fredag 6 juli 2018

Wonderkarins theory of Larp Alientation

[Context: I'm a Swedish larper turned larp designer and runner. I started in Vampire larp, moved on to Swedish Boffer Fantasy Larp and then started going to Knutpunkt, a Scandinavian larp conference which is often cited as the Nordic Larp Conference. I've worked in mental health for over 10 years and have a master in Library and Information science. I usually prefer to keep the language in these posts to medium level English and avoid long explanations. I know this sometimes make things I write sound harsher than they are meant as I try to just deliver the information and leave reflection and opinions to the discussion of the posts.]

What is Larp Alienation?

When I write Larp Alienation I mean something that happens out of game, to individuals in the Community and not passing experiences of alienation in game. Out of game alienation can however both be felt and manifested during a game, but it is an out of game problem.

Larp Alienation is mostly a feeling of not belonging or being on the outskirts of your larp community no matter your actual status or placement in the community social network. You can have many social strong bonds within the community and still feel alienation from the community. (Subjective feeling of larp alienation)

It can also be a practical problem making it hard to find other larpers to collaborate with for your larp projects, be invited to collaborate with others or get larpers to come to your games due to everything from geographical placement or a subject or form that your community are uncertain about. (Objective larp alienation)

Why is Larp Alienation a problem?

For healthy communities the members need to feel wanted and integrated. They should have their social needs reasonably met. But there is a discreprancy in what people mean and expect when they call something a community. Alienated members of a community can both suffer higher levels of mental health problems and begin to act out in disruptive ways because they already assume they are unwanted by other members.

Game runners most often say they feel can't make anyone happy with their event. Intellectually they know a majority of the players enjoy the game but sometimes feedback from the community in total is confusing and contradictory (due to it coming from different people).
Players who exclusively play larps and don't design or run games are more worried no one will want to play with them at games. 

The main theory
My theory on larp alienation is inspired by writing about the Master Suppression technique of The Double Bind. The Double bind punishes and ridicules a person no matter what action they choose to take. No action is "the right action". It is also inspired by social alienation theory, especially that there is a low degree of integration of common values in Nordic Larp and a distance and isolation between individuals in the community. Increasingly so, Nordic Larp and Larp has become a work environment which fluctuates between being a friendship based network dependent on whether people are able to form social bonds (like each other) and a professional network (collaborate on paid larp work).
I pose Larp Alienation happens because Larp and the sub category Nordic larp has few common values globally while at the same time members think they have common values which leads to a miss-match between individual expectations on the community and what the community actually produces for these individuals. I pose Larp Alienation is bigger problem to the parts of the community that does their social relationships online, due to both the exposure to public critizism from people you have both strong and weak social ties to and the distance between the individuals and lower to groups that spend more time together physically. 

Larp Creators and Runners also possibly face punishment and ridicule no matter what design choices they make, because there will always be disappointed people expressing their opinions in the online forums of the community. Expression themselves is their right, and many larp runners also appreciate being able to read reactions online, while to others it causes negative emotions. 
This can result in feelings of being attacked, that no choice is a good choice, that the best course of action is no action and in the end: larp alienation. 

Players feel alienated from the larp creators, and larp creators feel alienated from the players.
Now this double bind happens because there are many different viewpoints in larp critique as we have few to no frame work in place in what constitutes a good larp design. This will then be arbitrary and up to individual tastes. Individual tastes that will be expressed on individual larpers social media accounts.
This is not a problem to many designers, as it has to do with how much weight you put into the public opinions of others.

Larp Alienation at specific games or events
If an individual suffers larp alienation at a larp event there are some things that are possible to do, because many larps these days have a higher degree of integration of the players and game runners often make public before the event what common values will be in effect at the game. Also at a on site larp (as opposed to Digital larp) there will also be less isolation between individuals. Social events can be designed to lessen the degree of larp alienation.

  • Communicate what common values are wished for, and might be enforced when you come to the game.
  • Place lone players with other players, so that everyone has a social circle in and/or out of game.
  • Encourage positive social and inclusive behaviors, even by holding up good examples and letting game runners and volunteers model these behaviors.
  • Let people help out, especially if they offer, feeling useful and needed is a powerful antidote.
  • Ask consent before coming with "helpful" advice as some people when feeling alienated can feel attacked even if you are just trying to help.
  • As a fellow participants, be open to meeting and playing with new people. Like the open chair policy of Knutpunkt.
  • Check in on your friends (yes, especially the "strong friend")

Social alienation is "a condition in social relationships reflected by a low degree of integration or common values and a high degree of distance or isolation between individuals, or between an individual and a group of people in a community or work environment". It is a sociological concept developed by several classical and contemporary theorists, The concept has many discipline-specific uses, and can refer both to a personal psychological state (subjectively) and to a type of social relationship (objectively).(1)

Master Suppression Technique no 3 "Double Bind"

To punish or otherwise belittle the actions of a person, regardless of how they act. (2)

When you describe your larp scenario thoroughly, you receive complaints for having to much materials for the players to read before the game, thus making it less accesible to people from another language background or with reading disabilities. When you post only brief bullet point concepts, you're critiqued for being sloppy, not taking the subject seriously and/or demanding to much previous knowledge from players.

    (1) Social Alienation at Wikipedia
    (2) Double Bind Master Suppression Technique

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