Nordic LARP on TLC

Just watched this clip on youtube. It’s a little over 14 minutes of a “documentary” from TLC.

I’m having a very mixed reaction to this short piece. On the one hand, they had some fair insights into LARPing, including the notion that people agreeing upon boundaries in advance make it work, and that people LARP to experience things one generally only gets to watch in movies. (I believe the line was, “instead of watching a movie, these LARPers are inside it.”)

On the downside, they present a series of statements as facts, and I have no idea why they think these things or what their sources are. They claim LARP is born out of Dungeons and Dragons. There are a number of hobbies and activities that led the way for LARPing, and they go back much farther than D&D. (Not that I have anything against D&D — I enjoy tabletop RPing, myself.) Similarly, I have no idea why they think LARPing “came of age” when the Lord of the Rings movies came out. I’m not even sure what they mean by “came of age”. They don’t bother to explain that sentence.

They have a pretty poor explanation of the term bleed, I think. Over shots of a LARPer crying real tears, they define bleed as when LARPing “affects real life” and explain that it can “change the way you look at life.” I don’t think either necessarily needs to be true for someone to experience bleed. One could argue that your real emotions are part of “real life” and therefore bleed is when a LARP affects real life is true, but it’s misleading and poorly worded.

And bizarrely, they interview Ethan Gilsdorf, and tag him as a “LARP Expert and Author.” I have read his book, Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks. I have no idea on what basis he is a “LARP expert”.

The idea of a “LARP expert” is, I would say, controversial at best. If you wanted to point at anything resembling a professional in LARP, you might point to the vanishingly few people who have managed to make a living through LARP, but there’s no consensus that such people are best at it. There’s no licensing required to participate, no official national league or academy. Personally, I think there’s simply no such thing as a “LARP expert,” and slapping the label on someone who dedicated one chapter in his book to a single weekend at a boffer LARP just to round out a documentary strikes me as poor journalism.

I rather wish I had seen this before Ethan Gilsdorf had come to Intercon, or before I went to one of his book signings. I’d be curious to ask him about it.

And, of course, what would a documentary about LARP be without some misleading sensationalism. They describe GMs as “playing God,” which is a term, admittedly, I have heard some GMs use, but I think it’s misleading to use it when most people viewing this probably have little to no context for understanding GMs outside of the documentary. Additionally, they obviously chose a very extreme example (even for Nordic LARPs!) to film. They show mock  (but relatively realistic) torture scenes, along with mock executions. And even more shocking, a prostate exam. I hesitate to call it a mock exam because it’s not actually clear how far it went, but I think the LARPer playing the nurse may have actually…?

At any rate, this is fairly extreme, even for Nordic LARPing, and the documentary could have made that a lot clearer, instead of possibly confusing its audience into thinking this is typical. At the very least, they do make brief allusions to other forms of LARP (such as your typical fantasy boffer LARP) to let the audience know that LARPing can take many different forms.

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About Fair Escape

I've been LARPing for years in all different styles, including both boffer and theater. I love classic LARP but I'm always happy to try something new. I have a sort of "gotta catch 'em all" attitude towards experiencing LARPs. I'm currently serve as a board member of NEIL, a member of proposal com for Intercon, the largest all LARP convention in the US, and as en editor for Game Wrap, a publication about the art and craft of LARP. I was also con chair of Festival of the LARPs 2017, and I'm on staff for NELCO, the first all LARP conference in the US. I'm
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38 Responses to Nordic LARP on TLC

  1. aaronvanek says:

    Cool, glad you spotted that! Seeing it, I am going to definitely include Claus Raasted’s essay about creating that larp and doing the show in the (slightly delayed) 2013 Wyrd Con Companion Book. So if you want to know behind the scenes about this, wait a week or two.

    Personally, I didn’t like the voiceover nor the music they used to accompany the clips, but larpers rarely have control over that. See my interview, which aired on CNN a few years ago, here: http://youtu.be/3Zux81GeaEo

    I also disagree with their D&D and LotR “facts,” which only reinforces the dominant paradigm that many larpers themselves believe is true–I’ve been in flamewars where one larper insisted that live action role playing did not exist before D&D.

    As to their explanation of “bleed,” note they say “sometimes,” and this true of bleed out: your experience as a character affects your real life as a player. They don’t talk about bleed in, where your player emotions affect your character interactions. If you want to know more about bleed, I recommend Sarah Lynne Bowman’s Nordic Larp Talk here: http://youtu.be/AtjeFU4mxw4

    I don’t know why they have Ethan Gilsdorf on there, but I imagine it was because he was available and “known” to the producers of the show (e.g., a celebrity). Besides Ethan’s book, which does go into larping, he also has an essay on larp in the 2012 Wyrd Con Companion book (which I co-edited with Bowman–I asked Ethan to write an essay for it. The first three WCCB’s are available as free PDFs here: http://www.wyrdcon.com/companion-books/). Ethan probably got notice from TLC for his essay about the WCCB in Wired (which also mentions Intercon, with originally incorrect dates), here: http://www.wired.com/geekdad/2013/02/wyrd-larp-book/

    I disagree with your dismissal of “larp experts.” Although there aren’t, as you say, national leagues nor academies, there are people who have had decades of experience designing, running, and playing larps. There are people who have written books about larps (see “Leaving Mundania” by Lizzie Stark: http://lizziestark.com/leaving-mundania/) and there are people whose PhD theses were about larp, e.g., Markus Montola (http://www.markusmontola.fi/publication.html) or J. Tuomas Harviainen (http://jiituomas.com/2012/10/16/list-of-publications/). Again, television producers have to put a credit under a person’s name to identify them to the audience: why is this person on camera instead of someone else? And in many cases, if the show is smart, they’ll look at the time a person has been involved in larping and what they have published about the topic. So while I agree with you that Ethan might not be the best choice, Claus Raasted–a professional larper who makes a living running/playing larps–was.

    I also think that dismissing “larp experts” harms live action role playing,whether you consider it a hobby or an art form. There are people who have devoted considerable time and effort into it, and, I think, should be credited for it. We don’t yet have the terminology for the mavens and doyennes of larp yet, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there. Finally, the term “larp expert” may have been applied by the producers of the show, or an editor who didn’t know any better. When I was asked by SoCal’s best to credit myself, I said “whatever” and they suggested “Larp pioneer” and I laughed, and they went with it. Now I know to ask for credit as a larp designer and player.

    As to “playing god,” one of their interview subjects may have stated that. Mike Pohjola’s Nordic Larp Talk from 2012 is called “How to become a god” (http://youtu.be/efDZeo213ys), after all. I don’t think it’s misleading at all, but quite appropriate and I’m glad they said it.

    Lastly, they didn’t choose that larp to film; Claus made it specifically for the show. He wanted something that would explain why the camera crew was there; they were embedded into the show and not distant viewers, they were part of the immersion. Also, what’s more Nordic larp than a prison larp? 😉

    Anyway, if you want another week or so, when I’m not writing long comments in your blog, I’ll get back to editing the WCCB so you can read Claus’s own words about this show.

    Thanks for spotting it, good luck with your final Intercon signups!

  2. Ivan Žalac says:

    Ah, the relationship with D&D and LotR is easily explainable. As you say, D&D was not the only hobby or activity that led to larp, but if you look at the larping scene in general it was probably the strongest influence on the current style of larping which brings in most people – and that would be fantasy boffer larping. Such larps also experienced an unprecedented surge in popularity almost everywhere in the world in the early 2000s while Lord of the Rings film series was released. Croatian larp population alone doubled in those 3 years.

    While – as you noticed – technically this isn’t completely accurate, in most cases I’d say it’s good enough. Similar with the “larp expert” title. While I don’t mind people being labeled (or labeling themselves) as experts, I don’t find the term accurate enough. Aaron’s larp designer works much better. Or GM, organizer, plot team member, larpwright, journalism, whatever works in your field. I’d also label you an expert. Why not? You’ve played many larp styles, you’ve been doing it for a while, and you keep writing about it. Aaron, Lizzie… all experts 🙂

    Regarding realism and extreme situations, it’s all something players agreed to because they wanted to experience such a thing. Personally, I wouldn’t have gone to the exam, but I’d go to such a larp and I’d probably agree to some milder unpleasant stuff as a part of the experience and narrative – I trust nothing would be inflicted on me if I don’t want to and if I say brake or cut. And I’d say that sort of trust is crucial if such scenes are to be performed in a safe manner. I wouldn’t have a problem about what is going on elsewhere, as long as it’s between two consenting adults.

    • Fair Escape says:

      I definitely think there’s a relationship between D&D and LARP. And I think it would be fair to say D&D gave rise to NERO. But even if it had the largest influence on the most common form of LARP, I still think it’s incorrect to say LARP was born out of D&D. This is an assumption many people make, and if I had to guess, I’d say the writers of this documentary assumed it and didn’t bother to fact-check. Again, poor journalism.

      I don’t know off-hand what the approximate number of LARPers (and maybe LARP events?) was before, during, and after the Lord of the Rings movies came out, but I believe you that there was a significant upsurge, If this is what they meant by “coming of age” they probably could have clarified and maybe even cited some statistics.

      I appreciate the vote of confidence, though if it can be applied to anyone who has done some blogging about it and participated for a certain amount of time, the label loses some significance. It sounds nice and prestigious, which is, I suspect, why some people want to be able to use it,

      • Ivan Žalac says:

        True, some of their reporting was somewhat sloppy. But journalists rarely get it perfectly, no matter the subject – in fact, their job is to cover multiple subjects, and they rarely have the time to study everything in detail, with deep understanding. While it could be better, I’m more or less satisfied with the general quality. In general, it’s a positive portrayal which has managed to capture some of the artistic aspirations of Nordic larp, and the journalist’s perspective appears to be objective. It could’ve ended up much worse (see: Monster Camp).

        • Fair Escape says:

          It’s true that it’s relatively positive, and the various things they got wrong seem to be just carelessness and not the result of a negative bias. I appreciate that. A lot. But even if I never expect it to be perfect (and there are a million reasons why any given piece of journalism isn’t perfect) it doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy and find value in looking at LARP in the media with a critical eye.

          On a related note, what I’d really like to see is more pieces on LARPing written by enthusiastic LARPers. Almost none of the stuff in mainstream media is written by actual self-identified LARPers.

          • aaronvanek says:

            “Almost none of the stuff in mainstream media is written by actual self-identified LARPers.”

            Give me a few more years, I’m working on it. 😉

            Seriously, I don’t consider this TLC show on Nordic larp to be journalism, it’s entertainment documentary. Applying any kind of journalistic standard to this TLC show is asking babies to high jump. The fact that they even found Claus (based on an interview with him in TIME magazine) and decided to do a story is a win, IMHO.

            That doesn’t mean you can’t be critical of it–in fact, that’s absolutely required for larp to gain more recognition, status, and serious treatment beyond a hobby. Which is another point: it is only my belief, only my opinion, that regarding and labeling larp as a hobby diminishes it in the eyes of mainstream media. If larpers don’t take larp seriously, why would, why should the MSM?

            FYI: National Larp Examiner is (self-identified larper) Tara Clapper: http://www.examiner.com/larp-in-national/tara-clapper

            Not enough, but it’s a start.

            • Fair Escape says:

              Ok, maybe I’m using the term journalism a little loosely. I agree that it exists is a win, and I don’t necessarily expect them to get everything spot on (for example, that they used a slightly off explanation of bleed is neither surprising nor a big deal.) That they mislabeled Ethan Gilsdorf as an “expert” surprised me, but in retrospect, maybe it shouldn’t have.

              LARPing is my hobby; I’m going to refer to it as such. You are likely correct that if I only ever use that one label, people will make incorrect inferences, and I could perhaps try to account for that by clarifying every time it comes up, “it is my hobby, though it is also an art form, and can be used as a tool for therapy and education and training, etc. just as painting can be anyone’s casual hobby, or it can be the grand art form that produces work like the Mona Lisa.”

              I am familiar with Tara’s articles on Examiner.

              • aaronvanek says:

                Totally agree.

                Even though it’s “only” wikipedia, I think this definition of hobby is relatively good:

                “A hobby is a regular activity that is done for pleasure, typically, during one’s leisure time. Hobbies can include: collecting themed items and objects, engaging in creative and artistic pursuits, and playing sports, along with many more examples. By continually participating in a particular hobby, one can acquire substantial skill and knowledge in that area.
                Generally speaking, a person who engages in an activity solely for fun is called an amateur (from French for “lover of”) or hobbyist. This is opposed to a professional who engages in an activity for reward. An amateur may be as skilled as a professional, the principle difference being that a professional receives compensation while an amateur does not.”

                I saw somewhere an explanation (or I made it up, I forget) that professional video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto could take up cooking as a hobby, and professional chef Thomas Keller might, in his spare time, make up some MInecraft levels as a hobby. Personally, making cocktails is my hobby. I do it for fun, I don’t get paid for it. But it should be apparent that bartenders and spirit manufacturers have created lifelong careers for themselves. And only those who aren’t aware of the care and craft that goes into making a drink (from distiller to the shaker) would fail to see the artistry in it.

                In the case of larp, I have devoted my life to it, I am trying to make a career out of it. I have been paid to design and run larps (not enough, but that’s another matter). Does that make me a “Larp Expert”? I have no idea, that’s for my biographer or obituary to decide.

                In the end, yes, larp is a hobby. But it’s also an art form. Just like music, literature (fan-fic is a hobby, but writing can be an art, e.g., Joseph Conrad), theater, etc. Maybe that’s the difference: Larp *IS* an art form, but you (and most others) enjoy it as a hobby. And that’s not to diminish in any way your contribution or devotion to larp, it’s just the approach. Not everyone can be a professional musician, but everyone should be able to enjoy or, ideally, make music (doesn’t have to be good music, but they should derive joy from making it).

            • Cam says:

              I am not sure there is a need to try to find ways for LARP to gain that recognition or serious treatment. I don’t mind if that happens, but I think it should come from the value inherent to the medium. It is certainly true that forms of LARPing have been used in therapy and team-building, in education (particularly drilling and some situated-cognition based exercises). Almost always, when people talk about LARP, though, I believe they are talking about LARP as a hobby – the self-selected activity that we do in our spare time, and mostly for fun. And I think that’s okay. I guess I think we should accept what we have, look at it honestly, try to be creative in making the most of our medium, and we can be serious about LARPing, but not take ourselves too seriously. I have seen a number of major newspaper articles on LARPing over the years – Boston Globe, Washington Post, NYT (I am proud to say the NYT one was written by one of my very own students from my very first LARP class… so proud!) – and I always have found that the best articles are the ones that don’t make big claims about the medium but focus on its strength in building communities and telling stories.

    • Alon Levy says:

      Ad the specific point of LARP con attendance: Intercon saw no effect from the LOTR films. Attendance actually went down in 2001 and 2002, and took until 2006 to recover to its 1998 level. The recent growth in attendance started in 2008.

      • Ivan Žalac says:

        I did mention that fantasy boffer larps were the one receiving the growth effect – probably because of the similarity of the setting and playstyle (to some degree) which gained more appeal after the movies. Numerically, they account for the largest percentage of the population. I presume that Intercon attendance is not specifically related to fantasy boffer larps.

    • aaronvanek says:

      I don’t think LotR had much, if anything, to do with the surge in larping–I think World of Warcraft was more of a factor. In fact, I think some people are bored with WoW and looking for a more immersive, real simulation, and find larping. I know I started larping when I got bored of D&D.

      In my mind, I separate larp into epochs, or ages. I believe larp started before recorded history (written), but it didn’t reach the modern era until the late 60’s (SCA, Renaissance Faire) or the early 80’s (NERO, IFGS). I think we’re in the post-modern age right now, or about to be there, where Knutepunkt and Nordic larp are deconstructing larp and shuffling the structures around. I also think (and encourage) the mingling of larp with other art forms (or hobbies): ARGs, transmedia, tabletop RPGs–especially indie TTRPGs which led to freeform and its subset, jeepform.

      We’re living in a Golden Age of larp right now, and there are major figures, major artists, who should be recognized. Come to think of it, “larp expert” should be a term applied to an academic or critic of larp–where is our Roger Ebert? For all his expertise in the visual medium, I wouldn’t call Dali a “painting expert.”

      • Ivan Zalac says:

        It might depend on the local scene. Croatian fantasy larps got a 100% boost in 3 years, unseen before or after that. In fact, I’d argue that even the success of World of Warcraft partially lies on Lord of the Rings and the renewed interest in fantasy it brought. Over here, I’d say WoW even competed against fantasy larp in some way. Larp population shrunk when it was released. (on an interesting note, many fantasy larps in Europe seem more influenced by Warhammer Fantasy Battles than by D&D)

        There’s plenty of interesting stuff in history. As you mentioned, there were SCA and renfaires in 60’s, providing renewed interest in the medieval history. 70’s had the Stanford prison experiment (which was unintentional, but still influential) and Dagorhir (first boffer combat). 80s brought us games like Amtgard and NERO in USA, and in Great Britain there was stuff like Treasure Trap and Fools and Horses (who ran a fest-style larp Summerfest since ’87, I think it was world 1st).

        But while dividing larp into various eras might make sense on a global scale, we should really be looking to the local communities to understand the actual situation. It was only the 90s when the Internet became widely available, and the communication was no longer limited to the local media. While the Nordic larp has already been in its’ post-Trenne byar phase for years and first Knutepunkts were run, Croats were barely discovering how to hit each other with padded sticks, while dressed in repurposed old sheets. And we’ve witnessed other larp scenes starting in our neighborhood, developing in completely other direction than ours. Looking globally, larp scene is very unevenly distributed and developed. Regarding Croatia, its’ larp scene is indeed in a golden age which started in 2012 after 15 years of mostly stagnation, but I couldn’t say the same about many larp scenes around me. For many of my friends in Germany, the golden age is already gone, and now everything becomes more commercial and expensive, losing the innocence and pure fan enthusiasm it once had. And most countries in the world still have no larping scene of any kind – it has yet to develop there.

        • aaronvanek says:

          Yes, definitely. I like categorizing larps as to ages generally, but like William Gibson said, “The Future is already here–it’s jut not very evenly distributed.”

          Still, historians break eras down anyway: Age of Enlightenment, Middle Ages, etc.

          But studying local larp groups and scenes is an exceptionally worthwhile endeavor; I’ve tried to get a few larp groups to give me history write ups of themselves for the Wyrd Con Companion Book. I greatly enjoyed Nat Budin’s history of Intercon and theater style larps in New England. There will be a couple of them in this year’s book, but not nearly enough. I’d love to start a larp archive, but I have to get two other big global larp projects out first. One of these is a larp census, which will look to count (self-identifying) larpers around the world, country by country. We may be surprised by the results, but won’t know until we ask (January 2014 is our target).

  3. clausraasted says:

    Hi all

    Sometimes I’m impressed at the level of haughty cynicism. This is one of those times. And I’m really not trying to be an annoying know-it-all here. 😉

    But what you’re complaining about (not all of you, but some) seems to be – in no particular order:

    1. At any rate, this is fairly extreme, even for Nordic LARPing.
    -> This is just not true. This isn’t extreme for Nordic larps. Not in any way. The fake prostate exam – sure. The larp as a whole. Not even slightly.

    2. The idea of a “LARP expert” is, I would say, controversial at best.
    -> I understand the sentiment. I disagree strongly. Whether Ethan Gilsdorf IS a larp expert or not, I have no idea, but I think he performed excellently and gave clear and usable answers. So whether he’s an actual expert or not, he definitely performed as one. :o)

    3. LOTR/came of age/rise in popularity.
    -> No matter where this would be produced, it wouldn’t be factually correct everywhere. In the Nordic countries (and in several European ones), LOTR gave larp a huge boost. In Denmark, a tremendous one. Again, I understand that some may feel this doesn’t exactly fit their location, but for me every single US larp documentary has made me feel not just “This isn’t exactly true and I wanted that sentence explained better” but “This has more or less nothing to do with what we do in practice, even though we of course share a hobby.”

    4. They have a pretty poor explanation of the term bleed, I think.
    -> It’s a term that’s not exactly well-defined anywhere and that people disagree on vehemently. Some larpers even disagree on where the word comes from (from either blood-bleed or printer’s-mark-bleed). Expecting a 14 min documentary from outsiders to get a rather loosely defined in-house term in a completely satisfactory way… I’d say it’s tough. :o)

    5. Applying any kind of journalistic standard to this TLC show is asking babies to high jump.
    -> Really, Aaron? You just wrote “Also, what’s more Nordic larp than a prison larp?”. This wasn’t a prison larp. Of course to me calling out someone for calling it a prison larp would be just ridiculous since it’s close enough that it makes no practical difference, but if I was wearing my nitpicking hat, I’d be all over that statement. :o)

    Bottom line. Yes, there are some details that could have been explained better or had more “This isn’t true EVERYWHERE”. Of course there were. Yes, there’s a sensationalist mood to it. What we do is quite strange to some people, so for me that’s not really that weird. Consider how we talk about stuff we find strange or intriguing. They’re not blowing things out of proportion, misquoting or representing us badly. Sure, the music when Maja gets her head dunked into water is bizarre as hell, and sure the clapping when she dies wasn’t really there (but fits the story fine).

    Overall, however, this is a serious, well-presented piece on what Nordic larp can be like. It’s not always like this, and not all larp is Nordic larp. But even though this has its faults, I feel its by far the best documentary out there – by lengths.

    And I know – I’m biased. And even though I may sound dismissive, I’m really glad to get some input and opinions on this. I’m just really flabbergasted (love the word) that the reactions are as they are. :o)

    – Claus

    • Fair Escape says:

      I assume this is the post that you typed up and it vanished? It just now popped up in my list — apologies for the delay.

      1. I was mistaken — the torture and executions were not unusual for Nordic LARP, though I’m glad to hear I was correct about the prostate exam. (Brave man.)

      3. I completely agree — many US LARP documentaries are terrible, and often misrepresent certain forms of LARP (fantasy boffer in particular) as all LARP.

      4. I had no idea that the origin of the term might be from printer’s mark bleed, that’s really interesting. You’re right — it’s not actually possible for a short documentary to explain an abstract term perfectly. I guess I found their choice puzzling.

      I agree that overall, this is much better than many documentaries out there, and positive press is always appreciated. I realize I came off as heavily critical, and I probably could have focused on the positive more. But overall, I did like it.

      Thank you for commenting!

      • Cam says:

        Funny – I never considered that the term bleed might be related to blood. It just clicked into place as the print term, and made so much sense that I never stopped to think about it in the at other, more literal light.

  4. aaronvanek says:

    Apropos to the “larp expert” discussion:
    this podcast interview with “Treasure Trapped” director Alex Taylor (http://saffer.co/podcast/people-make-awesome-stuff-episode-one-larping-around-alex-taylor/) at 28:20, he says that he has become a “Larp expert” via the movie they’re making, after working on in for three years. He references “a chapter in a book published in America”, which, I think, is last year’s Wyrd Con Companion Book (they have a short essay in there).

    Does publication make one a larp expert? What, in your mind, would make the appellation “larp expert” valid? A degree? Publishing a book (does a chapter in a book count?), or making a movie? Designing a larp? Three larps? Thirty larps? Playing a larp? Three larps? Three hundred larps? Or is it vague, like the definition of pornography?

    I don’t mean this in a mean-spirited way; I am genuinely curious as to how we can get recognized “larp experts” in the world, because I think we need them, and we need them to be validated by larpers.

    • Fair Escape says:

      There is no concrete set of criteria that makes one a LARP expert. LARP is a nebulous concept (or a vague concept, like pornography — we know it when we see it). Experiencing LARP is highly subjective. It’s not like… I dunno, a Rubik’s cube, where one can objectively state whether or not one has done it correctly and measure relevant variables, such as speed or number of turns it takes to complete.

      I agree we need people who are good at writing, playing, organizing, analyzing, and promoting LARPs. I don’t agree that we need to recognize or validate the concept of a LARP expert.

      I hope anyone reading this will excuse my bluntness, but I consider ego to a much bigger problem in the LARPing community than lack of recognition.

      • aaronvanek says:

        “There is no concrete set of criteria that makes one a LARP expert. ”
        So why isn’t Ethan Gilsorf a larp expert, according to your original post?

        I’m not saying he is, but what makes you upset or miffed or disappointed that he was credited as a larp expert in the Discovery Channel doc?

        Can you write more about the ego problem in larp? What is it? How is it damaging the larp community, either internally (amongst larpers) or externally (larpers and the rest of the world)?

        Again, I’m really curious about this and not at all trying to be confrontational (though I realize good intentions are not a good defense against insulting or upsetting others).

        I deal with larp in the media a lot; right now yet another company wants to film some larps here in SoCal, and I have to make sure they’re not doing a hit job while at the same time convincing GMs and players to allow them to film. Is my ego more of a problem than potentially exposing larp to the mainstream media? Should I leave the project and work on helping larp another way?

        How can one egotistically promote oneself and/or larp yet remain modest enough not to offend larpers? Is that even possible?

        • Fair Escape says:

          Pornography has no definite borders. But we can still safely say that Bambi is not pornography.

          I would describe myself as mildly surprised, not miffed, upset, or disappointed, but I object to labeling him an expert because according to his book, his sole encounter with LARPing was a single weekend of a Forest of Doors. It’s possible he has engaged with LARPing a lot more between writing that chapter and filming the interview, but it strikes me as highly unlikely, and a cursory search online hasn’t indicated otherwise. Nor did he mention any additional interaction with LARP at his book signing last June. But if someone knows about any additional LARP experience he has, I’d be interested to hear about it.

          Completely agree with you about good intentions not being an defense for insulting or upsetting others, which is why I’ve been fairly vague and very hesitant to use any specific examples. I really don’t want to personally offend anyone in the LARPing community. (I strongly suspect, based on the chapter in his book, Ethan Gilsdorf would not consider himself an expert, so it’s unlikely he’ll take offense… not that I think he’s reading this.)

          Which similarly makes it very difficult to discuss my opinions on ego in the LARP community. I think ego has caused strife and pain among LARPers and was a contributing factor to schisms and certain projects collapsing. My impression is that it’s primarily an internal problem. But it’s very difficult to get more specific than that without risking offending someone (which I realize is frustrating and unsatisfying.)

          I’m not sure what you mean by ego being more of a problem than potentially exposing LARP to mainstream media. What would the purpose of leaving the project be?

          • aaronvanek says:

            I am not a Gilsdorf apologist, but I can say that in his book (which I can’t find now, I think I loaned it out) he also engaged with the SCA (which of course is already a contentious issue about larping. Their members vow they aren’t larpers, but I don’t see much difference between them and larp). He also visited Guédelon Castle, which is also on the border between larp and not (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guedelon)–though further from SCA.

            He has been to Intercon before; when I tried to get him to M to be on the Wyrd Con Companion Book panel, he was already in the system. He couldn’t make it due to other obligations, but it was close. I am not sure which con he was at, so don’t know chronologically how it fits to the book writing/interview timeline.

            He has talked to me specifically about larping, and I know he has a copy of the 2012 WCCB, but I have no idea how much of it he has read.

            Does this make him a larp expert? Compared to many other people, no. But, he is something of a name in mainstream media, i.e., attractive to the show, he was available and reachable (I don’t know where they filmed his piece), and he definitely knew more about larp than the producers of the show. Again, we don’t know if he suggested the appellation or the production crew did. I’ll ask him and let you know.

            I understand your hesitancy to discuss ego and larp; I’ve seen it as well: Michael Ventrella vs. Joe Valenti (the court case), LARP Alliance vs. Wyrd Con (not a court case, and really between the individual leaders, not the organizations). Ego has certainly caused strife among larpers; in fact, ego has caused wars among humans for millennia. We’re not going to get rid of it, ever. But maybe a discussion about it would help us deal with it better so it’s not so bloody?

            “I’m not sure what you mean by ego being more of a problem than potentially exposing LARP to mainstream media. What would the purpose of leaving the project be?”

            Should I leave the project because I’m not a larp expert, because there are no larp experts? Also, if ego is a bigger problem than recognition, then maybe I should stop wasting time getting larp recognition (in the form of a TV series) and instead work on the bigger disease of egos in larp. In other words, is larp recognition comparable to a broken arm and larp ego problems is a heart attack?

            You write: “I hope anyone reading this will excuse my bluntness, but I consider ego to a much bigger problem in the LARPing community than lack of recognition.”

            I think that lack of recognition of larp and within larp (of the medium/art/hobby) and lack of recognition that there are “larp experts” is a huge problem. To me it means no one is taking it seriously, and it’s dismissed by those who could benefit greatly from larps, and it also means that larpwrights can’t get the support–like funding–to make more, bigger, and better larps. At least in America.

            But if you think that ego is a “much bigger problem,” then I’d like to know about it. If I’ve been paying attention to the exterior of larps, e.g., how they appear to others, and ignoring a rotting disease underneath the skin (ego), I need some serious schooling, and it will affect how I direct my time, effort, and energies. As you know, larp isn’t a hobby to me, and I’m trying to dedicate my life and career to it. I hope it’s not completely rotten to the core.

            • Fair Escape says:

              As far as I know, the only thing Gilsdorf did at Intercon was his book reading at Pre-Con (but if someone remembers him doing anything else there, feel free to chime in.)

              I realize ego has always been and always will be a human issue; I happen to think it’s particularly a problem in LARPing. If others think discussing ego in the LARP community is valuable, by all means, but I personally am not currently willing to go into in depth here. The risk of personally offending people seems high — I seem to have already done it with what little I’ve already said.

              And Aaron, I can’t currently say what is most worth your time. But I think my time is better spent trying to make the community welcoming to newbies and encouraging to those with less experience and less renown than it is stroking the egos of those who might enjoy a title.

              • aaronvanek says:

                Appreciate the responses, and the questions. And I agree that encouraging more people to attend larp is a great thing.

                I still disagree with you that there aren’t larp experts, even in the U.S. (I read your comment to Anders, below). As Claus said in his podcast, there are larp experts, but they are constantly asked to hold up their expertise; to continue research and study and commentary. The term larp expert needs continual polishing, yes, and I don’t think that everything a larp expert says or writes should be taken as gospel. But I do think they should be at least listened to and whatever they said or wrote should be seriously considered.

                And yes, even in America. Do you think Lizzie Stark, author of “Leaving Mundania” and co-editor of “Larps from The Factory” book, who although having only been involved in larp for maybe four years, has made a considerable impact and advocates, supports, and has named an “American freeform” style, is a larp expert? If not, why not?

                What about Sarah Bowman, whose PhD thesis is “The Functions of Role-Playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems and Explore Identity” (http://www.amazon.com/The-Functions-Role-Playing-Games-Participants/dp/0786447109) and who has given many talks and other papers about larp (http://www.sarahlynnebowman.com/home/) is a larp expert? If not, why not?

                Both are American.

                It’s not about ego stroking, either. It’s about having someone that larp newbies (including larp newbies in the media) can go to when they have questions. Or, when larpers themselves want to open up another perspective to their own live action role playing; say, to learn a new technique or style. Larp experts, to me, can only help larp. No, they don’t deserve worship, but they do deserve recognition. And if that recognition means a title credit under their name on a Discovery Channel program, so be it.

                How about we have this debate at the Thursday thing/pre-con at Intercon? There’s still time to pitch it. It might be worth examining the question more.

                • Fair Escape says:

                  I feel extremely uncomfortable expressing my personal opinions about the expertise of specific named individuals. I’ve already managed to offend people who didn’t deserve the offense. I strongly suspect I would be likely to offend more people if I sat on a panel, but I’d sit in the audience if a panel happened.

                  In fact, I think I’ve managed offend you and make it much worse with some of my responses here, and if so, I apologize. I hope it will help somewhat to say that this topic is a lot more complex than I realized when I wrote this review of the TLC and thanks to everyone’s comments and disagreements with me, I’m actually learning quite a bit about the LARPing community (particularly in Denmark) and still in the process of rethinking my opinions.

                  • aaronvanek says:

                    You didn’t offend me in any way, shape or form. I don’t know if I offended you or anyone else (even Claus nitpicked something I wrote, but I seriously doubt I offended him).

                    I think this speaks to an even larger issue: the desire not to offend anyone. I am not sure if that’s an American tradition in larp, but I have noticed it before: when I wanted to bring in sex or religion into a larp, many others flat out refused to deal or talk about it, because someone might be offended. I think that this timidity could be a limiting factor in the type and quality of larps being created. However, I think this is changing, as I’m excited to see so many warnings for larps at Intercon N (including mine). That’s the way I’d like to see it done: tackle offensive topics, but be totally transparent and let the players know about it.

                    Anyway, that’s another topic for another debate.

                    In short, I didn’t want to put you on the spot, but I did want to get to the bottom of the “there are no larp experts in America” sentiment. You didn’t offend me, you (your comment) intrigued me. 😉

              • aaronvanek says:

                PS-I forgot to type up the phrase my wife said (as we’ve been discussing this entry, as we talk about larp almost every night): “For the term larp expert, we’re not talking about POLITICAL authority, but INFORMATIONAL authority [emphasis mine’].” They’re there to be studied and debated, not to be in charge of you. A larp expert isn’t a boss, but a beacon. They can be followed or not.

  5. aaronvanek says:

    Claus Raasted, who appears in the video and helped make and run the larp you see, rants “I am a fucking larp expert!” on his podcast about this blog entry here: https://soundcloud.com/claus-raasted/sets/the-roleplaying-academy

    He also links to this entry in his essay about the show that will appear in the 2013 Wyrd Con Companion Book–being cited in a published work is another step on the way to larp expertise. 😉

  6. I also tried to write here, but apparently something failed. I don’t know whether it was me who did something wrong or if some technical issue came in the way of my post, but it didn’t really appear. 😉

    My basic point in the rant is “Of course we have experts. That doesn’t mean the experts know everything. It doesn’t even mean you have to agree with them. Just like other experts. But we definitely exist.”

    And I give some thoughts on the matter and rant a bit about why I feel it’s ok that I call myself a larp expert and why I think it’s rather offensive (if well-intentioned) to say that there are no experts. 😉

  7. Dear Fair Escape
    I get offended when you type “Personally, I think there’s simply no such thing as a “LARP expert””. For those exist in Denmark, even though they may not be in U.S. 🙂 – we recruit them from the university, from the employees of the Danish welfare state (you can find job entry as a Larp pedagogues regularly in news papers jobs section and online), from the voluntary Larp community and from the companies that working with Larp as their method.

    I do not know if the Larp community in the States right now need Larp experts. But in Denmark we need them and use them to Develop our hobby, method and pride. And we are using them actively 🙂 I even manage to get our Minister of Education and Minister for Culture to quot our experts.

    Marianne Jelved – Minister for Cultur “One of them said: “We do not change the world, but children and young people learn through Larp to take democratic decisions. Even the smallest Orc can come up with a good idea.” That, I think, is a very good message, and that is exactly what it is about: Everyone has something and everyone wants to contribute what they can.” 7. dec. 2013

    I totally agree that TLC’s documentary is an entertainment documentary 🙂 and I would rather have had they had used more qualified experts than a man who has written a single book 🙂 but overall I am satisfied with the documentary – and is happy it starts debates like is 🙂

    Thank you for blogging about our hobby and thank you for having an opinion on how we develop Larp as a tool and as a community – even if we some times do not agree 🙂

    Sincerely
    Anders Berner
    Chairman of Bifrost – the Danish national Larp association
    +45 50573390
    info@landsforeningenbifrost.dk

    Ps. sorry for my google translate english

    Pps. Job ads for a Larp padagog (role-play’s is the common word for LARP, in Denmark)
    http://translate.google.dk/translate?hl=no&sl=da&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ofir.dk%2FResultat%2FJobannonce.aspx%3FjobId%3D329515372&sandbox=1

    http://translate.google.dk/translate?hl=no&sl=da&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fvacancies.dk%2Fjob%2Fmusikalsk-paedagog-med-hang-til-rollespil-2%2F&sandbox=1

    • Fair Escape says:

      Please, never apologize for your English — I’m extremely lucky that so much of the world can communicate in my native language. (And of course, I don’t speak a word of Danish.)

      I apologize for any offense my statements created. If I had known that they would offend people, I would not have made them; I’d have given the subject a lot more thought and put in more effort to research and analyze the topic before saying anything. Now that others have been offering their thoughts on the subject of LARP experts, I am rethinking my position. It certainly seems as though Denmark and the US have very different LARP communities (though I still think LARP experts may not exist in the US.)

      I realize that my critique of the documentary came off a bit more harsh than I intended — overall, they did quite well (certainly much better than many other documentaries I have seen) and despite having a few minor complaints about it, I am glad it was made and that it kicked off such an interesting discussion.

  8. First of all, credit to you, Adina, for taking it so nicely that we ramble and rant. One of the nice things about some of us crazies (Anders and I amongst them) is that while we’re quite comfortable speaking out, we’re also quite comfortable accepting mistakes and moving on. Both our own and those of others. So not a single hard feeling from here, and I have nothing against people (you included) discussing my claim of expert(ism). That’s only fair, since I stick my nose in all sorts of stuff. 🙂

    And about the US having very different communities than the ones we have in Denmark, I’d say that’s a fair statement. Which, of course, was one of the reasons for my fire.

    Bottom line. Thanks for having an opinion. If nobody had those, we’d never have discussions and never learn anything. 🙂

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