I was asked to blurb this book, and here's what I said:
The rise of the ars ludorum is not confined to the bombastic power fantasies of the videogame but is manifest all over the globe in diverse ways, from the doujin games of Japan to the passionate intensity of the indie games movement to the rise of the Euro-style boardgame. Not least among these movements is larp, brought to its apotheosis in the Nordic countries, where vast, imaginative works of enormous artistic ambition receive attention not only from game geeks but from their national cultures as well. This vital phenomenon is now accessible to English speakers through this landmark work, an anthology of articles describing some of the most impressive and compelling works of the form. Anyone seriously interested in role-play, interactive narrative, and the collision between games and theater will find it of enormous interest.
The Kick Inside is a short-duration LARP, lasting 2-3 hours, and designed for exactly 12 players and a gamemaster. Or perhaps it is an improvisational dramatic play designed for exactly 12 actors and a narrator/director. It's one of a class of games that, like the jeepform and the story game, pushes roleplay away from the wargame origins of the form and in the direction of theater.
The action transpires in a small, rural cottage. Though there are 12 players, there are only 4 characters: Thomas, Olivia, Marcus, and Agnes. Each character is played by three different players, each representing the character at a different stage of life: for instance, one as the teenage Thomas, one as Thomas in the early stages of marriage and career, and one a Thomas after his children are grown and he has retired.
The stage, or play area, consists of several rooms in the cottage, which are marked off with tape. In Act 1, each generation is confined to a particular room in the cottage; while the players view and hear each other, at any given time only one generation is playing.
In Act 2, the players are again confined to separate rooms, but play is 'simultaneous,' which all generations able to speak and act at the same time -- though it is permissible to pause briefly to overhear what the others are saying.
In Act 3, a player may leave the room where his generation is 'active' but outside that room is a 'ghost,' able to touch others, whisper to them, comment on their actions -- and influence them in a way, though players are forbidden to 'consciously' respond to ghosts.
In Act 4, in a somewhat surreal fashion, all generations exist in the same context, and may even converse with each other -- the "young" Agnes talking to the "early married" Agnes talking to the "retired" Agnes.
Within each act, except the last, the start of a particular generation's scene within the act is couched by set-up; thus, in Act II for the older generation, Marcus takes the others to the shed, where he has set up a typewriter and has begun to write his memoirs.
The scene is permitted to evolve fairly widely, and indeed players are expected to flesh out their characters and create the bulk of the backstory themselves; thus, generation 3 might reminisce about actions of generation 1, while generation 1's actions might affect the relations of the characters in generation 3.
The final scene is supposed to bring a sense of catharsis, perhaps an accommodation of the characters' older selves to their pasts, a feeling of the overall arc of these characters' lives.
I haven't played The Kick Inside, but I'd like to; it looks like it would be a emotionally compelling experience, at least with a sensitive gamemaster and players willing to fly with the setting. I could also see it being staged before a live audience.
Europa was a Dogma 99 LARP run by the Scandinavian LARP group Weltschmerz in 2001, at a camp at Vestby, Norway, some kilometers south of Oslo. It took place in an alternate universe in which Scandinavia became something like the Balkans after the collapse of Yugoslavia -- with hyper-nationalist governments, oppression of minorities, ethnic cleansing, and outright war. The camp became a refugee center in the peaceful, prosperous, and imaginary country of Orsinia, located somewhere in the Balkans, where the players had all fled, seeking asylum.
I'm not sure what it is about roleplaying gamers that brings out the theorist, but for a commercially minor form, there's quite a lot of over-the-top intellectualizing about it, from Ron Edwards's Big Model to the jeepform theorists.
Dogma 99 (named after Dogme 95, a Danish avant-garde film movement) is "a programme for the liberation of LARP."
Some years ago, at Fastaval in Århus, Denmark, I had one of the most splendid, if brief, roleplaying experiences in my life, in a mixed company of Danes, Swedes, and Finns, who partially in my honor and partially because English was the only language they had in common, chose to play with me in a language I found comprehensible. The game we played was The Upgrade; and it's a source of some little frustration that, reading over the materials they've used to present it to the world, my main emotion is a sense of dissatisfaction that the prose itself does not impart a clear notion of the pleasure to be gained by experiencing this remarkable ouevre. In part, perhaps, this is because it is translated from the Swedish (and for those who read it, a version in the original tongue is also available via the link above); but in part, it is also because some things that can be experienced in play are impossible to express in the more mundane form of the words used to describe their rules. Not always, to be sure; in reading, say, My Life With Master, you obtain a sense of the genius that likes within; but in the case of The Upgrade, surely, you do indeed need to play the game to understand what it has to offer.
Think of this as the game equivalent of a webcomic. To follow this train of thought, the advent of the internet allowed cartoonists free reign in their work. It's like making an underground zine where everybody is a potential reader. All someone needs to make a webcomic is a scanner or MS Paint, but it wasn't till recently that Flixel was released and game developers were given the tools to rapidly create short, online little games. Developer Pixelate set out to make four of these experimental webgames for every week of December, and this is the fruit of his labor.
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