Archive for January 5th, 2009

Structured Freeform is a Form, Not Content

2009 Jan 5

A comment by Linnaeus made me realize something critical.

To confess a bit, I haven’t previously been that interested in Nordic theory, design, and practice, including both larp and Jeep. I thought it was great that it existed and wanted to know about it, but I didn’t want to take part in it or really understand it fully. The reason is that I’m not strongly attracted to immersion or the kind of “emo realism” play content that seemed to be the norm. Scenarios like The Upgrade, Under My Skin, and A Flower for Mara are great, but they just don’t push my buttons and I haven’t actively pursued information about them or opportunities to play them. My sockets currently tend to be more social (focusing on the other people I’m playing with) and aesthetic (wanting to create something beautiful) than emotional or experiential.

However, my disinterest in the content that seemed to surround these play traditions made me oblivious to the fact that, structurally and procedurally, they’re very closely related to the structured freeform play that I was trying to explore in Heavenly Kingdoms, Kazekami Kyoko Kills Kublai Khan, Waiting/Tea, the Avatar game, The Good Ship Revenge, When the Forms Exhaust Their Variety, Mwaantaangaand, Transantiago, and other games. In fact, I would go so far as to call them different schools of structured freeform.

Basically, I wanted to use structured freeform techniques to create games similar to or natural extensions of the kinds of games that were already being created in the Anglo-American indie game community, while folks in Nordic countries were extending their own play traditions. Consequently, it’s not surprising that our games play very differently. However, I do think that, like myself, many folks in the Anglo-American scene are mistakenly assuming that the traditional content of Jeep (specifically, though maybe Nordic stuff in general) is inherent in or suggested by the kinds of play procedures they use, when this is not necessarily the case.

It seems totally reasonable to me (and, indeed, this is the kind of design work I have been doing) to create a structured freeform game about swashbuckling pirate adventure. Indeed, games like Polaris, It’s Complicated, and Mist-Robed Gate are largely structured freeform and wallow in the trappings of genre fiction. Part of the attraction of Jeep for many foreign roleplayers is surely that the content is so different from the genre fiction trappings so overwhelming in the Anglo-American scene. But there are artificial divisions of personal taste here, including several that I’ve erected myself against Jeep and Nordic larp, that could potentially prevent us from more fully exploring the possibilities of this emerging area of design and play.

Since my own tastes lie somewhere in between pure genre fiction and the contemporary emo novel — a magical place where Michael Chabon and Salman Rushdie play volleyball with Milan Kundera and A. S. Byatt — it would probably serve me well to cross those divisions as much as possible.