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Odysseus, a three-day space opera larp, was played in Finland three times in the past few weeks. It was an original work building on fan favourite space operas such as Battlestar: Galactiga, Star Trek, and Expanse, but ultimately it transcended its beginnings as a derivative work and became what science fiction is at its best, a timely mediation of our contemporary world. Odysseus was a remarkable success in Finnish, Nordic, and international larp.

In this blog post I attempt to outline what Odysseus is, how it was created, and what does it contribute to the larger larp discourse. I shall offer some notes on its production, character writing, and runtime management. However, my main concern is in attempting to say something about its meaning and interpretation. On the way, expect some digressions into my personal experience with the larp.

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IMG_20190209_172836Larp Design: Creating Role-Play Experiences was published last week at the annual Nordic conference on larps, Knudepunkt. The book is over 400 pages long and features texts written by 60 authors from ten countries. It is edited by Johanna Koljonen, Anne Serup Grove, Aina D. Skjønsfjell, Elin Nilsen, and myself.

Usually at this point I blog about scenes stuff, and hype up the book. Although all books are big, demanding projects, this one still stands out. It still feels a little unreal that this book actually exists. Larp Design was made insanely fast. The project started, for me, when Johanna called me in late August. The Knudepunkt 2019 crew were discussing whether to do a book this year since no one in the organization was super passionate about it. Indeed, the book tradition has been going on for close to two decades and I have been deeply invested in it, but it was also clear that reassessing the book project was in order. Johanna had a plan to do a very different kind of book – one clearly focused on a specific topic: design. She pitched her idea to me over the phone. I knew as I paced around the hotel room in Lisbon that I wanted to be part of this book, but also that her plan was very ambitious. She put together a wonderful team, and obviously the KP crew also fell in love with her vision. Even so, the time table was quite demanding. Continue Reading »

43085706_2218452018401535_891353108607664128_oSunnuntaina marraskuun 4. päivä on Suomen pelimusoessa Astuit Ansaan! –roolipelinäyttelyn tapahtumapäivä. Se on nimetty roolipelikulttuurin kohtaamisten perinteitä noudattaen Museoconiksi (FB-tapahtumasivu). Tapahtumassa on mahdollisuus osallistua näyttelykierroksille, pelata pöytäroolipelejä ja digitaalisia roolipelejä, sekä osallistua puheohjelmaan. Jukka Särkijärvi kuratoi pelipuolen, minä olen vastuussa puheohjelmasta. Tavoitteenani oli luoda kattaus joka olisi sen verran houkutteleva, että se houkuttelisi paikalle yhden päivän coniin vierailijoita myös Tampereen ulkopuolelta.

Puheohjelman käynnistää 11:30 pelisuunnittelija ja –tutkija Markus Montolan luento ”Hyvän kohtauksen ABC pelinjohtajalle”. Tämä ohjelmanumero on uusinta keväisestä Alfaconista. Alfacon on pieni, syrjäisempi ja tuntemattomampi roolipelitapahtuma, mutta hyvin kiinnostava. Kyselin tapahtumassa olleilta, että minkä numeron he haluaisivat leviävän laajemmalle tai katsoisivat uudelleen. Montolan käytännöllinen katsaus pöytäroolipelin kohtauksen anatomiaan nostettiin useimmin esille. Ohjelmanumerossa itseeni vetoaa se, että se on analyyttinen ja pohjautuu vuosikymmenien kokemukseen, mutta se on myös käytönnöllinen, tarjoten heti kikkoja ja toimintatapoja, joita voi kokeilla omissa peleissään.

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It’s a Trap!

40912904_10156494059420242_8992367560141832192_o.jpgThe first large temporary exhibition at the Finnish Museum of Games opened its doors to the public today. The exhibition is called It’s a Trap! – Role-Playing in Finland (Fin. Astuit ansaan! – Roolipelaaminen Suomessa). The book Seikkailuja ja sankareita on the history and current state of the Finnish tabletop role-playing scene was also published yesterday at the gala opening of the exhibition. I have been involved in both projects, and it feels unreal that what started out two years ago as a mapping of titles and a collection of donations from role-players has evolved into this.

The exhibition collects together almost all Finnish role-playing game products that have been published. There are almost 300 articles. In addition there are designer’s notes, materials from play, role-playing related magazines, player profiles, old documentaries made by the public broadcasting company, profiles of prominent figures in the hobby, works inspired by role-playing games, and more. The exhibition is awesome, but I may be a bit biased. However, regardless of biases, this is the first time tabletop role-playing games been displayed like this in a museum in Finland — and in the world. Continue Reading »

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In the past month, I have published two new books. College of Wizardry: The Magic of Participation in Harry Potter Larps is a documentary book about the origins of the international wizard school larps in Poland, edited together with Markus Montola. It features articles, essays, and in-game material written by players and scholars, explaining things such as what it was like to pretend to be a student at the Czocha College of Witchcraft and Wizardry, how to teach spell-casting, and what is the relation between larping and fan fiction. Minun pelihistoriani is a book about 26 personal game and play histories of Finns born in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s, edited together with Annakaisa Kultima. It is based on two exhibitions staged at the Finnish Museum of Games we curated, the first one a year ago and the second taking place right now. By concentrating of personal stories, the book questions hegemonic game histories that are usually written from the point of technology, games, or designers. This book explored what it feels like to play – and what it means. The book is in Finnish.

I am very proud of both books. It is a little weird (and hectic) that both of these books ended up coming out within three weeks of each other. I would not recommend such a pace to anyone. At least I was able to get the first one out during the twilight of 2017 so that on my CV they have different year dates attached to them…

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Orethisius Pewtermain Miclariotic, the professor of Magical Artefacts, at the Czocha College of Witchcraft and Wizardry. (Photo by Maciek Nitka)

The Magic of Participation took a very long to produce; work started on it right after the third College of Wizardry larp two and a half years ago. We thought it would be a fast book to produce, but there were so many unforeseen complications along the way that at times we contemplated just dropping the book. As time dragged on it also started to seem like the lateness of the book would make it outdated and irrelevant. However, in the end we pushed on. Now enough time has passed that the book has morphed from a documentation of three larps to the documentation of an origin story of a truly international movement of wizard school larps (and the trendy castle-based larping).

This is the fifth book we have done together with Markus. Which is quite insane. Soon we will have to do a Greatest Hits collection.

In some ways The Magic of Participation is a return to our roots; this is a para-academic book primarily written by larpers – some of whom also happen to be scholars. It is a little rougher than our two previous books, but we felt that too much hoity-toity polish would jeopardise the authenticity of the experiences. This is written for the larp community, not just for academics.

Minun pelihistoriani

Sini holds out a cherished plush toy, the queen of the teddy-bears, she received as a gift in 1984. (Photo by Saana Säilynoja /Vapriikki.)

In the fall of 2016, as the Finnish Museum of Games was set to open, we knew that its focus was to be on game products. Annakaisa felt strongly that the museum should also feature the voices of player, and not just the usual gamer voices, but the voices of all kinds of players. She had been thinking about this since 2012 when she spearheaded the first exhibition of Finnish games that seeded the idea of a permanent museum for games. Annakaisa had the idea to run a special course for students at the university, where an exhibition of game and play experiences would be created, and the museum was more than happy to welcome such as exhibition. I am very happy that she invited me along for the ride.

We ran the course for the first time a little over a year ago for thirteen brave students. We were literally making it all up as the project progressed, which was exhilarating and stressful for us. Probably for the students as well, but at least that we could explain away with pedagogy: this was a window into actual project work, learning by doing and something they could put on their CVs. (The Finnish universities are constantly being told to work more with the surrounding working life.) The first exhibition opened a year ago.

During the past few months, we have run the course again for another thirteen students. Since we now had some idea of what we were doing, we decided to make the exhibition a little more complicated (adding sound) – and to produce a documentation of the two exhibitions in the form of a book. I am only now starting to realize what an exceptional book it is: It tells stories about gaming and playing that are instantly recognizable, yet rarely described. It tells unique stories striking in their emotional honesty, for example about what gaming means – and what the denial of gaming feels like. It celebrates that we all have our own play histories, and that they are all worthy, even if they do not fit the moulds celebrated in the media or in the academic world.

While both of these book feature analysis (especially The Magic of Participation), these tomes are primarily documentary. They show what is out there in the world by bringing together voices that describe experiences relating to play and games. Both books also feature numerous authors who have not been previously published, which is always exciting for an editor. I am truly grateful to and proud of all the authors who shared their stories in these books.

Both books are available as free pdfs. You can download The Magic of Participation from Pohjoismaisen roolipelaamisen seura, and Minun pelihistoriani from TamPub. Physical copies of The Magic of Participation can be bought from me and Markus, at least in Knutpunkt, Living Games, and Ropecon. Minun pelihistoriani is sold at the museum shop in Vapriikki, where the Finnish Museum of Games is located.

By Jaakko Stenros and Markus Montola

banned at worldcon

On Thursday, Worldcon 75, one of the most prestigious conventions on scifi and fantasy, suddenly banned a freeform role-playing game scenario A Home for the Old from its program. The scenario was removed from the games track due to criticism on Twitter, based on the program description. The criticism related to the subject matter of the work, Alzheimer’s disease, which was perceived as being made fun of. 

This is the first time, to our knowledge, that a role-playing game, larp, or a freeform scenario has been banned in Finland. Although no-one denies the Worldcon’s right to curate its programme, the decision has been criticized by the Nordic role-playing community.

In this blog post we attempt to provide an account of what happened, strive to understand the cultural values in conflict, and tease out some ideas about how to do better in the future.

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titles-startA few weeks ago I gave a keynote on the Finnish Museum of Games — and how larp ended up being included there at Interaction | Unfinished, a seminar on audience participation in art and entertainment. The event was held in Oslo during “Week in Norway”, the pre-conference festival leading up to Knutepunkt 2017.

UnfinishedAll the talks from Interaction | Unfinished are available on YouTube. They are extremely interesting for anyone interested in participation and experience design, spanning designing visceral art education for children to simulating homelessness in Minsk and from immersive musical theatre to calibrating culturally sensitive physical interaction codes for larp. My talk can be watched here, and the text is available below.

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