg is suspenseful and interestingly conceived. If you have fond memories of Joust or Monty Python and the Holy Grail, you’ll love it. The rendering of a perfect PacMan game — and I say this without a trace of irony — had me on the edge of my seat. It’s about as fascinating a novel as one could write about old-school video games, and it represents a geek wet-dream in which arcane knowledge about old Family Ties episodes could save the world (or at least, the fake world).

SPOILERS BELOW

But when our book club discussed the novel, we immediately segued into elements we felt were lacking from the book. Namely, the climb to the top is too easy for Wade, who has all the answers, and this cheapened the emotional pay-off for all of us.

Cline also inexpertly tackles race and gender through the character of Aech, Wade’s best friend, who is a fat black lesbian, as it turns out. She talks about how her mother believed that the OASIS was the best thing ever for people of color, because they could just create white avatars, thereby avoiding prejudice. While it’s admirable that Cline wants to address issues of race in the book, the idea that becoming white virtually is the solution to racism (or that becoming virtually male is a solution to sexism), is — to put it gently — problematic and goes unquestioned in the novel.

The Japanese characters Daito and Shoto, while presented respectfully, suffered badly from redshirt syndrome. As soon as the latter two entered our audiobook version — expertly read by Wil Wheaton — my story sense started tingling. I turned to my husband and said, “I hope they don’t sacrifice themselves so our hero can get to the goods.”

Many of the plot advancements serve to make things easier for Wade, devices which work to lower the stakes for Wade and reduce the emotional payoff for readers. For example, Wade’s corporate rivals blow up his house (and his aunt) at the beginning of the book, but he didn’t have any particular emotional connection to his aunt — in fact she seemed like she might interfere with his OASIS plans, so rather than tugging at our heartstrings, the explosion both removes an obstacle and allows Wade to feel morally outraged toward the corporation without really developing his inner emotional life.

Similarly, when Aech turns out to be a woman, I hoped that this might spur some character development — Wade and Aech had been best friends, after all, though Wade had been involved with and dumped by the tough Artemis. However, in making Aech a lesbian, Cline preempted that possible tension — to me, queering her served only to save Wade (and the author) the inconvenience of acknowledging a fat black woman as a possible sexual partner.

And so, while the novel was a great, light read, it didn’t offer lasting emotional substance — Wade’s complex victories over the imaginary world of the OASIS come too easily — if this book is a series of caper flicks, it’s one in which the characters’ ultimate victory over evil is never really in doubt, because their plans never truly go wrong.

It’s a rollicking romp, all right, and a fun read, but that’s about it.

How To Find the Right Game

Welcome to the first-timers’ series, where a panel of seasoned gamers and experts from the US and beyond weigh in on topics pertinent to the larp newbie.

Today, we look at two questions. First: How do you figure out what you enjoy in a game? 

Rick McCoy recommends researching games before playing, and trying to get to know the larp troupe outside of the game:

Talk to people before playing the game. Get a sense of the style of play before you actually make a commitment. Talk to an Advocate from groups such as LARPA or the LARP Alliance. But do try everything, if you can. You might be surprised at what you thought was lackluster or boring turn into an element of the game environment that you relish every time you play.

Elements you might enjoy in a larp are similar to what you might get out of a tabletop game (if you are so inclined), an MMO, a murder mystery. Note that just because you enjoy something in game, doesn’t mean it has to be in game. You could love to roleplay, be at a Battle Game, fighting your heart out and role playing the heck out of your character – taunting other fighters, being true to the character you created.

Also note, you can’t judge a genre or style of game on one circumstance. There is a chance that the one time you try out a Vampire game, that the Players  are welcoming, explain the rules, and you’ll have a great time and fit right in. There is an equal chance that you will try it out, only to be ostracized or feel alienated. Roleplaying might have a lot to do with how a larp group interacts with you – if possible search out for the rare hang outs that happen between events. Fighter practices, a dinner or summer picnic outing – most groups have social interaction outside of the game environment. Taking the time to get to know people is the best bet to raise the odds that you’ll find a group that you fit into. The one guy that decides your cool enough at the dinner party might become your Mentor at a Vampire event…the young woman who taught you how to swing foam at a fighter practice will recognize you at game and might come to your aid when you most need it.

 Cast a wide net, and remember that it’s OK to leave a game, Jeramy Merritt says:

Start by trying everything and being open to things you might not have thought of before.  For first time weekend larpers, I’d suggest NPCing your first event for this very purpose.  During the downtimes ask if you might be able to go out as this race or this class so you can get an idea of where you fit in.  If you come to PC, don’t build a brooding antisocial outsider and complain that no one wants to be around your character.  Ask questions, find out where you fit in, and always say yes to opportunity.

On the other side, it is possible that a game just doesn’t work for you.  If you hate pickles, you shouldn’t force yourself to keep eating pickles until you like them; I’m pretty sure that doesn’t work.  You should be having fun, if you aren’t having fun, find out why.  Part of every game is making your own fun, but the game should facilitate that, and you shouldn’t be relied upon to make all of your fun.  If the game isn’t providing that for you, and it is possible that even a well run game won’t do it for you, then you probably shouldn’t be there, and moreover you shouldn’t force yourself to be there.

Mike Young and Aaron Vanek recommend post-game analysis as a way of figuring out what you like. Mike Young:

Oh, it takes years and years of experience.  There are many people out there who just want to have fun without knowing what that means.  Every time you play in a larp, analyze what works and what doesn’t work.  Then go from there.

Aaron Vanek:

These answers rarely come to me as they are happening; it’s almost always upon reflection, hours, days, or even weeks later. I’m usually to busy being “in the moment” as best I can to reflect on the moment. I want to squeeze ever last drop out of the fruit before I taste it to see if i like it. I try to spend time to reflect on the last larp. I mull over what happened, why I did what I did, what I could have done differently, what I should have done, what was cool, what was not, etc. It usually involves cocktails bending my wife’s ear (though she often plays as well). So I don’t know if a larp or larp group isn’t the right fit until after at least one event.

Think about the kind of community you want to be a part of, Sarah Bowman advises:

I look for players that enjoy in-depth character development and who believe in staying in-character as much as possible. While more sily, light-hearted games are occasionally fun, I get annoyed when players break character too often or attempt to dispel emotional intensity. I like games that provoke conversation, thoughtfulness, and emotional impact. Plot-centric games tend to interest me less. I also dislike “hack-and-slash” games, where the “point” of the game is to kill things and level the character.

I also tend to dislike player-versus-player conflict, unless diffused properly by out-of-character socializing. In my opinion, some players enjoy role-playing as a form of power trip or abuse fantasy. While I do not find anything inherently wrong with this mentality, I feel that the community as a whole and the players within it should be treated with respect out-of-game. Lately, I bow out of games where I do not feel emotionally safe with the other players. If in-character events are weighed as more important than out-of-character relationships, something in the game is broken, in my opinion.

So, now that we’ve got a handle on what to look for in a game, How do you know when a game or group isn’t the right fit for you? 

Trust your gut, says J. Tuomas Harviainen:

If I start feeling that I am not enjoying the play in that particular group or game, I either try to negotiate the problems away, or I leave the game. In my experience it’s mostly a gut feeling, an instinctual reaction, which can rise from many smaller factors. Sometimes it’s because I can’t stand the way some other players play (especially a lack of commitment to preserve the illusionary reality of the game tends to annoy me), sometimes because the game masters aren’t doing a proper job in plot design. Both are rare experiences for me, but they do happen. My personal pet peeve are players who can’t separate character actions and morals from their, or my, real ones.

Most importantly, remember that games are supposed to be fun. Michael Pucci:

If you go, and it’s fun… you have found it.  If you go on a regular basis and it feels like an obligation, then you need to try a new character or a new game.

Geoffrey Schaller:

Are you having fun?  You don’t play a game to make money (unless it’s gambling), and you don’t play because you HAVE to.  If you’re not having fun, stop playing that style, or that game.  Some things can be addressed – character concept, minor rules issues, or the people you are hanging out with.  Others, such as the theme for the overall game or the physical location, can not be changed as easily.  Don’t force yourself to be miserable.  Don’t be a Drama Llama about it, but do what makes you happy – that’s the point of playing.

Kate Beaman-Martinez:

Groups come and go, and the same goes for a figuring out if you fit with a game. if you go to a doctor and say “doc, it hurts when I do this.” And the Doc replies, “Well don’t do that.” If you aren’t having fun with a game, don’t do it!

But if you want to like a game and are having a hard time settling in, talk to the GMs, go to the Storytellers. It’s their job to help YOU have a good time, why do you think you’re paying them? In my experience as a GM, I would much prefer a player come to me with a problem than sitting, sulking and then leaving when I could have fixed it. Use your resources and if those resources are scary, talk to a friend and they might be able to help you get past the scary ST. Be active with you enjoyment, don’t just sit back and wait to be served. That’s just lazy.

Read more first-timers’ guides here at LizzieStark.com.

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Kate Beaman-Martinez  has been acting since she was 11 and started gaming at 17. She cut her teeth on White Wolf’s Werewolf: The Apocalypse and naturally got up when there was a heated debate on the proper uses of torture in her weekly table top group. Shortly thereafter she joined The Avatar System and hasn’t looked back. Through larping, she has found her partners, and moved to New York. Kate is currently a full time student and the Executive Assistant for Double Exposure, Inc.

Sarah Lynne Bowman received her PhD from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2008. McFarland press published her dissertation in 2010 under the title The Functions of Role-Playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems and Explore Identity. Her current research focuses upon understanding social conflict within role-playing communities and applying Jungian theory to the phenomenon of character immersion.

J. Tuomas Harviainen comes from Finland, and is one of those pesky  professional larp researchers. In addition to studying larps, he also designs them. His mini-larps have so far been run in at least 14 countires and translated to seven languages.

Rick McCoy began larping in 1989, and works as an electrician by day and a larp advocate by night. Over the course of his career, he has organized many games, conventions, and larp organizations. He currently serves as the president of LARP Alliance, which he co-founded, and has been involved in many media promotions of the hobby, including work in an advisory capacity for the filmmakers of Role Models and the forthcoming Knights of Badassdom. He lives in Southern California.

Jeramy Merritt is a long-time larper, first-time caller. He is the creator of Doomsday, a sci-fi larp.

Michael Pucci is the CEO of Eschaton Media and the creator of multiple larps, tabletop books, scripts and gaming-related media.  He has more than twenty years experience storytelling for larps, tabletops, and convention games, and spent five years in the business side of the gaming industry. He proudly holds the title of ‘Zombie Lord‘ while looking for more inventive approaches to modernize gaming.

Geoffrey Schaller is a gaming gypsy, having wandered into and out of tabletop RPGs, Collectable Card Games, Miniatures, larp (WoD, boffer, and other), Board Games, MMOs, and countless other forms of gaming, as a player, play tester, demo-runner, author, and staff member.  He still dabbles in all of them when he gets the chance. He is the Technical Director of Double Exposure, Inc.

Aaron Vanek has been playing, designing, running, and thinking about larps for 25 years. His larp publications include the illustrated essay “Cooler Than You Think: Understanding Live Action Role Playing“; “The Non-United Larp States of America“ in the Talk Knutepunkt 2011 book, “Predictions for Larp” in Journeys to Another World, the Wyrd Con book, and the blueprint for “Rock Band Murder Mystery” in the Do Knutepunkt 2011 book. He hopes for at least another 25 years of larp.

Mike Young has been writing live roleplaying games for over 20 years.  His award-winning larps have been run across the world, and many of them are available for free download at his website.

How To Make Larp A Day Job

Welcome to the first-timers’ series, in which I ask a panel of seasoned gamers and experts from the US and beyond to advise newbies on a variety of larp-related topics, from running a first game to organizing a convention.

Today’s advice is for gamers who want to live the dream, and make larp their day-jobs.

Mike Young provides a reality check:

Are you in a Scandinavian country?  Great!  Are you in the USA?  OK, larp is a niche market of a niche market of a niche market (larp is a niche of the RPG [roleplaying games] market which is a niche of the hobby game market).  The numbers just aren’t there.  Good luck!  You’ll need it.

 

Claus Raasted’s super-secret advice:

Don’t. Unless this is your dream and you’re prepared to do what it takes. Then send me a mail at claus.raasted@gmail.com. I’ll be happy to let you pick my brain, but since a lot of it will be unpleasant truths that need to be addressed (or ignored), I won’t write about it here. After all, your friends might be reading this too. :o)

Rather than run your own game, Anna Westerling recommends applying larp to the real world:

There are plenty of larp-like activities done for profit; you can do team building and development for companies, you can do educational games for schools or you can do PR and event like games for the entertainment industry. Of course, you can make huge larps and keep productions cost low enough to live on what your participants pay you, as done in Denmark with some children’s larp. But all of these options mean you will have to think slightly different about your hobby.  The last option would be to get money from grants, but that will be difficult to live on in the long run.

Other options include becoming a researcher,  working in a store that sells larp and roleplaying gear, or writing and publishing scenarios.

Boil it down to your core mission, suggests Emma Wieslander:

Be aware of what you really are trying to achieve. Is it a commercial game? Make a financial plan. What do people expect when they pay and how much are they willing to? Is it the games or a “community center” that will be the day job?

Is it educational games? If it’s really what you want to do then make sure that it’s the gamist version of education that you aim for and not just a way to do games and make money or you will give people a strange image of roleplaying and you’ll probably get fed up pretty soon.

Also consider  that when you get pay, others will want pay. You can’t expect them to work for free and money has a way of changing dynamics. Be absolutely sure that everyone is game – first.

Forget running it like a commune, according to Avonelle Wing:

Anticipate upheaval and don’t build the success of your organization on anybody’s shoulders but your own.  This is an industry rife with personalities, and the visionary MUST maintain the deciding vote. Do not rule by committee.  A committee of more than two is death to an organization of that sort.  You can have advisors. You can even share the success, but do not fall into the trap of trying to be a socialist organization; communes are a nice idea, but they don’t work.

Don’t lose track of your audience. Listen to criticism and sort it carefully. If you hear the same thing over and over, you’ve either got a vision flaw or a PR problem.  Either way, fix it.

Remember that running a business isn’t always fun, Geoffrey Schaller says:

Not only will you have to deal with the banality of the business putting a constant drain on your will to run the business that used to be fun, you will be dealing with legions of players, who are now customers, trying to pull you in multiple (and often opposing) directions in their attempt to influence your game / product / business.  Unless you can maintain your ideals, visions, and integrity, you are bound to fail.  People skills are essential to success.

Attend to the unsexy back-end of running a business, Michael Pucci recommends:

Take classes in regards to setting up business status, taxes, liability, and growth.  Most people don’t consider how much they can put themselves at risk by making a business out of their hobby without understanding the business side of things.  If you already run a game you at least understand the basics of gaming… however making it a business requires a little more effort.

Aaron Vanek suggests alternative revenue streams:

Consider going the non-profit corporate route, and applying for art grants. Learn how to use Kickstarter. If you design larps, consider boxing them and selling the scenario online. If you make props or costumes, keep the molds or patterns and consider selling those, too.

Amber Eagar says to cater to more than just larpers:

Here in the US running a larp as a viable, full-time job that will provide you with a stable enough income to live on is very, very rare. The hobby has yet to grow and mature like the table-top hobby has to a point where people can make a solid living off of it. At this time, its the support industries that have the larp job opportunities: costuming and prop suppliers and rental locations/facilities; and they all have one key thing in common: they’re able to cater to a wider audience than just larpers.

Approach it like a vocation, says Jeramy Merritt:

Running a larp is a lifestyle, like becoming a priest.  And as with the priesthood you are expected to maintain a public face, to always support your endeavors, even if all you want to do is sleep for a week. Also, most jobs pay better. There are maybe 20 people in this whole country that make a living running a larp, and maybe another 50 (and that is being generous) who sell enough product (weapons, costuming, etc.) to support themselves. The fact is, unless your game is bringing in 100+ people an event, you are probably not making a living off of it.

Here are all the things you have to do to just start up a larp: Create rules, set up a web-site, collect a giant wad of cash, become a business, find a campsite, get insurance, write a plot, convince people that there is a reason for them to pay you to entertain them for a weekend and make certain they have incentive to keep coming back.

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Mike Young has been writing live roleplaying games for over 20 years.  His award-winning larps have been run across the world, and many of them are available for free download at his website.

Claus Raasted (32) claims to be the world’s leading expert on children’s larps, and so far nobody has challenged that claim in earnest. He’s the author of six books on larp, is the editor-in-chief of Denmark’s roleplaying magazine ROLLE|SPIL and has been a professional larper for nearly a decade. He also has a past in reality TV. But these days, who hasn’t?

Anna Westerling is a larper, larp-producer and role-player of the Scandinavian larp scene. She has organized larps as A nice Evening with the Family, and produced Knutpunkt and the book Nordic Larp.

Emma Wieslander has been a gamer and larper since the late eighties and served as a front figure for the Swedish national gamers association during the times when role-playing was still under suspicion. Emma’s more notable larps explore love, gender and how we construct these norms. In creating these games, she invented methods to enable play around these topics. Her most known contributions are the frozen moments and the Ars amandi method.

Avonelle Wing is the Senior Vice President of Double Exposure, Inc. Along with her partners and a team of friends, comrades and co-visionaries, she works to produce two full-sized gaming conventions and a variety of other gaming related productions each year.  She is a larper at her core – collaborative storytelling is her art form of choice.

Geoffrey Schaller is a gaming gypsy, having wandered into and out of tabletop RPGs, Collectable Card Games, Miniatures, larp (WoD, boffer, and other), Board Games, MMOs, and countless other forms of gaming, as a player, play tester, demo-runner, author, and staff member.  He still dabbles in all of them when he gets the chance. He is the Technical Director of Double Exposure, Inc.

Michael Pucci is the CEO of Eschaton Media and the creator of multiple larps, tabletop books, scripts and gaming-related media.  He has more than twenty years experience storytelling for larps, tabletops, and convention games, and spent five years in the business side of the gaming industry. He proudly holds the title of ‘Zombie Lord‘ while looking for more inventive approaches to modernize gaming.

Aaron Vanek has been playing, designing, running, and thinking about larps for 25 years. His larp publications include the illustrated essay “Cooler Than You Think: Understanding Live Action Role Playing“; “The Non-United Larp States of America” in the Talk Knutepunkt 2011 book, “Predictions for Larp” in Journeys to Another World, the Wyrd Con book, and the blueprint for “Rock Band Murder Mystery” in the Do Knutepunkt 2011 book. He hopes for at least another 25 years of larp.

Amber Eagar is a long time larper and game organizer, who edited the academic books put out in conjunction with Wyrd Con in 2010 and 2011 (Journeys To Another World and Branches of Play). She is a former RPG.net columnist, and maintains two mailing lists, called LARP Academia and International LARP Academia, for those in the USA or those around the world who like to take a more academic look at larping.

Jeramy Merritt is a long-time larper, first-time caller. He is the creator of Doomsday, a sci-fi larp.

Got a hot tip? Is there a first-timer’s guide you’d like to see? Leave it in the comments!

Other First-Time Guides

Michael Pucci, Zombie-lord

Meet Michael Pucci, of Eschaton Media, creators of the zombie apocalypse larp (and soon to be tabletop game) Dystopia Rising. The boffer larp version of this game has garnered a remarkable legion of undead followers in the New Jersey area over the last eighteen months. Michael and his team have their sights set on a business empire though — they’ve sold scripts for a SyFy show based on DR, and are preparing to franchise to a city near you.

Via email, Michael kindly answered a few of my queries about DR, the state of American larp, and his plans for the future.

What prompted you to create a zombie apocalypse larp?

As a fan of both the Mad Max inspired apocalyptic visual design and also the horror genre as a whole I wanted to put together a world that allowed for a grittier and different approach to larping

Zombies fascinate me; I’ve always seen them as a metaphor for banal life instead of some supernatural creature to be feared. I saw zombies in media representing mindless consumerism, mob mentalities, blind patriotism, mindless service jobs, and even mindless small talk conversations. I thought it was fantastic to see cutting social commentary under the guise of a blood soaked horror flick. Translation for the metaphorically inept: we *ARE* zombies and we don’t even know it.

This was really driven home when I went to go see Land of the Dead in the theaters back in 2005. The movie came out in June and a myself and a group of friends went to see it at the end of June beginning of July. The movie had a reoccurring theme of ‘sky flowers’ which were fireworks that caused the huge masses of zombies to stop and look up at the sky motionless for a little bit. The entire movie was a veiled commentary about blind patriotism and government as secluded from the masses.

When we left the movie theater and walked outside the parking lot was filled with people stopped in their tracks. More people were standing on the grass area, some stopped as they were getting into their cars door mid swing. In the sky 4th of July fireworks were going off, and over forty people were perfect copies of the faces I saw the zombies make when the sky flowers were going off. That moment really stuck with me and it carried into my game writing.

 

How long did it take to create? What was the most difficult part of designing the game?

The concept knocked around in my head for a few years in different formats than it’s current existence, but the actual writing of the system itself took less than a year from the moment I initially did the game and world design. The hardest part about the designing process was ensuring that the game design that worked in initial construction had space to grow five years down the line and would allow for character growth without causing a massive rift between new players and players with ten years of experience.

Almost any game can work for the first year as long as you have an engrossing game world, and ensure that your established players do not completely make your new players feel irrelevant and unable to effect the world.

Was this your first attempt at designing a game?

Oh, god no. This is just the first time I have allowed anyone other than my cats to read my game designs. I have four other completely different larps written as well as a large number of first drafts for other table top games.

What sort of game experience do you want your players to have?

Fun? Is that a valid answer? I mean I want players to be able to be as immersed in plot or as sandbox free as they feel while still providing environment and world story that allows players to be a part of the world. Some players love running through the woods and hitting things with sticks, so we make sure those module opportunities exist. Some players love complex riddles and political plots, so we introduce a heavy thread of those as well. Really, if the players want to be scared the opportunity is there. If the players want to fight the opportunity is there. If the players want their heart broken with moral gray area and dynamic emotional tension, the opportunity is there.

 

Did you start out with ideas of franchising the game out to say, Seattle? How did that happen?

Part of where I see most game designs falter and fail is in long term or extensive growth planning. When writing Dystopia Rising we included the tools for franchises, networking, cross promotion, and mixed media without having it be a necessary part of the game. While the goal was/is to provide a networked world of larps that allow for a player to travel to interact with new people, play under new STs [Storytellers], and have new experiences we designed the world so that the stand alone game can excel without neighboring games.

Right now, multiple people have expressed interest in starting franchises, from Seattle to San Diego, to Delaware, to Ontario… but we need to make sure we have the right people on board with the right vision to start these games. Dystopia Rising has a specific business and game design that potential franchisers need to understand before getting involved. Right now we have over four hundred active players at our Sparta NJ game, with an average game having 180+ players at it. Franchisers need to understand not only the story telling design of the world, but also the business design so that they can be just as successful if not more so.

Do you think larp is poised to crossover into the American mainstream?

I’m of two minds right now. I feel that larping and gaming as a whole have the potential to step over and become more accepted by mainstream America if the current people who participate in larp and run larps allow it to be.

Is the interest there? Without a doubt. In the past month we have sold a pilot script and future rights to a TV series and also a potential video game to New York TV reps with the intent of the project going to the SyFy channel. The series is based off of one story arc of the Dystopia Rising world, and more over, we were approached, rather than submitting work for approval. If the pilot is picked up, we are looking at a five-year series under the working title Guts N Bolts.

TV executives, movie producers, and the movers and shakers in social America have become aware of the gaming culture as a whole but do not completely understand the world as of yet. With movies such as Role Models, the new 7-11 commercial that uses larping for the punchline, and the upcoming movie Knights of Badassdom I feel as if media executives are just starting to test the waters of the gaming community to see if they can, to a degree, use it in regards to the mainstream.

The same process was applied to other ‘traditionally geek’ forms of entertainment with rousing success. Anime, as an example, wasn’t always something that was a staple of TV. There was a time where fans of anime had to get their fan-dubbed films by making a trip to the underground mall in Chinatown or find it through a friend of a friend. Slowly it was seen as a viable market by the powers that be, and now you can watch anime on TV and buy your favorite miniature monster game at any mega-market.

 

What needs to happen in order for larp to become mainstream?

I think whether larping becomes acceptable to the mass public of America will rely mostly on the people who are currently running games and the larpers themselves however. Larpers have a tendency to perpetuate the ‘closet gamer’ mentality where they are ashamed to tell their friends and co-workers that they are a larper. This mindset causes larpers to not use the best form of advertisement for their hobby, which is word of mouth.

I also think that gaming as a whole will need to change a little for it to be acceptable on a larger scale. This is a difficult concept to completely express as a game writer and story teller, but, I will give it my best. Table top gaming as a whole has not changed much in the way of technology or format since 1977 with the advent of Dungeons & Dragons. While game systems, themes, and content have changed not many games have actually stepped past the pen and paper approach to gaming. While some people would say, ‘Don’t fix what isn’t broken’, I believe that we have opportunities in digital means that excels well beyond our already existing simple gaming applications. One of the primary focuses of my company, Eschaton Media, is taking old school gaming and applying these tools to more modern approaches for gaming.

The same, in my opinion, needs to be done to extend larp into the mainstream. Latex weapons need to become less expensive and more varied than your standard thee-thou armory. Games need to stop producing more and more ‘clone’ larps and actually producing new themes and environments that can draw in the public (remember, not everyone liked Lord of the Rings). Games need to start organizing themselves more like companies so that they can afford things such as mass marketing, advertisement, professional photographers, and be ready to have a lawyer available IF a media company comes knocking on the door.

 

Outside of DR, what’s your favorite game to play and why?

Tough question. I personally am a fan of both the Call of Cthulhu universe as well as the Changeling: The Dreaming game worlds. I enjoy both of these two settings because they offer opportunities for moral gray areas, incredible moral quandaries, fantastic world settings, and endless opportunities for creating a world that is custom to the players who are playing in the world. I will play damn near any game at least once…

Bent on ruling the world with an apocalyptic cult following as a young man, Michael found himself distracted and had his focus shifted from the glamorous profession of world conquest to the world of gaming. Willing to try damn near any table top game or larp, as a Storyteller Michael found himself more and more frustrated with systems that focus so much on mechanics that they actually take away from the experience of the players. After wandering the wastelands of gaming basements for almost two decades looking for the holy grail of gaming systems, he decided that if there was to be change… it must come from within. Sitting down with a crack team of zombie-cyborg-ninjas, Michael created the Dystopia Rising setting and began writing both larp and table top rule books.

Photos courtesy of Dystopia Rising.

LARP in Colorado

It’s no secret that people all over the country like to dress up in medieval gear and spend a weekend whacking things in the woods. But here’s the proof. An esteemed colleague and former collaborator over at the Boulder Daily Camera sent me this excellent, respectful introduction to LARPing by Aimee Heckel.

Behold the majesty of her LARP video, and then hit up the Camera website to read the piece.