"To Larp, or Not to Larp?" Must Embodiment and Code Deployment Reinforce Systemic Injustice across Larp Platforms?

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

Larps are a form of analog game in which participants co-create and collectively inhabit diegeses (Montola 2012, cf. Gennette 1980). Larp may also be thought of as a medium, and codic larps are a type of larp platform that use diegetic code (Steele 2016) to represent parts of the story, allowing conflicts about what happens next to be resolved through contests in which diegetic material has been congealed into code and rendered deployable. Codic larps offer a unique opportunity to teach and study code, and the analog nature of codic larp allows advanced engagements like platform modding to happen with fewer layers of technology to navigate than digital code platforms, ostensibly lowering the barrier of entry to coding, while allowing diegetic code to serve as a "boundary object" (Star and Griesemer 1989, Star 2010) through which scholars and professionals from many backgrounds may develop common language to engage in cross-codic critique.

Recently, embodied gaming activities including codic larps have come under scrutiny by those who question the power relations inherent in physically embodying one’s own avatar, as well as in rituals surrounding the embodied deployment of diegetic code. In the wake of developing and touring their digital Shakespeare game, Play the Knave, Gina Bloom, Nicholas Toothman, and Evan Buswell have explored the argument that having players physically embody their characters is troubled by the degree to which out-of-game asymmetrical power relations like racisms and sexisms attach themselves to bodies (Bloom et al. 2021), an issue that is part of a phenomenon that I call creep, which is when unwanted out-of-game assemptical power relations creep into the fantasy world you are trying to make with your game. 

Additionally, sociologist Steven Dashiell has criticized meta-coding rituals that often surround algorythmic analog gameplay for reinforcing the power relations that underpine structural forms of sexism and other inequalities (Dashiell 2017, 2018), fueling arguments within larp communities that diegetic code deployment should be removed from games altogether (cf. Fatland et al. 1999).

Pushing back against these anti-embodyment and anti-codic sentiments is the work of other gamemaker-scholars who have engaged larp's embodiment and rituals of code deployment to ostensibly develop interventions into pervasive forms of systemic inequality. Jonaya Kemper's work on emancipatory bleed (Kemper 2017, 2020), Diana J. Leonard's efforts to develop anti-racist scaffolding for codic larp (cf. Leonard 2013, 2018), as well as the work I have done on anti-code (Steele 2016, 2018), and the efforts to develop larp consent mechanics by Johanna Koljonen (Koljonen 2020), Sarah Lynne Bowman (Bowman 2017), and Maury Brown (Brown 2017), demonstrate efforts to not only salvage different facets of the larp medium, but to "fork the code": using the larp medium's unique embodimemt and of code-based play to offer game mechanics and scaffolding as interventions into the creep of systemic racisms and sexisms.


Steele's talk begins at 12:50:


ELO 2021: Platforms and Software 3, 27 May 2021

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Daniel Johannes...