Kjell Hedgard Hugaas is a game designer, activist, politician, event organizer, and trained actor. In this keynote, Kjell Hedgard Hugaas will make the case for why we should design larps that invite the potential for transformative impacts on players. He will discuss the importance of transparency and intentionality when designing for impacts in domains such as emotional processing, social cohesion, educational goals, and political aims.
Link to article mentioned in talk: https://nordiclarp.org/2019/12/10/transformative-role-play-design-implementation-and-integration/
Solmukohta 2020 Keynote speakers: Kjell Hedgard Hugaas, Sarah Lynne Bowman, Usva Seregina, Jonaya Kemper
My name is Kjell Hedgard Hugaas.
I am a game designer, activist, politician, event organizer, and trained actor, and I am here to make the case for why we should design larps that invite the potential for transformative impacts on players.
In doing so, I will discuss the importance of transparency and intentionality when designing for impacts in domains such as emotional processing, social cohesion, educational goals, and political aims.
In a world that seems to turn ever more difficult to make sense of by every passing day, where do we, the role-players, fit in? What is our mission? Our task? Are we artists? Are we entertainers? Coaches maybe? Or trainers? Maybe we are just passing time and using role-playing as another way to socialize and connect with our friends?
In short: Why do we do the things we do?
Before I give my answer to that, I want to make it clear that people participate in play for a variety of reasons, and most any reason is valid. The following is merely my opinion on what role-playing could be used for and what we could benefit if we followed this particular path.
I believe that almost everything we do in life can be done in ways that can add value to our own lives, the lives of others in our communities and the world in general. Role-playing is in no way an exception to this and it is my own hope that we as a collection of communities can rise to the challenge and help a world that needs healing now more than ever.
I believe that we as skilled and curious role-players are in the possession of a powerful tool, that if used with intention can, and indeed almost certainly will, change the world for the better. On the other side of the coin, if we choose to not address or comment on important issues, facilitate for expansion and understanding, lay down frameworks for growth, or help participants make sense of the world that exists outside of the magic circle, we are letting important and potentially very powerful opportunities pass us by.
My vision for the future of larp is that we explore the limits of our craft, learn to use it to the extent of it’s potential, and then wield it to enact the change we want to see in the world.
I know that it is a tall order. Maybe even painfully naive to believe in. But are we not people who are used to dreaming big and making the seemingly fantastical come true? Are we not inventors and designers of our own worlds? Is it too much to think that at least some of the things we create within the magic circle might seep out into the world in general?
Some might say that this is all just a dream.. But am I the only dreamer out there? Maybe one of a happy few? Or maybe, just maybe is the future of role-playing more potently world changing than any of us can even dare to imagine?
The potential for role-playing to have profound transformative impacts on participants should be quite obvious by now. It can facilitate dramatic expansion in their worldview, their understanding of others, and their ability to affect change in the world around them. As Sarah Lynne Bowman noted in 2014; The sheer number of people interested in implementing role-playing and simulation as tools for education, empathy-building, and skill training attests to the methods’ potential potency.
In my own years of playing I can certainly point to several role-playing experiences that have been transformative to a point where they have altered the course of my life, and judging by the hundreds of stories I and others have gathered over the years, I am far from alone in this experience. For many players, these transformative effects might occur—and certainly do occur—by chance or as a result of intuitive choices that designers and participants make. But, imagine for a moment if you will, what our communities might look like if we actively sought to maximize the potential of such impacts through intentional design, implementation, and post-event integration.
Well, In my opinion, there is only one way to find out. And I invite you all to join in on this adventure.
Before we proceed, we should note that even the most skilled and careful consideration and implementation of these ideas and thoughts will not ensure that transformative impacts undoubtedly will take place. Experiences will always vary from person to person and from event to event. To put it bluntly; we are not dealing with an exact science here.
When seeking to design for transformation, the first step should be establishing a clear vision carefully detailing the desired impacts we want to experience. Sarah Lynne Bowman and I have previously proposed four broad groups of impacts, in order to establish a system. These lists are not exhaustive and in the future we expect that the need for further categorization might also present itself. But for now, we have the following groups: Emotional Processing, Social Cohesion, Educational Goals, and Political Aims.
A disclaimer here: Designing for certain types of impacts—such as therapeutic aims—may require advanced training, consultation with experts, or increased safety measures.
As you can see; on these two slides I have listed the groups that we proposed. As you can see, there is a lot of different concepts and themes here and I will not go into them in any detail in this short talk. For those of you who are interested in a deeper dive, there is an article on nordiclarp.org with more details. It also contains a reference list with suggestions for further reading. I will link it in the comments.
Be it through virtual play, tabletop, or larp, role-playing can arguably change people’s lives for the better. But, in order to maximize this potential, we as participants need to be open to it. In order to be as open as possibly to transformative impacts, we need to feel safe and held. For this reason, I cannot stress enough how principles of informed consent and safety need to be at the forefront of this design philosophy.
We need to create a container that is strong enough for players to feel that they have the freedom to judge or themselves the extent to which they feel comfortable leaning into certain types of content or experiences based on their own emotional, psychological, and physical thresholds. The freedom of choice is important, since although growth often involves facing our own resistance to change, pushing participants beyond their limits can have the exact opposite effect to what they are seeking for themselves.
Therefore, while it is my strong belief that transformative impacts should always be at the forefront of design and implementation choices, concerns about safety and consent are inextricably linked to creating a secure-enough container for such experiences to take place.
So.. why should we design for transformative impacts?
If 25 years of activism and political engagement have taught me anything, it is that change is not something that is handed to us. Women were not given the right to vote.. it was won by the many that fought for it. Workers were not given the 5 day work-week because the factory owners decided to be kind. It was made into law because they fought for it. Apartheid was not ended out of the good hearts of the oppressors. It was ended because the people of the world made it so.
In other words.. we cannot allow ourselves to sit and wait for the change we want to see in the world. We need to make it so.
We need more compassion and empathy.
We need more peaceful solutions to conflict.
We need progressive social change.
We need to raise the voices the disenfranchised and oppressed.
We need to heal our own wounds.
We need to heal the wounds of the many.
And so on and so on…
The needs are many and the time is now.
Let us add our skills and knowledge to the efforts and help make it so.
That is my vision for the future.