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 As time dragged on it also started to seem like the lateness of the book would make it outdated and irrelevant.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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Photo by Daniel Sundström.

Knutepunkt was help last week in Oslo, Norway. Over the two decades since the first Knutepunkt in 1997, the event has become an institution of Nordic and international larp. To mark the anniversary, a series of keynotes was commissioned. I was one of the six speakers. In the talk I revisited the definition of Nordic larp I offered four years ago, before moving on to claim that non-player characters are inherently dehumanizing (if you are here just for the dehumanizing bit, you can skip forward halfway down the text). Here is the script.

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multiplayer-2It is a little weird to realize that not only are the so called ‘social games’, i.e. Facebook games over a decade old now, but also that we at the University of Tampere Game Research Lab have studied them for all of that time. After our Professor Frans Mäyrä gave a keynote on the topic at a conference in Münster, Germany, he was asked to write an article by editors Rachel Kowert and Thorsten Quandt, who were putting together a sequel to Routledge’s Multiplayer from 2013. The article turned into a collaborative piece reflecting on a decade’s worth of work written by Mäyrä, Janne Paavilainen, Annakaisa Kultima, and myself.

This is the story of Facebook games, the research of Facebook games, and the reaction of the game industry and society to Facebook games. In some ways, this article is sort of a bird’s eye view of the work we have been doing around this theme, contextualizing many of the individual research projects and papers. It also works as a directory; it collects works relating to this topic in one place and directs the reader towards the sources they are interested in.

Here is the abstract of the article:

The social dimensions can take many forms in games and play cultures. The phenomenon of social network games, especially the historical evolution of Facebook games, provides an interesting opportunity to explore of the social aspects of game creation and play cultures. The social and cultural frames of social play and networks have become increasingly central areas to explore in game research. Around years 2006 2007, games distributed through social network services became known as ‘social games’, even though their actual characteristics do not necessarily rely primarily on social interaction, or real-time social play, for example. Nevertheless, social play and social network services have had a central role for the design and use of these games, and it is important to understand how they have operated – as games, and as playful elements in particular kind of social media environment. This chapter draws upon a decade of research in the field of casual and social games, and highlights the interrelations between player experiences, game and service design features, as well as industry business models in this area. Finally, the chapter also reflects on the future directions of social game play, and its research.

The article “From social play to social games and back: The emergence and development of social network games” is the opening contributor article in Multiplayer 2: New Perspectives on the Social Aspects of Digital Gaming. Since this is one of those expensive books from Routledge, I cannot really recommend that you buy it, but maybe borrow it from a library?

Personal Play Histories


The recently opened Finnish Museum of Games is a wonderful peek into Finnish game artefacts. However, games only truly become when they are played. This requires players. Players and their personal histories of playing is the subject of the exhibition that opens at the museum today – which features such personal effects as an egg timer, a butchered Barbie-magazine, Forgotten Realms literature, gaming equipment received as a present at a Christening, remote kalsarikänni technology, and chronicles of dynasties in The Sims.

img_20170109_155729The exhibition, called Minun pelihistoriani, offers a peak into the ludic past of thirteen current Tampere residents. The show features short textual peaks into the past as well as game, artefacts related to gaming, and photographs of playing. The exhibitions was created on a university course that I co-organized with Annakaisa Kultima and it is the first to take advantage of the studio space in the newly opened museum.

It is one thing to write general histories of games, and quite another to look at personal histories with games and play. What we learned during the process of putting this show together is that gaming histories are deeply personal – and even periods of not playing can be deeply meaningful in a history of ludic conduct. Playing is present at most parts of life, and any history of playing is a history of that person. While these accounts are personal, many of them are also recognizable and shared.

Minun pelihistoriani is open at Finnish Museum of Games until February 10th. The museum is bilingual, all texts are available in Finnish and English.

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The Finnish Museum of Games (Suomen pelimuseo) opens for the public today. I have been involved in the museum a little bit (helping gather donations, consulting on curation), and I have had a chance to see the exhibition in already December during the Early Access period for crowdfunders (the museum raised over 80,000 Euros). It is wonderful, a great success! It displays a hundred Finnish games from the past 170 years, with emphasis on digital games. In addition, it has old arcade machines and consoles. More than half of the games are playable.


A player costume from the longest running Finnish larp campaign, Rajakatse.

Emphasis can be placed on each word of the name: Finnish Museum of Games. First of all, this museum is unapologetically Finnish, stretching from board game depictions of the Civil War of 1918 to family classics like Kimble and Alias, and from early indie role-playing game Miekka ja Magia to contemporary digital games that are internationally acclaimed, such as Max Payne, Clash of Clans, and Cities: Skylines. “Finnish” is luckily inclusive; there are Finnish language games, Swedish language games, and a traditional Sami game. The game that stretches the definition the farthest is probably Mordheim, published by Games Workshop in the UK, but it had a Finnish lead designer.


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