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Oct. 15th, 2015 | 10:28 pm

Near the end of my third week as a scholarship researcher.

All the domestics and admin of settling into Finland have gone fine so far, through I've still a bit more to do in that respect. Socially it's also been going great.

Update on my academic progress:
- I had some useful feedback on my theory based paper (which I presented a draft off at DiGRA in May). Lots more to do on that, but it's progressing.

- After developing an idea for an experiment at the end of the first week and presenting it in a research group meeting in the second week, I've been focusing on getting it set up read to actually do (which includes experimental design, writing up the methodology, preparing the stimulus material and handling the IT backend to record the results). I'm hoping to go live with the experiment at the end of next week. I don't want to say too much publicly until the experiment is completed, for reasons. This is my aim focus at the moment.

side projects:
- I've submitted a freeform scenario ('Just a little peril') to the Golden Cobra contest; I limited myself to less than a day on it so this wouldn't distract from my academic work.

- A scenario pitch I wrote a while back (in one evening) for an edu-larp design contest has been published:

- Midsummer now has a FB group:
I've been organising play sesssions of it in Tampere, and a friend of mine did so in Helsinki. I'm also told it's selling well at my local games shop in Bristol.

- I've done a bit more our big new larp projet, writing the first few draft characters.

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Update - academic

Oct. 5th, 2015 | 12:08 pm

I'm here in Tampere for the next 6-8 months (with some scholarship funding) working on my PhD full-time. I'm working on an 'anthology PhD' (different to the UK style), so need to build up a collection about papers to present, with an introduction.  Currently I'm lacking a second supervisor (pro bono).

Progress over the last two years (working part-time distance alongside my full-time civil service job):
- I've completed the required 40 ECTS credits, from attending a summer school and conferences, knudepunkt articles, peer reviewing and commenting on other people's work pre-publication.
- I wrote a chapter on Grounded Theory applied to game studies that got published.
- I wrote and presented a draft paper at DiGRA in May 15.

Current long term plan:
My general intent is to structure the PhD overall along the general form of the experimental model:
- My DiGRA paper was a theory based one, trying to apply older identitiy theories to role-playing. I currently trying to get detailed feedback on it to develop it further. It mgiht fork into two papers in the process. The intention is for this to become the theory part of the PhD
- I'm then intended to gather some data to test the hypothesis that these theories suggest. This might mean interviewing experienced players (like I did for my MSc) or actual experiments.
- I'll then aim to link the papers (and other new research that has come along in the meantime) back to theory.

Progress over my first week here (28/9-2/10):
- I did a close read and extensively commented on a forthcoming thesis on roleplaying that used Actor-Network-Theory (ANT). ANT is one of the modern in-fashion approaches, and looking at it closely has made me quite sceptical about it.
- In terms of theoriticial basis of my own, Im now leaning more towards (structural) symbolic interactionism. I've yet to find much existing work applying this it game, even through it seems 'obvious' that games are interaction between symbols.
- I arranged for a coupe of people to give me feedback on my DiGRA theory paper over the next couple of weeks.
- I dreamt up (and written up) an experimental design. I don't want to say too much publicly as that might influence the results. I want to find someone with an appropiate background to talk it through to make sure I haven't missed a flaw before going ahead with it.

Current plan for this week (5-10/10):
- further the experimental design and create the stimulus material.
- work on the theory paper if feedback comes in
- further reading on symbolic interactionism.
- seminar on thursday afternoon.

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Update - game design projects.

Oct. 5th, 2015 | 11:34 am

I moved to Finland on the 24th September and been settling in.

I'm intended to start using this blog to update my academic progress while I'm here.

A short side update on my other projects:
- Midsummer got accepted by Fastaval, so I'll be presenting it there. I've aalso arranged to present here in Tampere on weds evening at an 'academic gamers' meetings. I have a few copies with me, it's available online as is sbeing sold by the local games shop in Bristol.

- My King Lear scenario did not get accepted by Fastaval. It's still at the stage of waiting for content proofreaders before playtesters.

- I had an all day meeting wiht my co-organiser and we have developed our 'muse' larp project a lot. We are currently aiming for the start of March (the weekend before Nodal Point, so internationals can do both in one trip). We hope to announcing it for bookings around the end of this year.

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Aug. 24th, 2015 | 12:12 pm

Been a while since I updated this blog. I’ll be moving to Finland in late September to work on my PhD, and I’ve been trying to get my different projects in a good place by then.

A few weeks ago I went to the Ars Magica micro-convention Grand Tribunal. I presented Magus, playtested Midsummer, played in one ArsM tabletop and two ArsM freeforms.

Here is where I’ve got to with some of my game design projects:
-       Midsummer, a hidden role card game with a Shakespeare-faerie theme. I’ve now published it on the US-based print-on-demand site TheGameCrafter (same one I used for Magus). Retail price there is $25 (shipping to UK is $18 sadly, which puts the total cost to order a single copy in the UK at $43 / £27). I’ve ordered a micro print-run so I’ll have a few to make available at near-cost (£20 / 25 Euro). Long term when I’m back from Finland next year I’ll consider whether to take it further (i.e. approach a distributor then a traditional printer, or find a game publisher to take the project over and do it). I’ve submitted a proposal to present it at Fastaval next year and I expect to have a demo copy with me at other places

-       My King Lear larp has developed into a jeepform-style freeform larp, like my Heart’s Blood scenario. ‘Albion Divided’ (working title; open to suggestions) is now at a first draft stage and I’m trying to get a few people familiar with the style to give me feedback on it before moving to playtesting. Currently it’s for 5-8 players, plus one organiser. I’m also open to suggestions on a venue to present it at (I could try Fastaval, but I’m already submitting Midsummer there), or if anyone else would be interested in organising an early run of it. Once playtested, I’ll look to do a lulu hard copy publication, like my other books.

-       ‘Muse’ (working title).  I’ve been in discussions with one of my Pan co-organisers and we have first concepts forming for a new horror larp . It will be in the same broad format as Pan (8 to 12-ish players, weekend long play in a holiday home, modern or near modern setting, psychological horror genre) but we are keen to make it very different (so it won’t be about therapy, may well not be couples-based, and use different meta-techniques). We’ll be discussing that further together and will see how it develops when I’m in Finland.  It’s possible we might even make it happen in the next 6 months while I’m there, if the concept develops well and we are both confident in it.

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Personal likes

Apr. 27th, 2015 | 05:05 pm

I’ve been reflecting lately on what my personal interests and likes are in larp. Naturally, this is something that has changed and developed with time, but I’m reminded of the saying “We grow neither better nor worse as we get old, but more like ourselves.” Trying to articulate this:

-       I am interested in playing on different social dynamics, in settings where social conventions matter. That includes settings were (most) characters actually believe in the principles of their society, not just trying to keep up an outward appearance of doing so.

-       I am interested in playing on different ethical codes. Depending on the setting, that often includes religious characters (as religion is often mixed up with ethics), but doesn’t have to. I am not interested in purely ‘pragmatic’ characters with no sense of ethics.

-       I am interested in more ‘subtle’ understated kinds of play. I dislike invasive meta-techniques and excessive transparency.

-       I’m interested in internally consistent settings. This means that if the setting includes fantasy elements, those elements need to be part of a developed metaphysics/cosmology (even if the characters don’t know it). I dislike high fantasy settings in any case, but distinguish ‘mythic’ as separate from ‘high fantasy.’ If playing in a fictional setting, this also applies to it being well-developed, with a history written for at least the length of living memory.

-       I’m interested in play that acknowledges greater and more longer term off-screen factors. This is a hard concept to explain; it sort of goes back to my wargaming days, of the custom of playing even a standalone game as if it were part of a wider campaign. Some examples:

In the post-apoc larp Duskland, my character was trying to ensure the settlement survived. This meant being concerned that (Swedish) winter was coming, so trying to organise people to lay in supplies and prepare for it. This give an external pressure to play on, even though clearly winter wasn’t going to happen in the few days of the larp
A character being concerned how they are going to report back to their superiors on what happened afterwards. If playing a politician or war leader, this also includes thinking about how the public, international law, or ‘history’ might judge them (despite this being beyond the scope of the event). That doesn’t mean doing the right thing, but it means being concerned about it, perhaps trying to find a course of action that is a justifiable/defensible position (and goes back to acknowleding the society of the character).
For religious characters, this includes being concerned about the fate of their immortal soul. (which is often a paradigm-flavoured way to address issues of guilt and depression).

-       I’m interested in having strong interpersonal pre-existing relationships to play on. This is a very important point for me these days, after bad experiences getting bored at larps that didn’t have this (and having strong relationships was a strong point of JALL). Often it’s something not covered up front in pre-game material, so I ask how this will be handled (organiser or player created? how much time leading up to the event to co-ordinate? workshops? etc.

-       Related to the above, I like strong emotional play. I think that is clear from all my psychodrama scenarios.

-       In pre-modern settings, I tend to stress getting outside the modern ‘liberal capitalist’ mindset, with characters having a very different social construction of the world. Even a romantic version of past is more appropriate to the setting than importing modern values.

-       Big name IPs may catch my eye to at least consider a larp, but don’t actually attract me (and may repel me, depending on the IP). A strong pre-existing setting has no correlation with the quality of the event, and often includes elements not well suited to larp (where as a setting can be written to be more suited to larp).

-       I think I prefer larps were players have slept and eaten properly, so they have more energy to give to their roles, but will consider larps that do the opposite of this if it’s an important part of the design.

-       I’m not overly keen on breaks in play. I was ok with the act breaks in JALL (which had long acts), but dislike the idea of black boxing in the middle of an act. I like have some pre and post workshops, but they need to be well managed, tailored to the event and not excessive.

-       I’m not interested in violent play, and even less so in character killing. The low point in the best larp I played (Just a Little Loving) was a violent situation. I’m even less interested in violence in ‘boffer larp.’ Once a conflict goes to the physical level, it overrides all manner of more subtle, social and introspective play.

-       I dislike pre-scripted endings and ‘railroading.’ I’m ok with a pre-scripted backdrop if the organiser is honest and open about it; backdrop in the sense of a background to the events of the player characters. I really strongly dislike ‘stealth railroading’ where the organiser has scripted the ending but isn’t upfront about it.

-       On a practical note, I avoid roles with mask or prosthetics, due to my need to wear glasses and limited vision. I also try to avoid roles in high risk environments (e.g. cooking over an open fire), as functioning without depth perception makes them even higher risk for me. I also try to factor in other physical limitations (height, weak RSI hands, etc.) into my choice of roles.

I’ve not covered creative agenda as such here. As a player I’m broadly a Finnish Immersionist, as an organiser/writer I’m a simulationist.

Open challenge: try to write down your own list of your likes/interests.

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Fastaval 2015

Apr. 10th, 2015 | 05:29 pm

Over easter I went to Denmark for Fastaval, their freeform-ish (or ‘semi-live’ as Danes would call them) convention (with board game side track). This was my seventh time there. I was taking it a bit more relaxed than previous years (some years I’ve got in 8-9 or even 10 scenarios).

Things I did there:
-       Meeting for Inside Hamlet players.
-       Lethal Wings, An A-team / 80s action movie spoof scenario, where Storks deliver babies, and we play the elite Stork team that handles dangerous missions. Largely consists making bad one liner jokes and rolling dice on a target board. The gamey parts needed more work, but it was a lot of light fun
-       Prunes & Prejustice, a storytelling card game, based on picking 3 of 5 cards representing supermarket items, and have the other players play judging you for what you buy. In the final round you list real items you buy so play close-to-home. The player group was very entertaining and took it pretty dark.
-       Children of Dunsain. The terrible scenario of the year (there is usually one). 3 hours of world building for 90 mins of play, with a tiny amount of actual roleplay. Had some interesting ideas to build characters based on the 4 humours (tried that design myself once, but was never happy with it), and world building based on types of oppression (with an implicit assumption from the writer that any kind of status system is wrong), but needed more development. I gather this was something of a marmite scenario with people having strong reactions either way; some players are more into the 3rd person storytelling, where as I’m looking to actually roleplay.
-       Isabella. A well produced vampire game in the Anne Rice tradition, using flashback scenes (which we larped out) as characters regained their memories following a long period in torpor. Railroaded with an open ending. Used some of the ‘you are all blood bond to the same person’ concepts I had been thinking about for my ‘ghouls’ larp I was writing at one point.
-       ‘How I lost my fangs.’ A light and short spoof scenario playing famous vampires from other fiction who had lost their fangs (impotency metaphor?) in group therapy. The therapy content needed a bit more development (too much solo talking, rather than group interaction), and it wasn’t made clear at the start how disruptive the player characters were intended to be (plays better if they are very disruptive I suspect, and resists the player ‘follow the GM lead’ inclination). It uses the 5 stages of grief model, but has each character locked in on stage for the session (compared my own 5 stages of grief scenario, in which characters move between them).
-       Stolvang (probably spelling that wrong). The best scenario I played this year, despite not being a form I would normally choose). Well presented (use of lighting, trying to bring some black box elements in) scene based play since in a secure home for the seriously mentally ill (i.e. a modern day asylum). Went pretty dark with some ‘adult themes’ written into the scenario (if those elements mostly occurred off-screen between scenes)
-       I ran 6 games in 3 different slots of my board game Magus. Player reactions were very positive (one person actually brought a demo copy).  

This year the food was much better than previously, the logistics smooth, and the 'customer service' really great (including helping me out when needed extra bedding). The closing gala was good.

Currently intending to go back next year. Depending on timescales may submit the Midsummer hidden role card game or try a scenario submission (one idea to build a scenario out of the therapy content of Pan, without all the actual Pan/occult/posession/meta-technique elements).

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General Update

Mar. 26th, 2015 | 12:28 am

Busy times here.

3-4 weeks after Knudepunkt I went back to Denmark for The second run of the Inside Hamlet larp, typecast as the English Ambassador. The rules forbid discussing what happens in play, and I don't have time right now to write a design piece to do it justice. It was a good larp and I'm glad I went, but had it's own design issues. It was also impressive written in only 10 weeks. Personally I had a small behind the scenes involvement of drafting some of the characters.

I'm heading off again this weekend. First to Finland, for a 12 player run of a newly expanded version of the horror larp Pan, co-organising with a player from the UK run. No further fixed plans for a rerun after this. From there I'll move on to Denmark for Fastaval over Easter, where I'll be demo'ing my board game Magus.

Future plans and other projects:

In mid May I'm off for a week to an academic seminar on 'adult play' in Tamere, followed by the game studies Digra conference in Germany. The good news is Digra have accepted an abstract I submitted for a theory-based paper I'm working on, which I'll be presenting. My plan for April is to focus on getting this paper ready, and put any other projects on hold.

Hoping to go to the czech larp about 18th century France in September, but it's looking like it might get cancelled due to lack of players. If it doesn't happen, I may look for one other larp or convention to do later in the year.

I've started making design notes for a larp based on King Lear. I've found answers to two initial design challenges - what setting to use (since the original 8th century BC is not really viable) and the act structure (And length). I'm currently reflecting on how many players/characters to have, but for reasons I'm not really working on this until the paper is done. Again, this deserves a proper post when I get time. In May I'll decide whether this project has enough merit to seriously develop, or whether to work on a something else.

My card game Midsummer is also on hold for this reason, and because my artist is also busy. Still hope to make it available before the end of this year (and failing that, for fastaval 2016).

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Knudepunkt 2015

Feb. 17th, 2015 | 06:36 pm

Last week I spent in Denmark for Knudepunkt. A short summary:

-      Flew in Saturday. I was too late to go to the black box festival on that weekend, so I spent Saturday and Sunday hanging out socialising and playing casual card games.
-      Monday. A horror larp played in a ruined hospital, playing kids exploring said hospital.  Very scary (and off-game dangerous) location.  Minimal design. The take away point for me was horror depends on the willingness to get scared, here implementing by playing children.
-      Tuesday. Visit to the larp weapon maker Iron Fortress (brand name Epic armoury), a big high street games/larp shop.
-      Wednesday. Edu-larp conference. A series of presentations and short demo games of larps used in education. Interesting it focused on primary school age children and adults, rather than secondary school. In the evening was the Nordic Larp Talks.

Having been to Denmark many times before, I didn’t do tourism this time.

KP itself was in a boarding school location this time, much bigger than before and with a different format. This time there were keynote talks, which worked well and created common topics to discuss. Particular praise to Hanne for standing up for the ‘right to make offensive art’ position (even if I don’t agree with everything, it’s good to have someone arguing that perspective).

The programme items were very short – only 45 minutes. Those I attended included Mike’s ‘using steering to increase immersion’, one on a central European Vampire campaign (heavily rewritten setting, with black box preludes), Jaakko presenting his forthcoming PhD research, a group of young Czech researchers on their research (typically master level), and Elge on immersion as possession. I organised my own programme item (a first after 8 years), an open discussion of issues around real life depression in larp. (e.g. how much to disclose to organisers, and the effects of doing so, keeping in-game sadness from triggering depressive episodes, etc).

The surprising theme this year seems to be a resurgence of immersion (in the Turku sense of becoming the character).

This idea also included ‘co-creator’ sessions, which could be developed at the event. I didn’t do many of these as I felt it best to chat informally, but decided to present one on guided meditation/visualisation (called ‘pathworking’ by pagan groups). Essentially I talked about my experiences and ideas for using this pre-game and in-game, and demonstrated it (reusing my ‘script’ from Pan). Some people decided to experience it as themselves, some as a character they had played before. Also for contrast I demonstrated guided mindfulness meditation. The useful thing for me was being able to ask for immediate feedback afterwards from participants (unlike Pan, where it is all in-game).

Overall, a very different feel to Knudpunkt, but still a great trip in itself. Weak points were that the food was terrible, lacking fruit and being contaminated with nuts.

The Nordic larp scene is changing – becoming bigger, including more expensive events, and possibly more professional, and I think KP is reflecting that.

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Jan. 15th, 2015 | 02:56 am

- The first KP book for this year is out:
It includes an article with photos from me about the design of Pan.

- I've managed to write two further articles (one developed from a blog post on here last year), which will be out in the second book soon.

- Last weekend I ran Pan in the Netherlands. The players seem happy, and it played very differently to the previous run. I naturally can't discuss the details of what happened, but have already done my own debrief with the writer.

Glad to have those projects finished off. I've got some more projects turning up that I'll be talking about when they are confirmed.

- We are gradually booking up for the Finnish run of Pan at the end of March. Still open for booking here:

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review of 2014

Dec. 26th, 2014 | 02:29 am

A brief recap on my larp activity over the last year:

What I have not done this year is written new scenarios or worked on more scenario book. This has been a turning point for me (after writing 9 in the last 5 years). Partly it was spurred by trying o to find more time/energy for academic work. I have instead developed a board game (currently being considered by a publisher) and I've also finished playtesting on a card game (next step is to arrange the art).

- Larpwriter winter retreat. A really good weekend with 25 of the my theoritical/design crowd from KP discussing theory. Shame there hasn't been another one announced yet.

- KP. As usual, I went to KP. A pretty good year. A lot more UK people turned up this time, which may be a turning point since it looks like that is going to continue. I'm more relaxed about it now (And rush round trying to get in as much as possible a lot less) after so many years doing it. One small notable experiment for me was running Passionfruit 'pod format,' with two runs happening in parallel. I also gave my first nordic larp talk this year, and wrote a critical review of the mixing desk for the KP book (which was changed a lot by this year's summer school)

- Fastaval. Also a bit more relaxed. Big downside was my new board game not arriving in time, but I will be resubmitting it in 2015. Still played a good few scenarios.

- Pan * 2. Rather than writing minilarps, I've moved up to organising full (if small) larp events. I organised Pan for April in Finland (was there for a conference) and November in the UK. Both were wildly successful runs based on feedback, and I certainly learned a lot from the experience (based on how different the second run was). Already organised a third run in the Netherlands for a couple of weeks time, and in talks with co-organisers in Czech, Italy and Finland to run it there, so plenty of people who want me to run it for them. I've been trying to write my own event in this format.

- went to a one day convention in London. Played a small minilarp there, which demonstrated the importance of the magic circle (and how non-obvious these things are, even to other gamers).

- GNiales. I considered the czech chamber larp convention again, but decided in the end to try a different convention (my 'different one each year' plan) and went to Paris for GNiales. Partly this was prompted by french players playing Pan in April. Pretty good (and cheap) weekend. I gave a talk on the design of Pan, ran Black Dog and played (for the third time!) Love in the Age of Debasement.

So, it's a somewhat odd year in that I haven't actually played any full larps (but I did organise two), and haven't produced any new scenarios either (but did some work updating Pan, and my board and card game design). This year has actually been a break from playing for me.

Brief aside to my academic work: I managed to get 22 ECTS for my 2013-14 activity, including a 2 week summer school in the Netherlands in August. I written one academic chapter for publication this term and read a lot, but need to get on with more research.

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