Another body is possible / There is no body B.

Matilda Tjäder, curator at Minibar in Stockholm, invited the artist Susan Ploetz, Patricia Reed and me to talk in relation to Susan’s somatic larp The Guild. Here is my take.

minibar

I decided to talk under the title “Another body is possible / There is no body B.” This title paraphrases two slogans from the globalisation movement. I guess I set out to think about how these movements has influenced live action roleplaying.

The first one of these phrases – ”Another world is possible”, is connected to the late 90:ths and early millennial anti-capitalist, social movements that haunted the international meetings of financial capitalism – the World bank, World economic forum, European Union, G8 et c.

The second one ”There is no planet B” is connected to the climate justice movement and has been a mobilizing rhetoric in relation to the climate meetings such as COP 15 in Copenhagen, COP21 in Paris et c.

My speculative thesis is that we can understand or explore the role of the body through the imaginary structures of these political movements. And I will talk specifically about the role of the body within the context of Nordic live action role-playing, also known as larp.

The relationship to these social movements influenced the formation and development of Nordic larp. Larp was embedded in the counter-culture of late 90:ths. Many of the writers and organizers of larp were involved in anarchist and feminist organizations and initiatives, but also in occult circles.

So what did it mean that ”Another world is (or was?) possible”? I propose to go back to 1999 to answer that question. Someone has claimed that it was our generations 1968 and to me that makes sense. It was the year when The Battle of Seattle happened – a massive protest against the World trade organization. The feeling that capitalism had won on walk over against any other kind of political system was challenged. There was actually conflict again over where to go next. Everybody did not agree that free market global capitalism was the shit. And now post-2008 financial crisis it is pretty clear that the critique of these institutions was quite accurate.

In the cultural field of ’99 the movie The Matrix came out and proposed a radical constructivist view on reality. Reality was seen as a collective illusion, controlled by artificial intelligence, but this system could be challenged. In Denmark von Trier did The Idiots, in which a group of anti-bourgeois adults move into a house to seek their “inner idiot”, and thereby get over their social inhibitions. They basically form a larp where they act as if they were developmentally disabled, then they take their new selves to the public sphere to see what happens. These are two very different movies, but together they touch on some kind of zeitgeist. There are other movies that could be mentioned here, such as Cameron’s Strange days, Cronenberg’s eXistenZ and Fincher’s Fight Club.

idiots

Idioterne, Lars von Trier, 1998

 

At the same time, in the Nordic countries, the experimental larp scene had just formed. And by experimental I mean that it didn’t follow the genre conventions of fantasy literature. So if the cry of the global left was ”Another world is possible”. The response from larpers was – Yes! And we can show you how it is done. We can construct new worlds, new realities, new social modes of being. It was not that important exactly what these new worlds consisted of. It was the fact that they could be created. This mode was, in the radical larp scene, formulated as ”War on Reality”, making escapism into a kind of tool for resistance.

It might have to do with that I was 15 years of old at the time but I really had the sense that we could travel into other, parallel realities. This fantasy about creating other worlds defined the aesthetics of Nordic larp. And in order to create that other space we sought autonomy. Not autonomy in the Kantian sense really but in a social, spatial, timely sense. A sociological way of understanding this was that we created strong ”magic circles” or liminal spaces – social state of exception where the alienation of everyday life was challenged.

At this time there were actually fears among ”the grown-ups”, teachers, good Christians, et cetera that role-playing would work in the sense that you could role-play yourself into another state of being and not be able to find your way back. That would have been pretty cool. What we found out I guess is that role-playing works a lot more like a rubber band. You have to stretch it out to become someone you are not, but as soon as you release or relax you will be back to your normal self and not much seems to have changed. There are counter-examples of this though. Transformation can happen.

The body was not so much at stake during this time. It was just seen as the ticket or vehicle to bring us to the other worlds. I think we had this idea that we could take ourselves out of ”the system”, the matrix, and thus be liberated. We just had to break apart from this social world. We didn’t realize that well how much crap we brought along with us into the fantasy spaces. Both in social and mental terms. We also didn’t realize the tactical or political potentiality in the fact that we brought our bodies back to real life.

Things changed though. For me personally it happened because I started to dance contact improvisation. And as soon as I started that practice I realized that some of the most profoundly transformative experiences I had in larps were connected to the body. By then, in 2006, I wrote an article together with Tova Gerge titled ”The Character, the Player and Their Shared Body.” This idea of a shared body might seem obvious to anyone, but at that time it felt like a revelation: it is actually our real, social body that we put into play, that we put at risk, that we charge with fantasies or desires tied to fictional frameworks. Here is an example from that article on how it could work:

”Mellan himmel och hav [Between heaven and sea] deconstructed sexuality and gender during several preparatory workshops. Individual expression was consciously disguised behind turbans and wide clothing. Hands and arms were recoded into erogenous zones; sexually neutral parts of the body became the only allowed tools for intimate interaction. The players were trained to look at what all people had in common and to find a beauty in every single person through concentrating on bodily aspects less occupied by media images then tits and ass. When a hand touches another hand it does not matter how it looks; when gazes meet, faces blur.
The participants were suddenly thrown into situations where they had physical contact with people they would normally, for one reason or another, never touch. As a consequence, very many of the participants were smitten with a poly-sexual analysis of human relations—and they took it into practise, because they had experienced that these ideas functioned. A big number of break-ups, amorous adventures, and attempts to establish new norms followed among the players.”

So if there is no alternate, second body then it can also be no alternate reality. Actually, another world is impossible, there is no other world, no other planet. There is only one, material reality and we have to take care of ourselves and each other across the borders that magic circles make up.

The strategies of autonomy and separation in larp has partly been replaced by other ideals. The Nordic larp community has started to affirm the fact that there is constant leakage or bleed as some would call it, between the fantasies of roleplaying and everyday life. So instead of asking ourselves: how can we get out of this world, we started asking ourselves how things can travel from the realms of fantasy into reality.

This image of reality resembles the idea that There is no planet B. We are stuck in that sense. At this point I think my talk could go in many directions and it will also do that. I have many questions around this subject. It also makes me wonder about the relation between larp and somatic practices, but also artistic practices. I will throw out a few different ideas and problems in relation to this.

Last autumn I was in Berlin for the Body IQ festival at the Somatic academy. One of the main topics of this week-end was ”How do we experience the formation and dissolution of a social body?” but they also posed the question ”How do our survival fears and external pressures, such as war, climate change, immigration, and economy, impact the development of collectives?” This is questions that are very relevant to take back into larp context. One of the teachers, Thomas Kampe, said something along the lines of that: ”It would make no sense to me to give you exercises that only work in the studio but not in everyday life”.

So in that, more or less therapeutic context there were ambitions that I would describe as anti-autonomous. Aesthetic ideals forming that are exactly about the continuity between real life and obscure practice. For example – do not change into training clothes! Don’t make yourself more comfortable than you are in your regular life. Just do the practice with the conditions that you have and that you are used to.

This new orientation in larp towards the body also contest a rather long lasting liaison to theatre and film as point of reference for the benefit of performance art, choreography and dance. I find that very exciting. If we compare a practice like contact improvisation with larp we find a lot of similarities: shared space, social agreements, collective improvisation, personal expression and some kind of immersion. But there are also massive differences. Dance happens in the body, role-playing has a lot of the time happened in the face, talking heads. The dance is silent, role-playing verbal, but maybe more importantly: dance focus on the moment while role-playing has been very occupied with the continuity of story. In contact improvisation there is a constant play between discontinuity and continuity. In larp I generally get the feeling that discontinuity is a threat. Everyone get together to fight the entropy that happens when different story lines develop simultaneously in different parts of the larp. In contact improvisation, or in a larp informed by dance or somatics we don’t need to struggle with that. The workings of theatre: dramaturgy, escalation of conflict, tropes and representation can be replaced with other aesthetic possibilities: presence, intensities, flow, scores and so on.

Another question: If there is no body b, if we are always here in this very world with ourselves – how does change happen? Is there any social, physical or psychological effects to be gained from larping? How can it sometimes be so hard to change? Both in terms of changing oneself, changing who we are, but also in terms of political change.

What could be liberating with larp from a somatic point of view is that it doesn’t have to deal with therapeutic challenges. We don’t necessarily need to heal anything or be healthy. In that sense larp is clearly rooted in the aesthetic domain. We can make larps that utilize the body and somatic practices for artistic purposes. Scenarios that makes life not more bearable but more complicated or challenging. On the other hand, maybe we also want to heal? Maybe we need it? If history always has been a history of trauma then the storytelling of larp has followed the same logic.

This is a challenge. It seems that it is so easy to get hurt, but it takes so much effort to heal. I met some philosophers recently that talked about toast. It is so easy to make toast out of bread, but it is so hard to make a fresh bread out of toast. How can this thought be applied to political change? And I think about this question two-ways: Can we make collective acts that is impossible reverse? And also, can we undo the traumas, the stories, the history that has constituted our bodies?

Notes on the black box scenario Inside myself, outside myself

This is a short talk on a black box larp that I gave at Larpwriter Summer School in Lithuania. The text is more precise than the video…

I will present a scenario played at the festival Black Box Copenhagen in 2014. The project was initiated by Nina Runa Essendrop and Marie Holm-Andersen under the poetic but generic title Inside myself, outside myself.  This larp is not presented because it had a fancy location or visual appeal, quite the opposite. It was just people in a black box. So I have no pictures from the larp.

Nina and Marie gathered a dozen of larp writers and performance artists to create a new and playable scenario for the black box festival audience among who most were larpers, but some were not. There were many challenges in this venture, like how to come up with ideas, share them and weed out stuff? The biggest problem might have been this: how to conceive a scenario to a random number of participants, making them ready to play it and letting them play it, within a 2 hour time frame.

mario

A general rule of participation design is that the audience, the participants, must know the rules and the premiss of the scenario in order to engage with it. Otherwise you run the risk that they default to passive observers. I’ve seen it happen a lot of times. Now, there are obviously other approaches. Some of them apparent in computer game design. When you start playing Super Mario there is no explanation for where to go and how survive. You learn the rules of the game by playing it and exploring the boundaries and the possibilities of interacting with the game is a part of the enjoyment and possibly also a key part of the aesthetic experience.

One participant in Inside myself, outside myself, Simon James Pettitt, later wrote in a game report that he had expected an introduction or a workshop starting things off, but there were none. So how did it start? Well when the participants entered the black box the designers, now performers, were spread out in the room frozen in different sculptural positions. The participants roamed around in the room and looked at the ”sculptures”.

I think there are two things to learn from the design of the scenario. The first thing being the game design concept ”call for action” the second thing would be the idea of emergence – how patterns, movements, situations can emerge from some simple rules.

To simplify we set up 3 acts for the scenario. In the first act the sculptures functioned as ”calls for action”. Every sculpture worked as a kind of puzzle. The participants soon realized that the sculptures could come alive, become animated, if you approached it in the right way. So for example my position was kneeling, holding an invisible object in front of me. I could only be activated if someone put their shoe between my hands. Then I would untie the shoe and take it off. This was the only thing I could do in act 1. So eventually all the sculptures were unlocked by the participants and some of the simple tasks they carried out created chain reactions, so all the shoes ended up in a proper line and so on. The mixing desk communication style fader was definitely physical rather than verbal.

I don’t know if a less game oriented audience would have unlocked the sculptures. They might have. I think only play testing can answer such uncertainties.

The second and third act of the scenario worked through emergence. Emergence is something that happens when a collective of actors or objects follow a small set of rules from which a complicated or unforeseen situation or pattern appears. In the second act the sculptures turned into something closer to machines or robots and they could learn from the participants by copying their actions, what they said, how they behaved. That created some bizarre feedback loops where everything that happened echoed around the room. In the third act the intelligence of the machines were updated a second time and they could start to teach the participants what they knew. These small guidelines generated a lot of interaction and produced some kind of aesthetic consistency although the scenario turned out generally chaotic. Simon describes it as a ”strange living machine” in his game report.

Hopefully this case study of Inside myself, outside myself can give some hints on what is possible to do with small means on a short notice. To sum it up the scenario used calls for action as a means to teach an unknowing, uninformed audience about how to engage with the scenario. It continued to create interaction by simple rules – such as ”you can repeat what you see or hear”. Different situations emerged from these rules.

Knudepunkt 2015 Keynote on bodies in live action role-play

keynote-slides

Transcription of a talk given at Knudepunkt 2015, February 14th.

Immersion is the excrement of action

I have been asked to do this talk on the subject of bodies in live action role-playing, which I’m very happy about since the body has turned centre stage in larp development and design. I have previously together with Tova Gerge, tried to examine and understand the body in live role-playing from a very simple but for many years overlooked fact – the character and the player share body. I think that is true also for table-top or freeform role-playing games, where roleplay happens through the voices of bodies. When we invocate a character, when we adjust our tone, when we invite an alien fictitious voice to appear in the cavities of our body. This is still the premiss for what I have to say today. I think Ane Marie Andesson will develop on that fact later during this session.

I titled this talk Immersion is the excrement of action, but I have over the last week realised that there are no immersionists around any more so I may be pushing at open doors. Also Martin Ericsson covered parts of this already yesterday. Anyhow what I meant by that title is that our bodies and actions has a major part to play in role-playing. I do think we are starting to understand larp pretty well from a social and psychological perspective. But maybe we are lacking a bit from the perspective of the body and maybe we have over-used psychological concepts to understand what we are doing and exaggerated our mental and cognitive capacities. One example of that would be immersion. We often describe role-playing as an activity where we immerse into a world where we are somebody else. And I don’t doubt that immersion actually exists. But I don’t think that it happens through an active psychological effort but rather as a bi-product of our bodily activities.

It’s not the case that we first immerse into our character and through immersion decide how to act within the fictitious world. It usually work the opposite way around – we act with our bodies as our characters, and immersion happens to us. Such an understanding would work along the lines of 17th century philosopher Pascal – First you go to church and you kneel in front of the cross, then you start believing in God. According to the same logic you can start believing in your character when you act it.

Live Action Play

This reasoning made me, as a thought experiment, to put a preliminary parenthesis around the R in our beloved but clunky abbreviation LARP, LA(R)P. (This is what any obscure leninist party, so why not) What if role-playing is not the core activity in our culture, our medium, or at least, if we pretended that it was not. If we think about what we do as Live Action Play.

In larp discourse we have lended a lot of concepts from psychology but also from theatre. But thinking larp from a bodily non-role point of view could enable us to venture in two other “opposite” but also related fields – somatics (dealing with the body as experienced from within) and dance or choreography. We have used theatre concepts to elevate what we do from a subgenre of tabletop role-playing to a cultural and artistic medium, which I think is fine, but we payed a price to make this liaison with theatre which is more clear to me now than ever before.

Stories guiding play

Theatre works according to dramaturgy, escalation of conflict, tropes and representation. These more or less conscious forms, ideals, ideologies of drama enable our improvisation. The better we know how drama happens, the better role-play. This is the idea behind fate-play, etc. I have been a proponent of such a meta-conscious, theatre-oriented player. Looking behind, planning ahead. Anyone who has followed my thought on larp have noticed that. When I started to write about larp i wanted to explore the aspect of collective storytelling. The idea was that the story was the only framework that could enable, encompass, hold such a diverse activity as larping.

It’s a valid line of thought but also very limiting. From a player point of view I have many times been in the situation where I’ve played in a scenario and known what I should do to make a good story, a good scene that underlines the overarching theme of the scenario – but something has held me back. I think I’ve developed a kind of resistance to subjecting to certain kinds of narrative, reproducing the tropes and dramatic conflicts that we have internalized from Hollywood drama, Harry Potter, Battlestar Galactica, you name it.

But also in the case of politically conscious scenarios everything change once I start thinking them through the body. The aesthetic qualities of the larps change. For example, a scenario about a prison camp, or any other kind of camp, is usually framed as an exploration or critical inquiry of a power system and so on – but all I can think is – why does our bodies enjoy institutional violence so much that we enact it over and over again? It is, at least as much bodily enjoyment as mental critical inquiry involved so a question we might need in the future is Why are we organising our bodies to perform these systems?

Starting from the body

So if we don’t tune in to the pace of the story to get the action going what do we have left to hold on to? We can of course still have the rules, the agreements, the framing, the social state of exception – what in dance theory is called a score. But pacing and rhythm does not have to follow dramatic or narrative principles, they might as well flow like music or dance and repetition might be just as valid as development. We can also, and here I might sound like a hippie, listen to the pacing of our own bodies, adjust improvisation to the rhythm of our breath, waves of hormones or the beat of the heart.

And speaking of hippie – I would like to remind you that two great participatory cultures that originated from the American hippie era and later spread to the Nordic countries 1. role-playing games and 2. dance improvisation. And to me it’s fascinating when they are coming together.

So from a scenario-writing point of view, or an artistic point of view, I would be happy to make more space for scenarios where the primary goal is not to represent psychological and social conflicts between people who we are not.

But I don’t even think what I’m saying here is new. I think these kinds of scenarios where the role is secondary or even non-existing, happens all the time. I just want to underline that it happens, we already to it. We just have to acknowledge it and develop it and not marginalize it because the holy R of LARP is fading.

One way of developing our form would be to peak at the dance field. Now improvised dance has a lot in common with roleplaying, it happens in shared spaces, with certain social agreements and collective improvisation. But it has different aesthetic premisses.

First of all dance is generally non-verbal, in contrast to role-playing, which has been more influenced by the talking-heads of theatre and tv. This does not mean that there is no possibility to use the voice in dance, but maybe one would use it for other purposes.

Presence and abstraction

Another key to “dance” through a larp would be to focus on the present moment, rather than the future and the past of the story. This means a scenario can be discontinuous and that the responsibility of the player is not about creating historical or narrative consistency, nor to create fertile ground for drama in the future, but to be there and listen to what is actually going on at that point in time in between the bodies at hand.

And I think it’s great that artists within the field of dance and choreography are starting to show up on slides here on main stage. Brody Condon mentioned the works of Lygia Clark, Anna Halprin and Tino Sehgal and I just want to underline that he is right in that we, as larpers, could have great benefits of exploring their work, their scores, rituals, workshops and art works.

Another tendency in dance is that it is abstract. And what do we mean by abstract? Well in art theory abstract art is considered to be object in their own right. An abstract painting does not need a symbolic relationship to anything in the human liveable world. It often seeks to create it’s own universe, with a more or less coherent alien logic. That is not just a story universe, but something which we are unable to attach meaning to according to the logic of our standard social reality.

So if one think “oh, that’s a bad painting, I can’t see what it represents”, then it’s hard to appreciate abstract art. The same goes for dance. When we see contemporary dancers move on stage we can not approach it with the question of “What are they trying to tell? What is the hidden, encrypted story? What are they representing?” because then we’ll not understand that what we see in front of us is, in itself what is important – the activity, the mobilisation of and relationships between bodies that are there.

Being or becoming?

Thus, dance is not a culture of representation, it is not a culture of being in a character, being this or being that, it is a practice of becoming – becoming flesh, becoming machine, becoming animal, becoming other, becoming alien, becoming avatar or god, becoming minor or cellular.

I think this kind of expanded or alternate thinking on larp has benefited a lot from access to the black boxes that Martin Nielsen talked about yesterday. Just the fact that we start thinking from a dark void, rather than from a physical setting (be it a forest or a castle) has done something to how we create scenarios. And while we populate the black boxes and bring them to life, we should somewhere keep in mind that these spaces were created for the non-hierarchical, physical, improvised and bodily performance culture of the 60ths. They paved the way for what we can do today.

To conclude, I just want to say, that there are, still, a thousand new scenarios that remains to be created, where we can come together to live, act and play.

Thank you.

Medvetandet är en muskel – minimalism i 60-talsdansen

Jag läste precis koreografen och dansaren Yvonne Rainers artikel ”The Mind is a Muscle” i samband med en kurs om kropp och rörelse på Södertörn. Nedan följer en summering och lite tankar om människa och maskin.

Artikeln är en sorts undersökning eller beskrivning av Rainers verk Trio A (The Mind is a Muscle) och Trio A. I förordet, skrivet i slutet av 90-talet, långt efter själva artikeln från 1966 gör hon vissa anmärkningar. Hon ursäktar sig för historisk närsynthet och en onödig fixering vid ”stora” män i konsten. Hennes ärende är hursomhelst att försöka begripa dansens utveckling under 60-talet i relation till minimalistisk konst och skulptur. Förordet fortsätter med en beskrivning av alla de sammanhang som Trio A användes i under de följande åren, hur den blev en politisk performance genom att dansas av nakna kroppar, blott insvepta i den amerikanska flaggan – en protest mot arresteringar av personer som ”degraderat” stjärnbaneret. Det finns någon sorts glädje i hur koreografin mångfaldigats sedan premiären och fått sitt eget liv, oberoende av Rainers enskilda kropp.

Så till själva artikeln, en ”kvasiundersökning av minimalistiska tendenser” som alltså skrivs samma år som hon gör Trio A (The Mind is a Muscle). Den börjar med en jämförande uppställning mellan å ena sidan objekt (skulptur och konst), å andra sidan tendenser i samtida dans. De första sju punkterna består av kvalitéer som elimineras eller minimeras. De kommande sju av kvalitéer som ersätter de föregående. Det en strävar bortifrån i minimalistisk konst är kvalitéer som konstnärens handrörelser, hierarkiska relationer och illusionism, vilket på dansområdet skulle kunna motsvaras av frasering, utveckling mot klimax och performance. Fram träder en annan sorts estetik som inom konsten kretsar kring fabrikstillverkning, enhetliga former och enkelhet, en estetik som i dansen går att föreställa sig som vad Reiner kallar energijämlikhet, jämlikhet mellan kroppens olika delar och mänsklig skala. Hon är själv tvekande inför att göra den här typen av uppställningar och generaliseranden, men verkar tycka att det är värt det för att få grepp om sin konstnärliga praktik. Hon påpekar också att själva minimerandet av någonting behandlar detta något som ett problem och aktiverar det därigenom som intresseområde.

trio

Rainer beskriver dansens kvalitéer utifrån energiomvandlingar snarare än kroppsliga arrangemang. I Trio A söker hon ett kontinuerligt rörelseflöde, vilket dock inte betyder att dansarens energiomsättning är konstant. Kontinuiteten finns i hur rörelsen uppfattas utifrån, inte inne i dansarens kropp. Den jämna energinivån ser hon som en uppgörelse med västerländsk dans, som ofta organiserats runt utbrott av maximal energi i början av en fras, för att sedan följas av återhämtning. Sökandet efter klimax i dansen betraktar hon som överdrivet dramatisk och onödig.

Den minimalistiska dansen lämnar även idén om dansaren som någon sorts övermänniska med teknisk virtuositet. Hon tar upp hur någon som skrev om Judson Theatre (som var en viktig scen i New York) frågar varför konstnärerna där är så mycket sig själva på scenen. Rainer vill snarare beskriva det som att dansaren blir en neutral doer, en görare som skulle kunna vara vem som helst och som därför inte behöver förstärkas eller iscensättas med scenkostym och liknande effekter. Dansen intresserar sig för de vardagliga rörelser som de flesta kroppar förmår: stå, gå, springa, äta, bära, röra eller bli rörd av ett objekt, till skillnad från balettens våldsamma hopp grand jeté som inte kan göras utan måste dansas.

Samtidigt kräver Rainers dans en del av sin görare – rörelsens kontinuitet, bristen på pauser och jämställandet av kroppens olika delar. Rörelsen är abstrakt, den föreställer inget, samtidigt har den en energinivå som hon jämför med att resa sig ur en stol eller gå ner för trapporna. Denna ”självklara” intensitet är dock en illusion, även den minimalistiska dansen döljer något, nämligen hur kroppens måste arbeta med olika intensitet för att uppnå något som ser ut som ett jämnt flöde. Detta får mig att undra över om minimalismen verkligen rör sig på en ”mänsklig skala” – här framträder ju snarare än maskinestetik. Rörelsen blir genom repetitionen till objekt. Rainer själv skriver att effekten blir en uppvisning som är mer lik arbete än vad vi traditionellt tänker på som en föreställning.

Om publiken i handling på Teaterrummet

Jag och Ebba Petrén har skrivit en ny text:

För den som önskar bjuda in publiken i scenrummet uppstår nya möjligheter och problem. Vilka strategier ska användas för att göra vana och ovana teaterbesökare trygga att ta steget in i en gemensam iscensättning. Skådespelare tränar i flera år för att känna sig bekväma i teaterrummet, men publiken har inte fått den hjälpen och kommer utan förberedelser. De söker stimulans men är ofta obekväma med att sätta sin egen tillvaro på spel. Teaterrummet har aldrig varit en plats där publik och skådespelare kan mötas på lika villkor.

Läs vidare här: “Publik i handling” publicerad på Göteborgs stadsteaters forum Teaterrummet.

Om verklighetsspel på lekklubben

Föreläsning, MALMÖ 20 juli 2013

at-lekklubben

Först och främst vill jag tacka Tora och Erik för att de bjudit in mig hit till Lekklubben för att leka tillsammans med er. Jag jobbar inom ramen för två konstkollektiv. Å ena sidan Interacting Arts, som sysslat mycket med rollspel och experimentella sociala praktiker. Å andra sidan Nyxxx, ett performancegäng som jobbar med deltagande publik och vad vi kallar avatarer.

Upplägget för den här eftermiddagen är att jag kommer snacka en stund om vad verklighetsspel är och skulle kunna vara – berätta om några erfarenheter av spel vi har gjort. Sen kommer vi att testa ett par lekar som närmar sig verklighetsspel. Inbjudan som Erik och Tora gjort saxade inledningsstyket från en tidningen Interacting Arts om verklighetsspel som vi publicerade i början av 2007. Det lyder som ni kanske har läst:

Verkligheten är en konstruktion, en ihärdig illusion. Allt du ser och känner omkring dig är skapat av människor. Intrycken som utgör vår vardag har alla producerats av någon. Väggar och vägar, bilar och bussar. Rum och reklam, parkeringsplatser och parker. Tyget i dina kläder och din fräsiga frisyr – allt är design. Att världen skapats av människor betyder att vi kan omskapa den, låta den formas efter våra lekar och begär.

Även om formuleringarna är aningen idealistiska till tonen tycker jag att de fångar något av de praktiska erfarenheter som en kan ha av att ägna sig åt rollspel, lajv, lek och verklighetsspel. Att läsa dem igen fick mig att tänka tillbaka på vad det var som fick oss att ta till gatorna. Jag tror att jag måste påminna lite om tidsandan före terrorattacken 11 september 2001. The Matrix (1999), en film som verkligen inte åldrats med värdighet, men som fick oss att betrakta verkligheten som en matris av tecken. Den skildrade även på ett romantiskt sätt en terrorgrupp som sökte verkligheten bortom denna matris. Det låg nära till hands att se kapitalismen som det nätverk av fängslande tecken som de skulle slå sig fria ifrån. Innan storyn havererade totalt i den andra och tredje filmen och blev någon sorts snabbmatsreligiös fantasi så når dock protagonisterna en insikt. Ävern the real world, som de kämpat för, är en matris – det finns ingen utsida. I tidningen fortsatte vi förordet såhär:

Verkligheten skapas inte bara av de intryck vi får utan lika mycket av de sociala överenskommelser som hör till varje given situation – vad som är ok att säga, göra, tycka, tänka, på en viss plats vid ett visst tillfälle. Överenskommelser hjälper oss att kommunicera med varandra, men de fjättrar oss också i ett förutsägbarhetens och feghetens fängelse.

Precis som vi inte byggt staden vi lever i, så skapar vi inte själva de överenskommelser vi rör oss i. De är oftast bestämda på förhand. När vi kliver in i klassrummet, köket, caféet så finns det redan en uppsättning regler för hur vi ska bete oss. Tillsammans kan vi börja utmana dessa överenskommelser och hitta platser där de inte är givna, där vi kan hitta på nya.

Grundinsikten här tror jag kom från rollspel, men den är lätt att tänka på även utifrån lek. Vi hade gjort en del lajvrollspel, både i slutna miljöer och i stadsrummet. Men även rollspel kändes ofta begränsande och förutsägbara. Vi sökte nya sätt att sätta oss själva och vår vardag på spel. Nya överenskommelser för handlande, vilket alla lekar består av, är något potentiellt befriande – men befrielsen är kollektiv. Vi måste sträcka oss ut till varandra för att söka nya gemenskaper. Den sommaren ockuperade vi med några anarkister SVTs gamla stora inspelningsstudios bakom militärhögskolan. Vi höll ut i ett par månader. Tillräckligt länge för att städa ut, bygga små kojor och fantisera om hur vi skulle kunna leva där. Introt i tidningen fortsätter:

Detta är ett av verklighetsspelens viktigaste vapen i sin lek med och mot verkligheten; genom den kollektiva berättelsen eller fiktionen kan vi förändra världen. Det som gör detta vapen så farligt är att det avslöjar en väl bevarad hemlighet: att skillnaden mellan fiktion och verklighet är påhittad. Berättelser reflekterar en verklighet som reflekterar berättelser. Liv och bilder av liv har skapat bilder som är liv och liv som är bilder. Människor har blivit roller som blivit människor. Dessa element: spel och verklighet, måste mötas och uppblandas för att vi ska kunna ta kontrollen över våra egna liv.

Jag tror att även den här idén fortfarande är gångbar. Det är vansinne att tänka fiktion och verklighet som ett motsatspar. Det är bara genom olika fiktioner, föreställningar, rolltaganden och ideologier som vi kan återvända till samma verklighet dag efter dag. Fantasierna krävs för att vi ska fungera i vardagen. Fantasin om semestern, den goda studenten, den lyckade dottern osv. Att spela verklighetsspel eller leka är väl att sätta vissa av dessa föreställningar inom parentes. Men verklighetsspelen kräver inte att vi låtsas vara någon annan, tar en roll osv. Allt vi behöver göra är att köpa premissen och agera som om den var sann. Vi behöver inte tro på något särskillt vi behöver bara följa de överenskommelser som gäller.

Här vill jag även passa på att nämna en annan film som kom precis före 11/9, nämligen Fight Club, som handlade om män som skapade underjordiska nätverk där de slogs med varandra för att uppleva livet till fullo. Kanske var det inte så mycket slagsmålen som gemenskaperna som var lockande i den storyn. Men även den historien mynnade ut i en sorts terror och i slutet av filmen sprängs tio skyskrapor tillhörande bankerna – målet är att förstöra allt kapital och framtvinga en ny ordning. Jag tror att varken Matrix eller Fight Club hade varit möjliga Hollywoodprodukter under de år som följde de verkliga terrorattentaten, som blev en sorts backlash för allt vad motkultur heter. 90-talets starka motkulturer fick sitt slut och det gav ju såklart någon sorts konstig bismak även för oss som sysslade med märkliga berättelser att dåden utfördes av män med i högsta grad fantasmatiska motiv.

Vid samma tid gjordes även de första kommersiella så kallade ARG:en – alternate reality games. Det mest kända hette The Beast och producerades som lanseringskampanj för filmen Artificial Intelligence. Det entusiasmerade några tusen spelare, framförallt på nätet. När 11/9 utbröt det en diskussion om de kunde använda erfarenheterna av spelet för att “lösa” 11/9. (Det beskrivs väl av Jane McGonigal, PDF) Kanske var det början på en mindre lyckad våg av konspirationstänkande, men det är ändå kittlande hur de kollektiviteter som uppstår i leken kan få liv nya sammanhang.

Hur som helst var vi mer inspirerade än tillbakadragna och jag hyrde en anonym postbox och vi började de första experimenten med att starta ett eget hemligt anonymt nätverk av revolutionära ledande celler. Vi kallade det Scen 3 och rekryterade deltagare genom obskyra flyers. Ofta gav vi bort dem till gäng av ungdomar på tunnelbanan och hoppade av innan de hann ställa frågor. Vi visste aldrig villka som spelade och de som spelade visste inte vilka vi var. Spelet pågick i tre år. Vi hade kontakt med tjugo, trettio celler. Det hade en enkel struktur. Vi skickade uppdrag till cellerna, de skickade rapporter till postboxen. Vi hittade på nya uppdrag längs vägen, vi satte upp klistermärken, gjorde gatukonst och målade olika tecken. Allt för att sprida myten om spelet.

Brev från tunnelfolket.

Brev från tunnelfolket.

Vi började utforska staden för att se var det fanns möjliga platser för scener och okända utrymmen. Vid den tiden var mycket av Stockholms underjord tillgängligt, om en bara kände till nergångarna. Nästan varje helg var vi nere i tunnlarna. Tillsammans med några av cellerna etablerade vi en myt om Tunnelfolket, ett gäng spelare som tillsammans valt att flytta ner i tunnlarna och försöka leva där. Det finns fortfarande flera långa flashbacktrådar som diskuterar huruvvida tunnelfolket existerar, vilka som iscensatte det, osv. Det fanns ju gott om bevis – brev, sovsäckar osv. Många av tunnlarna i Stockholm fick sina “mytiska” namn genom spelet.

Scen 3 rann ut i sanden även om många av myterna levde kvar. Ett par år senare gjorde vi ett nytt spel som vi kallade Maskspel. Storyn baserade vi på en roman som min vän Uffe skrivit och vi jobbade mer med ljudspår, möten, ritualer och inte minst helmasker. Det finns en del dokumentation bl a hitta de vi på en diagnos som vi lekte utifrån; ABCD (Acute Behavioral Control Disorder).

Under åren har även SICS och Interaktiva institutet gjort en del verklighetsspel – men ofta med inriktning på att testa illa fungerande tekniska lösningar. Verklighetsspelen har även inspirerat till mer deltagarkultur i samband med TV-serier, t ex Sanningen om Marika och The Spiral, tyvärr var väl ingen utav serierna särskillt bra. Jag trodde verkligen att verklighetsspelandet skulle booma när smartphones slog igenom på allvar men vi verkar inte vara redo ännu. Men när som helst kommer det säkert att hända. För den som har en smartphone kan man t ex testa Shadow Cities eller Ingress. Även om det är mest grinding och undermålig story så lägger det ändå ett lager av spel till verkligheten på ett spännande sätt.

Men jag hoppas kunna visa idag att vi är inte behöver göra oss beroende av teknik för att göra verklighetsspel. Vi kan sätta leken och det mänskliga i centrum för upplevelsen. Jag tänkte först att jag skulle rigga ett spel för er här i Folkets park. Jag fantiserade om att skriva fram en historia om de 13.000 arbetarna som strejkade här i parken i början av seklet. Kanske försvann de spårlöst där och då. Kanske reste de till ett hemligt träningsläger utanför S:t Petersburg, vad vet jag. Men sen återvände jag till lektemat som ju är fokus för denna klubb. Och det jag tänkte föreslå här är ett par enkla lekar som använder verkligheten som spelplan – vilket ju är grunden för verklighetsspelen.

Det sista stycket i tidningens förord klingar av nietzscheansk filosofi:

Vi spelar med och mot verkligheten. Vårt glada budskap är detta: Ingenting är sant, allting är tillåtet. Tillsammans kan vi hitta de nya vägarna och de dolda stigarna, de som leder bort från vår nuvarande situation av uttråkat elände.

How to go out of body & fuck with yourself

This is a rewrite of a blogpost published in swedish before. I made it for Inpex 2012 edition of the infamous silver bible aka. The Swedish Dance History vol. 4. It’s situated in the very end of the book btw.

10_tsdh-moss

What happens to our capacities to look and see when our senses are dominated by an image world? Who can we become? Video glasses are just about to hit consumer markets (although still pricy and bulky). Who knows if it will be used in everyday life, but anyhow it could definitely be a tool for artistic development. So let’s talk about the possibilities of enfolding visual immersion.

James Cameron, famous for for blockbusters such as Titanic and Avatar and a lot of crap had some interesting ideas too. To his merits one could mention the script for the Terminator movies as well as the commercial failure Strange Days (1996). It’s not a good movie, but it should concern us.

rodney-kingLA in flames

My guess is that Strange Days was written in the backwash of the LA riots in 1992, which followed a well known dramaturgy (frequently replayed during the uprisings in Europe as well as the Arab world in recent years). Four white cops beat up a black guy. They are all declared innocent by a white jury. An “amateur photographer” (so retro I know) captured the whole thing, which made the reality of the situation very obvious. The anger that erupted led to a wave of revolt, looting and general mayhem. 53 persons where killed during the riots, many of them shot by police and military forces. (Oh, memory is short.)

The LA riots in many ways foregoes the protest movements that grew during the nineties, such as the globalization movement. When state violence is visualized in such an inevitable way revolt will follow. The images are verification of a common experience of suppression, that can be shared through the imagery. Cameron probably had some presumptions because he set Strange Days in the future. More precisely the fateful night of new years eve 1999, at the dawn of a new millennia (#1 anti-climax of our lives). LA, which is also the stage of the movie, is depicted in a carnevalesque state of emergency.

strange-days

“This is not like TV only better”

At the center of the action is a new media technology circulating on the black market. The tech makes it possible to record short clips (think Youtube), containing all the sensory experiences that a person have when the recording happens. By mounting a helmet that sends sensory stimuli directly into ones brain anyone can relive or re-experience the same event from within.

The clip that sparks the plot contains a recording of a police assault as discussed above. Another clip was shot during a robbery and ends when the robber in a hitchcockian manner falls from a roof – the difference being that this time we follow the subjective gaze all the way down – POV.

I thought Strange Days was more or less forgotten, but when I checked for it in my book shelfs it shows up here and there. Bolter and Grusin describes the fictional media technology pretty well in Remediation:

“This is not like TV only better,” says Lenny Nero in the futuristic film StrangeDays. “This is life. It’s a piece of somebody’s life. Pure and uncut, straight from the cerebral cortex. You’re there. You’re doing it, seeing it, hearing it . . . feeling it.” Lenny is touting to a potential customer a technological wonder called “the wire.” When the user places the device over her head, its sensors make contact with the perceptual centers in her brain. In its recording mode, the wire captures the sense-perceptions of the wearer; in its playback mode, it delivers these recorded perceptions to the wearer. If the ultimate purpose of media is indeed to transfer sense experiences from one person to another, the wire threatens to make all media obsolete. Lenny mentions television, but the same critique would seem to apply to books, paintings, photographs, film, and so on. The wire bypasses all forms of mediation and transmits directly from one consciousness to another.

The media thus conceals itself, experience seems instant, what Bolter and Grusin call immediacy. Immediacy is described in relation to an opposing mode: hypermediacy, where the medium presents its own mediumship, such as when the camera is revealed as a camera by blur or image distortion. Oddly enough, hypermedia seems to be an equally successful strategy to create credible and compelling images, but that’s a parenthesis in this context.

strange-days-poster

Abuse turned inside-out

The sensory clips in Strange Days are raw, uncut and often violent or erotic. They are recorded on cassettes susceptibly MiniDisc-looking. There’s a really disgusting scene that is hard to rid off your mind. A man put a recording device on himself and a playback device on a woman, then he ties and rapes her. She looks at her body from the outside and how he approaches it. She can also feel how he is enjoying the abuse. Thus, she becomes co-driver in the body of the raper, and is forced to enjoy the situation through him. This makes the abuse even worse.

strangedays-2000

This gap, to see yourself from the outside, to be a body that has disconnected from the consciousness is of course a daunting and exciting condition that obviously meet certain trends in media development, but in Strange Days it is taken to its extreme. My hacker friend Leo told me about how the shady group Hack Canada experimented with relatively simple techniques experimented to re-stage the setup.

Telepresence and wetware hacking

single-modeHC have a section where they describe various attempts to hack the brain, one of them is TelePresence Bi-Autoerotic Intercourse:

Remember that scene in the movie Strange Days where the killer used some bizarre futuristic neural recorder technology to transmit what he saw and felt to his victim as he raped and killed her? So from her perspective it was like she was raping and killing herself, and getting-off on the act. Well, there won’t be any rape or killing here, but I realized I had all the gear kicking around to do something similar to this. Using a Virtual Reality Head Mounted Display and a miniature video camera, a person can see themself having sex from their partners’ perspective. Telepresence Bi-Autoerotic Intercourse… phuck yourself.

In the above setup, one can visually experience how it is to fuck with oneself while physically staying in ones own body. The hacker crew underlines that the kick is all about moving the consciousness out of ones own body.

Foremost, the sensation of telepresence when viewed through an HMD is quite mind-blowing. It’s as if you have left your body. The disembodied feeling is further complicated upon seeing oneself from another person’s perspective. When the camera wearer holds their arms out and starts coming at you, and touching you, ones mind really takes a twist. The other persons arms seem like your own, and suddenly you feel very vulnerable and trapped, it’s like assaulting yourself and you can do nothing about it. Very disorienting. Don’t get me wrong, it is great fun and great entertainment.

The setup can also be doubled, so that both parties see the situation from each other’s perspective:

dual-mode

Anyway, back to the sexual experience. Holding the Camera and viewing from a variety of disembodied third person perspectives is very stimulating and unique. Many intriguing variations are possible and it makes for good foreplay since regular forms of foreplay are restricted by the bulkiness of the HMD. Now, as far as how stimulating you will find all of this depends largely on your intellectual openess and your level of priggishness.

There are not many artists who have started working in this direction yet. An exception I found was Me and the Machine by Sam Pearson and Clara García Fraile. They made a nine-minute film as seen through video glasses and simultaneously “portrayed” sensory by a dancer. How well it works is hard to see from the documentation. Perhaps the gap between the viewer’s movements and camera movements are too big to fool the brain, but our mind is generally good in making sense out of diverse input.

Well, we can only find out by starting to experiment with it. In short: Turn on, tune in, drop out.

Och nu då? Lajv om livet efter kapitalismen

Tidigare publicerad i Brand #2, 2012 – aktuell för att vi kör det levande rollspelet 2027 – Livet efter kapitalismen i nästa vecka.

Det sägs ju att det är lättare att föreställa sig jordens undergång än kapitalismens slut. Kanske har den finans- och skuldkris som hemsökt västekonomierna sedan 2008 ändrat på det. Det verkar nu finnas en faktisk möjlighet att kapitalismen skulle kunna falla på eget grepp. Dess inneboende expansionism och exploatering av arbete, energi och resurser kanske inte går att fortsätta under de materiella omständigheterna.

Vi vill reta de fantasier som väcks av den tanken genom att genomföra ett experiment. Vad händer om kapitalismen faller utan revolution? Vilka ekonomiska strukturer och system kan ersätta kapital, frihandel, delreservbanksystem och ränta? Kan vi föreställa oss ett liv efter kapitalismen?

I höst kommer lajvare och aktivister samman för att testa deltagarekonomi i praktiken. Tanken är att fyra dagars lajv ska skildra vägen över oljekrönet och genom kapitalismens kollaps. Fiktionen kommer att levas som om den vore verklig och försöker skildra det mest optimistiska resultatet av en sådan nedbrytande process.

De som initierat projektet är Teater K och det kommer göras i samarbete tillsammans med Bergatrollens sociala center Magasinet i Nyköping. Vi vill resa med er till året 2027, där samhället styrs av autonoma arbetarråd. Vilka kulturer och livsformer kan tänkas överleva och utvecklas ur kristillstånden? Vilka kunskaper blir värdefulla? Genom förberedande workshops och intensivt rollspel kommer vi söka svar på de frågorna.

Magasinet kommer i berättelsen gestalta en utbildningsenhet där deltagarna bildar varandra i de vetanden som krävs för att leva efter kapitalismen. Den gamla världens resurser tas om hand av samlare och hackers. Omställningen tvingar samhället att ta till vara lokala resurser. Världen krymper. Nya konflikter uppstår ur nya livsvillkor.

Det som är spännande med lajv är att det kan ge kroppsliga erfarenheter av experimentella sociala praktiker och nya former av gemenskap. Det finns exempel på lajv som experimenterat med könsroller, begärsstrukturer och samhällssystem. De senaste åren har de traditionella fantasylajven, som ofta är speckade med reaktionär estetik, blivit färre medan postapokalyps och ångpunk blivit vanligare. Jag ser det som tecken på oro, förväntan och förändring.

Om våra kroppar får upplevelser och erfarenheter av närhet, produktiv gemenskap och kollektiv makt ökar möjligheterna för att realisera framtiden nu. Vi kan vi omstöpa världen och utforska oss själva och våra relationer på nytt. Framtiden är som bekant redan här, den är bara ojämt fördelad.

The Labyrinth of Possibilities

translated from Swedish by Thom Kiraly. Illustration by Josefin Rasmusson.

Published in States of Play (PDF) (ed. Juhana Pettersson, 2012) for the Knutpunkt/Solmukohta conference.

Create a reality game for friends and family!

Play and storytelling have disappeared from our lives. Adventure has been demoted to being played out on computer screens and pages in books. Reality gaming offers a way to play the part of the adventurer or the explorer in order too rediscover reality and oneself. By coordinating a small reality game for your friends, you can create a story which will present them with enticing perspectives on everyday life.

Getting started can sometimes be a challenge, which is why we’ve assembled a model aimed at helping game coordinators come up with short stories for their friends. More often than not, the players will outnumber the coordinators, but this is not always the case. This article was written to give some pointers on how 1-3 coordinators could organise a reality game for 3-12 players.

Who is the Coordinator?

The coordinator is the manipulator, the conspirator, the puppet master, the guide. As the coordinator, your job is to create the conditions for an entertaining and exciting game. The coordinator could be likened to the director of a stage play, the game master in a roleplaying game and the organizer of a larp. The task is creating a framework wherein the players can step forward and act on their own.

Coordinator role: The Flaneur. The flaneur aimlessly wanders through the city. Simply take walks in town, preferably at different times of day, without a destination in mind. Follow every impulse, answer every question. Could that door be opened? Where does that ladder go? Readily visit ares you’ve never been before. What stations along the subway or bus lines have you never visited? Surprise yourself by walking for twenty minutes in a particular direction, e.g. northwest, and see where you end up, but don’t be afraid to make stops along the way. With your eyes peeled, you’ll discover interesting places that could fit a scene in the story which is about to take form.

Coordinator role: The Spy. The spy operates by informing herself, searching through archives and files to find revealing information on her surroundings. Using the right map, an exciting yard or hill or roof may appear. Satellite images from the internet and maps in libraries can be of great use. But there are also archives available to the public (in Sweden, thankfully, all documents traveling through or produced at a governmental institution are public documents. This means one has the right to request and collect countless maps as well as the blueprints of any house).

Entry Points

It is the task of the coordinator to invite people to play. There are two strategies for this. The first might look like this:

  1. Invite your friends and family to play a reality game.
  2. Allow people to sign up for the game.
  3. Explain the game’s rules (if any) and agreements.
  4. Start(ing) the game.

The other way of getting people into the game is staging an event, role or setting interesting enough for people to start investigating it on their own accord, without knowing it is a game. Games bleeding into reality without anyone noticing it are usually called seamless. The seam which has been used to join game and reality is an invisible one.

A game started using the sign-up method is easier to organize than its secret counterparts. Openness lends the game an air of security and participation. Secrets tend to breed caution and suspicion. Altering reality for someone not in on it is both hard and resource-intensive. Should you choose to use the obvious alternative, you can ask the players to simply “forget” that they’re playing a game once it has started. Trust them to indulge in playing the game.

The first scene of the game is important in setting a mood and creating a shared sense of commitment between the players. For example:

  • Someone has put a note in the school locker.
  • Someone has left a paper on the xerox machine at work.
  • The player signs up for a class.
  • The player becomes a member of an organization.
  • A secret is revealed.

Perhaps a game is best initialized through human interaction. A crackly telephone call or a dodgy character seeking some kind of contact.

Who is the Player?

Who are we really and why? Who do we want to be and who could we be? What happens when you put on the wrong clothes, speak in the wrong way a go to the wrong place? Different roles create different possibilities for action. The player is the adventurer, the friend, the explorer.

Your job, as the coordinator, is involving the player in an exciting story. You can use any means necessary to accomplish this, but the player must have a reason to play the game, otherwise things will move forward very slowly.

Reality gaming has been compared to roleplaying in the streets. To some extent, this is an accurate comparison, but in a reality game, player and role can be viewed as one and the same. A role is a way of thinking or a social position the player inhabits in order to be able to act in a certain way that benefits the story and the life of the player. The player may have to be prepared to take on new roles in order to progress through the game’s story. Some parts of an identity are harder to alter than others. Gender, class and ethnic background are some of the most challenging parts to transcend, while occupation, interests and lifestyle are generally easier. Gender, class and ethnicity are deeply rooted in our bodies and social codes, hence the challenge. But everything is probably possible, neither bodies or social expressions are static and a lot revolves around symbols: a cross in a necklace, a bomber jacket, a hoodie, a suit.

Narratives Suitable for Reality Games

The stories of the reality game may very well follow the form of the game. Let the story show the players just how weak the walls of reality are, how we can break down all notions of what is and is not possible in order to find a fantastical world on the other side. This insight or experience can be conveyed in many ways.

Fight the power. Construct a story revolving around the teachers requiring the students to spy on them, find information, and undermine their judicial and elevated position. Or why not make it a game of paranoia, someone is out to get the players! They must escape this unknown force, information must be exchanged, but the enemy must not get a hold of them or the info.

Myths. Create a myth for the players to investigate. Stage a local ghost story or myth or make up one on your own! Many people are ready to believe in fairy tales and beasts, but preferably in a modern form. Pictures of UFOs are sometimes accompanied by the words “I want to believe”. Use that desire in your games!

Within literature and film studies, the concept of suspension of disbelief, describing how a spectator refrains from distrust, is often used to describe the same phenomenon. Films and books require the spectator to harbor a willingness to believe in the fiction. The reality gamer can possess the same willingness to believe, especially when instructed to do so.

Destructiveness. Avoid stories using self-destruction, violence and death as their basic elements, since our stories tend to turn into reality.

Creating a Game

Various environments, scenes and moods, which can be used to create a reality game, are presented below. Read and ponder what spaces there are in your area and what ways you could use them in within a story. Think of events and encounters which would be exciting to experience in these spaces. From there, it’s only a matter of making sure it all actually takes place.

We recommend starting small. Short, tasteful scenes, simple events turning into magic due to the fact that the players have never experienced them before. An unexpected encounter in an elevator, the newly conquered sensation of climbing under a bridge, the smell of spray-paint after having drawn a magical symbol on a rarely visited side street. Go through events from your past that you found exciting or transformative and try to use them for inspiration.

Coordinating is hard. If you manage to tie a story together using three working scenes as a first experiment, you should be pleased. Granted, there are games which have carried on for years, myths and stories which never seem to come to an end. The experiences and memories gained by the players will never be lost.

Some combinations of scenes and locations or players and locations may at first glance seem impossible. Give them a try! The unexpected often produce interesting results. How could a ritual inside a mall or an interview carried out in a tree house be made to come to life?

Agreements

By creating various agreements and rules for the reality game, the chance to give shape to otherwise impossible stories is also created. This can also be used as a way of creating a sense of security for the player. One common agreement in reality games is that everyone pretends that what happens in the game is “for real” and that they, to some extent, pretend that what is happening “for real” matters in the game.

In killer games such as Killer or Deathgame, “killing” players in workplaces and schools is usually forbidden. In the mid 90’s, weapon replicas were used in killer games. Following a number of incidents, the agreement was reached that it would be better if a gun was represented by a commonplace item like a banana, much like suggested in the original rules circulating as faded copies. Such agreements became important so coworkers and fellow students would not have to witness staged murders.

Rules and agreements can be formulated before play or emerge as part of the story.

The City as Stage

Stories and fairy tales can be found in our dreams, in poems scribbled on hidden slips of paper. In whispers around the campfire in the summer night. Now, we must dare to bring these stories into the streets, let them come to life in the seething warrens of people and unexpected encounters. The city could be a labyrinth of possibilities, but it has grown into a wretched, repetitive pattern where everything seems unpredictable.

Free/open spaces

The spaces we call free lack clear agreements on what one may or may not do. Thus, the players are giving a larger space of action. Defining an event which fits the framework of the story is easy, because pretty much anything could happen.

Abandoned buildings. There’s almost always at least one available nearby. Getting inside could present somewhat of a challenge, but once you’re in, the possibilities are vast. Sometimes, electricity is available which means audio equipment can be used. Works great for discoveries, encounters, surrealism, creation. Watch out for alarms and holes in floors. Look for a way onto the roof and also for alternative ways to enter the building.

The Underworld. In most cities, there are plenty of underground tunnel systems and spaces: shelters as well as tunnels used for telecommunications, storm water, gas, district heating, etc. If you have any kind of opportunity, be sure to bring you players down into the underworld, it’s an experience they’ll never forget. Make sure they bring at least two flashlights with them. Suitable for discovery, ritual, exploration, gatherings.

Park. An excellent place for playing. During the day, it’s green and soft and open, in the nighttime it is dark and easy to hide in. The park is dynamic, it can be both safe and frightening. In the fall, it turns yellow and red and poetic. Suitable for virtually any kind of scene or situation.

Square. The very symbol of “public space”. This was, once upon a time, the space for public dialogue on political issues. In the square, attracting attention is easy. Everyone can see what everyone else is doing, which of course has its pros and cons. The square suits, among others, the action, gathering or surrealism.

The tree house. Tree houses easily get your imagination going. Playing on childhood emotions is easy. In a well-hidden tree house one can observe without being seen. There’s also the more advanced “tree house” at camp sites, where one can organize a sleepover.

Roofs. Believe it or not, but every house has a roof. You don’t often go there, but there they are. From these roofs, one can get a good view of the city, it could be appropriate to get such a view at the start of a game in order to get the lay of the land. Or, on the other hand, the game could end at such a spot to give the player the opportunity to look back at the journey she has made.

Seized spaces

These spaces have a clearly defined agreement on what is and is not allowed. This makes playing in them more difficult, and all the more exciting. These spaces create a drama as soon as the players are forced to break with any of the functions the space was initially intended to serve.

Mall. A challenge for every reality gamer is doing anything at all inside a shopping mall. These privatized mega halls offer a very limited space of action. According to the agreement, we are allowed to do two things: looking and shopping. Thus, any scene is a challenge of this space as it does not suit any scenes. Nonetheless, it deserves to be bombarded with play. Watch out for security guards.

School. What could potentially be an amazing platform for creativity, play and collaboration is today a reformatory institution where juveniles are kept to prevent them from coming up with any mischief. It’s a sort of prison up until adulthood. School is a natural starting point for r-gaming.

Buses and trains. Means of transport are temporarily closed rooms that often have a low-key social character. It can be difficult to plan scenes during the journey, as players can easily end up going away from the scene.

Work. It easily becomes misleading to say anything in general about workplaces because they look so different. Workplaces are often difficult to infiltrate with play. The left behind rules of Fight Club is a great example of how limited resources can cause a good deal of confusion. As a teacher or youth recreation leader, you have tremendous opportunities. With more asocial jobs, such as subway ticket vendor or programmer, this turns into more of a challenge. Reality games at work can produce results of great importance to your daily life. You can get a close-knit team to poke fun at the boss, allowing the game to highlight the constant conflict going on between employers and employees.

Cafe. Suitable to use in scenes which are based on speech and dialogue. If you ask nicely, the staff can play music that fits well into the scene.

Temporary spaces

In these spaces there are different agreements depending on when one finds oneself in them. They are social spaces rather than geographical ones. They arise for a short period and at that location, specific agreements on what to do and what not do to are in effect. Examples include clubs, festivals, camps, flea markets, group therapy sessions. We recommend using temporary spaces as part of the story of the game because they, in their basic form, already involve the type of state of emergency that reality gaming often leads to and is nourished by.

Closed spaces

Closed spaces are, in many ways, similar to larp or temporary autonomous zones. With “closed space”, we mean that all elements, all suggestions, which are experienced at this location are part of the game and its story. These spaces are not reached by consensus reality, except in the form of memories and habits. What is exciting about closed spaces is that the experience of playing the game can really be stepped up, what’s sad is that reality is rarely changed as a result of what goes on inside these closed spaces.

Organizations

Every story needs a few parties who can return in different contexts and boost the drama in one way or another. One way of including such parties is to simply create new ones. These may include businesses, cults, goverment agencies or schools. Remember that an organization based abroad is harder to check the credibility of than one based in the country you’re playing in. Of course, you only need to create the image of the organization, rather than the whole organization itself. The impression given by business cards, websites, logotypes and name tags go a long way.

Scenes and Events

The job of the coordinator is to put the player into interesting situations. The players should never have to force themselves to understand how exciting, dangerous, dangerous or amazing a scene is. They should feel it. A free fall and you’re frightened, a hand in yours and you feel closeness, someone kneeling and you feel revered, ropes around you wrists and you feel captured.

Meeting. Put your players in contact with one or more people who could help them or who themselves need help with something. Make sure that the role or person they meet is exciting and peaks their interests. Perhaps the person wants to share knowledge or information? Perhaps the role needs help with something or the players need help from the role?

Interview. Perhaps your players must be subjected to an interview to join a secret organization? Or maybe a confused journalist calls to find out more about what the players are up to? The interview forces the players to express themselves about what they’ve experienced in the game. It can sometimes be important for the coordinator to gain some insight into what the players have been through, without having to interrupt the flow of the game.

Discovery. Searching which leads to something often revolves around a location, an object which is of great importance to the story, or a setting the players are able to experience and end up in thanks to the game. What magical places are there in you area? Having your players watch the sun rise over an old quarry or sneak into a hotel swimming pool during peak season can serve as titillating experiences and strong story elements. Discovery must be driven by the curiosity of the players. The coordinator’s task then becomes to bring out that curiosity and present incentives to make the players follow their impulses.

Actions. An important part of r-gaming is the players showing courage: that they dare act and take place on the stage of reality. This can be done in many different ways. Take inspiration from political actions and street theater.

Interventions. The situationist movement used the term “intervention” to describe operations in the urban environment which turned a situation on its head. For some examples of such mischief, do an online search for “flash mobs”.

Investigation. Scanning one’s way through unfamiliar surroundings in the search for an unknown object or an important person. Take inspiration from detective novels.

Creation. Have your players engage in some form of creative process related to the story. Perhaps they must write a letter, build a radio transmitter or repaint a wall? Creativity brings the group together and lends confidence. It’s important that whatever is created is also used in an upcoming scene or is directly relevant to the scene already taking place. Other, more commonplace examples could include cooking food or making a fire.

Journeys. A long walk or a bicycle ride, rowing across a lake to an island or getting in the car are all forms of transcendence. Journeys often mark a shift in a story. They can also function as build-up for a decisive scene.

Rituals. Rituals can be used for many different purposes; as a way of gathering power, as a way of transcending ones everyday identity, as a way of directing one’s energy or attention toward something specific, as a way of obtaining new abilities, sharpening one’s senses.

Infiltration. Give the players a reason to blend into a new environment and social context, a subculture for example, or any other closed group. If your friends are aesthetes, put them into a new context with technologists or vice verse. Outfitting oneself with a whole new style is not expensive if one does it at a second hand shop or at a flea market.

Surrealism. Establish a sense of unreality. This can be done in different ways. Take inspiration from surrealist art and David Lynch movies. If the players encounter an instructed role, this person could repeat the same line several times, using the same body language. That would create an unpleasant situation with a touch of déjà vu.

Confrontation. Scenes wherein a group of players are asked to answer for what they have, or have not, done, either by another player or by an instructed role. Perhaps someone wants to make them do the right thing in a situation? Maybe there are friends who are their enemies and enemies who are their friends!

Picnic. Coming together to share, e.g. food, is always a good thing. This could bring together players or groups of players. What is shared can of course be something other than food, such as music or stories.

Duel. Weaving creatively oriented conflicts and challenges into the game can be a lot of fun. Playful brawls can be staged using dancing such as capoeira or break dance or even balancing acts, music jams or songs.

Debriefing

After a reality game, it’s important to get the players talking to each other about what they have and have not done. If they know each other well enough, this will happen spontaneously. Otherwise, elements which encourage the players to talk about their experiences in a written form could be woven into the story itself. Perhaps the player receives a letter from a fictional character asking for an explanation of what has happened or you as the coordinator can simply ask for feedback after the end of the game. Another way of getting feedback is letting an already informed friend participate as a player and ask her, behind the scenes, how the game has been going.

The ending can be orchestrated in many ways. You can either put together an evidently epic finish, or you can let the story slowly fade away and thus let the game slowly sink into the everyday lives of the players. Perhaps that will make the game linger in the minds of the players for a bit longer.

This article has sought to identify and summarize some of the experiences we’ve had in connection with various reality games created by Interacting Arts, i.e. as Scen 3 (Stage 3, 2001-2004) and Maskspel (Maskplay, 2007). This is neither the only nor the best way of producing reality games, but it is a starting point. Research and exploration of different methods will continue.

Varför skrämmer sociala medier?

Då och då håller jag kurser i det som brukar kallas för sociala medier eller “web 2.0″. Förra helgen var det för föreningsaktiva inom ABF, men ibland är det för anställda och informatörer på förbund inom HSO. Många av de som är födda på 40- 50- och 60-talet känner ställer sig frågande till Facebook och Twitter, osv. Deras oro är ofta delvis befogad, delvis oinformerad. Att det är så mycket som är annorlunda i sociala medier jämfört med 1900-talets massmedier kan göra det läskigt och besvärligt att närma sig, men det finns mycket fint och intressant att engagera sig i för den som vågar och har tid och ork att lära sig.

I undervisningen har jag haft stor hjälp av att lyfta tre problematiska motsatspar som Copyriot/Piratbyrån använt av i sitt eleganta isärplockande av upphovsrätten: producent-konsument, idé-uttryck och privat-offentligt. Dessa dikotomier var relativt tydliga i relation till 1900-talets mediekultur, men begreppsparen osäkras i relation till exempelvis sociala medier, fildelning och Internet i allmänhet. Jag försöker inte göra en teoretisk syntes här utan snarare sätta fingret på vilka begrepp som i praktiken ersatt motsatsparen.

Producent – konsument blir användare

Massmedierna hade en tydlig gräns mellan de som skapade och de som konsumerade. Produktionen var ofta dyr och teknisk, vilket krävde centraliserade produktions och distributionsplattformar. I sociala medier ersätts producent-konsument-relationen från gamla medier med en användare som både kan skapa, dela med sig och ta del av information. Användaren blir även redaktör av sitt eget informationsflöde. Många som går kurserna önskar sig en tillbakalutad konsumentrelation i relation till sociala medier, men det går inte att bara gå in och läsa lite på Facebook till exempel. Nätverket kräver att vi blir medlemmar och upprättar förbindelser. Medlemskapet är också något som äldre lägger viss tyngd i, det förknippas med vissa förpliktelser som inte nödvändigtvis finns där.

Det är lustigt att vi använder begreppet user eller användare, vars övriga användningsområde oftast har med droger att göra. I detta ligger också någon sorts  verklighet – det är lätt att vi gör oss beroende av sociala medier. Facebook är väldigt bra på att uppfylla våra sociala bekräftelsebehov. Det finns som bekant ingen ogilla-knapp och om någon tar bort oss från sin vänlista så uppmärksammas vi inte på det. Var och en sin egen stalinist så att säga.

Idé – uttryck blir innehåll

Motsättningen idé-uttryck är grunden för upphovsrätten och mycket av det västerländska tänkandet på kultur. Idéer ska vara fria och kunna delas av alla. Uttryck är däremot juridiskt skyddade och knyts till en individuell upphovsman. Skillnaden blir dock svår att särskilja när all information är digital. Oavsett om det är text, bild, film eller ljud så består mediet av blott ettor och nollor. I nya medier talas oftare om det lite vaga begreppet “innehåll”. Vad som är skyddat och fritt innehåll är en pågående debatt och juridisk gråzon.

Samplings- och remixkultur handlar om att ta ett “uttryck” (exempelvis en logotyp eller ett beat) och behandla det som en “idé”, som en del av den gemensamma verkligheten, som en råvara att placera i ett nytt sammanhang. Marx skulle kanske kalla alla dessa uttryck en del av det allmänna intellektet.

Privat – offentligt blir socialt

Hannah Arendt skrev (1949):

Den enkla åtskillnaden mellan privat och offentligt motsvarar hushållet och det politiskas område, och dessa områden har existerat som noga åtskilda enheter åtminstone sedan den antika stadsstatens grundande. (Människans villkor, s. 57)

När en så djupgående uppdelning som skillnaden mellan privat-offentligt upplöses är det inte konstigt att människor känner sig obekväma. I de sociala medierna tvingas vi röra oss i en sfär som kan vara mer eller mindre intim, privat, personlig, politisk. Att hantera alla dessa livssfärer inom ramen för ett “socialt” medium kräver både teknisk kunskap (om konto- och sekretessinställningar) samt finkänsla och språk.