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 As time dragged on it also started to seem like the lateness of the book would make it outdated and irrelevant.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

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How Worldcon Banned a Larp

By Jaakko Stenros and Markus Montola

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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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A few days ago Analog Game Studies published “The Mixing Desk of Larp: History and Current State of a Design Theory”. This article explains a design theory for creating and thinking about live action role-playing. The Mixing Desk of Larp model with its thirteen faders, developed to teach larp design at the annual Larpwriter Summers School (LWSS) in Lithuania, is explained in detail. The model has been developed as a community effort and its current form is contextualized in its history, in the general history of role-play related design theory, and the play tradition the model emerged in. It is a long article that I wrote with the creators of the Mixing Desk, Martin Andresen and Martin Nielsen.

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21591855529_f7d9e538fd_zTwo weeks ago, on Sunday 20th of September, we stepped into the fantasy world of office stock photos. Eleven people left behind this flawed world and instead inhabited a world of dynamic team work, joyous camaraderie, and the security of all things forever trending upwards. This was the larp Täydellinen ihminen (Eng. The Perfect Human), played in Helsinki.

21788299311_fb4b4f98ff_zAlthough I’ve played role-playing games since the late 1980s, larped since the mid-1990s, and studied role-playing games for almost a decade, I rarely actually design, create, or run role-playing games. Täydellinen ihminen is only the second larp where I have a role in the design. It seems to me that many game scholars have a wish, sometimes hidden, that they’d rather design than study kick-ass games. I am not like that. I love just studying, evaluating, documenting, contextualizing, and understanding the works of others. But sometimes there just is a concept or an idea too juicy to stay away from.

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SuomenPelimuseoSuomen pelimuseo avataan itsenäisyyden juhlavuonna, tammikuussa 2017 Tampereelle. Pelimuseon joukkorahoituskampanja päättyi eilen, ja se onnistui yli odotusten. Museo keräsi yli 85.000 euroa lahjoituksina, mikä on suurin joukkorahoituspalvelu Mesenaattin kautta kasattu summa.

Minulla oli kunnia olla mukana Tampereella puhumassa joukkorahoituskampanjan julkistustilaisuudessa Vapriikissa 31. maaliskuuta. Pidin siellä lyhyen puheen. Julkaisen sen nyt tässä Suomen pelimuseon varmistumisen kunniaksi.

Suomalainen leikin ja pelin tutkimus varjoteatterista roolipeleihin

Tunnumme elävän pelien kultakautta. Pelit, erityisesti digitaaliset sellaiset, tulevat vastaan olohuoneessa ja luokkahuoneessa, kulttuuri- ja taloussivuilla, työssä ja vapaalla. Pelit valtaavat kaikki uudet digitaaliset alustat, mutta samalla eletään myös lautapelien uutta nousua. Pelit halutaan myös valjastaa hyötykäyttöön, oli sitten kysymys pelillistämisestä tai pelioppimisesta. Elektroninen urheilu nostaa suosiotaan, ja ammattipelaamisen eri muodot vilkkuvat nuorison haaveissa. Pelit eivät tietenkään liity vain haaveisiin, vaan myös pelkoihin. Ongelmapelaamisesta puhutaan, samoin addiktiosta – ja toisaalta digitaalisista kuiluista. Ei siis ihme, että viime vuosina on alettu puhua ’pelien vuosisadasta’, ’pelaajien yhteiskunnasta’ ja ’kulttuurin leikillistymisestä’. Pelit ja leikki paitsi tuntuvat tulevan vastaan joka käänteessä, ne ovat yksi avain tämän aikakauden käsittämiseen.

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