Of theory and practice

Posted on February 28, 2008

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A discussion I had with some local rpg-players got me thinking about the history of rpg-theory in Finland. The best known of theories was the one based on the text known as the Turku School Manifesto (it was displayed online not long ago, but I can’t seem to find it anymore). It meant that for a long time, role-play – and especially larp – was viewed through these concepts. For those that don’t know, Turku School ideas were based on the idea of immersion, or the player “becoming” more or less, the character. That idea has been elaborated and criticized since, but for (roughly) a decade, it was the way theory worked (in Finland), at least in practice if not in all discourses of theorists.

This was made painfully clear to me, when a friend of mine told me of her experiences with larp. She told me that she had felt like she was a “bad larper” for not feeling strong feelings of immersion or for not actively seeking them. For me, this was a clear example of how theory constructs our world and is, partly, power use. It wasn’t until rpg-theories diversified, and there came alternatives that she found ways of experiencing larp in ways that weren’t “wrong”.

I never had particular problems with immersion, but I remember times in larp when I thought that “Now I should be feeling like my character” and not doing so. It didn’t bother me overtly, but sometimes made me feel like an inferior role-player. Now, I realize that neither my friend nor I don’t even (have to) strive for immersion, and I have enjoyed role-play more ever since.

And, if the study “Information, Immersion, Identity: The Interplay of Multiple Selves During Live-Action Role-Play” (it can be found from: http://www.rpg.net/larp/journal/) jiituomas conducted is to be believed, we are not alone. Immersion (as Turku School defined it) can be one of the ways role-play is experienced, but not all players experience the games similarly. So, if somebody claims that “this is the way games are supposed to be played & experienced”, s/he is probably wrong. There are multiple ways, and I don’t have to be a bad larper anymore.

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