Category Archives: Case Study

Coded Chaos, Decoded Fun: the Rhetorical Ontology of Live Action Role-Playing Games

Coded Chaos, Decoded Fun: the Rhetorical Ontology of Live Action Role-Playing Games

Scholars have studied and theorized role-playing games in terms of information systems (Harviainen, 2012, 2009, 2007; Hakkarainen and Stenros, 2003), organizational structures and social processes (Montola, 2003, 2004, 2009), archetypal psychological forms and shared fantasies (Bowman 2010, 2012; Fine, 2002; Mackay, 2001), narrative immersions (Kim, 2004; Harding, 2005; Larsson, 2005; Torner and White, 2012) and as, well, games that are fun to play (Edwards, 2001; Bøckman, 2003; Huizinga, 1955; Salen and Zimmerman, 2003; Zimmerman, 2013; Stenros, 2012). Though some of these studies consider role-playing in its various forms — tabletop, live, and online — the primary focus of this theoretical paper is the experience of role-playing as a performed embodied character, within a physical environment, in interaction with others: Live Action Role-Playing, or larp (aka LARP). This particular type of RPG’s relevance as an object of study to English Studies is three-fold: larps are important sites of cultural production that both challenge and replicate social constructions; they are also an increasingly popular form of participatory media that can be seen as a space of interactive narratology and rhetorical activity. Furthermore, they function as an information system marked by enculturated networked individualism. This paper will explore existing theories of larp as a chaotic system that attempts to aggregate individual narratives into a cohesive whole by looking at larp activity as discourse within a rhetorical situation. I complicate this idea by bringing in Hall’s notion of encoding-decoding, which helps explain the interpretive and action-based agency afforded individual players in the game and the culturally dominant semiotic system that causes players to enforce or prefer certain interpretations, thus affecting game play and its outcomes. Ultimately I posit that using rhetorical theory to analyze larps helps us to understand how information in a larp travels, is interpreted, mapped, and enacted, thus creating the game itself. My goal is not merely to describe the experience of a larp, as other theorists have done, but to begin to think about why and how larps are experienced in this way.

Hansen (2003) claims that role-play is an emergent phenomenon that arises from individual players’ interaction with each other. Montola (2003) claims that larps consist of players who “construct diegeses in interaction,” and that these in-game truths are subjective to each individual player, but developed collaboratively over the course of the game. It should be noted that in a larp, as opposed to a table-top game, for example, the physical reality of the game-space is used as a basis for in-game (diegetic) reality. Unlike computer-based games, which have an interface of binary decision-making that forces players to make choices from among scripted opportunities created by game designers, larps have simply a starting point and the “vectors of the characters” (Hansen, 2003, Montola, 2004). The game emerges from the starting situation and is the result of improvisation and interaction among the players, who can draw from their imaginations, creating a wider range of play possibilities. Montola applies Aula’s (1996) chaos theory of human communications to the unpredictable but non-random system of larp. Montola notes that Aula’s three characteristics of chaotic systems — nonlinearity, recursivity, and dynamism — apply to larp game play.

Nonlinearity, or the absence of linear dependency on changes made during play, is similar to Latour’s concept of the mediator, rather than an intermediary. Messages or energy expended to cause change in the game are not merely transferred along a network of players. The message or action is changed as it travels, if it travels at all, as a player may choose to keep information secret. Inputs into the game do not equal outputs; there is a sense of randomness that is an integral part of the game experience.

Recursivity indicates that the “end result of the first situation is used as the beginning of the next one” (Montola, 2004). What is constructed by one player or gamemaster is used as the basis for what other players can and do construct as a result. This refers to both within a single instance of a larp (e.g. during game play), and over the course of a campaign game, played over many sessions. Recursivity is another way of stating that the game is co-constructed, woven together as Deleuze & Guattari’s assemblage or Levi-Strauss’ bricolage, from the available materials, over time, with each addition building on the next. A co-player’s contribution cannot be discarded, removed, or ignored. It must be incorporated. This, like nonlinearity, can cause the outputs to little resemble the inputs, as game play must veer into the new direction after the contribution of any player.

The third principle, dynamism, refers to the plasticity of the game situation, of the entire system’s ability to morph, in real-time, as a result of changes to the system. A change in the character changes the way the character behaves, and a change in the character’s behavior changes the system  s/he participates in and co-creates. The interaction of these three principles accumulate over time in a game, causing a seemingly insignificant utterance at the starting point to have potentially enormous consequences later.

Hansen (2003) notes that communication changes social relationships, and since a larp is fundamentally about a network of social relationships being role-played, these relationships change constantly as a result of communication. However, that is the extent to which Montola and Hansen consider communication as the “change agent” in a larp. They identify the larp  as an unpredictable, though not random, system best characterized as an emergent phenomenon and demonstrate that it follows the chaos system principles of nonlinearity, recursivity and dynamism. They do not look at what drives these principles, what causes them to be observable in the larp.

While these scholars have looked at describing what components comprise a larp, what players experience during a larp, or how to design larps that afford fun and authentic experiences, few, if any, scholars have considered what actually occurs during a larp, what creates or enacts the experience of the larp. They have looked at the “what” of a larp and not the “how” a larp happens. Larps are performed through speech, they are spoken into existence. Game play occurs as description, narration, and conversation among participants. Larps are discursive scenarios, and larps are fundamentally rhetorical acts.

According to Lloyd Bitzer (1968), rhetorical discourse “comes into existence as a response to a situation, in the same sense that an answer comes into existence in response to a question, or a solution in response to a problem” (p. 5).  Bitzer refers to a situation that requires a discursive response as the “rhetorical situation”, which he defines as “a complex of persons, events, objects, and relationship presenting an actual or potential exigence which can be completely or partially removed if discourse, introduced into the situation, can so constrain human decision or action as to bring about the significant modification of the exigence” (p. 6). In other words, a situation is rhetorical if it can be resolved or changed through the introduction of discourse, or speech.

It’s not quite that simple, because Bitzer further defines exigence as “an imperfection marked by urgency; it is a defect, an obstacle, something waiting to be done, a thing which is other than it should be … an exigence is rhetorical when it is capable of positive modification and when positive modification requires discourse or can be assisted by discourse” (p.6). Conversely, an exigence is not rhetorical if it cannot be changed, or it can be changed without discourse, by the use of a tool or one’s own action, not in conversation with another. Furthermore, Bitzer notes that a rhetorical situation requires an audience that is comprised of not merely “hearers or readers” but those who can be influenced through the discourse to become “mediators of change” (p. 7). Lastly, Bitzer lays out the idea of constraints, or “persons, events, objects, and relations” which have the “power to constrain decision and action needed to modify the exigence” (p. 8). An orator who enters the situation harnesses these “beliefs, attitudes, documents, facts, traditions, images, interests, motives, and the like” and uses them to create change via the audience members.

Using Bitzer to look at the rhetorical nature of a larp, we can find some parallels. Certainly larps contain the basic elements of a rhetorical situation by Bitzer’s definition. The basic triangle of an exigence, audience, and constraints exist in the form of the game to be played and the central premise or conflict, the other players, and the mechanics and rules and setting of the game itself. The rhetor, or individual player, enters this situation, and through diegetic discourse, changes what happens in the game. Individual actions by a player would not be rhetorical under Bitzer’s definition, but speech by a player — the primary method to enact a larp — would constitute rhetorical action, especially as that speech evokes a response from other players, who in turn create change in the original exigence. As you can see, however, an immediate problem arises in trying to apply Bitzer to a larp. Bitzer’s model assumes a single rhetor (or a rhetor on behalf of a corporate entity) and a passive audience, neither of which exist in a larp. Larps consist of a multitude of rhetors, each discoursing in response to the perceived exigence, which, in another contradiction to Bitzer, may not be “the” exigence, as characters may have different goals and information about the situation they are engaging with. The only audience in a larp are the other players, who are not there merely to be acted upon by a rhetor and a mediator of the change s/he wishes to effect. They are there as their own agents of change.

Furthermore, for Bitzer, the situation is paramount: “rhetorical discourse is called into existence by situation; the situation which the rhetor perceives amounts to an invitation to create and present discourse” (p. 8). The situation itself drives the resulting speech and governs what is appropriate, or “fitting” speech that can be said matches the situation and resolve the exigence. Other responses that are not designed to cause audience members to change the situation are not considered fitting; each rhetorical situation invites, and often requires or demands, a particular and proper structured response (pp. 9-10). In fact, Bitzer notes that, “the situation controls the rhetorical response in the same sense that the question controls the answer and the problem controls the solution. Not the rhetor and not persuasive intent, but the situation is the source and ground of rhetorical activity” (p. 6, emphasis mine). Thus, Bitzer’s sense of discourse and the rhetorical situation is prescriptive, leaving very little — if any — agency for the speaker/rhetor. In fact, Bitzer seems to be advocating a linear pattern of communication; if I say this, I expect that, my outputs can be predicted by my inputs.

The primacy of the situation and lack of agency for the rhetor under Bitzer’s model makes it unsuitable for explaining a larp fully. While the genre of the game and the basic premise — the situation that requires a response — certainly constrain what is fitting for in-game discourse, the purpose of a larp is to create the game as an active agent, and to interact with others who also have that discursive power. Larps are unscripted, and also have outcomes that are restricted only by the players’ imagination and the constraints of the game’s runtime. As Hansen noted, the gameframe is only the starting point of the larp, and the character descriptions are seen as “vectors” that provide direction for the players. A larp that is too scripted or controlled cannot be played; a larp does not consist of a single question or a single problem to be solved by a single rhetor. The multiplicity of agency and situation through plot arcs, conflicts, and players, might create a network of Bitzer’s rhetorical situations, occurring simultaneously, and then recursively, one resolution leading to the next, but even then the structured approach of his argument fails to describe the dynamism of a larp’s continuously changing situation and the nonlinearity that belies Bitzer’s notions of predictable desired outcomes as a result of the “proper discourse” to the “proper audience.”

Unlike Bitzer, who believes rhetorical situations are discrete, discernible, objective, and thus “real” or “genuine,” Richard Vatz, in a direct response to Bitzer, contends that the speaker perceives a situation, and often does so as a result of communication created through the interpretation of another rhetor (1973, pp. 155-156).  Vatz says that the characterization of a situation and the discourse used to describe or “respond” to it are not “according to a situation’s reality” (as Bitzer would have it), but according to the “rhetor’s arbitrary choice of characterization” (157). Vatz implies that we can manufacture exigence, and indeed situations themselves, out of language. Thus, Vatz flips Bitzer’s position to argue that rhetoric itself creates the exigence. Vatz contends that “meaning is not discovered in situations, but created by rhetors” (p. 158). Agency is placed within the subjective rhetor and not in a supposedly objective situation.

Vatz’s interpretation of a rhetorical situation comes closer to making sense for a larp, as it privileges the discourse itself and acknowledges the rtheorical choices made by the players as ones that not only are “fitting” or “dictated by the situation” (Bitzer) but also as ones that themselves create the salience of the situation (Vatz, p. 158). Vatz allows for the rhetor, or the player in a larp, to create reality through language, not merely communicate with an audience in response to a situation. Vatz acknowledges the primacy of the perception of the rhetor, and the choices s/he makes as constructing what becomes the “situation” or what discourse is put into play. The primacy of perception and the constructive nature of the reality that is acted upon with language liberates the player-rhetor from the prescriptiveness of an observable situation and makes more sense applied to the discursive activity of a larp, which takes place as Vatz would allow, in relationship to the rhetors who have come before, whose perceptions and interpretations through language have informed the current rhetor. This aligns with Montola’s explanation of the recursivity property of a larp, that one statement informs the next.

However, Vatz’s notions do not explain the synchronous and multiplicitous nature of simultaneous perceptions and utterances in a given larp. Indeed in a larp, there is no clear singular conversation (even though there often is a main story arc), but a multitude of them. Vatz does allows us to see that none of these competing discourses represent an “objective” or “correct” perception of the overall rhetorical situation of the larp; indeed, Vatz’s view of the primacy of the rhetor’s perception corroborates Montola’s (2003) view of that “every participant constructs his or her diegesis when playing” (p. 83).  Vatz’s model acknowledges that interpreted language creates the perceptions that constitute the reality, recognizing that the discursive activity is indeed a representation not an actuality, further corroborating Montola’s theory that the larp consists of personal, subjective diegeses that coexist and are related through communication (2003, 2012). But his model also does not allow us to take into account the physical reality of the larp, an important component that distinguishes it from other forms of role-playing games. Additionally, neither Bitzer’s nor Vatz’s model allows us to think about the movement between the competing yet combined realities of the fictional game (diegetic) and the brute reality of the world it is played in (non-diegetic).

As mentioned, a larp has a multiplicity of rhetors speaking simultaneously, a variety of exigences that are both in game and out of game, and no true audience, since all who participate have agency to speak and create. Furthermore, in a larp, speech is more than an epistemological construct or a heuristic device. Speech is actually a creative activity; through discourse, the game, the character, the shared experience is made. This is quite literal in a larp. If you speak something, it becomes true in the world of the game, the game diegesis. Other players must accept what you have said or described as true or real, and they must adjust their views and play accordingly. Gamemasters may have to intervene to connect the new generative speech act to the game’s narrative or canon, but it cannot be undone. In addition, some actions in larp are not performed, but described, so as not to put the physical bodies of the players in danger or discomfort (for example, a player may say, “I’m stabbing you with my dagger” or “We are having sex.”). In a larp, rhetorical speech acts are ontological. Discourse is not only the way of knowing, but is the way of being, of bringing into existence, of making reality. This is, to a degree, what Vatz was saying when he noted that the interpretation of a situation constitutes it, calls it into being, but Vatz’s purpose is to negate the universality or unity of situation, thus allowing for his premise of the speaker’s rhetorical agency.

Speech in a larp is more than the mere interpretation of communicated ideas, and more than the rhetorical requirement of having to be persuaded before taking action or creating change. Another player-character in a larp could disagree completely with the rhetorical turn a player just enacted, not wish to follow that thread or engage that discourse, and even actively attempt to thwart the intentions of the rhetor. But what he or she cannot do is ignore or invalidate the spoken truth. It cannot be argued, only complicated or twisted through additional, recursive speech acts. Thus, speech in a larp actually does create a kind of unity and universality that must be accepted by the other players. However, unlike Bitzer’s notion, this unity is not pre-existing and waiting to be discovered, but instead is created together through the interactive dynamism of the game. Bitzer and Vatz allow us to see that rhetoric is a plausible way to look at larps, but they do not account for the interactivity of the discourse, the fact that other players talk back and interact, that there is no primary rhetor, no distinction between rhetor and audience, and no stable message or narrative — only the nonlinear, recursive dynamism that unfolds rhetorically.

Stuart Hall (1993) agrees that the traditional communication model of a circuit or loop, as advocated by Bitzer, Vatz, and others, is too linear and too focused only the moment of message exchange, failing to take into account moments that precede and follow that discursive moment. Instead, he posits that discourse is a process of linked articulations in five distinct moments: production, circulation, distribution, consumption, reproduction (p. 478). Communication must be translated and transformed from one articulation to the next; at any one of these border-crossing moments, there is the opportunity for miscommunication or misinterpretation. At these gaps, the message is decoded, transformed, mediated or interpellated, and what was encoded by the rhetor is not guaranteed to be if-i-cant-hear-you-its-not-truedecoded by the recipient. Hall notes that “no one moment can fully guarantee the next moment with which it is articulated” (p. 478). In other words, the inputs do not equal the outputs, capturing the nonlinearity inherent in communication and in a larp. The idea of seamless transfer from speaker to hearer is a fiction that rhetoricians such as Bitzer, Vatz and others pretend to believe as it gives credibility, and perhaps validity to the necessity of intervening in a situation with discourse, and of the importance of rhetorical training to effect these supposed seamless transfers of information and causation.

Hall notes that the audience does not play a passive role in his model, indeed if the audience does not take any meaning from the discursive form, then it cannot be said to have been “consumed” or to have the desired effect (478). Indeed, any one of these moments of encoding and decoding are “determinate moments” where meaning has the possibility of being communicated, and then acted upon. Furthermore, Hall notes that communication isn’t as simple as person to person, even if we acknowledge what may be implicit in the message being spoken or the ability to understand and receive that message on the part of the hearer. Communication does not take place in a vacuum; what is both encoded and decoded is a result of social norms and practices, and the action that an audience member takes in response to discourse must enter this structure. It does not do so strictly in behavioral or positivistic terms, Hall notes, but through a complex network of “social and economic relations, which shape their ‘realisation’ at the reception end of the chain and which permit the meanings signified  in the discourse to be transposed into practice or consciousness (to acquire social use value or political effectivity)” (p. 480).

Hall helps us see that what is said is not the same as what is meant  or what is heard. And what is heard is not the same as what is understood or done as a result. Hall calls these equivalences or symmetries between the “encoder-producer and the decoder-receiver” which “interrupt or systematically distort what has been transmitted” (p. 480). As meaning crosses these gaps, especially if it must cross unequal relationships of social, political, ideological or discursive power, there is opportunity for intervention from an outside (or internalized) force that causes the meaning to be changed or transmuted. Montola (2004) agrees with Hall that “communication is never perfect; no meaning is ever perfectly translated to symbols, and no symbol is ever understood perfectly” (84). As a result, Montola argues there cannot be “an objective diegesis shared by all participants” because such an “objective diegesis” cannot be shared via discourse. The opportunities for the communications misfires are at least doubled in a larp, as one negotiates between the brute and gameworld realities; it can be argued that they are exponentialized due to the sheer number of rhetors and the conflation of rhetor and audience. Thus, the chaotic system of the larp comes from the nature of the performative, and discursive medium.

In a larp, where the discourse quite literally creates not only the perceived reality but the actuality of the game, communication misfires change the outcome of the game itself; they are the cause of the non-linearity and dynamism that are crucial to the larp medium. Furthermore, these encoder-producer ←→ decoder-receiver determinate moments (Montola’s (2004) bifurcation points) can come from either within the game (diegetic) or outside of it (non-diegetic). They can also be discursive or ambient. For example, a player could actually mishear another player, perhaps as a result of other conversations or action going on simultaneously. To stay immersed, the player-character may choose to react based on what was heard and interpreted, rather than interrupt action flow with a request for clarification. The physical positioning of players at the start of a larp, as Montola (2004) notes, affects the order in which a character meets other characters, potentially affecting every subsequent interaction, relationship, and interpretation of discourse, and thus, the outcome of the game. Other possibilities for interruption in this discursive action are from non-diegetic sources: a player’s hunger, the reminder that his car needs an oil change, or some other thought not related to the diegetic conversation at hand. In addition, a psychological trigger that comes up unexpectedly as a result of a spoken or ambient rhetorical choices can create an interruption in the transfer of information that might otherwise occur in a more predictable or structured or anticipated way. When one of these interruptions occurs, or when a player says something in the larp that is a “game-changer”, Hall notes that such “new problematic or troubling events, which breach our expectancies and run counter to our ‘commonsense constructs’, to our ‘taken-for-granted’ knowledge of social structures, must be assigned to their discursive domains before they can be said to ‘make sense’ (p. 483). More often than not, these unexpected statements get default-mapped to what Hall calls “preferred meanings” that have “the whole social order embedded in them as a set of meanings, practices, and beliefs” (483).

Indeed, as we know from rhetorical theory, a speaker’s effectiveness is based in part on how something is stated, and who states it. A speaker’s ethos is important in allocating him or her rhetorical powers and creating what Bitzer and Vatz desire: the ability to persuade and cause change as a result of the communication. Ethos is certainly something that can be calculated and advanced rhetorically, via both discursive and ambient elements such as

Prof. Xavier of X-Men

Patrick Stewart as Prof. Xavier in the X-Men embodies these qualities that create attractors.

grooming and dress/costuming, but ethos is also something that is interpreted by the receiver and may be connoted through social constructs that the rhetor may or may not be endowed with and powerless to change, such timbre of voice, height, squareness of jaw, or race, gender or sexual orientation. Hall discusses assigning these rhetorical choices and enactments to a set of “performative rules” or prearranged codes that “seek actively to enforce or prefer one semantic domain over another” (p. 484). Hall’s explanation of these default, or naturalized interpretative meanings, according to dominant social mores can help explain why, as Montola (2004) notes, “chaotic systems tend to follow attractors,” or “dynamic pattern[s] of behaviour the chaotic system tries to follow “ (p.158).

The only attractor that can be scripted in a larp is an initial one, such as a quest or a task, given by the gamemaster at the player briefing. After that, the players themselves choose whether to follow the given attractors or create new

Captain Kirk is awesome

Hmmm. We just do what the captain says.

ones (Montola, 2004). When the system attempts to decide whether to follow one or another attractor, mathematicians call these bifurcation points; we might call them determinate moments of rhetorical activity. Montola or Aula do not attempt to

Dr. Who David Tennant is awesome.

Hmmm…. I’m beginning to see a pattern here.

discover how or why players might choose one attractor over another; they only report that such bifurcation points exists and additional attractors arise. We can discover, however, that players are drawn to one attractor or another based on their rhetorical choices and the interpretation of those encoded discursive and ambient rhetorical acts. A character who speaks loudly, or with authority, who presents as strong or as having qualities of a leader, or who happens to have the hegemonic attributes of the dominant code will draw more attention and credibility from the other players, even if he (and it usually is a he, though not always) and thus become one of these attractors that has additional agency in the larp through other players’ interpretation at the determinate moments and willingness to follow at the bifurcation point.Furthermore, Montola (2003, 2012) notes that although meanings are encoded in the “building blocks of role-play” and these are interpreted by the players, that the actual meanings arise “from the diegesis constructed [by individual players] using the interpretations” (p. 88). Though he does not say so explicitly, Montola’s explanation corroborates Hall’s notion that meaning is not assigned until it is made part of a system, which, according to Hall, will, in all likelihood, be uncritically adopted from the dominant hegemonic codes. Yet, Hall notes that “there is no necessary correspondence between encoding and decoding” and that we must recognized that “‘correspondence’ is not given, but constructed” (p. 485). The equivalence between a rhetor and his or her interpretive audience can thus be altered or engineered. By understanding how a player-character, aka rhetor, aka encoder-decoder makes rhetorical choices about what is said and what is interpreted (and thus what is possible and what is played in a larp) one can make more accurate predictions of the probable game play and outcome and make some order in the chaos. These can be useful in terms of designing and enacting game scenarios that might work toward Hall’s negotiated code and against the dominant codes.

Rhetorical theory is also useful in helping us understand how information travels, is taken up and interpreted, is mapped to existing systems of meaning, both diegetic and non-diegetic, and creates the game play from the realm of possible articulations. Montola (2003) argues that “in role-play the amount of diegeses equals the number of participants and telling a story by larp requires successfully communicating the story into every diegesis in game” (p. 88). Approaching the larp as a rhetorical situation, or, better yet, as Barbara Biesecker’s deconstruction-based rhetorical transaction, whereby discourse equals “radical possibilit[ies]” of symbolic action (p. 127), gives us the tools to understand what seems to be a chaotic system governed by unknowable bifurcation moments and unpredictable attractors that drive action. Though we cannot predict a larp outcome because of the multiplicity of interpretations, the imperfect nature of communication, and the encoded power structures contained within, we can understand that discourse creates the actuality of the larp, it’s nonlinear, dynamic recursivity and its playability.Thus, it’s not mere chaos, or even “organized chaos.”  It is instead a rhetorical network of actors with the agency to speak the game into existence, to co-create, using diegetic and non-diegetic means, the flow and fun. Through this rhetorical transaction, meaning is interpreted, constructed, and enacted; the game is articulated and enacted, and the player-characters’ identities continually shift within the dynamic, nonlinear, and recursive contexts.


Biesecker, B. A. (1989). Rethinking the Rhetorical Situation from within the Thematic of “Différance.” Philosophy & Rhetoric, 22(2), 110–130.

Bitzer, L. F. (1992). The Rhetorical Situation. Philosophy & Rhetoric, 25, 1–14.

Bowman, S. L. (2010). The functions of role-playing games how participants create community, solve problems and explore identity. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co.

Bowman, S. L. (2012). Jungian Theory and Immersion in Role-Playing Games. In E. Torner & W. J. White (Eds.), Immersive Gameplay: Essays on Participatory Media and Role-Playing (pp. 31–51). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co.

Fine, G. A. (2002). Shared fantasy: role-playing games as social worlds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hakkarainen, H. & Stenros, J. (2003): “The Meilahti School: Thoughts on Role-playing”. In Gade, Morten, Thorup, Line & Sander, Mikkel (Eds.): When Larp Grows Up. Theory and Methods in Larp. Projektgruppen KP03, Copanhagen.

Hall, S. (1993). Encoding, Decoding. In S. During (Ed.), The Cultural Studies Reader (3rd ed., pp. 477–487). London; New York: Routledge.

Hansen, R. (2003). Relation Theory. In Gade, Morten, Thorup, Line & Sander, Mikkel (eds.). As Larp Grows Up — Theory and Methods in Larp (pp. 70-73). Knudepunkt 2003, Copenhagen.

Harding, T. (2007). Immersion revisited: role-playing as interpretation and narrative. In Lifelike (pp. 25–33). Dansk Ungdoms F\a ellesr\a ad. Retrieved from

Kim, J. H. (2004): “Immersive Story. A View of Role-Played Drama” in Montola & Stenros (eds.): Beyond Role and Play. Solmukohta 2004. Retrieved from

Larsson, E. (2005): “Larping as Real Magic” in Bøckman & Hutchison (eds.): Dissecting Larp. Knutepunkt 2005. Retrieved from

Mackay, D. (2001). The fantasy role-playing game: a new performing art. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co.

Montola, M. (2004). Chaotic Role-Playing. Beyond Role and Play Tools, Toys and Theory for Harnessing the Imagination Ed. Montola, Markus and Stenros, Jaakko. Solmukohta. Retrieved from

Montola, M. (2003). Role-Playing as Interactive Construction of Subjective Diegeses. In M. Gade, L. Thorup, & M. Sander (Eds.), As Larp Grows Up – Theory and Methods in Larp (pp. 82–89). Frederiksberg: Projektgruppen kp 03.

Montola, M. (2009). The invisible rules of role-playing: the social framework of role-playing process. International Journal of Role-Playing, 1(1), 22–36.

Salen, K., & Zimmerman, E. (2003). Rules of play: game design fundamentals. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Stenros, J. (2012). In defence of a magic circle: The social and mental boundaries of play. In DiGRA Nordic 2012 Conference (pp. 1–18). Retrieved from

Torner, E., and White, W. J., 2012. Introduction. In: E. Torner and W. J. White, eds. Immersive gameplay: Essay on Participatory Media and Role-Playing. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc.

Vatz, R. E. (1973). The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation. Philosophy & Rhetoric, 6(3), 154–161.

Zimmerman, E. (2012, February 7). Jerked Around by the Magic Circle – Clearing the Air Ten Years Later. Retrieved March 11, 2014, from


Scaffolding (Non)Synthesis

  • Which 2 – 4 theories are you choosing and why?
    • Ecosystems/Ecologies (Bateson, Spellman, Gibson, Norman)— Looking at larp as a system that is organic, makes more sense to me than as an organization (such as what activity system theory would allow). Larps are, by design, interactive, with individuals being given a particular role within the system to enact. Ecosystems allows me to look at the relationships between the nodes in the network, and to look at how the environment affords and constrains gameplay and fun for the members.
    • Three Ecologies / Ecosophy — Guattari  — Guattari looks at layers of ecologies combining to create a rich reality that operates on the physical, mental, and social levels. Looking at the larp as a multi-layered system allows me to explore the dual-consciousness of player-character, the interiority of the game experience through personal diegesis, and the interactivity within the limitations of physical bodies in physical spaces (which have both diegetic and non-diegetic meanings, contexts and affordances.
    • Role playing as diegetic construction of worlds — Montola → this Finnish larp theorist discusses how the individual interacts with the environment and his/her individual perspective constitutes the reality of what the “game” is. I can use this to show how perception influences what the affordances and constraints of an environment are, and how this can differ from designed affordances by the GM; also how this duality of player and character, who may have different abilities yet coexist int he same body.
    • Three Aspects of Larp — Stenros → the mapping of pre-, during- and post- play for larp as creating an ecosystem (and recognizing that larp is more than the playtime; the playtime is afforded by the pre-work and meaning is made of it from the post-work)
    • Possible: Castells: His concept of the elision of self into the network, timeless time, and the space of places and space of flows will allow me to look at the particular continguity of a larp that takes place in a particular physical reality (brute world) and in a network of imagined personal diegeses (“the game world”).
    • Possible: rhetorical situation, Bitzer/Vatz: in that larps are spoken, they are enacted primarily through discourse and resultant action. They are in response to a rhetorical situation. The exigence may be from in the game (diegetic) or outside the game (non-diegetic) or both.
    • Possible: Rainie Wellerman and networked individualism, which can demonstrate how the larp ecosystem provides benefits for the players (non-diegetic) by affording opportunities for learning, problem solving, decision making, personal interaction and EMPATHY.
  • How are they similar enough that you can justify getting them to work together? How do they fill each other’s gaps?
    • Ecosystems theory allows me to look at how the larp works as a system, that co-creates, using living and non-living things. It also allows me to look at the individual nature of the role played
    • Guattari allows me to bring in multiple layers of a larp into simultaneous ecosystems; layers of play between a brute and diegetic ecosystem.
    • Rainie, Wellerman let me talk about benefits of such a networked system (both for play and for the player) and get at the individual within the system
    • Castells lets me talk about how the network of the larp moves in and out of the spaces and flows, with power changing hands and new networks forming as capital (in or out of game) is exchanged; this can help get at perceived affordances and constraints (vs. designed ones)
  • How do these theories align with how you position yourself as a scholar?
    • I see myself as a social-constructivist and larp helps me explain the co-creation of worlds, narrative, composition, behavior, and as a microcosm of society that can be more safely explored in terms of its norms, roles and boundaries.
    • I am a writer and a teacher, and believe English studies affords a means to know oneself and find one’s place and power in the world through narrative, alternative points of view, control of language and expression of thoughts and feelings.
    • Pedagogically, understanding larp design and experience allows one to design for experiential learning, especially learning to create empathy.  In many ways a teacher in a flattened classroom that fosters learner-to-learner interaction functions as a GM in a larp, with the bulk of the work done “pre-larp/lesson” then monitoring the instance of play/learning, then debriefing from it.  A larp and a lesson are both designed to achieve goals. I will not focus on “gamification” or levels or points as motivational tools; instead I will focus on game design (with both content and affective goals) as lesson design. The power and information exchanges of larps allow players and GMs to alternate between “guide-on-the-side” and a “sage-on-the-stage” roles, which is more indicative of the microcosm of a classroom and the macrocosm of society, rather than a false binary of one or the other.
  • How do these theories align with your own biases and background (the reason you came to this project in the first place)?
    • I came to this project because of my belief that larp offers something beneficial for both individuals and society → a way to help us understand:
      • The roles we play everyday
      • The norms we uphold, consciously or unconsciously
      • The beliefs we have about ourselves
      • The relationships we form, rules we follow, power we express and give
    • By creating the safespace of the larp, we can be freed from our mundane world and explore other points of view (but we carry those beliefs and physical limitations with us) (individual level)
    • Larps are interactive and require people to collaborate → this is a pedagogical lesson important for democratic society
    • Rhetorically, larps are sites of cultural production and fuse elements of composition, performativity, and play — all of which are areas of English Studies.
    • Larps are embodied and culturally situated, and thus are a site of analysis of norms related to play, story, gender, mores, etc. while bringing the body back into the reality of experience (rather than attempting to transcend it through a digital avatar).


  • Explain larp as an ecosystem
  • Introduce Stenros’s three aspects; map larp to pre-, during, post → how that functions as ecosystem
  • Introduce Montola
  • Benefits of looking at larp this way

Case Study #3: The Ecosophy of Larp

Note: This case study is building towards a larger theory, as proposed in my Topic Proposal Redux. In that theory, I will use Guattari, Gibson, Bateson, Norman, and other theorists related to the affordances and constraints of an ecosystem and ecologies. I will also bring in multiple levels of play (as written, as played, as remembered) and the types of play displayed by various members of the ecosystem (Forge Theory, Edwards, Bøckman). I will relate that to the larp as a rhetorical situation with multiple rhetors (who are simultaneously the audience) and to the movement between diegetic and non-diegetic worlds (a system within a system) as expressed by Montola and others. The graphic below is a chart that delineates some of the connections I am making among the various theories. Though this is too complex to entertain in the short space of 2,500 words here, I am giving a taste of what is to come. In this space, I will discuss how I arrived at the idea of larp as an ecosystem, discuss how it behaves as one as well as how its phases correspond to Guattari’s ecologies. I will also discuss a pedagogical tool that can be used as a theoretical lens to analyze the designed affordances and constraints of a given larp. I will not yet discuss the tension between these designed or inherent affordances and constraints and those perceived by the players or characters – that will be developed in the final theory.

Literature Review
Finnish larp theorist Jaako Stenros delineates what he calls three “aspects” of larp in his Aesthetics of Action conference presentation. He lists the “framework” as designed by the larpwrights as the first or primary aspect, consisting of background material, the sketch of the roles and their social network, game mechanics, and sometimes character outlines. The second aspect is the larp runtime, during which the larp’s first level is turned over to the influence of the players, who create the experience. Stenros notes that this larp aspect is ephemeral and dynamic: “the players can run away with it” and “it is lost the moment the larp [allotted gametime] ends.”  His third aspect is the larp “as remembered, interpreted, and documented” during which the players come together to share their individual experiences of the larp as played, and to co-create a kind of communal meaning of the experience. Markus Montola (2009) notes that larps use the principle of equifinality, or multiple paths to the same end state. This agreed-upon end state is co-constructed during the third aspect of larp, which follows the actual game.  However, as Stenros reiterates, this is not to be considered a finite resolution that is simply decided upon once and codified. Rather, “as the piece [the particular instantiation of a larp] is debated later, discussed and critiqued, its meaning continues to shift” (Aesthetics).

I will summarize Stenros’s three aspects as 1. Larp As Written; 2. Larp As Played and 3. Larp As Remembered or Narrated, noting that the three levels take place before, during, and after the runtime of a particular iteration or instantiation of a larp. Stenros goes on to discuss the activity of the three aspects as framing, building/enriching and negotiating. The table below summarizes these simultaneous concepts:

Phase or Aspect Timeframe Primary Activity
As written Prior to game-play Framing
As played During game-play Building, enriching, interpreting
As remembered After game-play Negotiating and narrativizing

Here is a brainstorm of the activity that takes place pre-larp, during-larp, and post-larp:

Larp Wall Charts Brainstorm three phases

These three phases of larp seem to create an ecosystem of larp, where any given larp is an interactive system moving within and between these three aspects — as the network or system is created, enacted, and dissolved. Ecosystems are ways to explain things that are dynamic, in a state of flux, and whose outcomes/outputs cannot be fully predicted mechanically or even computationally or logarithmically. An ecosystem is concerned with movement, distribution, exchange, and transformation enacted by invested, adaptable members who together co-create the system through production and consumption in relationship with one another.

Layers of rainforestEcologies are fundamentally dynamic networks in that they exist only in the relationships, in the movement among the nodes, which operates according to protocols unique to each member, but translated into a working, mutually beneficial partnership. Of course, a larp is a constructed ecosystem, a world made by intelligent design – at least the geometry and geography or framework of it, as discussed above. In a larp, people are portraying roles within the constructed game-space ecosystem that is nested inside the outer ecosystem of the mundane world. This system is an ecosystem because it is dynamic, teeming, and alive, with each player occupying a particular niche and behaving according to his/her own perceptions and interpreting his/her own diegesis. Indeed, as Stenros notes, “Role-play is pretend play with a social context and shared rules” (Aesthetics, emphasis added).

In an ecosystem, every entity has a role, according to his/her affordances and constraints, in order to keep the system moving toward its goal of homeostasis, during which an individual population or an entire ecosystem regulates itself against negative factors and maintains an overall stable condition (Spellman 20). Spellman identifies roles into two categories: living (biotic) and non-living (abiotic) (15). He further divides the abiotic components into three categories: inorganic substances, organic compounds, and climate regime. I will return to these three levels as depicted in a larp later, when I discuss artifacts and The Mixing Desk.  Defining an ecosystem as “a cyclic mechanism in which biotic and abiotic materials are constantly exchanged”, Spellman delineates levels of production and consumption of these materials (15-16). I have added this column to my larp grid below to demonstrate how these roles and levels of production/consumption fit into the ecosystem of a larp:

Level or Aspect Timeframe Primary Activity Ecosystem Role
As written Prior to game-play Framing Primary producer
As played During game-play Building, enrichingInterpreting Primary Consumer
As remembered After game-play Negotiating and narrativizing Secondary consumer &Decomposer

We can then add the actual larp roles:

Level or Aspect Timeframe Primary Activity Ecosystem Role Larp role
As written Prior to game-play Framing Primary producer GameMaster/ Larpwright
As played During game-play Building, enrichingInterpreting Primary Consumer Individual players
As remembered After game-play Negotiating and narrativizing Secondary consumer &Decomposer Community of playersGameMaster/ Larpwright

So the larp ecosystem continuous cycle would look like this, with the green level being before a larp runtime begins, the blue level being during larp runtime, and the red and orange being post-larp runtime:

Demonstrates the dynamics of play among the roles of production and consumption. Upon completing one cycle, another instantiation of the larp as played is ready to begin.

Demonstrates the dynamics of play among the roles of production and consumption. Upon completing one cycle, another instantiation of the larp as played is ready to begin.

Indeed, both players in a larp and members of an ecosystem appear to continually assess its affordances and constraints, with their own survival and needs as paramount. A player-character in a larp also functions this way, following a path and plan in the game ecosystem that is based on two types of survival/needs assessment: in-game and out-of-game. In game elements: skills, relationships, goals, revealed secrets, mechanics are designed by the GameMasters or co-created against constraints given by GMs, the genre, or the world of the game. Out-of-game elements may refer to the player’s preferred play style, as a Gamist, Dramatist, or Immersionist, to use Bøckman’s “Three-Way Model” (2003). This dominant play style for each player helps determine the approach they take to the ecosystem, and how they perceive their niche within it.  Dramatists, called Narrativists in Edwards’ Forge Theory Model (2001) are concerned with in-game action and plot, with the primary goal to create a satisfying story (Bøckman 14; Edwards Ch. 2). Dramatists perceive the game as affording opportunities for a cohesive and believable narrative, and choose to use or conserve resources with that goal in mind. Gamists are problem-solvers who use strategy to advance their in-game (and, often, out-of-game) social or material capital. Their goal is to survive and thrive, and will make calculations about resources in the game (or mundane) ecosystem(s) to ensure their own longevity and comfort (Bøckman, Edwards). Lastly, Immersionists (known as Simulationists in Edwards’ model) want to be fully engaged in the game ecosystem without any bleed from the outside mundane ecosystem that constructed it. As Bøckman explains, “a fully immersionist player will not fudge rules to save its role’s neck or the plot” (13). If the character is meant to, must, or otherwise cannot avoid harm in the constraints of the game’s ecosystem, an Immersionist will allow that to happen and focus on fulfilling that given role.

So, we may further break down the ecosystem roles into the three role-playing models of Gamist, Narrativist, and Simulationist as three types of protocols governing the design and play of the larp in the three phases of writing, playing, and remembering. It is important to remember that these are neither static nor fixed roles: a player may be predominantly Gamist but also enjoy a good story, or may consciously seek an Immersionist experience but become more Gamist when a character’s survival is threatened. These typologies are also not necessarily fully inclusive; some theorists suggest a fourth level: the social. Under that paradigm, I would agree that the larp ecosystem itself is the social level, providing the space of enactment for players and Gamemasters to interact and enact their fluid play styles. This notion of role perception, which is how I see this theory as being valuable, is both a design element and a play element.  A good GM should design games with elements of all three types of interaction with the game: an ecosystem that affords activity and enjoyment for all members.

The three play models of Gamist, Dramatist/Narrativist, and Immersionist/ Simulationist cannot be easily added to the matrix we have been building. They exist within each of the ecologies, not strictly within a single phase or role. Players make choices both during the game and in the post-game debrief that are based on their preferences, but, I am arguing, more on their perceptions. These include perceptions of their role, themselves, the Gamemaster, other players, other characters, their abilities, their character skills, the physical environment, the game environment, their likelihood of success, their energy level, gametime remaining, and a host of other ecological factors – both in the ecosystem of the game and the larger mundane ecosystem surrounding and influencing it. GMs design games with more of one interaction than another, and steer characters and game development toward that preferred end during a game.  In short, both GMs and players design, steer, and enact role-playing games based on the affordances they perceive at a given moment in time, what Syverson refers to as a spatio-temporal reality.

J.J. Gibson (1977, 1979) introduced the concept of affordances, which he defined as “an action possibility available in the environment to an individual” (127).  According to Gibson, these “actionable properties” are objectively measurable, independent of an individual’s ability to recognize them. To Gibson an affordance exists in relationship with an individual; it is intended to offer an action to another; however, the affordance exists regardless of whether any actor perceives it.

Gibson Ambient Optic Array

From Gibson, 1979

Gibson puts forward the Law of Ambient Optic Array as a theory of optics that attempts to demonstrate what and how individuals see in a given environment. He notes that perception is determined by the individual from information accessed in the environment and then assessed in terms of its possibilities and usefulness to create the aforementioned affordances.  Gibson notes the importance of the position of the observer to what is perceived, since “at any fixed point of observation some parts of the environment are revealed and the remaining parts are concealed” (136). This idea of the personal position of experience in an ecosystem is hugely important in larp. As Stenros reminds us, when role-playing, “You will only see what your character sees. You will only be able to witness those parts of the larp where your character is present, where you, bodily, are present. You are the lens or the camera through which you see the work unfold around you” (Aesthetics).

As an individual player, you create an individual perception and experience of the larp; the game exists for you, in your mind, in relation to the environment. Montola (2003) states that, “every participant constructs he or her diegesis when playing” and “the crucial process of role-playing [is] the interaction of these diegeses” (83). This takes place in the second phase of larp, or larp as played, as well as, to a lesser extent, in the third phase of larp, larp as remembered.  A  single player’s diegesis is their view of the world, which they interpret as a series of affordances and constraints based on abiotic and biotic factors from the diegetic and non-diegetic world, such as (but not limited to) character sheets, skills, experience, knowledge of plot, knowledge of game world, information from other players/characters, etc. In Actor-Network Theory, this information would be the connected nodes flowing into an actor; here, these are affordances of an ecosystem perceived and interpreted by agents who make decisions based on this information, within the constraints of the physical or brute world and the in-game world.  In larp, as a constructed ecosystem, this relationship between agent and his/her environment is complicated, because the character/player exists in a layered double consciousness and simultaneity, even though s/he intends to interact in the diegetic world via immersion and will attempt to make decisions based primarily on that environment.  As Stenros points out, “[l]arp is embodied participatory drama. As a participant, you are experiencing the events as a character, but also shape the drama as it unfolds as a player (Aesthetics). However, as Montola, Saitta and Stenros (2014) note, a player/character will often “steer,” or use information and impetus from the non-diegetic world with the purpose of affecting the diegetic world for individual or community goals. Gibson noted this duality of position as he remarked about the law of ambient optic array, whereby “the observer himself, his body considered as part of the environment, is revealed at some fixed points of observation and concealed at the remaining points” (Gibson 136). There are times in an ecosystem, and certainly in a role-playing game, when the individual is aware of him or herself. In the case of a larp, I propose, these are moments where immersion breaks, and a player makes an in-game decision based on out-of-game knowledge or preferences, the definition of “steering” put forth by Montola, Saitta and Stenros (2014).

According to ecologies theorists, ecosystems can be measured in terms of their abundances and their efficiencies, what resources are plentiful and how they are distributed, used, and used up within the system. These are the kinds of settings that are engineered, or designed, in a constructed ecosystem, such as a larp.  Don Norman (1988) revised Gibson’s idea of affordance to create the concept of “perceived affordances” which amount to what a user/actor believes to be possible (or not possible), and are independent of the real affordances an object or environment may have. Thus, for a Gibsonian affordance to be actualized or enacted, it is dependent on the individual actor’s ability to both perceive it and his or her capability to use it. Norman cares about perceived affordances because that is what the designer has control over in terms of a user’s experience.  And designing, interpreting, and analyzing a larp’s affordances and constraints is where we now turn.

As we attempt to determine what a larp affords, and what makes a good larp, I will turn to a recent development out of the Nordic community, “The Mixing Desk of Larp” (2012), which uses the analogy of the audio-visual technician creating a live experience to create a series of “sliders” or “faders” that can be manipulated to produce a desired type of play. The Mixing Desk is a visualization of the inputs that go into an ecosystem to determine outputs, and it helps to describe the protocols and territories in play in a particular game ecosystem. One of the primary creators of the system, Martin Andresen said, The Mixing Desk “allows us to visualize the opportunities in larp design” and functions to “make larpwriters/designers aware of their default positions” (Andresen).

Mixing Desk of Larp

While primarily developed as a tool to help take something complicated, such as larp theory and design, and turn it into a pedagogical aid that visualizes important concepts and organizes around a simple metaphor in order to help inexperienced larpers and larpwrights to design playable games, The Mixing Desk of Larp is an excellent tool to use to analyze the affordances and constraints of a particular larp, both as it is written and as it is played. The faders each represent a design element of the larp, or a construction of the relationship between players, players and GM, the outputs of the game. The faders are the INPUTS and the game is the OUTPUT, at least on the first level of being written. The first level “Larp as Written” is the wireframe that becomes the larp. Using The Mixing Desk of Larp to consciously construct the first level of larp: “As written” is an excellent way to afford “The Larp”, which is “as played”, the level of interaction within the ecosystem created using the faders on the mixing desk (controlling the inputs into the system). However, as the larp is played, a Gamemaster, or in some cases, a player or group of players, can change the levels of the mixing desk dynamically during play, either as a result of individual or collective action that required intervention by the GM to keep the levels at their desired positions, or as a result of “steering” or conscious behavior that uses non-diegetic knowledge to affect the dramatic experience and/or outcome of the larp as played. The Mixing Desk of larp can be used as a Mobius strip to continually test and tweak the desired inputs and outputs of the larp to achieve homeostasis – the desired characteristic of the ecosystem.

Where this is going (undeveloped thoughts, not part of the “complete” Case Study #3)

(I’m including this in case you wish to offer feedback re: the direction and conclusions)

  • More about the mixing desk and the affordances listed there
  • These are notes and quotes re: relationship of player/character to environment
  • Perceived vs. designed affordances
  • Outcome of play phases 2 and 3
  • Relationship of self to world — dual world consciousness
  • Steering & Metagaming

What happens when, as Bateson outlines in his  chapter “Form, Substance, and Difference,” we see ourselves as separate and above the natural world– “If you put God outside and set him vis-a-vis his creation and if you have the idea that you are created in his image, you will logically and naturally see yourself as outside and against the things around you. And as you arrogate all mind to yourself, you will see the world around you as mindless and therefore not entitled to moral or ethical consideration. The environment will seem to be yours to exploit. Your survival unit will be you and your folks or conspecifics against the environment of other social units, other races and the brutes and vegetables” (468)?

Steering – Metagaming:  But, what happens when a species consciously decides to adapt the environment to its own desires rather than adapting to the environment?

“We may have modified, as put by Gibson, our surroundings in order to escape from this cycle by making “more available what benefits [us] and less pressing what injures [us]” (130).

Fictional world as an ecosystem (within a larger non-diegetic ecosystem)

The way one interacts with the ecosystem depends on one’s perspective

  • single player diegesis, yes, but also how one perceives one’s ability to interact and make change within the ecosystem; what one’s role is; whether one sees self as part of something bigger (diegetic or non-diegetic, as in a community experience, a game that has responsibility for the fun and custody of self AND of others)
  • if consider self PART of the game or ABOVE the game; Montola would say that no one has an uber-view of the game, not even gamemaster. This is true. But some players act as if they have a greater knowledge or calling or purpose OR do not care about communal but engineer to “win”  — God-Trick
  • “Play to lose” in a sense, means to allow oneself to more fully embed in the diegetic world

Abiotic Items in the ecosystem

Affordance – is part of the relationship between the environment and animal that can be found through “the terrain, shelters, water, fire, objects, tools, other animals, and human displays,” but  it “must be measured relative to the animal” as it is what the environment “offers the animal, what it provides, or furnishes, either for good or ill” (Gibson, “Theory of Affordances” 127).

Objects  (attached and detached) can also offer animals (humans included) affordances, but what they offer is often “extremely various;” “detached objects must be comparable in size to the animal under consideration if they are to afford behavior. But those that are comparable afford an astonishing variety of behaviors, especially to animals with hands. Objects can be manufactured and manipulated” (Gibson, “Theory of Affordances” 133).

Cybernetic Epistemology – “The individual mind is immanent but not only in the body. It is immanent also in pathways and messages outside the body; and there is a larger Mind of which the individual mind is only a sub-system” (Bateson 467).

Guattari defines three ecologies: the environment (or nature), social relations and human subjectivity (mental) and posits that they make up an ecosophy, or an interconnected network. Only by looking at all three, can we have any effect on the environment proper or enact a holistic methodology (24).

So we may add a fifth column, corresponding to Guattari’s layers or ecologies that together make up an ecosophy:

Level or Aspect Timeframe Primary Activity Ecosystem Role Ecology (Ecosophy layer)
As written Prior to game-play Framing Primary producer Physical
As played During game-play Building, enrichingInterpreting Primary Consumer Mental
As remembered After game-play Negotiating and narrativizing Secondary consumer Social
This chart attempts to map the three phases of game play, to roles in an ecosystem, Guattari's Three Ecologies, and roles and levels in a Larp.
This chart attempts to map the three phases of game play, to roles in an ecosystem, Guattari’s Three Ecologies, and roles and levels in a Larp.

Works Cited

Andresen, Martin Eckhoff. The Mixing Desk of Larp – Martin Eckhoff Andresen. Knutpunkt: Nordic Larp Talks, 2013. Film.

Bateson, Gregory. Steps To An Ecology Of Mind: Collected Essays In Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, And Epistemology. Northvale, N.J.: Aronson, 1987. Print.

Bøckman, Petter. “The Three Way Model.” As Larp Grows Up. Knutpunkt, 2003. 12–16. Print.

Edwards, Ron. “GNS and Other Matters of Role-Playing Theory.” The Forge: The Internet Home for Independent Role-Playing Games. Adept Press, Oct. 2001. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.

Gibson, James Jerome. “The Theory of Affordances.” The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Psychology Press, 1986. Print.
Guattari, Félix. The Three Ecologies. London: Continuum, 2008. Print.

Montola, Markus, Eleanor Saitta, and Jaakko Stenros. “Steering for Fun and Profit.” Knutpunkt 2014.

Montola, Markus. “Role-Playing as Interactive Construction of Subjective Diegeses.” As Larp Grows Up – Theory and Methods in Larp. Ed. Morten Gade, Line Thorup, and Mikkel Sander. Frederiksberg: Projektgruppen kp 03, 2003. 82–89. Print.
Montola, Markus. “The Invisible Rules of Role-Playing: The Social Framework of Role-Playing Process.” International Journal of Role-Playing 1.1 (2009): 22–36. Print.

Norman, Don. “Affordances and Design.” Web. 22 Mar. 2014.

Spellman, Frank. R. Ecology for Non-ecologists. Lanham, MD: Government Institutes, 2008. Print.

Stenros, Jaako. “Aesthetics of Action.” Jaakko Stenros: researcher, player, writer. 28 Oct. 2013. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.

“The Mixing Desk of Larp.” Nordic Larp Wiki. N. p., 22 Feb. 2014. Web. 13 Apr. 2014.

Case Study #2 — Diegetic Construction of Hyper-Actors in a 3-D Hyper-Network


Live Action Role-Playing games, or larps, are a kind of role-playing that is done, as its name implies, live, dynamically, with actual people in costume, in physical spaces with props, actively portraying characters and interacting with a scenario and environment. Larps have a rich tradition in communities across the world, with active communities in the United States, Canada, Brazil, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden), Italy, France, Belarus, Pakistan, Australia, and others. These communities developed independently of each other beginning in the 1980’s or 1990’s, and have been sharing their history, traditions and practices via the Internet for some time. Recently, cross-pollination of larp communities has begun, as players, storytellers, gamemasters, theorists, and scholars are gathering together at gaming conventions and comparing methods of play.

Before we go any further, I want to clarify three conventions I will use throughout this article:

      1. In the United States, Live-Action Role Playing has been abbreviated LARP, with all capital letters to delineate the word’s status as an acronym. However, words that begin as acronyms, such as radar, laser, and scuba, through regular use become recognized as words understood on their own, without reference to their etymology as a shortened form of a descriptive phrase. In other countries around the world, particularly in Scandinavia, where scholarship on larp aesthetics has a decade-long tradition, the word is used as a lower-case word, and not as an acronym. In her 2012 book, Leaving Mundania: Inside the Transformative World of Live Action Role-Playing Games, US author Lizzie Stark chooses to follow the European countries and de-capitalize the word, a move she hopes will “destigmatize the hobby, making it seem less like unrelatable jargon” (Prologue, x). I choose to follow this trend and will use larp as its own word throughout. The word is flexible and is used in many ways in the community: larp can be a verb:  Do you larp? Are you larping this weekend? I larped last weekend); noun: I was at the larp in Boston; Monsterhearts is an American freeform larp. It can also be used to describe the player as a larper or the writer of a larp as a larpwright.
      2. When I refer to a larp in this paper, I am referring to the action of playing the larp, the larp is it is experienced by the players. Although the word larp can be used to describe the written text of the game, such as Play with Intent – an American Freeform Larp or Dystopia Rising, a US Boffer larp, I am attempting to theorize larp-in-action – the live notion of Live Action Role-Playing. I am working to understand what happens IN the larp, as the larp unfolds. In my mind the text produced the gives the parameters of the game merely sets up the possibility of a larp; it is not the larp itself, even though it is necessary and convenient to be able to use the word larp in other ways, such as “Which larp do you play? – Dystopia Rising”. The central premise of this paper is to try to theorize the act of larping, a particular instantiation or iteration of a game title.
      3. Larp is a rich tradition with many forms, methods, and aesthetics. As mentioned above, these communities are cross-pollinating each other, but the question “what is a larp?” is difficult to define and will elicit varied answers, even within a single nation or game community. Cameron Betts, a member of a robust and long-standing New England larp community that annually hosts the Intercon conference and games showcase, has made an attempt to answer this question by interviewing gamemasters and participants:

For this paper, I will be focusing on the larp tradition in the United States, which has more discrete ties to the table-top role-playing games of the Dungeons & Dragons tradition. I do not have time to explore the differences in the US and European traditions fully in this forum, but the US games tend to have more concrete rules and mechanics, reminiscent of the table-top tradition. Although most of the larp scholarship has been done in Scandinavia, and uses the Nordic larp tradition as its basis of understanding, I will be focusing on the US larp tradition in this paper. Some theories developed for the Nordic tradition will be applied to the US-style games, while other theories, never previously applied to any larp, will also be explored.

Literature Review

Although larps have not been studied by academics in the United States, they have a decade-long tradition of scholarship in Scandinavia, particularly through three researchers at the University of Tampere in Finland: Jaako Stenros, Markus Montola, and J. Tuomas Harviainen. Montola (2003) points out that the concept of “diegesis”, or an objective truth about a fictional world, is important to understand the theory of role-playing. Montola points out that passive media, such as movies, create a single diegesis that is interpreted differently by every viewer (Montola notes that certain movies such as The Truman Show or The Matrix can be seeing as having a layered diegesis, but in general, there is a single fictional world of the work) (Role-Playing 82). He contrasts this with the interactive and participatory medium of role-playing, which allows for a number of simultaneous diageses equal to the number of players in the game: “every participant constructs he or her diegesis when playing” and “the crucial process of role-playing [is] the interaction of these diegeses” (83). Montola notes that these diegeses differ from varied interpretations of a single passive text due to four reasons, but I will focus on the notion that “role-playing diegesis and movie diegesis are different” because of the internal construction of meaning in the players’ heads. This individual diegesis will be personal and based on the interactions had in the game, which will not be the same as those experienced by another player. In addition, these meanings that a player imagines into their personal diegesis may never be communicated in the game, or be imperfectly communicated, either diegetically or non-diegetically. This imaginative and individual meaning-making powerfully affects the construction of the reality, the decisions of the player, his/her interactions, and the experience of the game for the individual, and ultimately for the group, who co-creates and collaboratively interpret the unfolding experience.

Italian larpwright and theorist Raffaele Manzo in “There is No Such Thing as A “Game Master” (2011) notes that role-playing games ‘play’ with our “long-lived acquaintance with spectator arts” which humans approach “expect[ing] an author distinct from the audience” (115) While in certain larp traditions, most notably in the US tradition that grew more directly from the Dungeons & Dragons narrated tabletop games, the gamemaster certainly has more of what Ron Edwards calls “authorities”, there certainly isn’t an author or “auteur” proper of an RPG.  Manzo agrees with larp author M. Pohjola (2000) who argues that those who wish to retain dramatic and narrative control over their stories are free to write them: as short stories or novels (115). Remediating them into a larp elides the distinction between audience and author and distributes narrative authority among the players who tell the story. However, in some games (particularly US ones), a gamemaster does play the crucial role of “referee”, or, one might say, of a router in a network. S/he determines which protocols to use at a given moment, to translate an object or utterance from a player into the diegesis of the game, or to determine in an “on-the-spot ruling to make up for a gap in the rules” or protocols (113). The GM functions as interpreter and gatekeeper: this belongs in the game, this does not. This will enter the game, but only with these properties, according to these rules and protocols and procedures and precedents. As such, the GM is more than a mere node in the network, possessing greater power than a single ordinary player, and get simultaneously s/he has less power in that s/he is dependent on the ordinary players to create the content that will be interpreted. Larps, thus, are a both a collective authorship within a participatory media as well as a socially contractual activity system with a creative leader who manages procedural tasks to some degree.

Montola’s notion of individual diegeses interacting through play to co-create an experience resonates with Foucault’s notion of the post-modern space. He says in “Of Other Spaces” that “[w]e are in the epoch of simultaneity: we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and the far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed” (23). In a larp, different player diegeses are juxtaposed, dispersed throughout a game, experienced simultaneously but not personally. Each person’s game happens at the same time, but they do not have the same game experience, both due to varying physical interactions and the varying meaning-making occurring within their minds.  The experience of the larp becomes, as Foucault articulates, “that of a network that connects points and intersects with its own skein” (23). A larp exists in the warp and the woof of the weaving of the game, but without a single weaver; a gamemaster may fancy him/herself as such an omniscient narrator, but, as Montola notes, “there can’t be ‘an objective gamemaster’s diegesis” because the gamemaster is not the sole creator of the fiction” (85). The most power a gamemaster holds is to be the judge when multiple player-character diegeses are found to be in conflict. Even still his subjective view is only partial; s/he lacks access to the imagination of the player. Decisions are made only on what is successfully articulated and communicated, though other meanings are present, and the meaning of the GM’s interpretation will immediately be re-interpreted into the individual player-character’s diegesis, dispersing the moment of convergence almost instantaneously.

Montola further notes that larps are a kind of social construction with “intersubjective phenomena” where “[e]very player has subjective, unique, unverifiable, unpredictable, and uncontrollable perceptions of the game state and game rules” (Social Construction 303). However, games should also possess John Searle’s “collective intentionality” so that we can agree that “some things count as other things in certain contexts” and have some shared experience of a fictional world created through symbolic representations (303). Montola notes that the traditional frames for understanding games: objectivist views such as systemic or materialistic, and subjectivist views such as referee-centric, player-centric and designer-centric all fail to understand larps as they are “social systems of meaning-making” (Social Construction 307) where player choices – both conscious and unconscious – influence play significantly. Harviainen goes on to try to account for this multiple layers of diegesis and play through approaching a larp as a Hermeneutical Circle that can be interpreted as a “liminoid, but not truly liminal experiences” (71).  Role-playing cannot be interpreted as a single text due to the variety of player-character diegeses, but “role-playing is never a state of pure imagining, because the player is always connected simultaneously to both the diegesis and the real world” (71). After a discussion of Edwards’ Gamer-Simulationist-Narrativist levels, Kellomäki’s four layers, Fine’s three frames, and Mackay’s five frames, Harvianinen notes that each of these layers, regardless of definition system exist temporarily and simultaneously to create a role-playing experience that “is realized as event but understood as meaning” (Ricoeur 1981) in a temporary social frame (Goffman 1974) which can be read as a layer of text.

Hypertext theory, then, may afford some insights into how to read and understand the temporary instantiation of a text that emerges as the role-playing experience. Indeed, I will posit that a larp makes visible what hypertext theory posits; a larp is an embodiment of the abstract meaning-making along the web’s wireframes and enacts the potentiality that early hypertext theorists such as Bush, Nelson, Bolter, and later ones, such as Johnson Eilola and Joyce have celebrated.

Hypertext Theory
Hypertext makes readers into writers; it takes a postmodern dispersed subject and re-instantiates it, temporarily, in a co-creative experience manipulating objects, making choices, and creating a narrative by following paths. As Joyce notes, hypertext affords random access to information: “readers access the symbolic structures of a hypertext electronically in any order that they choose” (Of Two Minds 20).  He furthers this thought in Othermindedness when he notes the presence of others in the user-reader-writer’s navigation of hypermedia, whereby they “select among possibilities already visually represented for them by successive authors of the hypertext or its previous readers, or they may create new choices by discovering them within, or adding them to, the visual organization of the hypertext” (20-21). In a larp, the reader is the writer is the player, with no real distinction during the game. In fact, a larp can only exist because the players have the agency to become writers; otherwise, as Manzo and Pohjola note, the author would not use the larp medium if s/he wished to retain control over narrative and characterization. The loss of authorial control as discussed in hypertext theory is enacted in a larp since a gamemaster creates an interface by writing characters and a scenario, which gets presented within the limits of a particular space and time.

Thus, a larp is, like hypertext, an “ambivalent technology” in which “objects or concepts that can be used in various ways depending in part on the social conditions in which they are constructed and reconstructed in use” (Johnson 23). Like a creator of hypertext, the larpwright may assume a particular flow, but control is turned over to players who interpret and change the order, make dynamic choices, and go unintended places. Montola notes that “while a book is a piece of art we interpret to enjoy, a role-player creates his own piece of art, interpreting symbolic feedback to augment the creation he makes for himself” (85). As hypertext theorists posited an elision between reader and writer, this elision is made manifest in a co-created, though, as Montola notes, not perfectly co-imagined, space.  As a non-linear narrative that unfolds in separate pockets, meaning is only made in the interaction between the reader/writer/player, in the kind of hermeneutical interpretation of the text that Harviainen advocates. Despite interacting within the same temporo-spatial physical reality and enacting a given story arc, larps are fundamentally a blending of texts, not a univocality but an intertextuality.

The constituent elements of a larp, such as the player-characters, non-playing characters, the gamemaster, paratexts, mechanics, props, costumes, and the physical space, can be seen as nodes within such a network. The game is a manifestation of the constituent elements (nodes) coming together in a particular blend of real and imagined temporo-spatial reality, Johnson-Eilola’s geography and geometry. These nodes exist as an ecology where agency is a possibility — an articulation awaiting action or exigence.  They are situated in ways that make them available and accessible as needed. Indeed the game texts exist in the database-like structure of hypertext, as what Johnson-Eilola calls “multiplicities and contingencies and tendencies” (23) that can be “served up” (or refused) as needed by the players. They are situated in absence, only visible if they are both imagined and  communicated to others within the game. As Johnson-Eilola notes, there is no “discrete” situation since “the text is no longer a linear or hierarchical string of words.” Rather it is “an explicitly open space of text that can apparently be entered, navigated, deconstructed, reconstructed, and exited in nearly infinite ways” (147).  If Harviainen notes that a game experience can be read as a text, then hypertext theory would note that these texts only become actualized through the activity of being contextualized and recontextualized (160) through play. In their enactment they reveal multiplicities, a “play of signification or the deferment of meaning” and an attempt to recapture authorial context, (what did the GM want? Am I playing this ‘right’? Will I break the game’s intent if I do this?) though it will be a co-created reality that cannot approach singular perspective or univocality, as mentioned earlier. This would agree with Montola’s notion of individual diegeses interacting with one another.

According to hypertext theory as I am applying it here, in the course of the larp, texts are read (as the text as created). As content is transferred from one place to another (indeed, through and among the many game-frames/layers and texts), a decision is made as to whether that content is relevant to the user/player at that intersection of space-time. Meaning is made by the confluence of the nodes, as interpreted by the user/player, Montola’s individual diegesis.  Instantiated networks are brought together solely for a single game, enacted from among the texts presented in the geometry and geography of the physical space. What constitutes the experience or “reading” of a larp is co-created by players and GMs at the moment play begins, and dissolves at game wrap; in the interim it continually grows and changes – is created or remediated — through player interactions.  Unlike a fixed hypertext presented through a digital media, intertextualities are constantly shifting as new texts are added and removed from the network, beyond those originally linked by the creator of the hypermedia. Content is discarded after it is used/read/written, but the potential network remains at the end of a larp in its database fields of texts, players, objects, and memories – in the traces –  that can be called forth again in various combinations, but never repeated.

In Othermindedness, Joyce notes: “I make change and am changed by what others make” (71). This, fundamentally, is the co-creative feedback loop in a larp. Joyce quotes Hélène Cixous: “I didn’t seek, I was the search” (1991 41, qtd. in Othermindedness 73).  Joyce explains it as the process or journey of collecting not the sum of the items collected. This is the larp, which is known as it is played but cannot be known by looking at its traces and artifacts.

In fact if we take Joyce’s definition of hypertext:

“Hypertext is, before anything else, a visual form. Hypertext embodies information and communications, artistic and affective constructs, and conceptual abstractions alike into symbolic structures made visible on a computer-controlled display. These symbolic structures can then be combined and manipulated by anyone having access to them”  (Of Two Minds 19).

and insert use the word “larp” where “hypertext” appears and substitute “through the characters and setting present in a controlled physical space” where “on a computer-controlled display” appears, you’d have a pretty good definition of a larp:

Larp embodies information and communications, artistic and affective constructs, and conceptual abstractions alike into symbolic structures made visible through the characters and setting present in a controlled physical space. These symbolic structures can then be combined and manipulated by anyone having access to them.

Larp is hypertext made manifest at the intersection of discourse and imagination. Like hypermedia, it is located in the liminoid space – Deleuze and Guattari’s intermezzo – between in the brute world of physicality and the fictional world. As players/readers/writers, we are Deleuze and Guattari’s nomads, journeying through the space where reality is a personal continual present in which our agency is manifest, called into being through the immediacy and interactivity of communication between and among networked nodes.

Actor-Network Theory

Another useful approach for understanding the experience of a larp is Actor-Network Theory (ANT). ANT allows me to see larps for the emergent and dynamic items they are. A larp is not an artifact; it is not revealed by looking at the character sheets and the blue sheets and the mechanics. It is not revealed by looking at the cast lists or knowing the players. It cannot be determined by interviewing the gamemaster. It is only revealed during play, with the particular set of players brought together for that particular instantiation of the scenario. ANT allows me to discuss the instability of the network, the inability to draw or map the movement or activity system of a game, which evolves in an unpredictable, though not random fashion. In fact, a larp is always about to dissolve; it exists in tenuous boundary crossings which are manifestations of player choices based on their diegesis. In fact, Latour describes ANT via a set of “uncertainties,” the first being the idea that there is no stable “group,” only “group formation” (29). By this he means there is no such thing as a fixed entity, only controversies tenuously collected by the people (Latour would call these ‘actors’) doing the collecting at that moment. It is not the project of ANT to “stabilize the social on behalf of the people it studies; such a duty is to be left entirely to the ‘actors themselves” who “generate new and interesting data” by making their performance visible through their inter/actions (31). Fundamentally, this helps explain the difference between a larp and a digital video game; a larp leaves the actions and the traces up to the players, while a video game these are encoded and inscribed prior to the game via a designer who seeks to define and stabilize game possibilities. For Latour, boundaries are not fixed, but demarcations of tension, such as that between the imaginative and the physical, or the individual and collective diegesis in a larp. The situation of a larp evolves and shifts constantly, with sub-networks and alliances among players and various combinations of in- and out-of-game information.

In ANT a network is not a structure but a set of transformations; the situatedness of the nodes in the network is in constant flux. Clusters of actors come together for a certain time and have both material and semiotic meaning, a duality that corresponds well to the physicality and imaginative spaces of a larp. Nodes may be intermediaries, merely carrying or relaying information between actors, or, more likely, and certainly in the case of a larp, they are mediators, which transform information as they carry it. Their outputs cannot be determined by their inputs. In fact, Latour notes that “Actors themselves make everything, including their own frames, their own theories, their own contexts, their own metaphysics, even their own ontologies” (147). As Montola and Manzo have noted, this describes the process of diegetic meaning-making in a larp, which is highly individualized and exponentialized to include the number of players in the game. ANT focuses on controversies and the connections among nodes as defining a network; indeed games must have controversies to not be stagnant, and plot is a series of conflicts and responses to them. As new controversies emerge, they must be incorporated diegetically and made real; in a larp, once you speak it or do it, it is true and must be justified, sometimes by the GM or by the players as a whole, but in order for the game to continue, the explanation must be agreed upon diegetically. The aberration or deviance must be incorporated (embodied into the world), and the possibilities of action shift as a result.

Using ANT allows me to bring into the analysis the variety of items affecting and being affected by the play. According to Latour, “anything that does modify a state of affairs by making a difference is an actor” (71), thus anything that makes a difference to the game or leaves a trace becomes a node. In larp, this can become quite an exhaustive list, since two worlds are “in play” simultaneously: the brute physical world and the imaginative one. Examples include, but are not limited to: player-character; non-player character, GM, character sheet, blue sheet, costumes, props, genre/style of game, mechanics/rules, card pulls/dice/other interfaces, furniture, room/physical space, venue, player experience as gamer, player knowledge of other players, out-of-game beliefs, out-of-game relationships, player goals, character goals, time, player knowledge of scenario, character knowledge, physical attributes of the player or character (e.g. bodily abilities, stamina, blindness, injury, etc.), experience of GM, when game was written, number of times game has been play-tested, other games played recently, player/game master expectations, functionality of items in game, etc. Agency in a larp is defined in many ways, which makes sense using the lens of Actor-Network Theory, which divides nodes into human actors and material actants (which are interpreted or defined by the humans). For example, a GM attempts to assign agency to actors and objects by controlling their use, the timing of when information is revealed, who may use items or skills, and how they are used. S/he enacts this agency regulation via mechanics that control information flow and time (e.g. no one can die until the third hour; guns are not live until 15 minutes before wrap; character x has combat rating of 5 while character y has CR of 2). Yet players may not take all of the agency they are given, or they may push for additional agency by arguing for it with the GM or taking it from other actors. ANT helps to describe that in a particular actor-network, not all nodes are used, nor would they be used in the way the GM defined the agency. Agency may also be delegated to others as well as shared, and can be removed at any time by actions by other “nodes.” This shifting, repositioning and redefining is something ANT could account for by considering how a node is temporarily enacted. For ANT, anything social – and a larp, as we have established, is profoundly social – is constantly constructed through complex performances by mediators, who create anew forms and meaning. This is not done in order to give a “true” representation of something else (such as an author’s intent or a repetition of a particular socio-cultural moment, but in order to create a temporary instance that ANT might refer to as a translation.

Here is my attempt to begin to map movement of information in an instantiation of a larp, given a particular temporo-spatial reality, a translation of a network. It’s MESSY. What I am attempting to do here is to show that each actant or actor is multi-layered. I am using four layers broken into the two worlds that interact/intersect in larp: the “brute world” of physical reality and the diegetic or fictional world the game. The four layers are a synthesis of Fine, Mackay and Harviainen’s layers or frames, as partially explained by Harviainen in his article cited below. A player-character (or an NPC for that matter), is an entity operating on all four layers, and play moves among his/her individual layers to produce his/her diegesis. The player/character is also interacting with other actors and actants, each of which have the same four layers. Interactivity can occur between and among any of the four layers of each node. I have tried to demonstrate the 3-D nature of an actor or actant, and to show the ability for information, and most importantly, meaning, to go from any one level to another, within and among participants in the network. What the graphic does not show (and I would need a video to do it) is another node joining the network to interact, or one leaving it.

In this graphic, there are two actors and one actant behaving as nodes. Each node has the four levels, as explained. Information and meaning can flow bi-directionally between any of the four levels of any of the nodes and within the four levels of a single node.

In this graphic, there are two actors and one actant behaving as nodes. Each node has the four levels, as explained. Information and meaning can flow bi-directionally between any of the four levels of any of the nodes and within the four levels of a single node.

This graphic attempts to demonstrate a single layer, with the other layers beneath it, as one gets deeper into the world of the character's fictional reality and mindset. Again, information and meaning may move between and among any layer of any node, and within the layers of a single node, which represent levels of consciousness and the movement between in-game and out-of-game.

This graphic attempts to demonstrate a single layer, with the other layers beneath it, as one gets deeper into the world of the character’s fictional reality and mindset. Again, information and meaning may move between and among any layer of any node, and within the layers of a single node, which represent levels of consciousness and the movement between in-game and out-of-game.



Foucault, Michel, and Jay Miskowiec. “Of Other Spaces.” Diacritics 16.1 (1986): 22. CrossRef. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.

Harviainen, J. Tuomas. “A Hermeneutical Approach to Role-Playing Analysis.” International Journal of Role-Playing 1.1 (2009): 66–78. Print.

Johnson-Eilola, Johndan. Nostalgic Angels: Rearticulating Hypertext Writing. Norwood, N.J.: Ablex Pub. Corp., 1997. Print.

Joyce, Michael. Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995. Print.

Joyce, Michael. Othermindedness: The Emergence of Network Culture. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000. Print.

Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.

Manzo, Raffaele. “There Is No Such Thing as a ‘Game Master.’” Larp Frescos: Affreschi Antichi E Moderni Sui Giochi Di Ruolo Dal Vivo. Ed. J. Tuomas Harviainen and Andrea Castellani. II: Affreschi moderni. Firenze: Larp Symposium, 2011. 103–122. Print.

Montola, Markus. “Role-Playing as Interactive Construction of Subjective Diegeses.” As Larp Grows Up – Theory and Methods in Larp. Ed. Morten Gade, Line Thorup, and Mikkel Sander. Frederiksberg: Projektgruppen kp 03, 2003. 82–89. Print.

Montola, M. “Social Constructionism and Ludology: Implications for the Study of Games.” Simulation & Gaming 43.3 (2011): 300–320. CrossRef. Web. 22 Jan. 2014.

What Is LARP? How LARPers Define and Describe LARPing. LARP Out of Character, 2014. Film.

Theoretical Application Rubric –> Summer’s MMO Guilds

Ah, rubrics. Ah, humanity.

Discussion of Creating Rubric

Tasked with developing a rubric for an assignment that was already completed, and applying it to content created by collaborative colleagues, rather than developing a rubric prior to the assignment and using it for content created by students who are in a more hierarchical position, I first thought about what the tool should do. I decided that it should be a generic set of questions that advanced thinking about the theory and its application, and set up a framework for a true assessment, which, as authors in Digital Writing Assessment and Evaluation and elsewhere have noted, should be hyper-local to reflect the exigencies of a particular assignment, the culture of the institution in which it is situated, and the population being assessment.  Since the requirement was for it to be a rubric about applying a theory, and not a theory of networks per se, I did not feel that I could start at the logical place, with  the questions asked of us on the first case study, reflecting the parameters of the assignment:

  • How does the theory define your object of study (as a whole, broken into pieces)?
  • What and/or who is a network node?
  • What types of agency are articulated for various types of nodes?
  • How are different types of nodes situated within a network?
  • What are the types and directions of relationships between nodes?
  • What happens to content or meaning as it travels through a network?
  • How do networks emerge, grow, and/or dissolve?

While normally I would have turned to assignment objectives and guiding questions, such as those above, because so many of the questions were directly related to networks, and not application of a theory, I took the first question: “how does the theory define your object of study, as a whole and broken into pieces?” and used that as the basis, breaking that question down into component parts that I divided into two main categories: articulation of the theory and its context, and application of the theory to the object of study.

Daniel and I collaborated on a rubric as we thought it would make sense to both develop a rubric and apply a rubric developed by another (both of which are required in teaching).  I began with the categories and a draft of the questions; Daniel and I discussed and tweaked questions/attributes, and he added a third category regarding local instance of the OoS. I then added the Gold, Silver and Bronze categories below, as a way of rating each category, while he used them as the binary “Yes” or “No”.  We posted the link on our Facebook group, and Amy and Jenny also visited the rubric to offer some comments.

Blank Rubric:
Rating: (with figure skating analogies. I will not be the Russian or Ukrainian judge.)

Gold — Clear, sound, complete, cogent, says something new. You had the difficulty and landed the jumps.

Silver  — Mostly clear, some gaps or rough patches, tends to repeat what is known but may have surprising insights at places. Possible two-footed landings and moments of stumbling, but the crowd loves you and the overall impression is positive; took some risks to earn reward.

Bronze — More nascent view, larger gaps in explanations, reasons; ideas are sound but could be improved with more “fleshing out”; you’re at the games and at the right competitive level, you have the moves, but this particular performance doesn’t demonstrate your full potential.

Theory Clearly Articulated and Contextualized


  • Whose theory is it? Who is the theorist?
  • What is the definition of the theory, its main premise?
  • What are the key attributes of the theory?
  • What are the limitations of the theory?
  • To what theories or theorists is the theory indebted or built upon?
  • Where does the theory fall in a spectrum or in relation to others?
  • What is the theory’s importance to the field?
  • Are there canonical or well-respected applications of the theory?

Theory Clearly Applied to Specific OoS and Explained

  • Is the OoS contextualized and explained?
  • Is there clear correspondence of theory attributes to OoS attributes?
  • Does the author explain which portion of the theory is used and which discarded and why?
  • How does the theory illuminate the OoS? What new aspects does it allow us to see?
  • How does the theory change our view of the OoS?
  • What are the limitations (blind spots) of this theory as applied to this OoS?
  • How does this theory application add to the body of knowledge re: this OoS or the discipline?
  • Are the conclusions drawn re: the theory logical and sound?
  • What is gained as a result of using this theory?

Theory Mapped to Local Context (Praxis)

  • Local context(s) to which theory can be mapped are identified
  • Specific person(s) responsible for activated mapping
  • Social and political boundaries defined by theory are identified
  • Aspects of theory mapped to specific lived experience
  • Anticipated social action to be achieved by mapping;
  • Assessment process of localized mapping defined

Rubric Applied to Summer’s Case Study of MMO Guilds

I felt a bit awkward using the rubric with a classmate’s work, as rubrics connote “assessment” rather than “feedback.” I don’t have a problem giving critical constructive feedback that may point out that the item is at the “silver” or “bronze” level, but giving it that label implies a grade that I don’t feel qualified to give, and I don’t want to risk a collegial relationship by appearing to be superior (the position from which assessment generally comes). Thus, I qualify that these are my impressions, and that the levels of Gold, Silver and Bronze are all “top finishers” who are on the podium, distinguishing themselves from the field. My attempts to identify areas of where further attention might be given may point out flaws with the reader and her understanding rather than the writer and hers.

Theory Clearly Articulated and Contextualized


  • Whose theory is it? Who is the theorist?
  • What is the definition of the theory, its main premise?
  • What are the key attributes of the theory?
  • What are the limitations of the theory?
  • To what theories or theorists is the theory indebted or built upon?
  • Where does the theory fall in a spectrum or in relation to others?
  • What is the theory’s importance to the field?
  • Are there canonical or well-respected applications of the theory?
Bronze  Brief mention of the theory and a single quote. Mentions again at the end but most discussion is of the guilds themselves. Concepts such as felicity, genre, typification, or Bazerman’s overall take not explained or contextualized.  Thus, it is difficult to know what Bazerman is saying and how Summer is considering Bazerman’s premises (her interpretation of them).

Theory Clearly Applied to Specific OoS and Explained

  • Is the OoS contextualized and explained?
  • Is there clear correspondence of theory attributes to OoS attributes?
  • Does the author explain which portion of the theory is used and which discarded and why?
  • How does the theory illuminate the OoS? What new aspects does it allow us to see?
  • How does the theory change our view of the OoS?
  • What are the limitations (blind spots) of this theory as applied to this OoS?
  • How does this theory application add to the body of knowledge re: this OoS or the discipline?
  • Are the conclusions drawn re: the theory logical and sound?
  • What is gained as a result of using this theory?
Silver Summer does a great job explaining what guilds are, what they do, how they operate, and the difference between game-global and game-local (although I think that distinction is lost some in the discussion). I remain uncertain how the various parts of a guild, such as a perk, an application, the bank, the discourse, the mentors, correspond to parts of Bazerman’s theory and I am not sure how Bazerman helps me understand guilds in a different way.

Theory Mapped to Local Context (Praxis)

  • Local context(s) to which theory can be mapped are identified
  • Specific person(s) responsible for activated mapping
  • Social and political boundaries defined by theory are identified
  • Aspects of theory mapped to specific lived experience
  • Anticipated social action to be achieved by mapping;
  • Assessment process of localized mapping defined


 This is part of our rubric, but not necessarily part of the assignment, so it is understandable if it would not appear. Summer hints at the idea of “game-local” in the beginning, so I hoped I would have Bazerman’s concepts illustrated with an actual instance of game-play in a guild, where I could see the concepts in action. In such a short case study, though, this is impossible, and thus would be something for continuation if this approach were expanded. Screen shots and embedded videos helped with demonstrating a local instantiation of the game and guild activity.

Discussion of Applying Rubric

I found it somewhat difficult to apply the rubric to the Case Study #1, since the assignment was not for a full application of a theory (which is the rubric I developed) and was more of a “sandbox” attempt at moving toward a full application of a theory. Thus, it doesn’t seem it *could* have scored Gold, since the writer wasn’t asked to do all that the rubric asked. However, applying the rubric did help me identify and quantify some gaps in Summer’s Case Study, which did a fantastic job explaining the Object of Study (which would have to be done in any article or research piece about it) but spent less time in the theoretical lens being applied, which was the object of the assignment. Summer did a great job using hypertext to extend her text without impinging on her word count parameters, so that guilds could be defined and examples of applications provided. She contributed to my understanding guilds and how they affect play in WoW, but I was unable to learn how these guilds are a genre system, and I left the case study still hoping for a discussion of this very interesting premise: “Bazerman’s theory of speech acts and systems of human activity can define the local level of MMO guilds through interactions between players and the cohesion and disruption felt once those interactions begin to collect into trends and movements”  (emphasis mine). What Summer has set up in this discussion is the clear proof that the WoW guilds are an object worthy of study, that they are a network of people articulated primarily by speech acts, and that this network influences game play and player affiliation. I still want to hear HOW. I hope she explores this further.


Lastly, I think the rubric that we developed is helpful in  thinking about the components required in applying a theory, and striking the balance between enough context and explanation of both the theory itself and the OoS, and spending enough time tying the two summarized and contextualized pieces (the theory and the OoS) together. It helped me clarify what I need to do with my own Case Studies.

Image from:

OOSing Along (de Paris)

I read and commented on Amy’s Case Study on Freshman Composition MOOCs using Hardware/Software/Network theory, and on Jenny Moore’s Foucauldian analysis of La Leche Network.

I enjoyed Amy’s post because she is doing some interesting thinking about the components of networking as related to teaching and technology. It made me clarify my thinking related to hardware and software, particularly with regard to a single CPU and its internal bus and a router regulating nodes on a network. I think there are multiple ways of applying the network concept  related to pedagogy; the diameter of the network will be based on how you apply the concept. Is the classroom function as a network, or the course? What is the diagram of the network? Is it star/radial, tree, or mesh? These decisions matter in terms of visualizing a network as an analogy, which is part of what Foucault seems to be talking about with his interrogation of the choices, processes, relationships, and “unsaids” involved in discourse.

Jenny’s post was an excellent exploration of Foucault’s concept of the tree of enunciative formation as a network that maps how La Leche League functions as an organization with a National/International office and local branches. I appreciated how Jenny discussed the organization through discourse: through the 10 philosophical principles of La Leche, as opposed to an organizational chart. Although they mirror each other somewhat, Foucault was moving away from structure and into the dynamic relationship among principles engaged in discourse, and I think Jenny gets this distinction well. My only thought was that Foucault, I think, might chafe at the idea of this network being mappable as a “unity”. The map seems to be a moment in time; a monument or “capture” of the enunciative formation at a given moment, and not a “map” or “document” or “entity.”

I look forward to seeing where Jenny and Amy take their projects with further theory.

Image from: (OOS means out-of-specification … which is an interesting angle to think about when applying a theory. Where might it go awry? )



Foucauldian Analysis of Live-Action Role-Playing Games as Networks

Please feel free to visit the Google Doc and submit comments there.


Live-Action Role-Playing Games (LARPs) are a type of interactive role-playing game in which the participants portray characters through physical action, often in costume and with props. LARP is distinguished from cosplay, where individuals demonstrate affinity and allegiance to a particular character within a fandom through authenticity in dress and manner; historical re-enactment, in which costumed participants embody and bring to life historical figures and events; and creative anachronism, where participants create their own characters based on history, genre or a particular time period. The distinction arises primarily because LARPing involves elements of a game – plot, goals, conflict, points and other in-game capital, and stakes for the character – which are regulated through various structures created by game designers, writers, and game masters (GMs). Boffer-style LARPs, which use homemade weaponry made of PVC pipe covered in foam and duct tape to enact combat scenes, are more about weaponry, hand-to-hand combat, battle strategy and adrenaline than theater-style or freeform LARP, which focuses more on character-building, and storytelling. Often called Interactive Storytelling or Interactive Literature, theater-style LARP uses a system of game rules adapted from table-top role-playing games in order to determine position within the game, advance plot points, create more authentic characters and settle conflicts. These “mechanics” are ways that the Game Masters (GMs) control the game environment to keep it fun, safe, and interesting while enacting the plot. Mechanics are rules of engagement and also unbreakable actions and codes within the game itself. They are intended to “level the playing field” by augmenting a participant’s physical and mental skills to more accurately portray their assigned character in the world of the LARP.  Mechanics are also used to artificially impose limits and to circumvent the human nature of participants who may behave over-competitively or proffer unwelcome sexual advances or harassment. Lastly, mechanics are used to mitigate the tendency of players to bring socio-cultural stereotypes or dominant discourse into the realm of the game.

Foucault’s theories relate to my Object of Study because Live-Action Role-Playing games (LARPs) exist in a realm of delimited concepts and enunciative formations. LARP is a “formulation” (p. 107), or “an event that can always be located by its spatio-temporal coordinates, which can always be related to an author, and which may constittue in itself a specific act” or “performative act” to use the British term (p. 107). As the author, the Game Master sets up a situation and characters are created; the game is a “verbal performance” or “linguistic performance” produced on the basis of language and other signs (costumes, props, theatrical effects) that takes place in an actual physical location with tangible boundaries, at a specific time (spatio-temporal coordinates). The game exists as a series of statements used in a discursive formation. The statements create the reality of the game; the statements execute the play. The game become real through enunciative formation and meaning is derived through the play and interplay in the game. Meaning is constituted temporally and contingently, depending on the discursive practices (and all the relationships, constructs, prior knowledge, etc.) of the characters. Gameplay is constructed relationally, not individually. And then it is over, and if one looks to the documents left behind (character sheets, rules, scenarios) one can never recreate or even understand the discourse that was the game. The archive of the game, which may be found in a wiki, game scenarios, character sheets is a positivity of discourse that is marked profoundly by absence. It does not contain what was said and enacted relationally among the players, who are nodes on a network exchanging information. It exists as a monument to the game but not a document of it. LARP is a set of contingencies enacted in a particular time and place.

Foucault states that a language (langue) is “a system for possible statements, a finite body of rules that authorizes an infinite number of performances” (27). Unlike a computer game or a table-top game where choices are forced by the spaces on the game board or the software, in a LARP game mechanics and a character are only a set of protocols. The game itself is a discursive irruption and the live, autonomous players can perform an infinite number of copies or instances using the same protocols and rules and, each will be different and distinct, and unable to be replicated. Foucault’s concept of “points of diffraction of discourse” (65) also seems to bear fruit in looking at a LARP, since it deals with simultaneities of enunciation and “points of equivalence.” A LARP’s mechanics attempt to regulate and mitigate such incompatibilities and potential conflicts which exist within this particular “discursive constellation”, which Foucault recognizes is in conversation with other discourses. Analyzing the system that surrounds a LARP and what is in place to allow or disallow such reconstituted representations seems to be fruitful. This could be imagined as a “tree of enunciative formation” and visualized in the shape of one of the networks below. Foucault’s tree is described as more of a true tree network, with leaf nodes. However, I see a LARP as always looping back on itself, thus it may appear more as the Tree of Life vs. a Tree Network:

* *

Foucault’s description of how Doctors are situated as subjects in their institution can describe the position of a player in a LARP. A player is “also defined by the situation that it is possible for him to occupy in relation to the various domains or groups of objects [other player-characters, non-playing characters, props,  the physical space, his own body within the space]: according to a certain grid of explicit or implicit interrogations [his character sheet, character goals, abilities, status], he is the questioning subject [seeking information] and, according to a certain programme of information, he is a listening subject [in conversation with other information-seekers]; according to a table of characteristics [physical and character abilities] he is the seeing subject, and, … the observing subject; … he uses instrumental intermediaries [questions, actions, gestures, objects, character traits and abilities] to modify the scale of the information” (52). A gamer does this to interact with others, learn the exigence of the scene, further his own in-game (and perhaps, out-of-game) goals, and in order to experience pleasure. His boundaries are circumscribed some by the system (the game protocols), the materiality/physicality (his own and the physical space) and the constraints given him by the Game Master (GM) or the exigence of the scene, or the actions of others. This unfolds dynamically, discursively and ultimately narratively between and among the interactions of the other subjects, who occupy this same theoretical and discursive space, and who, collectively or individually, can derail this game by making choices about what is said and done that are possible, but not necessarily probable, given the situation. When an unexpected discursive act occurs, it is no longer the same game, the unity is broken, and a new unity must be co-created, instantaneously.

Who is the discourse between?

First attempt listing the relationship between the actors on the network:

  • Participant to Participant
  • Player Character (PC) to Player Character (PC)
  • Non-Player Character (NPC) to Non-Player Character (NPC)
  • PC to NPC; NPC to PC
  • Player Character to GM; GM to Player Character
  • NPC to Game Master (GM); GM to NPC
  • PC to GM; GM to PC
  • GM to GM (if more than one)
  • GM to Core Game Mechanic
  • NPC to game artifact (character sheet, scenario)
  • PC to game artifact
  • GM to game artifact
  • NPC to “archive”/canon
  • PC to “archive”
  • GM to “archive”
  • Archive to archive
  • NPC to setting, in-game objects
  • PC to setting, in-game objects
  • GM to setting, in-game objects
  • GM to mechanics
  • PC to mechanics
  • NPC to mechanics
  • Scene to scene
  • Scene to Scenario/Module
  • Scenario/Module to Campaign
  • PC to costume; costume to PC
  • NPC to costume; costume to NPC
  • Player to costume, in-game objects
  • Costume to setting, in-game objects

First attempt at visualizing the network:

Network Nodes, Agency, Types of Nodes, Relationship Among Nodes

Various actors in the network, both tangible artifacts and subjects with agency, are nodes.

The GameMaster is a programmer; the archaeologist, the interpreter of the data generated from the nodes/actors; the one who decides what is sanctioned and not; the one who makes the discursive irruptions into “meaning” in the game and connects it to the historical a priori (of the game) and the archive. The Game Master and the Core Game Mechanic (designed by the GM) sits at the network’s Central Node, with the network configured in a radial formation, spreading out from the Central Node

I learned that in computer networking, there are Types of Nodes: Coordinator, End Device, and Router and that networks have three configurations: Star/Radial, Tree, and Mesh.

I see the GM/Storyteller fulfilling the network role of Coordinator, as s/he is integral to initializing the game and game system. In a computer network, the Coordinator Node selects the frequency channel and establishes which protocols the network will use. In a LARP, the GM determines the game genre and core mechanic, and either creates, adapts or adopts a game mechanics system to regulate the game play. A coordinator node starts the network, as a GM opens and closes gameplay. A coordinator node allows other devides to connect to it (e.g. join the network); a GM/Storyteller approves new characters, assigns NPC roles, mitigates and arbitrates in network activity between nodes. A coordinator node also may control message routing on a computer network; the GM/Storyteller controls information flow in the game, keeping certain plot points secret until the appropriate time.

According to Zigbee topologies, “in some circumstances, the network will be able to operate normally if the Co-ordinator fails or is switched off”.  However, if the coordinator provides a routing path through the network, this cannot happen.

LARP gameplay seems to be a hybrid network (or hybrid genre, see Spinuzzi), arranged generally in the Star/Radial formation with the GM and the game’s Core Mechanic at the center, but with routers that connect tree and mesh networks. Nearly all network traffic in a LARP is two-way, either immediately feeding back or eventually looping back to the routers and central node. This makes sense in a game where the object is interactivity.

Types of Nodes: Router

Networks with Tree or Mesh topologies  — or, as I said above, a hybrid network of all of the basic structures — need at least one Router. Routers relay messages from one node to another; translate between protocols; embody decision-making authority for what continues along the network; increase the size of the network by allowing child nodes. A router may fulfill some of the functions of the Coordinator and may create hierarchical information structures as information is passed up and down a tree. Zigbee Topologies notes that “a router cannot sleep.” While a GM may feel like s/he never sleeps, due to the hybrid nature of the LARP network, portions of it may run properly without his/her approval or intervention, but information will eventually loop back to the GM.

I see the Routers on a LARP network as being four main protocols (these are coded by color on the visualization below):

  1. Game Genre: governs costuming, characterization, setting
  2. Game Rules/Mechanics: (governs how game is played; settles conflicts
  3. Game World/Structure: governs what belongs and doesn’t, pacing, plot
  4. Game Players: governs who enters game, interaction, roles

An End Device on a network sends and receives messages, but cannot allow other nodes to connect through them to the network. These are sometimes referred to as Perimeter Nodes or Leaf Nodes, depending on the type of network. While Players may propose scenes or invite others to the game, those decisions are controlled by the routers and coordinator, the key functions of the game or the GM. I am still struggling a bit with labeling certain things as End Devices or Routers. It is my belief at this time that the Game Players are individual routers themselves, especially since this portion of the hybrid network is a Mesh Configuration with traffic between and among this nested network before it is relayed to other sub-networks or the GM as Coordinator.

Second Attempt at Visualizing the Network:

Travel/Traffic, Evolution and Dissolution

LARP game meaning deviates from the original skeletal description given by the GM and in the Core mechanic as it travels through the network. Like a game of telephone where actors have agency and even encouragement to deviate within parameters, what returns to the GM/Coordinator is not what was originally sent out. This is due to nodes in the network, PCs and NPCs enacting their character goals and coming in contact with other nodes, such as game mechanics and objects.

The network DURING game play may shift as nodes are reorganized along sub-networks and alliances as they attempt to solve the Core Mechanic, the game problem that requires dynamic collaboration. An in-game network may pause when a scenario is finished and resume when another session is in play, or it may dissolve when the LARP is finished. If that occurs, it is the responsibility of the GM to make meaning of the network’s in-game activity and integrate it into the archive.


Foucauldian analysis allows me to see how the discourse enacts the game, and to think of the game as a series of relationships rather than rules. It also allows me to think about it as a set of constituent parts that can be regrouped in various ways and make different meaning.

Foucault’s formulation of the enunciative function (p. 91) seems to provide a useful lens for understanding what goes on in a LARP. According to Foucault, the enunciative function seeks to describe the discursive conditions that would allow something to be said (91). It does not analyze the grammatical, propositional, or material conditions under which the statement could be formulated and spoken (including the exigence); rather it seeks to describe the who, why, and how that would enable the “what” that is said. This position is determined relationally, among those currently on the field of discourse. I like to think of the field in terms of game play, and what players are “on the field” at the time. The way those players are working together determines the pace, aggression level, strategy, etc. of the game; they are articulating an enunciative function that is controlling or driving the game play. Thinking of LARP relationally, and of the discourse as being afforded by the particular mix of speakers/players on the field at the moment is a useful analogy, since a single LARP, such as Three Musketeers, can be run multiple times, but each time it will be very different, depending on which players are there, what roles they are assigned, where the game is run, and who the GM is.


Foucault, M. (1982). The archaeology of knowledge ; and the discourse on language. New York: Pantheon Books.
Node Types. (n.d.). Retrieved February 12, 2014, from