Wyrding the Self

Wyrding the Self

You’re weird.

This common childhood insult comes in many languages and forms. The gist being that if you are not like the other children, and you do not fit in, then there must be something wrong with you. To be weird, is to be outside of what was expected of you. This may be something you are familiar with. The outsider is something we, as a collective part of humanity, have always tried to deal with. The notion that we are weird, and therefore somehow outside of society, and unwanted, is strong. If you do not fit in, then you must be fixed. This can be especially strong in collectivist cultures, where being outside the norm may even be considered selfish.

However, what if the concept of weird, was not bad at all? What if the act of being weird, was actually a powerful and radical act of controlling one’s destiny? In this article, we will learn how to wyrd the self, that is, we will learn how to use basic tools to decolonize[1]Colonization is when a dominant group or system takes over culture and society from other groups. This may involve taking land, physical and mental violence, systemic injustice, and forcing people to only follow the colonizer’s way of life. When one decolonizes something, they are trying to undo the long lasting harm colonization has done. In this article, we are attempting to decolonize ourselves by rejecting a mythical norm. In this meaning decolonize means that we will learn how to press the proverbial restart button. What if we could be the being we truly want to be without the confines of society’s rigid interpretation of who we must be? the body and search for liberation from internalized oppression using navigational play. In simple terms, by learning to steer for liberation, and to engage in deep reflection after a larp, we may end up finding a version of ourselves who we want to be, rather than who society tells us we must be. This article is a condensed and rewritten take on my Master’s Degree thesis, Playing to Create Ourselves: Exploring Larp and Visual Autoethnographic Practice as a Tool of Self Liberation for Marginalized Identities (Kemper 2018).

What is Wyrding?

The word weird has its root in the Anglo Saxon word, wyrd, which roughly boils down to the action of controlling one’s fate. To be weird, is to control one’s fate, rather than let society determine your place and fate. To be weird, is to be outside the normal aspects of society, yes, but to also collectively decide who you would like to be, not based on societal pressure. It is my belief that larp affords us the actual ability to wyrd ourselves, that is to shape ourselves and our conceptions of self through play. In her book, The Functions of Role-Playing Games (2010), scholar Sarah Lynne Bowman speaks about role-playing’s ability to allow players to alter parts of their identity by trying on different acts of self hood:

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the process of role-playing lies in the ability to shift personality characteristics within the parameters of the game environment. Games and scenarios allow participants the opportunity to ”try on different hats” of selfhood, experimenting with the adoption of personality characteristics that either amplify or contradict aspects of their primary identities. (Bowman 2010, 127)

What this essentially means is that when we role-play, we can completely shift who we are to fit the game. Each game allows us as players to explore the selves we could never be, or that we might have been, depending on how close to home we are playing. Larp then becomes a dressing room where we experiment with different selves that we can try on or take off as it suits us, and it is within this space we might find some of the characteristics we have always wanted to exhibit, but we have been closed off or discouraged from being. A large man may be allowed to be seen as soft and tearful, a woman of color may be able to be seen as smart without someone believing it is unbelievable, and someone who feels outside of the realm of attractiveness may be seen as a sex symbol. When you begin to alter yourself through this type of investigation and play it is taking fate into your own hands.

When one does wyrd the self, they seek out emancipatory bleed, steer for liberation, and investigate themselves through the lens of play. What follows below, is a practical tool for using larp as an investigation tool, integrating those discoveries into your life, and a suggestion for the ethics of doing so.

The Mythical Norm, Internalized Oppression, and Internalized Bias

Before we go further, it is important to understand the concept of marginalized is larger than we have come to believe, and that these tools and theories are here to liberate all peoples, regardless of their station in life. While the word ‘marginalized’ may be commonly used to describe those populations who are often at the risk of the most oppression, it is important to understand that most people are both the oppressed and the oppressor. It is an uncomfortable thought to sit with, as it makes you aware that no matter how oppressed you may be, you still have the power to oppress others. Even people who face an extreme set of marginalizations (people of color/racialized populations and gender and sexual minorities) can still have the ability to oppress others.

This can be best summed up by Brazilian educational theorist Paulo Friere, who explained what he believed the true goal of liberation in his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Frieire writes:

This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both. (Freire 1968/2014, 541)

Freire is saying that even though oppressors may do things that oppress others, they themselves are stuck in the same destructive cycles, and the only way to break them is to notice that we are all stuck inside of them. For example: A person who belongs in an ethnic minority may still have English as a first language, and can then take space of those who do not speak the language fluently. At home, this player is routinely oppressed by their government and culture. However, they are a native English speaker, and never have to worry about conveying what they want to say in a larp. The player realizes this, and attempts to remember this while playing, which leads them to being far more egalitarian in play. They must notice their behavior, and seek to change themselves.

By freeing yourself, you free your oppressor and encourage them to break their social binding roles. Wyrding the self, is grounded in an intersectional theory of self, and so must sit with our messy definitions and recognitions of oppression. This tool is just as easy to use and accessible to a white, European, cis-gendered, hetreosexual man. Why? It is because it is my belief that society oppresses all individuals in ways that may be unseen, and if we want liberation, then we must also liberate those who oppress us because they are oppressed just like us, through the mythical norm.

The concept of the mythical norm comes from intersectional theorist and poet, Audre Lorde, who defines it in her essay, “Age, Race, Class and Sex” when she states:

Somewhere on the edge of consciousness, there is something I call the mythical norm. Which each one of in our hearts knows, “that is not me”. In America this norm is usually defined as white, thin, male, young, heterosexual, christian, and financially secure. It is within this norm that the trappings of power reside in this society. (Lorde 2015, 116)

Identities like Western European, English speaking, cisgender, able bodied, and neurotypical are all things commonly seen as the mythical norm. In each of our societies, the norm goes even further, oppressing more and more people, and setting up those people to oppress others.

Our primary identity is constructed and shaped by our culture and the mythic norm. When one lies outside that norm, they find that their primary identity is complex and intersectional. Sometimes you do not even need an outside oppressor to harm you, as your own thoughts and feelings can hold you back. You believe you cannot do something because you are not “the type” to do it. This is called internalized oppression. For example, if you do not go in for the sexy Goddess role because you believe you are too fat, and no one can believe a fat goddess, this is internalized oppression. Similarly, if you do not go for a leadership role because you think your English is not as good as others, and you’re worried no one will listen to you.

With internalized oppression, we only see ourselves as not normal, as the other outside of the mythic norm, and we uphold that unconsciously. By continuing to stay in these roles, we uplift the very oppression that can pull us down.

In addition to internalized oppression, we have internalized biases that stop us from playing as fully, and impacts our co-players as we are engaging in their oppression. Here are some examples: A woman who is playing a leader is never listened to by her war council, despite being cast as the most knowledgeable warrior who they are supposed to listen to. Someone in their 60s is considered too unattractive to be seductive, despite the fact that their character is seductive.

If we hold ourselves captive to these internalized myths of who we can never be, how then do we break it? We can do this through consciously telling our own stories and creating our own selves. With larp, you have the power to live your own stories and put them to action in your body. In larp, we find yet another realization that stories have the power to liberate.

Emancipatory bleed (Kemper 2016) is the feeling of liberation that comes from being able to fight back against or succeed against a systematic oppression, or allows you to notice those things that have held you back. For example, when a male player who was routinely bullied as a child for being emotional, plays a character who has the ability to freely share that emotion without being bullied for it. Or when a player notices that they are no longer afraid of speaking their mind at the office, or taking up space in public, after playing a person in charge at a larp.

Capturing Story, Narrative, and Plot

How can we capture what has happened during a larp? According to larp theorist Johanna Koljonen (2008), when a larp is over, it ceases to exist, and it is hard to pin down the narrative. In order to understand the importance of stories and narratives in relation to wyrding the self, we will be using the definition of story, plot, and narrative as defined by designer and scholar Simon Brind (2016). His definition of stories and narratives allows you to see how the fluidity and temporality of larp as well as how you may progress through it. Plot is the larpwrights plan for what is going to happen in the larp, Story is what is actually happening during runtime, and narrative is the events that have taken place and described after the fact.

A larp follows an overall plot conceit (i.e. we are all in a forest in a magical land, we are all at wizard school, we are all at the dinner table) and then the players take the designer’s plot and structure, and turn it into a co-created story, which is ephemeral in nature, and becomes the narrative when it is all done.

Since the narrative of the larp is only decided after the larp has taken place, it is fairly personal to each player. Therefore, each instance of play is a fleeting moment in time which can never be recreated exactly. The narrative of the larp lies in the mind of each player, and that narrative becomes their embodied experience. The story you create with your co-players evolves moment to moment with player interactions and choices, each person bringing themselves and the fiction to life. While the larpwrights may have ideas about how a larp ends, it is generally up to you as a player to get there, even if the larp ends in a specific conceit.

How can we contextualize our own experiences if they are hard to document and the narrative is not created until after everything has happened? You will need a set of reflexive tools to help you remember and contextualize your experience, and since the co-creation of the story ends up in many individual narratives, I believe that larp experience can be best suited to be investigated from the personal, which is why we use autoethnographic techniques.

We know that the narrative of a larp is not the plot of the larp, nor is it the story. The story is what happens during the larp, and the narrative we can investigate is not apparent until the end. This means you must create a record of your stages of play and actions as a character. This is something you may already do after many games. You may write up what happened to you during the game, or give your character’s story an epilogue. This is often bundled into a narrative write up, which can then serve as an autoethnographic set of data we can investigate. A visual ethnography is a study of a people done in media, namely photographs, ephemera, and videos, and autoethnography is a self-study of a group you may be in. These two combined approaches may help you to explore your experiences.

A visual autoethnography allows you to capture as much of your experience as possible, like ephemera and narrative epilogues or write ups, and then use those to reflect on who you played. You may already be taking pictures and documenting your ephemera, and you may even practice reflexive writing every time you share narratives of your game.

When we write reflexively, we do not just look inside the magic circle with this approach, we look inside ourselves, inside the character, and inside the greater world. This reflexivity is what gives us the ability to see into ourselves. Social scientists, Tony Adams, Stacey Jones, and Carolyn Ellis (2014, 103) define reflexivity in Autoethnography Understanding Qualitative Research, “Reflexivity includes both acknowledging and critiquing our place and privilege in society and using the stories we tell to break long-held silences on power, relationships, cultural taboos, and forgotten and/or suppressed experiences.” By allowing ourselves to pin down the narrative and then look at it and compare it to our lives, we can potentially see where our fantasies lie within our realities.

Navigational Play

When we choose to wyrd the self, what we are actually doing is engaging in something I have termed, navigational play (Kemper 2018). The main purpose of navigational play is to try and see yourself outside the bounds of the mythic norm. Instead of constantly inhabiting your own oppressive world, you can use a self-exploratory, liberatory play style, that allows you to feel free of or investigate a particular marginalization. Navigational play is the act of steering yourself during the full process of a larp, to seek emancipatory bleed and consists of two components, steering for liberation and reflective writing.

When you steer, you are making in-character decisions based on out of game reasons (Montola, Stenros, & Saitta 2015), and thus steering for liberation is the act of seeking liberatory experiences through steering. Reflective writing is the act of looking at and writing about how your experiences relate to fictional situations, in our case, our larp experiences. In order for us to reflect on our narrative, we have to remember what our larp experience was. Using ephemera, pre larp writing activities, and creating a narrative write up, will create an artifact that we can then explore reflexively.

In order to steer for liberation and create an artifact we can then look at reflexively, we have to investigate what we want and need from the larp. By investigating your character and self, at various points of the larp stages you can identify similar oppressions and desires between the character and self. In the next section, we will explore ways to invoke pre-bleed, create ephemera, involve others such as co-players and organizers, as well as touch upon how to take field notes during a larp so you may write reflexively. Chart 1 roughly explains how each step may be achieved during various stages of a larp.

Pre-LarpDuring LarpPost Larp
Explore CharacterIf characters are pre-written, and not created by you, attempt to find and ask for casting in relations to the themes of the larp you would like to explore. Look at alibi. What will the larp allow you to do that you otherwise cannot in the real world?Explore relationships the character has to others. What are the similarities and differences?

How does this character connect to you? Think about their name and history, what can you add to it to make it personal? How are they different? Which of the larp’s themes feel most important to play on? Are there parts of yourself that you would like to think about and bring into play? Are there themes you would like to play on that the larp and the character explores?

Investigate the character. Which proverbs, virtues and values, rituals, mentors, and artifacts mean the most to you? To them? What if anything is in common or dissimilar to your lived experience? To your latent or obvious fantasies? Visualize the self.

What feels interesting to the character in the play space? Who would they be drawn to throughout their story? What rituals, social mores etc. are they seeking to break, embrace, or understand?What in the end were the similarities and differences to you and the character?Using your narrative write up, or field notes re-investigate the character and their narrative. Compare and contrast which proverbs, virtues and values, rituals, mentors, and artifacts mean the most to you after play.

What means the most to the character?

What if anything is in common or dissimilar to your lived experience?

To your latent or obvious fantasies? Visualize the narrative self and the personal.

Identify Themes and ExplorationIdentify similar themes and oppressions between the character and yourself if they are prewritten. If the character is self-written identify themes you may want to explore now that you have alibi.If the character is pre-written and feels unplayable ask for a new casting or write changes and ask for them to be implanted within reason.

Asking that your character bring in their ethnic heritage in a larp about going to a barbecue is reasonable, asking your character to be changed to a Martian in a game about the Crusades is not. To break the fiction premise radically when that will harm others’ games can throw off other players who are seeking to explore their own oppression or simply play. This would be a critical breach of ingroup social mores and unethical.

Steer for optimal play experience of the themes chosen. Notice any behaviors you are replicating for better or worse. Notice who you gravitate towards. Steer for relationships and situations you have the alibi for. Look for situations that uphold narrative cohesion and satisfy your steering goals. Attempt fearlessness. Attempt exploration. Remember Alibi.If you are engaging in oppression play, be aware of intersecting identities and that oppression does not occur in a vacuum. Respect safety mechanisms.Go through your write up and look for replicated behaviors that tie into your personal life. Evaluate your steering in comparison to what you looked for. What stopped you? What encouraged you?What relationships did you gravitate towards? What roles did you enact that either broke or upheld the oppressive behaviors you sought to dismiss? What roles or people did you gravitate towards in order to feel liberation?

Were there mentors?

Did anything unusual happen that you weren’t prepared for? Did you stop yourself from doing something you wanted, or engaged in behavior that you don’t enjoy?

Writing/RecordingFlesh out Character through fiction or poetry writing. If this is not possible, ask yourself questions about your character. Where are they from, what do they like? Seek to make them as whole as possible.If possible, explore co-writing with established relationships in the larp.

Take pictures of your costume choices, create a Pinterest board, or organize thoughts and feelings with music or art.

Take notes during the larp or shortly thereafter. Diegetic notes and diaries are preferable. Write or draw ephemera as much as you can. Save notes.If allowed, take photos of spaces and people that mean things to your character.

Gain informed consent from the larp runners and other participants.

Create a narrative write up that focuses and centers your player experience in character. When you are ready to investigate the larp from your personal non-character point of view, attempt to find common themes in how you played. Look for moments that felt particularly poignant. Instead of trying to capture the entire larp, seek to capture what was most important to the character in the moment.Write the narrative write up in any creative format that makes you feel the most comfortable. Use annotations and footnotes to add in self reflections.
EphemeraUsing the character concept, design and think about the costuming, props, notes, and other things that may be important to your character. If the larp is short and you cannot create props consider creating in-game ephemera. If you are playing close to home, explore using personal objects to immerse yourself. Pictures of family and friends, your own wardrobe, etc.Take photos, write letters, create props, collect important objects that are useful for your character and provoke a sense of missing. Ephemera created during the story period often has significant meanings.Take photos of all of the ephemera collected. Sort through character portraits and other in game ephemera. What ephemeral artifacts can you explore?Save official game documents given to you by the organizer. How did the structure of the larp help? Hinder? What does the ephemera mean to the character? Are there similarities between the ephemera you collected at the player and you collected as the character?

Identifying Oppressions and Desires

The first part of liberatory steering, is to think of what you want to accomplish or explore within the magic circle of the larp’s plot. Not every larp is useful for exploring yourself in this way, and you can save yourself a lot of trouble by looking at playstyle, length of time, tone, and overall larp culture. A larp that allows you to play a role that can challenge your perceptions of yourself and the world, is a good candidate, as is one where the larp culture allows you to make more choices about what happens to your character. You should avoid forcing yourself to play on themes that deeply distress you, are not in the spirit or theme of the larp, and would affect the play of your co-players to the detriment of the game.

For example: A player has two options of larps. One is a larp about an unequal society that murders lower class people, and the coming revolution. The other is a larp about wealthy nobles and their servants in 1918. The player who is from a lower class background, would like to experience what it would be like to successfully rebel against the upper class, so they choose the first larp as it would provide more opportunity to rebel and succeed than the larp in which most of their play is in subservience to others.

If the characters are prewritten, you can try to select a character that may allow you to achieve your desires by applying for characters, groups, or requesting certain themes be written heavily into the character. If the characters are created by yourself or tailored to you, then you may ask to play around certain themes and desires in a casting questionnaire. In the former example, you may ask specifically to play a rebel because you want to explore that dynamic. Then if you are cast as such, you can seek to explore how or why you are doing so. After you identify your desires and things that may hold you back, you should then look at the relations your characters have and talk to your fellow co-players.

Talking to Co-Players and Playing to Lift

After casting, but before playing the larp, reaching out to co-players and actually expressing your needs and wants for the game is a challenging but necessary step. You can divulge what themes you are thinking of playing on more heavily, and ask your co-player if there are any themes they might want to play on. Asking questions of your co-players, even quickly, can help you both steer for the type of game you both would like to achieve. When you seek to share responsibility like this, you are also engaging in what designer and theorist Susanne Vejdemo (2018) calls, playing to lift. Vejdemo defines this as by saying, “Play to Lift means that the responsibility for your drama and your character also rests on all your co-players. You have to lift each other.” By talking to your co-players you can work to create a game that allows you to steer towards your desires together, and seek to help them in creating drama and interesting play that will lift them as well as yourself.

Depending on the length of the larp, you can also go on to create connections with your co-players that can be as easy as choosing to be siblings who support each other to many pages of back stories with intricate details. This is done in larps that have or allow pre-play, which is the act of writing or engaging with players in character before the larp. This type of relationship building can lead to something called pre-bleed (Svanevik and Brind 2016), which is very useful for getting into character. Pre-bleed is usually conceived of as an activity between two or more players, but it does not necessarily require a co-player.

Larps may set up chat groups where in character dialogue may happen, players may write stories between their connected characters that happen before the larp, and various other methods which deepen character connection.

Here are some ways to invoke pre-bleed:

  • Writing a series of short fiction pieces with another player or a group of players that flesh out the world of the larp before the larp happens.
  • Writing a short story for yourself about your character’s relation to a key theme of the larp.
  • Creating a piece of ephemera that you will use heavily during the larp, such as a personalized handkerchief or other item.
  • Exploring the topic of the larp through research.
  • Creating a playlist of songs to listen to that reminds you of your character.
  • Creating a mood board that captures the character’s home, wants, and desires.

Actions You Can Take Inside of the Larp

By carefully choosing your larp based on what experiences, tone, and theme you will embody, you can set yourself up for better results. Look out for opportunities to experience things you may never get to do so in your daily life. If, for example, you never got the experience of finishing your studies, you could choose to play a high achieving and successful student in a school larp. Even if you did not overcome what stopped you from finishing in your actual courses, you may feel as if you overcame them within the larp.

Here are some examples of actions to take during play:

  • If an action is prohibited for someone of your social rank, do it.
  • If an activity is something you wouldn’t be expected to do, do it.
  • If a style is something you have been prohibited from wearing because people like you are not allowed, wear it.
  • If your ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation usually prohibits you from owning something, buy it.

Creating Ephemera and Reflexive Writing

When a larp ends, what do you have left as a participant? Perhaps some photos, your costume, a vague narrative you remember, lots of ephemera and…not much else. It is hard to be reflexive about your experience if you do not have a memory of what happened. How then, as a player can you investigate your experience after it is over? One way is by creating and writing about ephemera, things that are primarily used for a larp and typically discarded or recycled.

Larps may produce a surprising amount of ephemera. Ephemera are generally objects that have limited use, like concert tickets, or a show program. However, within larp’s ephemeral nature, ephemera becomes a unique way to bond player to character.

Within an autoethnography of larp participation, a player who carefully chooses, creates, documents, and uses reflection in regard to their ephemera may be able to immerse themselves deeper into their character, use ephemera in liberational steering, and document an otherwise transitory medium.

Here are a few examples of ephemera you can keep and later investigate:

  • A letter sent to your character from another character that is important to you both.
  • A prop that your character always carried or used frequently during the larp.
  • A homework assignment, poem, or plan drawn up by your character or others.
  • Costume pieces like identifying badges, sweaters, and any other piece that firmly reminds you of an experience.
  • Photos taken in character by an in character photographer.

After the larp is over, you can begin to look at each ephemera and write down your reactions to them and what they mean to you as the character and/or the player. This connects the character to the self. Interrogate and reflect on how the character and the self connect:

  • Why is this object important to the character or myself?
  • What do I feel when I touch it?
  • Why did I keep it?
  • Have I ever owned anything like it? Why or why not?
  • Have I continued to use it out of character?
  • Have I used it for multiple characters?
  • Where does it live when I’m not this character?

By answering these questions you may begin to see the connections between yourself and the character. For example, perhaps you choose to explore a series of notes passed in class by your player, and realize that you were too nervous to pass notes when you were in school yourself. Passing notes made you feel daring, and you particularly enjoyed it in the larp, because you never got the opportunity to do so before.

When you write this down, you may develop a sense of why you play the way you do, or whether you actually explored the desires and oppressions you wanted to. However, this reflexive insight must still be put in context of the narrative.

Taking Field Notes at Larps

For our purposes, field notes within larp are observations by players about their larp experience as it is happening and is collected into a field journal. There is no one way to write a narrative field journal, but having one if a larp allows it, can provide a valuable tool in searching for the transformation of self through immersion and examining bleed. A diegetic journal is also an ephemeral artifact that allows the player to connect to the character’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. You can use this journal to write a summation of your narrative write up, which you can then look at reflexively. Those who write them often turn their larp experience into pleasurable reading and a document of play.

Here are some tips for taking practical field notes during larps:

  • Focus not on other’s experience, but your own. Avoid writing what you wish happened, and stay truthful to your own experience and your co-players actions.
  • Just as a character might take a diary, and note what happened, try and write what happened during the day.
  • Note who your most important relationships are, what is occurring around you, and how your character is reacting to it.
  • If you are in a short larp or are not able to write much, consider writing up your character’s feelings in a letter to yourself while the larp is still fresh.
  • Do not spend too much time trying to remember everything that has happened, but the key experiences, beliefs, issues, and rituals the character engaged in.
  • Do not stop other’s play in order to record a conversation. Feel free to go out of play to a separate space to record important moments immediately, if you fear forgetting.
  • Do not write more than you play.

When you are done writing, you can then begin to be reflexive. Give yourself time and space before looking at what you wrote. When you are ready, use the following questions as a sample guide to begin investigating your experience while rereading:

  • Are there memories that remind you of your actual self?
  • Did you associate with characters or players that you you, yourself would or that you wished you could interact with?
  • Did you avoid people your character wouldn’t have? Why do you think so?
  • Is there something you overcame?
  • Was there something you felt stopping you from playing as you would have liked? Was it yourself? Design? Your co-players?
  • Did you notice moments of internalized bias towards yourself or others? If you did, what did you do about it?
  • Do you recognize habits that you do as yourself that you did in character?
  • Do you recognize any habits you always wished you had? Did you end up taking home any of these habits? Have you retained them?
  • Do you have any regrets about what you did or didn’t do? Why?

Retyping your narrative in a word processor and then placing your reflective writing answers as footnotes can be particularly helpful to seeing the separation between self and character. You may begin to see clear threads about your own desires and oppressions, and notice patterns in your play style over time. This can help you choose which larps you may enjoy, and which larps you can steer away from, as well as what you may take away. For example like this:

Field Note:
After the battle meeting, I realized that the power I channeled during a previous ritual had been inside me all along.

Footnote to the Field Note:
After the larp I realized that I was more assertive at work than I normally am. I’ve been speaking up at a lot more meetings now then I used to, and I think it comes from this moment. I should really pick more larps where I have a leading role.

Ethics

While you should absolutely be using larp and a navigational play style in order to seek emancipatory bleed and investigate our own relationships to trauma and internalized oppressions, we cannot do this in a vacuum. Larp is a co-created medium, and while we may want to use it for our own liberation, our liberation cannot come at the cost of others. While our narratives in a larp are individual, our stories are not so easily cut off. Much like our actual lives, your co-players do play a role. Anthropologist Heewon Chang (2008) in her book Autoethnography as Method reminds us that we must be aware of the role of others in our research and outlines some practices I believe are also important when thinking of a larp autoethnography:

Strangers can be connected to self through group membership or common experiences, if not through personal contacts. In autoethnography, self and others may be positioned in different ways. You can consider three possibilities. First, you can investigate yourself as a main character and others as supporting actors in your life story. Second, you can include others as co-participants or co-informants in your study. Third, you can study others as the primary focus, yet also as an entry to your world. (Chang 2008, 65)

It is preferred to position yourself as the main character and your co-players as supporting characters in your own personal narrative. You must be aware though, that your narrative in no way is the only narrative of the larp, and even your closest co-player may have had a radically different experience. We must consider how we involve our co-players in the practice of our write ups and our play. We must take care to not misrepresent them, even though it may make for better fiction. The goal is liberation for yourself, not at the expense of others. In the cases of autoethnographies that are published for ingroup pleasure as well ones published for player-researcher means, I argue the following two approaches based on Chang’s above suggestions:

First, focus only about your character’s experience of the world, making sure to keep all of your co-players anonymous as possible. In this way, you center your own experience over others’ in the write up, but not in play. In play, you should strive to be as generous as you would if you were not steering for emancipatory bleed. Your liberation should not come at the expense of others’ play.

2. Involve your co-players in the writing and steering process. Making a collaborative larp autoethnography would be an excellent way to involve all of your players and help each other to dissect facets of the character you might have missed. Imagine if an entire faction took turns writing mission reports that served as a diary for that group during game.

We must never put our liberation over co-player’s experience, and that means we must not steer ourselves in the play space to disrupt a larp when it would negatively impact others who may play. We must take into context the ethics of consequence (Etherington 2007) and the benefit of self. If you are writing something solely for your own discovery, this is less cumbersome as no one else outside of the group will see or read it. If, however, you chose to use it in your own research, then you must practice process consent (Ellis 2007) namely, you must check in with those who you have played and who appear in the work to see if they are still willing to take part. If the answer is no, then you must keep your narrative to the ingroup community or to yourself.

An autoethnography that is kept purely for the discovery of self and never shared is still as valuable as anything that may be published. It is the act of reflection, not the publishing where liberation lies. Here are some things you can do with a finished autoethnographic larp write up:

  • You can share it with your co-players.
  • You can look over it with a trained mental health professional.
  • You can keep it for yourself, and reread it comparing it to other write ups and finding clear patterns in how and why you play the way you do.

Conclusion

Wyrding the self is the sustained effort to decolonize your body from the mythical norm, and begin the process of identity alteration. This alteration can be a direct result of experiencing emancipatory bleed that you may be able to achieve through navigational play which involves the acts of reflexive writing and steering for liberation.

The ability to wyrd the self lies in a player’s desire to do the reflective work that is necessary for decolonization. It is not easy, and requires pre-planning and commitment to co-create narratives collectively with your co-players while seeking liberation. While this tool has been created with those who face systematic marginalization in mind, the ability to investigate how you played the larp, and it’s relation to your own life has been immensely helpful to larpers who are interested in playing for transformative purposes. Recording your actions during a larp, transcribing it, and then investigating your play by comparing it to some of the questions you may ask yourself, can allow you to see internalized biases or oppressions that can hold you back in your day to day life. As long as you do not push your narrative and experience to be more important than your co-players, I believe this too can be used to see and cultivate a community of transformative larp practice. When you seek to wyrd the self, you create a more resilient self by seeing yourself as truly want to be, not what you have been molded to be by a mythical norm.

Bibliography

Simon Brind (2017): Response to Ian Andrews. Knutpunkt. Once Upon a Nordic Larp: Twenty Years of Playing Stories, edited by Martine Svanevik et al.

Sarah Lynne Bowman (2010): The Functions of Role-playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems, and Explore Identity. Jefferson: McFarland.

Heewon Chang (2016): Autoethnography as Method. Routledge.

Paulo Freire (1968/2014): Pedagogy of the Oppressed: 30th Anniversary Edition. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Jonaya Kemper (2017): The Battle of Primrose Park: Playing for Emancipatory Bleed in Fortune & Felicity, Nordic Larp, 21 June 2017.

Jonaya Kemper (2018): Playing to Create Ourselves: Exploring Larp and Visual Autoethnographic Practice as a Tool of Self Liberation for Marginalized Identities (Unpublished Master’s Thesis). New York University, Gallatin Graduate School.

Johanna Koljonen (2008): The Dragon Was the Least of It: Dragonbane and LARP as Ephemera and Ruin. Ropecon ry. Montola & Stenros (eds): Playground Worlds: Creating and Evaluating Experiences of Role-Playing Games.

Linn, Holman Jones Stacy, et al. (2016): Handbook of Autoethnography. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Audre Lorde (2015): Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Crossing Press

Markus Montola, Jaakko Stenros, & Eleanor Saitta (2015): The Art of Steering: Bringing the Player and the Character Back Together. Rollespilsakademiet. The Knudepunkt 2015 Companion Book, edited by Claus Raasted and Charles Bo Nielsen.

Martine Svanevik, and Simon Brind (2016): Pre-Bleed Is Totally a Thing. Ropecon Ry. Larp Realia – Analysis, Design, and Discussions of Nordic Larp.

Susanne Vejdemo (2018): Play to Lift, Not Just to Lose Nordic Larp, 21 Feb. 2018

References   [ + ]

1.Colonization is when a dominant group or system takes over culture and society from other groups. This may involve taking land, physical and mental violence, systemic injustice, and forcing people to only follow the colonizer’s way of life. When one decolonizes something, they are trying to undo the long lasting harm colonization has done. In this article, we are attempting to decolonize ourselves by rejecting a mythical norm. In this meaning decolonize means that we will learn how to press the proverbial restart button. What if we could be the being we truly want to be without the confines of society’s rigid interpretation of who we must be?

Authors

Jonaya Kemper
Jonaya Kemper (b.1985) is an activist, educator, games scholar, and designer whose work focuses on liberation through reflexive play. She is known for theorizing the concept of emancipatory bleed and encouraging intersectionality within the medium.
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