Posted by: NiTessine | March 16, 2011

Playground, New RPG Magazine

So, the Nordic gaming crowd started up a brand new roleplaying game magazine. Playground Magazine comes out four times a year, clocks in at 64 pages, and is pretty much what you’d expect of a magazine done by the Nordic gamer crowd.

If you do not know that means, boy, are you in for a surprise.

I feel their website is a bit thin on details as to the actual contents of the first issue. The theme of the first issue is “bleed”, which means the partial breach of the barrier between player and character, and the transition of emotions and thoughts from one to the other. The theme could also very well be “sex”, though, since… well, read on.

The first article is “Play the Game. Get Laid.” It’s about The Game and pick-up artists, and how what they’re doing is a form of roleplaying. Nothing new here, drew some similar conclusions when I read The Game myself last year (I was stranded in a Milanese hotel room, the web was slow as molasses and there was a vertical river outside, okay?). Thought about blogging it and then thought “eh”.

The second article is about having a crush on the romanceable NPCs in Dragon Age: Origins. Written by Annika Waern. Sort of interesting, but I’ve never played the game so a lot of it goes past me.

Then… “Danger Has Arrived”, an article about how certain games, in this case Fat Man Down and the larp Delirium can be really seen as dangerous and how this calls for some responsibility on part of the players and organizers. Fat Man Down is a lovely little larp where you pick the fattest player as the titular character and the rest of the players mock and ostracize them. I read it for the Introduction to RPG Studies course back in 2009 and it’s one of those games I never want to play. I mean, I understand what it’s getting at and I see why it was done, and it’s not just about being mindlessly mean (if anything, it’ll be harder on the rest of the players), but… yeah.

Then there’s a short interview piece with a couple that got together thanks to the aforementioned Delirium larp, and a short article on dungeons courtesy of Year of the Dungeon, followed by a longer piece by Eirik Fatland on a Czech larp called El día de Santiago, about a the life and times of a revolutionary leader in a generic Latin American country. Seemed interesting.

After that, an excerpt of a novel by Rannveig Revhaug called IRL. It is not only rather annoying to read, but also remarkably useless as a teaser since as far as I can tell, it’s not even available in English.

However, it’s followed by “9/11 & Back to the Future” by Frederik Berg Østergaard, which is pretty much the best-written article in the magazine. It’s a travel piece about how the writer got acquainted with the Polish larp scene. I like Østergaard’s writing style. It reminds me of someone else, but I can’t think of whom. There’s a charming, dry wit at work here that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I’d read a travel book written by this guy (but I still won’t play his game – he’s the evil genius behind Fat Man Down).

Then there’s a short review of a performance art piece that amounts to “would’ve been better as a larp” and “The Creation of a Killer”, an article about a film project.

The next article after that is called “Understanding Gang Rape”, written by Markus Montola.

Yeah.

Yeah.

Um.

Yeah.

There’s this larp called Gang Rape. It was written by this Swedish guy, as a criticism of the Swedish judicial system and for some shock value. It’s one of those games I want to play even less than I want to play Fat Man Down. I understand why it was written and what it is trying to achieve, but damn if it still doesn’t make me vaguely uncomfortable. Anyway, the article discusses, very analytically, the bleed in Gang Rape and the game’s mechanics, and how it’s really hard to discuss the game without getting overwhelmed by the outraged response.

For an idea of how the game actually works, a quotation from the article:

There is no touching, no acting out, just speaking, as the rapists take turns narrating what they do to the victim. The rapist in charge has the control of the entire physical world; he even controls the biological responses of the victim’s body during the act. However, after the rapist narrates for two minutes, the victim responds for one minute. She is in control of all thoughts and feelings, describing what happens both in the mind of her character and in the mind of the rapist.

Montola has also written a paper for DiGRA, “The Positive Negative Experience in Extreme Role-Playing“, which discusses bleed in Gang Rape and The Journey, which is another charming, fun-for-the-whole-family type of larp, inspired by Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road. It’s an interesting read.

Finally, there’s an article about a certain Finnish larp writer. It’s billed “J. Tuomas Harviainen was supposed to become a priest. Instead, he became the father of Finnish sadomasochist larp”. It’s about the man who wrote SoftCore, which I discussed in the Nordic Larp review a couple of months ago, as well as the larps Ash Serpent and Prayers on a Porcelain Altar. That last one was also included in the course materials for the RPG course, and is notable for being a larp I could see myself playing (But don’t get any ideas, guys. Yes, you. You know who you are.). It is about a communal experience being hungover with strangers.

So, here we have the first issue of a new magazine. It’s pretty eyebrow-raising stuff, but it’s good. It’s well written and coherent, and it looks pretty. Some of the articles are quite excellent. Much like Nordic larping isn’t for everyone, neither is this magazine.

If I have one complaint, it’s that their editing of English is a bit spotty. Capitalization rules for proper names are sometimes forgotten, Annika Waern’s article repeatedly refers to an NPC as a “rouge” and the decision whether to italicize the names of books and larps is inconsistent.

Also, after having Gang Rape and The Sinful Nights of Bratislava in the first issue, I’m terrified of how they’re going to top that. Not too terrified to not buy the second issue, though.


Responses

  1. Oh, wow. Finnish comprehensive school has been a forerunner of modern LARPs and nobody has given it credit! There’s a Fat man down and dozens of other “fun” LARPs like that going on in there every day.🙂

  2. How’d you like the dungeon article? I thought it provided some great and innovative ideas on how to look at dungeons.

  3. It was nifty, but a bit short. Could’ve used some more flesh and another editing pass. Of the dungeons, I thought the first one displayed a solid grasp of design principles, and the spirit of alienation dungeon is a cool concept.

  4. […] notice that after their upcoming fourth issue, they are ceasing publication. You may remember my review of the first issue, back in […]

  5. Found this entry via a discussion of the various purposes of / reasons for LARPing on a friend’s private blog.

    I’m at the point in my LARP “career” where I want to move past the “afternoon’s diversion” approach into something closer to “collaborative performance art” but I would draw a line far short of something like “Fat Man Down” or “Gang Rape”.

    Sure, if you want to take the stance of “LARP as art” there’s nothing that says it has to be “tasteful”, but my primary rule is “Always have fun” and I don’t think those events would qualify. I would also be *very* worried about any player who *did* consider such events entertaining.

  6. Yeah. It’s just that one of the defining features of Nordic larp is that they reject the idea that games should be fun. They can be fun, and most of the stuff still more or less is, but abandoning that principle makes it possible to explore some really harrowing stuff in relative safety, as long as everyone keeps in mind that this shit can deeply fuck you up and takes steps to prevent it.

  7. NiTessine: while I’m all behind the notion of RPGs as a safe space for some scary stuff, given that the point of events like “Gang Rape” is, as you say, to explore some harrowing stuff, how do you wade into the horror and *not* let it cause some real-world trauma to the participants?

    I’ve been running LARPs for a long time, but I’m not a trauma counselor / psychologist – I, for one, wouldn’t know how to keep my players safe in such extreme settings…

  8. Indeed, the debate around that question is still ongoing and is currently without a firm answer. There’s a lot of writing on the topic out there.

    The scene, as a whole, tries to be responsible about this stuff, and there are various methods used to make sure that you don’t break your players. There’s great emphasis on the importance of the debrief, for instance.

    Gang Rape and Fat Man Down are really, really extreme examples, though. They just garner a lot of attention precisely because they’re that extreme and because they’re both presented in a format that’s easily available and readable.


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