The RPG Course – Lecture Three

First off, I apologise for being late with this. The third lecture of the RPG course was sometime last week and a number of things (other games, drinking, schoolwork, flu and fever, more drinking, and most recently, my browser crashing and eating a draft of this post when I tried to open the PowerPoint presentation for the lecture from the course website) conspired to keep me from getting an update done. It’s now half past six on a Sunday morning. I got up an hour ago to finish writing up Praedor PCs and create an adventure for today. It’s game time in eight hours, and one of these days I’ll tell you all about it.

Aaanyway. The third lecture was about LARP. For this lecture, we’d read Professor Frans Mäyrä’s (whose name means “badger” and whose AD&D Forgotten Realms campaign stories in TYR’s archive are some of the earliest RPG material I ever read on the net, well over ten years ago) article “Muodonmuuttajien maat” (“The Lands of the Shapeshifters”), which is a very general overview of roleplaying games, their history and how they work in practice. There’s also a couple of paragraphs on the geek culture and fandom surrounding RPGs, which I think is a very interesting topic, especially in the Finnish context. The science fiction side of the fandom was pretty thoroughly dissected by Irma Hirsjärvi earlier this year in her PhD thesis Faniuden siirtymiä – suomalaisen science fiction -fandomin verkostot (“Transitions of Fandom – The Networks of Finnish Science Fiction Fans). It reminds me that Finland is a very small place and our fandoms are even smaller.

The second article we read pertained more closely to LARP. It was “Eye-Witness to the Illusion: An Essay on the Impossibility of 360° Role-Playing”, from the book Lifelike, an essay-collection on RPGs. They publish one every year around Knutepunkt, this annual LARP convention that keeps jumping around the Nordic countries.

360° role-playing is Koljonen’s term for the school of thought which seeks to provide a WYSIWYG game environment – what you see is what you get. Everything must be made as real as possible, right down to the characters’ medieval underpants. This has spawned some awesome things, like Carolus Rex, a pulpy space opera game set on a spaceship of the Swedish Imperial Fleet during a war with Denmark. The game itself was played on a submarine. At one point, they made contact with an escape pod, which then turned out to be filled with Danish space marines, played by Danish larpers smuggled to the scene by the GMs. Then there was Dragonbane, for which they built not only an actual medieval village but also a fucking dragon. And then there’s Luminescence, which I dig up every time someone asks me on IRC what art larpers are. Tell me, Americans, are your larpers as creatively insane as ours, or is this a uniquely Nordic (or European) phenomenon?

But I digress. Koljonen puts forth the theory that the 360° immersion actually damages suspension of disbelief because normally you must concentrate to maintain it and imagine that the northern barbarian’s sneakers are actually fur boots and that sheet hanging over there in front of the garage door is the castle wall, which helps in actively filtering everything through your character’s perception. When everything is real, there’s no longer any disbelief to suspend. As she says, “if no effort of self-estrangement goes into putting you in that fictional space, then it is indeed often you, not the carefully constructed character with its carefully filtered thoughts, that stands awed in the medieval village.” This ties in an interesting way to my experience with MUDs – I still maintain that the best roleplaying I’ve ever done was in a text-based environment. I think that ought to be good for a few hundred words in the study diary, if I can present it coherently…

Personally, I do not larp, for a variety of reasons, most of which I think stem from old preconceptions, but also because I’m lazy and the type of stuff that most interests me would, it seems to me, require a certain amount of work. There was one LARP once I’d signed up for, called Faerûn IV: Baron of the Stonelands, a fairly large affair as I understand, but it was cancelled after the head organiser got sick. Therefore, I have no personal experience of this topic as I do with tabletop RPGs or online RPGs.

A lot of the lecture dealt with applying Peirce’s semiotic theory to LARP and the formation of the diegesis. I will spare you the details, because it’s not even eight o’clock on a Sunday morning and it’s too early for semiotics. Fucking Peirce hounds me across academic disciplines. The damn theory has thus far popped up on both general and English linguistics courses, literary analysis, two journalism courses, and now here.

Next up, virtual RPGs. I’ll try to get it up before the next lecture.

1 thought on “The RPG Course – Lecture Three

  1. No use in running from Peirce, partly because his stuff is really great (especially if you happen to be a hermeneutics nerd). I think my first true encounter with rpg-theory was Loponen and Montola’s stuff about semiotics in Beyond Role and Play.

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