LARP Manifesting

(published in The Larper #1, 2001)

Like genres in literature, manifestos provide us with a map by which to navigate in the multidimensional space that is the interactive art. The -isms that are introduced in the manifestos are safety ropes which allow us to venture deeper into the dungeons of roleplaying. If, however, we ever want to see the big picture, we must use the power of critical thinking to lose the safety ropes and enjoy the fall.

The absolution of theoreticians

The manifestos are a tool. A tool to understand the interactive art. They are often represented in the form of dogma, indisputable truth, but they're not. Their writers know it, too. The very point of a manifesto is to illustrate a particular ideology's view on the world, and the part of roleplaying in it.

The infamous Turku Manifesto stands for the game master's right as artist, and the player's responsibility as the material. Dogma 99, and its manifesto have a totally different view. For them the important things are the players' rights as the participants, and the game master's responsibility as the organizer. They can be seen as opposing, but one does not necessarily exclude the other.

Another important difference is the relationship between immersion and interaction. For Dogmatists the interaction, what happens during the game, is "the reality of the LARP." For Turkuists, that reality exists only inside the head of each player. Of the thesis and anti-thesis can be formulated a synthesis: The reality of LARP comes from the collective experience of immersion shared and strengthened through interaction. The reality of LARP comes from inter-immersion! Until the next anti-thesis is written.

The way it works

Not long ago the American roleplaying site RPGnet witnessed the online publication of the Turku Manifesto. A special press release was sent to make sure they'd notice. And, boy, did they!

The first reactions were along the lines of "Is this guy serious?" "He's more wrong in more ways than anyone ever," and "These people have way too much time on their hands." The conversation then proceded to making fun of the city of Turku (of which they managed to find some rather embarrassing pictures, and the name of the chief provocateur. Yes, Pohjola is something like the Finnish equivalent of Jötunheim, but -- believe or not -- that is just a coincidence.

Next they started to make fun of the manifesto itself. Some points they didn't agree on, others they just didn't understand. Some admitted to liking parts of it, but insightfully reported they found it a bit too fanatical in some places.

...And then the magic of manifestos happened. Somebody wrote a manifesto of their own. "The Bill of Rights of Roleplayers" it was called. Personally, I found the name a bit too Yankee, but what better way to attack something named after the Communist Manifesto. (Perhaps Manifest Destiny would've been an equally good name?) It's more or less a gamist manifesto proclaiming, among other things, that the players have the right to bear dice, and that the GM doesn't have the right to take away their character sheets.

People discussed the Bill of Rights, and noticed that (gasp!) they didn't agree on all points. Some thought the game master should be allowed to take away the character sheets if it made the game better. Others argued it would be violation of personal property.

And then the magic of manifestos happened -- again. Some other person stood up, and said she didn't agree with the Bill at all. She thought the GMs should have the right to do pretty much anything they damn well please. It's their game, after all! Without realizing, she'd become a Turkuist, or a close enough equivalent.

Do you see the light?

We have manifestos, we have -isms, and more keep on coming. So, what's the next step? Now we need to reach out, see what's already out there. We must read up on our Brecht and Stanislavsky, compare LARPs with shamanistic rituals, invent and experiment with the form.

We are beginning to see the entire field of the interactive art thanks in part to the lights of many manifests and novel ideas each illuminating a small part of the whole. Now we have to find out where the hell that field is, and is it close to the fields of theatre, hypertext, virtual reality, simulated societies, mass suggestion, hypnosis, childrens' play, RealTV, social psychology, or what. We need to contextualize.

And then, at some point, we may let go of the safety ropes, and see it all.

The Turku School