An infinite scenario

I put together a short experimental scenario for my workshop at this year’s annual nordic larp (live role-playing) conference Knutepunkt, which I’m happy to share. It’s easy to brief and could probably be played in 15 minutes.

Rules / tips

  • Each participant get a set of 9 cards (One sheet makes one character, and yes they are ordered).
  • Every card state a line to be read out loud or a simple action to be performed.
  • When one is through the 9 cards, one starts over.
  • There is no hurry. Listen and try to be aware of the space.
  • The scenario should preferably be played in a big open space, blackbox or similar.
  • I there are more than 14 players you can just double the characters. If there are less than 5 you can take 18 cards each.

Downloadable characters (and cut it in 9 separate cards/sheet)

Post-dramatic role-playing?

The idea is to put emphasis on composition, space and timing in the improvisation, rather than coming up with smart things to say. Role-playing tends to be very facial-verbal. This set-up promotes other qualities. The role-playing community is by now pretty sophisticated in narrative methodology so I think it’s time to start experimenting a bit more with post-dramatic scenarios.


Maurice Blanchot (1907–2003)

Some of the lines in this scenario is stolen or rewritten phrases from french emo-author Blanchot’s sort-of-kind-of-novel The Infinite Conversation. I also put a key line from The Coming Insurrection.

“Enjoy it while it lasts”

All three books for the nordic live action role-playing (larp) conference Knudepunkt i now online as PDF. Each book has different approach, one of them being academic, another one documentary and a third one with more of a conversational style. I’ve contributed to the latter of them, with a short essay trying to read post-apocalyptic role-playing through the glasses one gets from peak oil studies. Since the editor cut out the references I might as well add them here.

Image from U.S. Coast Guard

Enjoy it while it lasts

«In all our projections, future oil production by 2030 will have decreased from present levels. The world appears most likely to have passed the peak of global oil production and to have entered the descent phase.»
(Aleklett, et al. 2009)

In 2007 food prices doubled in many parts of the world. In 2008 a financial crisis hit the western economies. At that time the price of a barrel of oil had raised to a price of 147$, six times more than what was predicted by the international energy organs a few years earlier. The American industry and economy could not handle such high energy prices and we went into recession, which is still going. United States is completely dependent on cheap oil due to their way of life in suburbia and the extensive interstate highway system. Europe is not as bad off, we can tap the veins of mother Russia’s «natural» gas for some time – but still, oil is absolutely necessary to our transportation, industrial production and food system.

According to recent research from Uppsala University’s Global Energy Systems it is quite probable that those days in the summer of 2008 was historical. We reached peak oil, which means that more or less half of the world’s oil supplies has been depleted. The heydays of cheap, easily accessible energy are over. During 150 years of oil usage we have multiplied the world population by six, using energy condensed from thousands of years of sun energy input.

Oil is the blood of the modern society, it made globalisation and everything else we take for granted possible. In live role-playing there is a tradition of dismissing modernity. I have written extensively on this in «We Lost Our World», trying to outline the anti-modern aesthetics of (pre-modern) fantasy and (post-modern) sci-fi scenarios. Fantasy larps effectively makes us go back to basics, putting handcraft, shelters and making food centre stage. Post-apocalypse is of course just another take on how to escape the dull and repressive features of our modern societies. Post-apocalypse means post-modernity, post a collapse of our petroleum based industry, transportation system, agriculture and housing. It resembles a fear for a situation where we can no longer sustain our present living conditions. That kind of fear is not unmotivated.

Peak oil does not necessarily mean Apocalypse. There is plenty of more to burn off and although disastrous global warming is at the threshold chances are good that we burn all accessible fossil fuels (oil, coal, gas) before we stop. It just has to be done (in the name or profit). But the question is for how long it’s profitable to extract it. Peak oil means that we have reached a point where growth is not ensured the way it has been since mid-19th century. It’s sad when you think about the 20th century from that point of view. Humanity had access to almost free energy, that enabled almost any fantasy to come true, but still spoiled the situation in every possible way.

So I’m not saying that Apocalypse is coming, but everything will turn more expensive, all travels will be harder, social stability (whatever we had) is over. So if we had trouble to create a nice community pre-9/11 it will be a lot harder from this point. Some practise could do.

People are very unprepared for this gradual decline of the material conditions for life. Our christian culture has two modes of thinking: progress or apocalypse. Slow but certain destabilisation and decay for the rest of our lives does not seem probable at all to us. (see Kunstler, 2005) But the long term consequences of peak oil might not turn out very different from the results of space invaders, meteor impacts, nuclear war, zombie famines or what have you roaming around in the cultural production.

Thinking and practicing a post-industrial, post-sustainable life in the safe and playful context of live role-playing might give us an idea of how social life can evolve without the welfare state and the consumerist bonanza of global capitalism. The ship is losing altitude; let’s take it down in a smooth way.


Aleklett, Kjell et al. (2009): «The Peak of the Oil Age  – analyzing the world oil production Reference Scenario in World Energy Outlook 2008» in Energy Policy, 2009-11-09

James Howard Kunstler: The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century (Grove/Atlantic, 2005)

Widing, Gabriel: «We Lost Our World and Made New Ones: Live Role-Playing in Modern Times» in Playground Worlds

Published in Talk Larp – Provocative Writings from KP2011. Claus Raasted (ed.), Rollespilsakademiet, Copenhagen, Denmark

6 Common Mistakes in Live Role-playing Design

This article was published in the anthology Playing Reality by Interacting Arts 2010.

DESIGNING LARPS IS A COMPLEX PROCESS and one must have courage to take on the responsibility of doing it. The players are demanding and bring creative power as well as infinite demands. I have assembled a few common mistakes that are made in larp design. If you avoid them you we’ll be pretty much on track. They are of course a generalization and there are probably exceptional situations where all of these design choices can be motivated. So rather than banning them from larp design I wish that you, as an organizer, think twice before using them. The mistakes all have a common feature: they disable role-playing. So the work-arounds would generally be focused on how to enable participant interaction by the means of their characters.


There is a revolution going on – but you are not there. Placing the characters outside the actual drama is quite strange, but still common. It is as if the organizers wish to save the players characters from drama. But drama is not dangerous, its the nerve of role-playing. This doesn’t mean that only big actions are important, the small ones can be great experiences too. Forgiving, approaching, confessing, trusting can all make nice scenes, but we must also dare to let our characters suffer and hate, murder and make love. This means placing the characters center-stage. If you write a story that is imposssible to enact within the confinements of the physical space of live role-playing you should reconsider the means for telling the story. Maybe a freeform role-playing session would suit it better. Larp is not neutral – so we must find stories that surf on the waves of collaborative improvised character interaction rather than writing up epic or cinematic narratives that in the end is forced off stage. The problems with cinematic aesthetics in larp was noted ten years ago in the Dogme ‘99 (Fatland and Wingård 1999), but it’s still a holy grail for all too many organizers.


Many organizers has an urge to ”create a world”. Nothing wrong about that, but its very common that the world is described by 50+ pages, followed by one page about the actual setting of the scenario. This way the backdrop of the story becomes very heavy and the players are afraid to improvise in a way that conflicts with the pre-written world. Neither are they helped in relating to each other. If the larp is set in a small village in the forest, you are not very supported by knowing how big army or deep religious beliefs or flourishing trade the people of the neighbouring country has. What you actually need is to be informed of the context of the actual stage: the village. Who lives there? How are they related? What are they doing on a Friday night? What are their dreams about? And for the purpose of creating drama: What are their holy cows? Who is in debt to whom?


Organizers trying to save their players from boredom through an unexpected rupture in the dramaturgy of the scenario is quite common. When organizers doesn’t believe in the basic strengths of their scenario they are tempted to save the players from boredom by twisting the whole scenario. This works perfect in most media, like litterature and film: think Trueman show, The Matrix, Fight Club etc. But in the context of live role-playing it generally fails to serve its purpose. Why? Because putting the character in front of a completely unexpected situation – Your world is not what it seems to be! – also decontextualizes the player. The message being: Whatever you have prepared yourself for doesn’t make sense anymore. This makes the player insecure and alienates her from the character, erase the genre frames etc. The player must thus rethink her character. What would my character do in this super-strange situation? How would she feel? This generally disable the interaction between the characters for quite some time.

A deceptive design has sometimes been promoted, for example by the finnish pseudonym Markku Jenti in Nothing is True; Everything is permissible – Using Deception as a Productive Tool, but the article fails to communicate when it’s a good idea to decept the players in that way. Most of the text is actually about when it’s problematic designwise or morally dubious to do it.

There is nothing wrong about strange turns within a larp story – but neither is it a problem to communicate those twists on beforehand.


Negotiations within the fiction is not a bad thing per se. But its all too common that the negotiations is about something that doesn’t exist on the actual setting, something off-stage. “I have an army of 500 men, only two days travel from here” (the larp ending in one day). “But I have an army of 800 men, haha!” This kind of non-sensible negotiations will never support good drama. How about the beggar saying: “I’m prepared to work in your shop, just for free food and lodging.” The trick would be to put the things at hand into play. What matters to the characters at this point in their life?

Political negotiations does require more abstract conceptualisation and it’s potentially interesting to play. But if you don’t think it through carefully it is likely that the players will reenact present day ideological dogmas. We have seen many times how pseudo-medieval feudal villages has turned to present-day democracies. This is of course a sound impulse on behalf of the players, but sometimes a little bit too predictable and dull. Another problem in the same direction is how a conflict between upper and lower classes in a larp story turns into an argument between social liberal and social democratic ideologies, echoing the last debate between parlamentary left and right. Sometimes the political negotiations even resemble the yearly member metings where we choose a new board for the club. Is that where we want to go within our fantasy worlds too? Another board meeting, chewing through trivialities.

I would suggest political scenarios on another level – stories about affinity, forming groups and collectives, breaking them apart, regrouping, being in conflict, making peace, going to war.

After all larp is not about D.I.Y. but D.I.T., do-it-together.


It’s rather easy to write a political scenario where 15 important people meet up to negotiate and have a nice time. It’s a lot harder to make all their servants, associates and subordinates to feel and become center stage. Extras are sweet in movies, but dull in larps. This does not mean that everyone on larps should play high status people, but rather that equal focus should be turned to all players involved, also in terms of theme. If the game has a political theme, then everyone should be involved in the political process one way or another. If the game has a social theme then social relationships should be the base for character interaction. All too often the theme of the game doesn’t involve more than a bunch of the characters. So please relieve us from “important” meetings in wich only a few are invited to play. The dynamics between open and closed rooms can be useful, but should be used with care.


During the years of manifestos (1999–2003) the theorists of the Nordic larp scene set out to find “the possibilities inherent in larp, […] unique laws; the essence of larp” (Fatland and Wingård 1999). It was like a reenactment of the early 20TH century modernist rapture in art. The problem was that we came back with a dozen of “essences”. Is it the story, the character immersion, winning the game, meeting people or making art that is the “essence” of larp? I would say that the general conclusion that came out of years of heated and friendly debates was that any of these directions can be made into the essence of larp. But, there is a but, if you combine two or more of those player motivations you can get into trouble. Thus communicating the style of play on beforehand is a win-win situation for everyone involved. If you are into intrigues and gaming you will find it pretty dull to interact with an esoteric immersionist. If you just want to hang out and have a nice time with your friends within a fictional framework, then you don’t want some maniac swinging rubber in close proximity etc. So organizing as if there was an essence in your way of doing larp is recommendable. The interaction will run smother and everyone will be content in the end.


So, why are these mistakes done over and over again? I mean this text is definetly not a critique of a certain group of organizers or genre or style.

My hunch is that we are a little bit scared by the potentials of the larp. Many organizers intentionally or unconsciously wish to «save» their participants from the larp. This happens in many ways and the consequences are most of the time disturbing or even ruining the player experience. My point here is that there is nothing fundamentally new about the design issues that I’ve tried to pinpoint.

The underlying problem seems to be that we know that it’s bad but still we do it, over and over again. Thus the philosophical/psychological twist to these hands-on design tips is to question wether we actually want involving, mindtwisting and breathtaking events, or if we are content with the stumbling scenarios that we keep on repeating? It is as if we unconsciously wish to fail to realize our fantasies, but with the right proximity. Neither too good nor too crappy. Might be that we do not really want our fantasies to come true, because that would probably have far-reaching consequences for our daily life. Our praxis is directed to almost getting there.

Are we too coward to use our full set of methods and learn from previous mistakes? Are we afraid of what can happen if we design at full throttle? I dare all the organisers out there to be even more daring in your proposals.
Let’s see how good we really are.

Thanks to A-K Linder for input.

GABRIEL WIDING teaches game design and cultural theory. He is cogeditor of Interacting Arts Magazine since 2001, a publication that aims to promote participatory artistic prac- tices and discuss its political implications. In 2008 Interacting Arts released a book in Swedish named Deltagarkultur (“Participatory Arts”). He has organized a handfull of larps, but lately been more into reality game design, working with mask play in public environments. He is also exploring the possibilities of combining role-playing with improvised dance.


Alive and role-playing

Published in lifelike edited by Gade, Thorup, 2007. Article in PDF.

Live role-playing. For the last few years we have been talking and writing a lot about the latter part of the concept. The role-playing has been the main focus. We say live role-playing developed from talking- heads tabletop role-playing games. That is of course true in a sense. But the active form that we practise also came into being because of the fact that we are a- live. So what about the live part? What does it imply and signify? What is the liveness of live role-playing? If we can do role-playing without liveness, could we do live without role-playing? What would be left of the medium?

When the participants were introduced to the scenario Limbo [1], about a “group of people from our own time and society who are hovering between life and death”, the organizer offered a relieving choice:

  1. Take one of the pre-written characters or
  2. Be yourself or a version of yourself

The scenario was set in a “waiting place to reflect on life as it has been so far, before either returning to life once again or facing the unknown on the other side of death.” For me it was an obvious choice to go for the “be yourself”, because a character would not get me any closer to the themes of the scenario than my own experiences and thoughts.

Martine Svanevik shares her experiences from the scenario in the Norwegian forum

“I chose to play myself, something which I realised afterwards was a choice I should not necessarily have made. /…/ On the other hand, I learned a lot about myself and how I view life/death/the afterlife. I came to the game thinking I had all the answers, but I came out of it with a totally different set of answers. /…/ I am not sure if I want to do it again, and definitely not at a game where other participants have characters. /…/ It was one of the strongest experiences in my life.” [2]

Limbo was set for strong emotional interaction and a sort of close-to-life-experience. It definitely pointed out a potential way of approaching live role-playing with less character and more liveness. I am sure there are others as well. Sometimes we could reduce character to plain social role or function.

I consider the character a tool to get in touch with a story or enter another world. It’s our ticket to the diegesis, to the fiction. Sometimes we really need it. When I played inside:outside, [3] which placed the character in “a prison where a bunch of normal people are forced to face dilemmas”, I loved my character. I wouldn’t have survived without it. The game started out with the Wolf’s Dilemma and the Prisoner’s Dilemmas and after that it only got worse. [4] Being yourself in that situation, in the company of your real friends, could have demolished friendships for ages.

Futuredrome [5] is an interesting example of how the role-playing came in conflict with liveness. Assessed as a live role-play, the event was crap. The participants interacted on a sliding scale from hardcore character immersion to hardcore off-game partying. But these two groups, and everyone in between, were definitely alive and kicking. And they actually often managed to co-exist in disharmonic unity. All of the participants were present in their acting, dancing, playful bodies, which created a common ground.

What makes live role-playing really potent is the liveness of it. Everything else is extras. The bodily experience of life, framed by an aesthetic or dramatic context – that’s what makes me tick.


  1. Written by Tor Kjetil Edland. Enacted in Oslo and at Knutpunkt in Stockholm, 2006
  2., 01- 12-2006
  3. Written by Eirik Fatland & Mike Pojhola, enacted on different locations in the Nordic countries, 2001-2002
  4. Pojhola, Mike: ”School of Flour, Developing methodology through eight experimental larps” in Bøckman & Hutchison (ed.), Dissecting larp, 2005
  5. Organised by Henrik Wallgren et al, Kinnekulle, Sweden, 2003

Läslista för lajvare och rollspelare

Fëa, tidningen för levande rollspel, bad mig för runt ett år sedan att skriva ner några tankar om tio olika böcker relaterade till lajv. Jag skrev texten, men redaktionen beslutade sig för att lägga ner tidningen. Tanken var att låta fyra olika personer uttala sig om böckernas kvalitéer. Så blev det inte. De här utsagorna var alltså inte tänkta som helhetsbeskrivningar, till exempel är det väldigt mycket fokus på utformningen, eftersom jag anade att jag skulle vara ensam om den typen av bedömning. men om man är intresserad av att läsa in sig på lajv, men inte vet var man ska börja, kan det säkert vara till hjälp:

Keith Johnstone: Impro – Improvisation och teater (1988)

Trots det förskräckande omslaget i motbjudande rosa-neongrönt har teaterteoretikern och läraren Johnstone många tankar som är direkt relevanta för lajvare. Han beskriver hur social status fungerar och hur detta kan användas för att skapa improviserat drama. När statuspositioner förändras skapas dramatik och spänning. Trots att den här boken varit känd för lajvscenen i tio år görs det fortfarande scenarion där rollerna naglas fast i alltför fasta statuspositioner och förlorar möjligheterna att utveckla intressanta relationer till sina närmaste. Soldater och vampyrer har extra mycket att lära med andra ord.

Ett av de bortglömda kapitlena i den här boken är det sista, som handlar om att använda mask. Det vore kul om någon kunde plocka upp den tråden. Än har vi inte sett något ambitiöst försök att bruka dessa mytiska föremål. Någon kan invända att orcherna försökt, men i det fallet rör det sig snarare om maskering än om mask.

Impro är lika lättläst som matnyttig. Den engelska versionen som visas ovan är betydligt snyggare och gavs ut redan 1979.

Hanne Grasmo: Levende rollespill, LAIV (1998)
Trots att Grasmos bok är skriven reda ’98 känns den väldigt aktuell och inspirerande. Den ger en god överblick över den norska lajvrörelsen och plockar fram exempel på några av de riktiga godbitarna. Trots att norskan kan vara lite motig att läsa i början så kompenseras det av smakfull formgivning och genomtänkt typografi som inbjuder till läsning.

Grasmo sätter fokus på lajv som ett sätt att kliva in i en alternativ verklighet, snarare än på rollspelandet. Det gör hon helt rätt i för däri ligger också lajvandets hissnande potential. Rollspelandet blir snarare ett verktyg för att ta sig runt i dessa nya världar. Skapandet av verklighet gör lajv magiskt.

Boken beskriver också den överenskommelse som lajvare ofta outtalat skriver under på när de går in i ett scenario. Den pakten är grundläggande för att kunna medverka på ett levande rollspel på ett fungerande sätt och därför ovärderligt material för någon som vill prova på lajv för första gången. Det finns också konkreta tips på hur du lär känna din roll, vilket också är välkommet för en nybörjarläsare.

Även erfarna lajvare kan ha stor glädje av att läsa Grasmos lajvbok, både för att ta del av hennes sociologiska perspektiv, men också för att få en inblick i vissa genrér som inte är så vana på den här sidan gränsen. Grasmos bok är inte heller feg. Om man jämför med alla de ursäktande beskrivningar av lajv som en oskyldig hobby som producerats i sverige så är den här boken befriande öppen med att lajv kan påverka vem du är och hur du mår.

Framförallt arrangörer har mycket att hämta, särkillt bland de artiklar som går under rubriken “Doing larp”. Eirik Fatlands text om dramaturgi och incitament är särskillt att rekommendera, däremot kan man hoppa över hans inledning som genom sin interna ton undergräver bokens trovärdighet. Mike Pohjola presenterar också en rad konkreta metoder att använda för att inrama levande rollspel – från monologer och abstraktioner till ritualer och aristoteliska vändningar.

Hans Käll: Levande rollspel – handbok (1998)
Det här är en inbjudande handbok till vad som brukar benämnas landet Lajvien. Den är riktad till nybörjare som vill deltaga i fantasyscenarion. Upplägget är pedagogiskt och användbart: den introducerar kläder, vapen, första hjälpen, allemansrätt och andra praktiska detaljer man kan behöva ha koll på innan man ger sig ut i äventyrens djupa skogar. Förvånansvärt lite behandlar tyvär rollen och än mindre själva rollspelandet.

Keith Johnstone: Impro for Storytellers (1998)
Johnstones andra bok innehåller en rad tekniker och metoder, precis som den första, men den är en aning mår svårtillgänglig. Här skriver han om hur improvisationen bör hålla sig inom de förväntningsramar som de andra aktörerna har. Han rekommenderar oss att utnyttja de enkla och uppenbara öppningarna som en scen ger oss och inte försöka vara spektakulära i varje ögonblick. Alla rutiner måste brytas för att berättelsen ska utvecklas, men de ska brytas på ett smidigt sätt och i rätt tempo. Samtidigt får vi inte vara rädda för att låta saker hända. Det är de här avvägningarna som Impro for Storytellers kan vägleda oss kring.

En metod som kommer upp är mantran, vilket vi inte sett så mycket av på levande rollspel. I korthet: Upprepa i ditt inre en kort fras under en scen. Det kan vara något helt utan mening, men det leder till att du inte kan koncentrera dig lika mycket på vad du gör och dina reaktioner och handlingar blir mer spontana. Eller så kan du välja en fras som har betydelse till exempel “Jag hatar dig” eller “Jag älskar dig”. Du behöver inte leva dig in i känslan av att hat eller kärlek den kommer i bästa fall bara infinna sig i rummet så länge mantrat finns där, gnagande i ditt bakhuvud.

Henrik Summanen & Tomas Walch: Saga mot verklighet (1999)
Den perfekta boken för dig som vill arrangera ett stort fantasylajv. Valet av Times New Roman, numrerade rubriker och lite för bred spalt gör tyvär att Saga mot verklighet känns mer som ett föreningsprotokoll än som en bok. Det gör innehållet lätt överskådligt men knappast aptitligt. Stort plus att den är tillgängliggjord på nätet.

ASF: Från Atlantis till Blekinge – Tre resor i friformsrollspel
Den här boken är verkligen ett lovvärt initiativ som jag har väntat länge på. Bara titeln och omslaget får fantasin att skena. Boken ger en grundläggande beskrivning av friformsrollspel och presenterar fyra scenarion varav jag själv spelat två. “Promotheus misstag” väver samman en mytisk atlantissaga med en och en frostig expedition. Ett paradexempel i parallellhandlingens dynamiska dramaturgi. “Fort Paine” är en stämningsfull homosocial berättelse placerad i amerikanska imbördeskriget. Upplevelserna i fortet fick oss spelare att klättra på bänkarna i skolklassrummet (som är friformsrollspelandets hemma-arena på rollspelskonvent). Det märks tyvär ganska väl att samtliga scenarioförfattare är grabbar. Om du vill ha en inblick i friform och de olika scenarion som boken innehåller så finns en del material att tanka ner från ASF hemsida.

The book – Knutpunkt 2001 (2001)
Det här var den första boken som gavs ut i samband med Knutpunkt och den led således av många barnsjukdomar. Framförallt är den helt oläslig. Texten är så ihoptryckt och knökig att man inte kommer någon vart. Jag har därmed inga omdömen att ge om innehållet.

Morten Gade, Line Thorup & Mikkel Sander: As LARP grows up (2003)
Den här antologin innehåller de klassiska texter du behöver för att kunna orientera dig i den nordiska teoribildningen kring levande rollspel: “Three Way Model”, turkuskolan, Dogma 99. Den innehåller också en välkommen ordlista som sammanfattar alla de obskyra begrepp som omgärdar levande rollepspel. Boken håller generellt sett hög teoretisk nivå och gränsar ibland mot tråkighet.

Min rekommendation är att hålla sig till artiklar under kategorin “That’s larp”, med undantag från Johan Söderbergs “Play is political” som är en ögonöppnare.

Formgivningen är lite plottrig och inrutad men stör inte nämnvärt. Illustrationerna är rätt spralliga, men känns kanske lite väl mycket fanzine. På nätet kan mann hitta två förlorade kapitel som inte kom med i pappersupplagan.

Markus Montola & Jaakko Stenros: Beyond Role and Play (2004)
Den här samlingen texter har mycket att ge, men är ingenting att ge sig på från pärm till pärm. Indelningen av texterna i grupper: theory, practice, games och openings är relativt godtycklig så man får gå på känsla. Om man vill läsa om konkreta exempel på inspirerande och nyskapande scenarion kan man med fördel läsa de svenska författarna. Finnarna har generellt sett ett mer akademisk och teoretisk upplägg. Det här är den samling resonerande texter som håller bäst kvalité av alla böcker som givits ut i samband med det årliga samnordiska konventet Knutpunkt. Typografin är en aning snål men tydlig och genomarbetad.

Många av texterna refererar friskt till de manifest som skrivits för levande rollspel så jag rekommenderar en orientering i dessa innan man ger sig i kast med Beyond Role and Play. Boken är verkligen någonting att bita i även för den som tycker sig ha koll.

Petter Bøckman & Ragnhild Hutchison: Dissecing larp (2005)
Den här boken är så vämjeligt utformad att man drar sig för att öppna den. När man tar mod till sig och gör det blir saken inte bättre. Alla bilder är i skrikande taskig kvalité och texten är rakt igenom satt i ett typsnitt som skulle fungera på en hemsida, men som verkligen inte hör hemma i en bok. Om man försöker blunda för de visuella och redaktionella fadäserna så kan man hitta ett par godbitar.

Utöver dessa framträder Martine Svanevika “lilla röda”. Hon bidrar med erfarenheter av och uppmaning till kollektiv organisering av levande rollspel.

The Character, the Player and Their Shared Body

The article is written by Gabriel Widing & Tova Gerge, published in Role, Play, Art, edited by Thorbiörn Fritzon and Tobias Wrigstad,  in conjunction with the 10th Knutpunkt Convention in Sweden, 2006.

What happens to our bodies when we give them to characters and place them in new environments and situations? Where do these memories go? The aim of this essay is to write a genealogy of muscles and organs; to try out visions and conflicting thoughts concerning the body in play.


Live role-players put their bodies at the disposal of the destinies of the characters. Thereby, their bodies are also at the disposal of the aims of the organisers. New experiences are imprinted onto the organism of the participant, and new desires and aversions are born out of these experiences: the brain is pulling in one direction, the stomach just wants to quit, the heart is rushing. As the motivation for playing lies in the body, so do reactions in the game.

Our starting point is that each player has interests in his or her character—sexual desires, social awards, psychological challenges, need for confirmation, etc. Yet the choice of character is often disguised by false neutrality. A characters choice directed by personal interest, seems somehow dirty and suspicious. “I can play anything” is a common expression when it comes to picking a character. It is shameful to want, shameful to choose.

Within each player culture, there is a norm for what thoughts and variations are acceptable. This norm might be good in terms of controlling and moderating our behaviour. The tradition of some interests, for example “psychological challenges”, being more legitimate than others means that, in practise, a controversial choice of character will only be welcome if the player has a billion brilliant intellectual reasons to explain it with. The success rate in passing this social test is entirely individual,which is why we wish to describe these interests on a structural level rather than an individual.

If we can identify which desires one might be gratifying by entering a live role-play, we can also produce scenarios that are fulfilling specific needs or interests. In other words: scenarios and characters that make the greatest possible impact on their participants, and vice versa.

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Kollektivt skrivande, experiment på Knutpunkt

Under vår workshop i kollektivt skrivande på Knutepunkt i Norge använde vi programmet SubEthaEdit, tre bärbara macar och en projektor.

Programmet hette först Hydra (innan de blev stämda, någon annan hade ju trademark på det mytiska monstret från antika grekland!) och det begreppet har levt kvar som verb i vårt gäng. Att hydra en text innebär att skriva den tillsammans med det här verktyget, som egentligen är skapat för att hjälpa programmerare att samarbeta med kodande.

De som inte satt vid datorerna kunde agera improvierat utifrån vad som skrevs på datorerna eller bara kolla på, för att hoppa in senare (texten projicerades direkt på en av rummets väggar). Vi började med att kasta fram lite berättelse-element:

djup mörk sjö – våld – sjukhusmiljö – järnrör – observatorium – park – alkoholism/rusmissbruk – snö – tvång – förort – adrenalin – sprutor – tunnel under en bro – sandlåda – tågstation – busskur – gammal dam med shoppingvagn – tolvårig grabb som stulit mammas revolver – man med pondus och plommonstop – stor läderväska – barn med blommig kjol – fiskare i roddbåt – 13-årig heroinist – pensionerad kommunist – hemgjort punkfrisyr

Eftersom Knutepunkt är ett konvent för levande rollspel hoppade två ivriga aktörer upp för att improvisera fram någon sorts scen utifrån orden ovan. De skrivande dokumenterar simultant vad som händer, samtidigt som de kan ge nya impulser till de agerande, som sneglar på projektionen från och till. De första trevande styckena radar upp sig på skärmen:

Kate har precis tvingat in det första andetaget vatten, sötvatten, svider i ögonen och näsan. Mörkgrönt runt omkring henne. Sedan den där stora handen runt nacken, drar upp henne, hon hostar, ekans kant skär in i midjan, det blommiga tyget klibbar runt vaderna. Sjön ligger tyst.

“Förbannade snorunge! Ska du dränka dig i din pappas sjö? Är du inte riktigt klok?”

Han får henne att spy upp vattnet, klämmer åt över magen. Hon hostar. Det är sagt att det ska vara i princip omöjligt att ta livet av sig på detta sätt om vattnet är varmt. Det är nog sant. Det lila håret hänger fortfarande flott av vax kring kinderna, inte så spretigt som det borde, inte alls så spretigt.

“Pappa, kan jag få en sil?”

“Klart du kan, raring. Så. Så, inte ställa till med sånt spektakel. Du kan väl bara fråga nästa gång.”

Aktörerna klev av scenen och datorer bytte författare. Ett par reflekterande stycken matas in:

Ingen blev ju särskilt förvånad när socialen kom. Särskilt inte Kate. Nej, i år hade hon väntat på detta, sett fram emot det som de andra ungarna hånade nere vid kiosken på fredagskvällarna: tanter i gråa dressar som kommer och styr upp verksamheten. Så dök det upp en pinnsmal herre i plommonstop.

Vita lakan. Men hon blir besviken. Klockan i rummet tickar med en oändlig högljuddhet och är det enda som hon orkat fästa tankarna vid på flera timmar. Sängen är som en sjukhussäng, trots att det här ska vara en plats där man blir frisk. Sjukhussängar har alltid haft motsatt verkan på henne, påmint henne om att hon är i någon annans våld, att det är någon annan, samma som bäddat med de sträva vita lakanen, som bestämmer vem som är frisk och vem som är sjuk. Tanken på hur hon hamnat här får klockan att tysta under några sekunder medan svart hat väller ur hennes ansiktes alla öppningar. Svart, hopplöst förlamande hat, hon ser inga vägar ut ur rummet som dränkts i ett virrvar av solmönster och människor i vitt som noggrannt vaktar dess gränser.

En av datorerna har övertagits av en norsk jänta:

Doktoren går inn på kontoret. Han legger fra seg den store spröyten, legger hatten på skrivebordet sitt, og törker av pannen med et stripete lommetörkle. Han har fått det av datteren sin. Hun sydde det på skolen, og det har blitt liggende i jakkelommen hans i flere år. Han sukker. Det har värt en tung dag, slik det alltid blir når pasientene ikke er samarbeidsvillige, og idag har värt värre enn vanligvis.

Ovanstående är nog för att ge nya impulser till fysiskt agerande. Följande scen tar plats i rummet, samtidigt som den skrivs ned:

Doktoren går inn på kontoret. Han legger fra seg den store spröyten, legger hatten på skrivebordet sitt, og törker av pannen med et stripete lommetörkle. Han har fått det av datteren sin. Hun sydde det på skolen, og det har blitt liggende i jakkelommen hans i flere år. Han sukker. Det har värt en tung dag, slik det alltid blir når pasientene ikke er samarbeidsvillige, og idag har värt värre enn vanligvis.

Doktorn kommer in, förbereder en spruta. Precis som pundaren måste läkaren hitta venen. Kate brukade göra det med hårbandet. Läkaren gör det med ett specialkonstruerat syntetband. Det är dags. Patienten vill inte. Inte idag, og sender ut et fortvilet rop om hjelp, men ingen hörer henne. Sprutan tränger in genom patientens hud. Fel plats. Måste sticka igen. Minnet av vatten i lungorna och nålens påträngande vasshet i köket efteråt sköljer över henne. Blåmärkena i armvecket lika fula, fläckiga och gulnande som någonsin. Men infektionsrisken är inte lika hög!

“Din djävul!” skriker patienten. Hon är rätt illa däran, en unge med mörker i, men hennes svordomar härör från 40-talet precis som sjukhuset. Hon har mest bara umgåtts med sin pappa.

Det är heroinnedtrappning, lugnande och antipsykotiska som står i flickans recept. Hon borde vara glad när nålen går in, beroendet är grundat i modersmjölken, i fadersbåten. Men Kate vill hålla sprutan själv. Därför slåss de, hon och Doktorn.

Och så håller det på i en timme eller så, sen byter vi story. Vi lämnar Kate åt sitt öde på hospitalet. Ok, det är inte världens bästa litteratur. Men processen var spännande så att det räcker och blir över.

Post Panopticon

This was my first text published in english and it has some weak parts but I’ve left it unchanged. It was published in the anthology Beyond role and play, edited by Montola & Stenroos in 2004.

Analysing live action role-playing has always been problematic. The subjectivity of every experience makes the personal reflection a lame weapon for an analysis. We need to find new of writing about the phenomena. Any attempt to go farther than a diary from character/player perspective or ”the food was very bad” is welcome.

This article is an attempt to use and introduce post-structuralism as a tool for looking at role-playing. It is about how signs and symbols are used and created. It is about positions and perspectives. It is about power.

The post-structural theory has been developed in many scientific fields. Some examples are Foucault’s historian writings on social thoughts, Barthes’ medial analysis, Lacan’s neopsychoanalysis and Derrida’s philosophy of signs. It has also been a crucial element in contemporary feminist theory underlined by writers like Weedon.

I will use the poststructuralist approach to deconstruct the Norwegian contemporary scenario Panopticorp, by Irene Tanke. I will read the “text” Panopticorp, and view it as a frame for the interaction. Panopticorp was a story about an international advertising agency. Real life agencies like Panopticorp work with the production of meaning in the media environment and everyday life. The scenario made great use of language to construct identities, divisions and the illusion of something different than everyday life. The consious way of creating the frames for this scenario made it one of the most interesting and dangerous events 2003.

Taking the job

The participants of Panopticorp enrolled as the employees of a multinational corporation with the same name as the event itself. The registration for the event was an on-line employment form for people going to the newly started Panopticorp Oslo Unit. This way of entitling brought the fiction close to ”the real world” and challenges the traditional agreement of live role-playing to never let fiction and reality meet. The participants were put in the position of a character, but without the context of the enactment.

Only one thing was given to the participants in printed media: The corporate dictionary, CorpDic. The contents of this folder framed the whole event, putting focus on certain perspectives while marginalizing others. It presented dozens of concepts, transforming language and the usage of it:

”CorpSpeak – The ’slang’ of Corpers. Since CorpSpeak embodies PanoptiCorps CorpFil and organisational structure, mastering CorpSpeak is not just a question of ’fitting in’ but a measure of ones understanding of how PanoptiCorp works.”
–    Panopticorp CorpDic, 2002

Language is a way of positioning. The dictionary most certainly structuralized the character interpretation and expression in certain patterns. In most role-playing events, the organisers define and state an agreement with terms and rules that everybody must obey. As a participant one can chose to accept those terms, or just avoid signing up for the event. This is very important in order to make the medium function. But participants must be conscious about that they are surrendering a lot of power to the organisers. Sometimes the organisers define the participants’ life conditions for days.

Living the job

”CorpFil – The Corporate Philosophy of PanoptiCorp. reflected in our way of life and work. The core of our CorpFil is that optimum (NexSec) CreaProd is achieved through the creation of functional MemeFields within horizontal, competetive, organisational structures. Because of our emphasis on MemeFields over formal structure, CorpSpeak is not just ’office slang’ but an embodiment of our corporate identity.”
–    CorpDic

Abandoning one’s own language transforms one’s way of thinking, which is a method for immersing into the character and the surrounding setting. All the characters at Panopticorp had clearly defined roles, different classes and functions at the agency. Those roles had new concepts attached to them; carders, dozers, spotters, divers, suits and more. The participants did not have any pre-understanding of these words, which made it possible for the organisers to maintain total control of the definitions.

The Panopticorp unit was the life of the characters. They ate at the agency, they slept at the agency and they even shagged at the agency. During the days of the event the Panopticorp agency was the one and only reality for both participants and their characters.

The agency had new concepts for the relation to time. “Now” was never good enough. The characters strived for being “NexSec”, trying to guess their way towards the next upcoming hot ideas, brands or persons. Saying something that became interpreted as “LasSec” ruined one’s social status for hours or even days.

Since Panopticorp was a contemporary, realistic scenario, there was an unexplored possibility to let ”real people” without characters enter the event, without even knowing that it was a fiction. Would this be an offensive act, degenerating their reality, or would it be an invitation to take part in our reality? I still wait for scenarios with the courage to explore these fields.

Decentralized hierarchy

“Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers.”
– Michael Foucault, Panopticism

The panopticon theory, which inspired the name of the event, was written by Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. Imagine panopticon as a cylinder with prison cells all around. The cells have one open wall, only covered with bars, as transparent as the fourth wall of a theatre stage. In the middle of the cylinder there is a tower with windows black as sunglasses. From the tower, all prisoners can be watched. The people in the tower cannot look at all prisoners at the same time, but the prisoners do not now when they are under surveillance, only the fact that they are. Panopticorp was somewhat different.

Take away the tower, so the prisoners can see each other, and give the prisoners reason (shorter penalty for example) to report on each other – then you have Panopticorp. The corporation had a flat structure, with no bosses or certain demands from owners (except profit, of course). There was no board of directors. Still, the characters were strictly put in a dynamic but hierarchic order. This was visualised through the hotnot-system:

”Hotnot – The standard PanoptiCorp system of rating perfomance, HotNot votes occur at least daily at any Unit. Unlike the rating systems of more LasSec agencies, where the Human Resources director performs the rating, PanoptiCorps HotNot is democratic, giving all co-workers an equal vote in HotNot ratings.”

–    CorpDic

Depending on your status in the hotnot, you were assigned different roles on projects of different importance. It visualized the current hierarchies within the agency. It is evident that the repression that used to originate from the top of the hierarchy can actually be distributed and shared by all.

An illusion of power?

Live role-playing is generally far more democratic than most other media. It decentralizes the power of stimuli creation, breaking down the traditional mass communicational idea of a few producers sending stimuli to many consumers. But since live role-playing claims to be an anti-authoritarian medium it is very important to be aware what kinds of power structures are created. One should not be content with the conclusion that the medial structures are far more democratic than tv. Exactly what are the functions and positions of organisers, writers, participants and others in relation to the project?

One authoritarian position is stated in The Manifesto of the Turku School by Mike Pohjola:

”The roleplaying-game is the game masters creation, to which he lets the player enter. The game world is the game master’s, the scenario is the game master’s, the characters (being a part of the game world) are the game master’s. The players’ part is to get inside their character’s head in the situation where the game begins and by eläyminen try to simulate it’s actions.”

The turkuists consider the organiser to be an artist in a very modernist sense of the word. The organiser is a genius and God. The participants should be grateful that they are allowed into the brilliant artistic work that the organiser has set up. The participants are the puppets of a content puppet master. This approach is honest, but hardly desirable. I want to consider live role-playing as a fellow-creating process. The organiser must be ready to lose control of the event.

Another view is represented by the Norwegian manifesto Dogma 99, written Eirik Fatland and Lars Wingård. They claim that the organisers should not in any way manipulate or direct the story:

”5. After the event has begun, the playwrights are not allowed to influence it. /…/ As organisers take control during a LARP, the players become passive. This leads to players learning to expect organiser control, even demanding it. Only a LARP entirely without organiser influence will place the real initiative in the hands of players, where it belongs. As we learn how to make LARPs work independent of organiser control and influence, it will become possible to develop more constructive and activating methods of organiser interaction.”
– Dogma 99

Participants will never be free from the control of the organisers, but they should be aware of when and how they are manipulated. Dogma 99 wants to give the power over the event to the participants. But the organiser still defines the themes and agendas. The participants have freedom, but only within the framework defined by the organisers.

There is a difference between control before or after the event has begun. If the organisers are communicative and give input during the enactment, they become part of the process. If they only set the frames, they do not partake in the development of the actual event. I prefer organisers that dare to be fellow-creators of their own event. And I prefer to be participating in setting the frames of an event, even if my only function during the enactment is to play my character.

The participants of live role-playing events are often denied the possibility to partake in the designing of the milieu, rule system and dramaturgy of an event. Panopticorp took this even further. The participants became deeply manipulated by the clever organisers as they gave away their language and thus their thoughts. After just a day many participants were thinking like binary machines: hot/not, lassec/nexsec, upcard/downcard, always judging co-workers as effective or worthless. It took weeks for me to erase the thinking of dividing people into useful or non-useful out of my mind.

This is not a matter of morals. The organisers of Panopticorp made their point very clear. It was a brilliant mind-fuck and an indispensable learning experience. Unfortunately the structures of Panopticorp are not just fiction, they are real. Dr Belbin is one of the profilers in the team-work company that bears his name:

“Over the years many people have been interested in the team role theory expounded in my book Management Teams ‘Why They Succeed or Fail’ first printed in 1981. More and more jobs involve people working together and here the roles individuals play are very important. With our new online version of team role feedback, we aim to give individuals a fuller insight into their own behaviour in the workplace by taking account of how they are seen by others. The reports include advice on developing a personal management style suited to your team role profile.”
–    Dr Meredith Belbin

This is scary. Role-playing could be a great defence against the assigning of roles from the surroundings, but only if we are not blind to our own processes. Participants should be part of the pre-process. Organisers should partake in the story. Both participants and organisers should refuse their assigned roles as participants or organisers.


Belbin, Meredith:
Bentham, Jeremy: Panopticon, 1791
Fatland, Eirik & Lars Wingård: Dogma 99
Foucault, Michael: Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison (NY: Vintage Books 1995) translation by Alan Sheridan
Pojhola, Mike: The Manifesto of the Turku School, 2000
Fatland, E: CorpDic, 2003
Tanke, Irene, et al. Panopticorp