The Manifesto of Playing to Live Elsewise

The Manifesto of Playing to Live Elsewise

Experience addicts on a burning plane

This is what we know: we are dying. As a species, as a collection of complex ecosystems, we are dying. Not even slowly as one might think, but with exhilarating velocity, with violence, with a chaotic mess of unjust systems, of deadly consequences falling first on those least responsible. 

We are dying from hunger and from drought, dying from overconsumption, dying from wars starting from the lack of water at the same time as water is dripping from our eager mouths and polished bodies, billions of gallons of fresh water being washed away with literal shit that we don’t have the capability to use in fruitful ways, because we rather not deal with. We have become a living wasteland, this species with such promise, such beauty, such utter ignorance, desire for bliss. 

It’s not that we don’t know or believe the facts of the eco-crisis happening. We struggle with it, because we don’t want survival, we want meaning, we want ecstasy, we want a story. We want an ending that sends shivers through our spine so we can put our lives in the context of something that begins and ends, that is not a continuum, because we don’t understand continuums. We understand short spanned time frames and the taste of coffee and the way our lover tilts their neck. Yet we cannot bear the pain of the havoc we are causing, so we try not to think about it. We cry or consume, we become cynical or overwhelmed. We all have our excuses and they’re all valid. But with the utmost love and compassion I say: they are all still excuses. We can all be forgiven, but none of us are excused.

As larpers, players and game designers, we are escape artists. We find cracks in reality and call them fiction, dwell in them, live in those worlds for a while. It’s brilliant. The fact that we want to, proves my cynical side wrong – we should be saved, this species so anxious for self-destruction. The fact that we know how to escape fills me with awe, but also disappointment. We are world builders, imaginers, multitalented community leaders… And what do we do with that? We consume. We create experiences for the consuming mass that we have become. We go from larp to larp, experience to experience hoping to feel something, hoping to be shaken, hoping to be excited, transformed even. Transformed how? To what? 

In our well justified desire to escape we have become experience addicts. And who doesn’t love a high? We are all junkies of sorts, driven by our various desires. We long to experience, to feel, but our hunger for distraction is blindsiding us from our capacity to imagine better futures, to live sustainably, to live elsewise. 

What we have is a need for both individual and system change before we all die in this bonfire. For most, this seems obvious. Even the ones regularly enjoying the air-conditioned bliss of airport lounges and the feel of grown to be killed juiciness of flesh in their mouths, or that sexy leather car seat or whatever it is that the bourgeoisie get up to these days – maybe playing some blockbuster larps – have an eerie feeling that there is something not quite right in the world.

We all need a revolution, even if we don’t want one. To have one, we need to want one and to want one, we need to understand what the alternatives to this shitshow we are participating in at the moment are and how we can embody those alternatives, make them real.

The beauty of larp, as an art, as a spark for a revolution, is that the whole core of larp is exploring other ways of living and being. Taking these other worlds and moving in them, tasting, smelling, touching realities that before seemed impossible. What magnificent magic we have the ability, the capacity, the desire to do. We need to look at what we want to create, what kind of world we want to live in and then take this magic seriously.

Photo by on

Photo by on

The worlds we dwell in and how these worlds come into being matter. In the times of eco-crisis, every game we play, no matter how far the fiction reaches, still happens in the context of a burning planet.

Playing Elsewise

So how to play and how to design in the times of the eco-crisis? The following theses suggest a starting point.

The deep ecological framework – We need a community whose art is based on the deep ecological understanding that we are not separate from nature, that we have no right to use it to fill our secondary needs. To live and play by this framework is revolutionary. We need to understand our interconnectedness with the non-human world and transform the way we live in it by making larps that are based on this understanding. We need to start all larp design with a deep ecological framework to readjust the worlds, the attitudes, the habits we have. The deep ecological framework should be the baseline for everything we do, the truth telling mirror we ask whether our deeds are just. 

The embodied practice – We need to profoundly embrace that larp is an embodied practice. Fiction and reality come together in our skin, in our muscle memory, in the way my very real heart races in the fictional world as we touch hands, as we fight, laugh, cry, take care of each other. This is the greatest advantage of our art form. We need to learn how to play with and in our bodies, to focus on understanding and learning tools for preparing our bodies for larps, for what happens to them in-game and how we take the embodied knowledge we learn with us. The way we move in the world changes the world. The actions, tastes, ways of living we teach our bodies in fiction stay with us in reality. What do we want to bring back with us? How do we want to move in this world we are constantly shaping?

Playing with desire –  As players, as designers it’s time for us to get intimate with our desires. To understand them better than the algorithms do, better than capitalism that’s playing us for fools. To live is to desire and there is no shame in that, but as long as we don’t understand or are afraid to admit what it is that truly lies underneath our actions, there is no fulfillment, there is only hunger. We don’t need a six-hundred-dollar larp. We need to be loved. We need connection, self-worth, safety, beauty, meaning. If we start truly playing with our deep desires, whatever they are for each of us, we will understand not only how, but why we want to live and find ways to transcend our hunger. 

Intention and integration – We need to get serious about intention and integration, find tools and space for it in our games and play styles. Any game has the potential to be transformational if we do this. Why am I playing/designing this game? What do I want to happen and why? What tools do I need to give my players or myself as one of them to process, to integrate the experiences we go through, to find places for these experiences to settle into our lives, to change the way we think and move in the world? Intention makes us conscious of the whys and the hows. Integration puts that consciousness into action.

The Deep Minimal – We have become desensitized by all the stimuli in- and off-game, we have become greedy and needy, waiting to be impressed. We don’t need more plots, bigger castles, complex game mechanics to feel and understand more. We need less. The deeper we want to go, the less extravaganza we need to have in our games. Let’s make larps that tune out the noise so we can hear what’s actually going on. Let’s build worlds not out of props or fancy venues, but out of commitment to each other, to the world we are building, to the nuanced detail of how we listen to each other and ourselves during play, how we tend to the fragile, powerful desires we have in us. Let’s play slowly, deeply and trust that when we leave space for things to happen, they will – and we will notice.

Non-consumerism – Larp is not a product, and we are not consumers. Stop selling experiences, stop consuming them. Find ways of gifting larps that not only challenge consumerism, but the whole system it’s based on. 

Agency and raising awareness – We yearn for agency in-game but struggle with it off-game. Let’s make larps that help us find agency, that empower us, that inspire us to remember and notice that our actions matter and that we have the power to do things differently, to rebel against unjust systems, to resist oppression, to invite care, joy, sustainable action. Let’s make larps that help us become conscious of the systems we are part of, of the values we base our actions on, of the things that are stopping us from living sustainably.

Slow travel or no travel – Stop flying. Now. Participating in larps that promote flying or designing games that encourage the players to do so is destructive. If we cannot play in ways that are sustainable, we shouldn’t be playing at all. If we can make up fictional worlds, we can figure out other ways of travelling or participating. Larp is not just about the run-time, our responsibilities reach beyond. Designing the whole larp process on a basis of slow travel or no travel should be an essential part of that.

Find new stories to create new worlds – No pre-existing system will save us. If it could’ve, it would’ve. Let’s challenge ourselves to tell and experience stories that are not a repetition of our old and toxic ways, of oppressive and destructive lifestyles. As players and games designers we tend to strive for the drama, dark themes, painful fun and many times we are more than flirting with dark tourism. We should approach darkness with care. It’s good that we want to investigate all shades of life, but can we find the drama, the feels, all that we love in unseen places, in stories not yet told, stories that help to shape reality into new ways of being. No future – even a brighter one – is uncomplicated, the possibility of exploration is endless if we are willing to go there. Let’s rehabilitate our imagination, let’s get weird, unprecedented.

Building communities – We need each other now and we will need each other even more in the futures to come. The bigger the transformation, the more we need to do it together. Resilience is a communal effort. Larp is a shortcut to building communities and we need to take care of these communities, work with our differences, with affection as well as with the annoyance. To offer and to ask for help. Don’t compete, we’re all on the same side. Learn to listen to those you disagree with and answer them with care, with compassion. Let’s build in-game communities that teach us ways of living together despite all the factors that would come in between us, and let’s cherish the off-game communities that sprout from these experiences.

Staying with the trouble – Let’s stop searching for those quick highs and start finding ways to bear the uncomfortable, the devastating, the messy feelings of grief, shame, anger and hopelessness that come with the ecological destruction we are living through. Let’s work with those feelings and from that complexity look for the beauty and all the imaginative escape routes. 

Pleasure and joy – We need to learn to desire for things that don’t destroy us. Living and playing elsewise doesn’t mean enjoying less. We are hedonists by default, and we should work with that. Let’s play to find joy in the acts of living elsewise. Let’s make games that challenge the idea that sustainability means giving up play and pleasure (and still not fall into a trap of green washing our larps). Let’s work less and play more. Let’s imagine and embody worlds where sustainable life equals joy and beauty. 

In conclusion

Our climate, our ecosystems, our societies, the ways in which we live are already in the midst of vast transformations. For there to be a future filled with play, there needs to be a huge shift in how we play. 

I want this community to feel all there is to feel, the joy and the anger of the world as it is, and then to get really, really excited about confronting these struggles, excited about all the possibilities that not only lie ahead, but can and should manifest here and now. With love and rage I ask us to imagine and embody post-capitalist and post-fossil futures, playful, wonderful realities. Let’s imagine living, breathing, ecstatic, socially just, non-destructive systems that honor all life. Let’s make these realities livable, show that there are alternatives.  

We are imaginers, world creators, loving, thriving beings filled with infinite possibilities to live and play elsewise. Let’s do so.

This article has been reprinted with permission from the Solmukohta 2024 book. Please cite as:

Tarpila, Maiju. 2024. “The Manifesto of Playing to Live Elsewise.” In Liminal Encounters: Evolving Discourse in Nordic and Nordic Inspired Larp, edited by Kaisa Kangas, Jonne Arjoranta, and Ruska Kevätkoski. Helsinki, Finland: Ropecon ry.

Cover photo: Photo by Fahmi Ariza on

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Maiju Tarpila is a Finnish artist and pedagogue. She designs, writes, facilitates and teaches collective artistic practices and playful participatory experiences especially through larp and theatre. Her work is often centered around questions of community, resilience and the imagining body as an experimental platform of living elsewise in times of ecocrisis.