Posted by: NiTessine | October 24, 2012

BDSM Role-Playing and Librarians

No, my blog has not been taken over by a spambot and a Markov generator. Last week, I witnessed J. Tuomas Harviainen defend his doctoral dissertation, Systemic Perspectives on Information in Physically Performed Role-Play, mere three weeks after Markus Montola defended his own.

Apparently we’ll have to wait until next year or thereabouts for Jaakko Stenros to complete the trilogy.

Again, I’m not writing a review. Not qualified.

Like Markus’s, Tuomas’s dissertation is from the School of Information Sciences and therefore rather far from my own field. As a general thing, I usually expect to understand about half to one third of any dissertation I read, unless it’s from my own field in which case it’ll be utterly incomprehensible. In this case, however, I have this weird feeling that I actually understood most of it. This is possibly because, as the man himself pointed out during his defence, the cross-disciplinary nature of the work has required an unusual amount of explanation and is, at points, even deliberately layman friendly. This has the side effect of actually making the work reasonably accessible. I could also follow the actual defence. This is strange and off-putting, and may be a variation of the Dunning-Kruger effect, since I have no business understanding library and information science. It may also be a testament to Tuomas’s exceptionally articulate and clear expression of his ideas in both speech and writing.

So, what’s it about? Well, the abstract is 700 words long and includes concepts like metatheory, hermeneutics, information systems, anomalous states of knowledge and liminality informatics. There’s also sadomasochist role-playing (strangely enough, mentioned only once during the whole of the defence, despite there being an entire paper on it included within the dissertation – “Sadomasochist Role-Playing as Live-Action Role-Playing: A Trait-Descriptive Analysis”, originally from The International Journal of Role-Playing, issue #2) and post-modern magic. Sounds intimidating? Well, it has a pretty high competence bonus on that.

Basically, it is about how players seek and appropriate information in a live-action role-playing game and how information is brought in from outside the diegesis to facilitate the smooth running of the game. There’s a term used, “berrypicking”, that means choosing the most convenient and most available sources of information, instead of going for the best, most reliable or accurate sources (or “cherrypicking”). Another handy term from the library sciences side is the “anomalous state of knowledge”, which is when you know you need more information to figure things out but do not know what kind of information you need.

Tuomas also discusses the concepts of larp and larping and separates them into two concepts. While all larps by definition include larping, not all larping occurs in larps. Other places where larping occurs include historical re-enactment, bibliodrama, and sadomasochist role-play. The key difference is that in these other cases, the frame of reference is different. At a larp, it’s a game. For historical re-enactors, larping is only an optional part of the hobby and the events. In BDSM role-play, the primary difference seems to be that it’s not regarded as a game by its participants. Incidentally, these cases are mostly covered in the last article of the dissertation, “The Larp That Is Not Larp”, which is, according to Jaakko Stenros, the first Knudepunkt book article that has found its way into a doctoral dissertation. It was published last year, in Think Larp, also available as a free PDF. It is probably the most accessible part of the dissertation apart from the acknowledgements.

I’m not even going to try to distill the dissertation into a blog post. Go read it yourself, it’s a free download, because that’s how you make science. (The PDF version is missing two of the papers, though, since Sage Publications has their online publication rights for a few years more. They’re included in the print version, however, and I could access the PDFs through my university’s portal.)

The defence itself was a remarkably short affair, and I think Tuomas mentioned that it broke the record for the Tampere University School of Information Sciences, at something like 55 minutes. The usual length, in my experience, has been around two hours. Markus, a couple of weeks back, was grilled for three.

I do not have anything pithy to say at the end, here, except that it’s a fascinating time to be a role-player in academia, and I don’t even play the stuff that these people do. Here’s a video of a presentation that Markus Montola gave in Germany recently.


Responses

  1. As a librarian, gamer and BDSM-practitioner, I think this is all kinds of awesome.

  2. Thanks, Jukka. Very nice seeing that instead of just aiming to be accessible, my work actually was. You can thank two people, Markus and my opponent, Dr. Nicola Whitton, for that. I have a sad history of being very, very opaque.

    And in all honesty, the more we look at topic-relevant research outside our own disciplines, the more we learn. My dissertation would have been just a low-grade effort, had I not been exposed to the work of brilliant scholars from fields I framework-wise know next to nothing about.

  3. It’s an epidemic! Woo-hoo!

    We no longer have to “grow up and act (our) age!” Gaming is now “respectable!” Hehehehehehe

    Thanks guys!

    ROFL


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