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Coordinated by Mark Marino (USC), Jeremy Douglass (UCSB), Catherine Griffiths (USC), Ali Rachel Pearl (USC), and Teddy Roland (UCSB). Sponsored by the Humanities and Critical Code Studies Lab (USC), and the Digital Arts and Humanities Commons (UCSB).

Code Critique: Port of Secrets / snippet of anti-code from the Irvine-based GM-less larp community

In case you are unfamiliar with the larping medium and larp code, the first three posts are intended to provide a quick orientation. Skip to the 4th post to view the code sample. Thanks for any and all attention to this snippet! :)

WHAT IS LARP?

Live-action role play (larp) presents itself as a form of interactive analog media with no fourth wall: it is not possible to distinguish between those creating the story and its audience. Larp participants co-create narrative diegeses (Montola 2003) while simultaneously watching these narratives unfold as spectators (Mackay 2001). The term “diegesis” refers to the respective “story world” of specific pieces of narrative media (Genette 1980, Richardou 1967).

This concept of diegesis is useful to those who engage in collaborative forms of storytelling in which control over different parts of a narrative have been distributed to members of a team, such as in the creation of films and video games. When creating a film, for example, it is vital that many members of your storytelling team—the director, actors, DP, sound designer, editors, and others—are all on the same page about whether the music in a scene they are co-creating is diegetic (it is part of the story world and the characters can hear it) or if it is extradiegetic (only the audience can hear it). Since the term is perhaps overly technical, you don’t usually hear the word “diegesis” thrown around on film sets, but the concept is, in the form of questions like, “Can her character hear that?” and “What’s going to be put where that green screen is?”

Rapid communication about what is happening in a diegesis is likewise important to larp participants, perhaps even more so, because of the dual role larpers play of simultaneously experiencing a story as audience members and co-creators. This phenomenon, sometimes called "first person audience" (Sandberg 2004), is a feature of both the larp and tabletop RPG mediums, the premiere forms of analog role-playing game (RPG). Larp distinguishes itself from tabletop RPG through the use of live-action theatrics and props to create narrative content. Because of this live-action component, larp participants also experience inter-immersion (Pohjola 2004), or "the positive feedback loop of inhabiting the game world and the character" (Stenros 2015). A common question larpers ask each other to refer to the diegesis they are co-creating is “What do I see?” which is the equivalent of asking "What does my character see?"

So, to play this trifecta role of being a narrative's co-creator, spectator, and diegetic inhabitant, a larp participant must be larp literate, which is to say: a larp participant must be able to extract meaning from the signifiers through which the diegetic content of the larp is being conveyed. Different larps do this differently.

The most familiar form of larp to non-larpers is the classic Tolkienesque campaign-style boffer larp. In this variety of larp, participants play creatures from the Lord of the Rings universe, like elves, dwarves, and orcs, simulate combat with foam-padded “boffer” weapons, and co-create stories that unfold episodically in months- or years-long arcs called “campaigns” that take place in a story world that runs continuously in which characters come and go (Mizer 2016), creating a narrative pacing akin to that of a long-running soap opera or a serial comic book. This variety of larp has arisen around the world, emerging even in Russia in the year 1990, within months of the Soviet Union’s pending collapse, as Russian sci-fi enthusiasts, hippies, and holistic education instructors descended upon a campground near Krasnoyarsk and created the Russia’s first “Hobbit Games,” which are treated as the origin point of Russian larp (Prudkovskaya 2015, Semonov 2010).

Following the coalescence of the larp medium in the form of the emergence of the Tolkienesque games of the late 1970s (or the early 90s for those larping in Russia), the medium of larp has expanded into many genres and taken on many forms. There are sci-fi larps, horror larps, mysteries, post-apocalyptic zombie romps, and over the last two decades we have seen the steady upgrowth of literary larps that defy genre classification and explore themes like isolation, illness, vicissitudes of oppression, and the neoliberal workplace.

Moreover, not all larps feature boffer weapons, and many larpmakers have not bothered to render combat playable as part of their system, as their targeted playerbase is not interested that sort of thing. Also, as for game duration, a number of larps don’t have a continuous story world, but rather are one-shot larps that last only a few hours or days from beginning to end, a constraint which forces the narrative into a tight, cinematic tempo, as all things of the diegesis must be meaningfully resolved before the larp’s conclusion.

Likewise, some larps have pre-written characters, for which players are often cast by the larpwright, whereas other larps allow players to design their own characters. The benefit of the former is that characters can be written with tightly interlocking pasts and motivations, from which the story of the game seems to naturally emerge as gameplay occurs, whereas in the case of the latter, players, in creating characters themselves, are able to use the larp as an occasion to express parts of themselves for which they can't find any other social space, allowing larp to lend life unexpected performativites, an embodied process which, as psychology professor Ryan Blackstock has noted, may produce a number of positive side effects for its users mental health (2016).

While boffer larps often occur in parks, campgrounds, and areas with ample outdoor space to allow combat, parlor larps often occur in dining rooms, banquet halls and conference rooms, as a major feature of this style of larp is cocktail-party-style mingling and intimate conversation. Moreover, if one is playing a larp of the Nordic schools, it could occur in any number of locations—an office building, a decommissioned military ship, or a 12th century castle—and the activity will be punctuated by an array of improvisational theatre games, and may also include types of consent-mediated power play.

These are just some of many varieties of larps that have developed over the last four decades demonstrating the larp medium as facilitating a wide range of expression and experience.

Comments

  • edited February 3

    HOW DOES LARP WORK?

    A common feature of all larps is that at least some of the game's narrative content is generated through live-action theatrics and WYSIWYG props, which are to be read as directly diegetic. So, while larping, I might literally walk up to another player and tell her that her tunic looks silly, and this behavior, the tunic, and the person's in-character reaction will be read as diegetic, or existing within the story world. This sort of thing could also happen in immersive theatre and historical reenactment, but what sets larp apart from those things is that, in every larp, the deployment of at least some of the diegetic signifiers has been gamified. From larp to larp you will find different rules for how these gamified diegetic signifiers are to be deployed and read, depending ostensibly upon what a given larp community finds enjoyable, or, at the very least, fair.

    Larpmakers and their respective playerbases have invented or repurposed a number of techniques to gamify the deployment of diegesis in larp. These techniques include what I call extradiegetic statement exchange (EASE), intradiegetic things, diegetic code, meta-techniques, narrative consensus, and emotional scaling. For the purpose of understanding the code sample below, you will only need to know about the first three of these techniques, and if you're an avid RPGer, you might be familiar with them already!

    A basic mode of gamifying diegetic content used in many larps is a verbal exchange of extradiegetic statements. A familiar example of an extradiegetic statement in the film medium is when the words “St. Louis 1942” appear on the screen. The characters can’t see these words (they certainly don’t exist within the diegesis!) but rather the words are intended for the audience, who are expected to read them as diegetic fact.

    In larp and tabletop, and also in the text-based computer games that emerged in the early 1960s, we find a gamified system in which players deploy and interact with diegetic material verbally, using a procedure that I call EASE, or Extradiegetic Statement Exchange.

    During EASE, three types of illocutionary speech actassertions, directives, and declarations—are used to make things happen in the diegesis (Montola 2012, Searle 1975). In most larps, only designated individuals are granted the power to make assertions (or statements in which new diegetic reality is presented) about the game world. The other players’ ability to make assertions is limited to descriptions of their character. These players may also make directives, through which they request more information about what their character is perceiving (i.e. “What do I see?”), and may also use declarations to direct the actions of their character. So, the designated person, sometimes called a “storyteller” “game master” (GM) or “member of the Plot Committee” might approach a group of players while wearing a white headband to indicate that their body is extradiegetic, or invisible to the characters, and the following interaction might take place:

    PLAYER #1: “What do we see?” (extradiegetic statement: directive)
    PLOT PERSON: “You see a house made of bones and gum drops.” (extradiegetic statement: assertion)
    PLAYER #2: “Gizzelda approaches the house and smells it.” (extradiegetic statement: declaration)
    PLOT PERSON: “An odor wafts into her brain that simultaneously tempts her to eat, while accosting her with the strong, putrid scent of rotting human flesh.
    PLAYER #2: "Ugh!" (diegetic) / “Gizzelda begins to vomit.” (extradiegetic statement: assertion)
    PLAYER #3: “This place is creepy. Let’s get out of here.” (diegetic)

    To those who are proficient in EASE, it is easy when reading the sample above to distinguish between the extradiegetic statements and the in-character dialogue (which is read as directly diegetic). With time and exposure to this technique a person's literacy in it improves, and it becomes easier to rapidly co-create story in this way.

    EASE is a main feature of the sorts of larp you might play at a larp convention, as the tactic serves well the makers of one-shot larps with little to no prep time and a small space to run the game. In a sandbox style or "open-world" larp in which 360° physical interactivity is expected, however, EASE is used primarily as a transition between one interactive space and another, much like a video game cut scene. Open-world larpmakers do occasionally use EASE for longer periods, though, as it can be nice to break up a 48-hour-long combat-heavy game with an hour-long session of “mental role play,” as larpers of that ilk sometimes call it. EASE is also the primary mode of representing non-competitive diegetic material in tabletop RPGs, and is well suited to that medium, as the story is entirely created through verbal exchange in that medium.

    Some larpmakers use what I call intradiegetic things to render parts of the diegesis playable. In interface design studies (Mauger 2004), the term “intradiegetic” is used to discuss things that exist within the game world (so they could ostensibly be seen your avatar) that represent or interact with some extradiegetic numeric value that affects your ability to move through and exercise agency within the game world. So, in the video game medium, the mushrooms in Mario games are intradiegetic, as will as the glimmering weapons and bullet cases you find scattered about in a first-person shooter (FPS) game. The Inns in 1990s-era RPGs are also intradiegetic, and also the health meter that is on the actual spacesuit of your character in Dead Space (Visceral Games, 2008).

    When using the term "intradiegetic" to discuss larp, I am referring to objects, behaviors, and speech acts that have been predetermined to represent something other than what they are, and that you can interact with while staying in character. Unlike intradiegetic things in the video game medium, the intradiegetic things of larp might not possess the quality of altering your ability to move through and exercise autonomy within the game world. For example, the intradiegetic technique Ars Amandi, which is used in many Nordic larps, allows players to represent sex between their characters through the ritualized touching of each other’s hands, arms and necks. This technique doesn’t change any logistical value, but rather allows the players to represent a part of the diegesis that can’t or shouldn’t be literally enacted, and to do so while remaining in character.

    For the most part, though, a when a larp does have intradiegetic things, they do possess that video-game-like quality of altering logistical values / player autonomy. For this to happen, diegetic code is tethered to those objects. For example, in a larp of this ilk in which healing has been rendered playable, I might be able to magically heal people by touching their arm with a plastic glow stick and saying "I cast healing magic," which will cause them to gain, let's say, 5 Life Points (LP). The glow stick in this case might be thought of as an intradiegetic object, the statement "I cast healing magic" might be seen as an intradiegetic speech act, and the touching of the person with it could be seen as an intradiegetic behavior, the combination of which, in this case, result in the deployment of a piece of diegetic code that simultaneously increases one character's ability to absorb injuries and reduces another's daily spell quota, altering these characters' abilities to move through and exercise autonomy within the game world.

    In the above paragraph, I’ve illustrated a way that this technique of tethering intradiegetic things to diegetic code might be used to render healing playability in a larp. This technique is quite versatile though, and has been used productively by larpmakers of this type to render all sorts of things playable, such as weapons-based combat, psychic and emotional abilities, drug and alchemical substance use, species and fantasies of race, and magic and technology deployment, to name a few. These larp code systems mirror computer languages in many ways, and as I have written about elsehwere, they may be thought of as “code that runs on humans” (Steele 2016).

  • edited January 30

    WHAT DOES LARP CODE LOOK LIKE?

    As a refresher before we get to the actual code sample, below is the part of the code sample from Alliance Larp that I presented to the CCSWG two years ago. In this type of larp, monster encounters might be thought of as programs, participants as programmers, rule sets as programming languages, and ways of structuring rule sets as platforms. Of particular interest are the ways a single deployment of diegetic code in larp evokes multiple rule sub-systems, eliciting a type of relational meaning akin to that found in rDBMS (Codd 1970).

    Name of program: Troll Battle
    Name of author/s: Alliance LARP Seattle Chapter Players and Staff
    Year circulated/published: c. 2009
    Programming language: The Alliance LARP Rule Set
    Requisite hardware: Humans, foam weapons, bean bags, deployment authorization papers
    Video documentation of code deployment:
    Annotation of code from the video:

    “Five Silver” + weapon blow
    DIEGETIC EFFECT: Someone swings a sliver-coated blade and hits someone else.
    EXTRADIEGETIC LOGISTICAL EFFECT: Uttering this phrase while landing a successful blow with a qualifying foam-covered weapon causes a qualifying target to lose Body Points unless countered with a qualifying piece of code.

    “Six Normal” + weapon blow
    DIEGETIC EFFECT: Someone swings a blade and hits someone else.
    EXTRADIEGETIC LOGISTICAL EFFECT: Uttering this phrase while landing a successful blow with a qualifying foam-covered weapon causes a qualifying target to lose Body Points unless countered with a qualifying piece of code.

    “I Curse you with Weakness” + beanbag hit
    DIEGETIC EFFECT: A glowing ball of magic flies from someone’s fingertips and hits someone else, potentially rendering the victim exhausted and unable to fight.
    EXTRADIEGETIC LOGISTICAL EFFECT: Uttering this phrase while landing a successful hit with a qualifying beanbag renders a qualifying target unable to fight for a specified amount of time. Following the battle, documentation should be provided to the target of this code to show that the certification for the one-time use of this code was properly obtained unless countered with a qualifying piece of code.

    “Spell Shield”
    DIEGETIC EFFECT: A weaponized spell hits this person, but a glowing magical shield appears around their body for a moment, deflecting the attack.
    EXTRADIEGETIC LOGISTICAL EFFECT: At some point prior to this moment, a qualifying player has uttered the phrase “I grant you a Spell Shield” while pressing a qualifying beanbag to a qualifying body part of the speaker and also has given them the appropriate documentation to maintain that this action has occurred. Now, by uttering the phrase “spell shield” within a qualifying timeframe, the speaker renders a qualifying magic-based attack that has successfully hit them to have no effect after which the Spell Shield is considered “used up.”

    “I Summon a Force to Disarm your Shield” + beanbag hit
    DIEGETIC EFFECT: A glowing ball of magic flies from someone’s fingertips and hits someone else, potentially blasting their shield away from them.
    EXTRADIEGETIC LOGISTICAL EFFECT: Uttering this phrase while landing a successful hit with a qualifying beanbag forces a qualifying target to drop their shield and not touch it for a specified amount of time.

    // It is worth nothing that, with exception of the Spell Shield, the diegetic effect of each of these codic commands is pending: players do not know if their code took effect until a few seconds later because other code exists that may allow the target to nullify or redirect the code. This creates moments of lag between the deployment of an intradiegetic signifier and its extradiegetic logistical effects.

  • edited January 30

    LARP CODE SMELL & THE TACTIC OF CREATING LARP ANTI-CODE

    In my annotation above, you can see that each deployment of code evokes multiple rule sub-systems such as the time frame in which something happens, which parts of the body count as valid targets, etc. Both the deployer and the receiver of each piece of larp code must have precise knowledge of these subsystems for its successful deployment to take place. In the Alliance larp system, this means players must memorize a 200+ page rulebook before they can confidently interact with and co-create diegesis. These bulky rule systems create a steep learning curve for new players, who often aren’t fluent enough to read what is happening in the diegesis as it unfolds around them for the first several hundred hours of gameplay. This leads to a type of hierarchy between seasoned players and those who are not yet literate in the game’s code, a specific mode of hierarchy that might be thought of as a usability (UX) problem.

    Another type of hierarchy is also often created by the way a given larp’s diegetic code operates. This second type of hierarchy is related to an unequal distribution of power over the game’s diegesis, and is often found in campaign larps that use diegetic code. Many such games have a diegetic code system that’s been built to reward participation, so, if someone has been playing a larp of this type for over a decade, they are going to have accumulated a massive amount of deployability of diegesis (via the diegetic code that has been assigned to their character, sometimes called their character’s “stats”). This facilitates what is often a rather unsavory “highbee/lowbee” dynamic, in which highbees have vastly more power to make the story world conform to their will, and the lowbees often must ingratiate themselves to highbees for their own protection, protection which is especially vital if they are playing a PvE (Player verses Environment) style of game in which wandering monsters have been scaled to match the levels of the highbees. Due to this need for low-level players to ingratiate themselves to the highbees, and also due to the highbees’ direct power over the diegesis, it is unfortunately all too easy for highbees to abuse their power and create a toxic game culture.

    Over the last two decades, larpmakers have become better at identifying that many of the social problems that arise in diegetic-code-based larps are in fact a type of “code smell” wafting directly from the way the larp code is constructed. This is an advancement from earlier morality-based responses in which annoyed larpmakers tried to shame their players into not using the existing codic structures to their own advantage. Many contemporary larpmakers have found that remaking the larp medium at the codic level is a much more effective way to avoid (a) having your game organizers divert an inordinate amount of attention away from producing quality story due to having to deal with hierarchy-rooted problems (b) having these hierarchies exist at all, or at least exist in a way that is out of hand. It is a snark hunt, approaching code smell in this way; creativity arises proliferating approaches.

    Some larpmakers, like the Norwegian authors of the Dogma 99: A programme for the liberation of larp, have declared the use of diegetic code and intradiegetic objects "forbidden" within their design community (Wingård, Fatland, et. al 1999). Other larp engineers, such as the creators of Devia (2009) and Beyond the Aether (2012-14) in the American Pacific Northwest, have attempted to salvage diegetic code by factoring out types of code and game parameters that they believe contribute to toxic types of play.

    Another approach to this type of code smell is engineering what I call “anti-code,” as can be found in the larps Port of Secrets (2016-2018) and Blood and Tears (2010-2016), games developed in the UC-Irvine-based larping community over the last decade. Evan Schauer served as rules engineer for both of these games and I am pleased that Evan has joined us for this year’s CCSWG, and is available to respond to questions about this system. His user name is @Evan_Schauer

    As a major inspiration for his design of these games, Evan cites Houses of the Blooded (2008), a game of the tabletop medium which has been described by its creator, John Wick, as the “anti-Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying game.” This style of RPG is sometimes referred to as a “GM-less” system.

    In GM-less larp, everyone is given equal chance to control what is true within game’s narrative while they are simultaneously playing characters within it. In Evan’s system, characters compete for this ability through two major game mechanics, bribes and contests. For this anti-code sample, I am excited to share with you these two basic Port of Secrets mechanics.

    The first mechanic is called a “bribe.” Video footage of how a bribe might unfold during gameplay may be found here:

    The poker chips are extradiegetic and cannot be seen by the characters. When the player in the video holds up one of these tokens and offers it to another player while making a statement about the game reality, what he is doing is presenting a piece of story material for the other player to consider. If the other player chooses to accept the token, that piece of story material becomes part of the game reality and they react in-character accordingly. As you can see in the video, the first bribe is rejected, but then a second bribe is deployed, this time with an additional token, and this second bribe is accepted.

    When a player accepts a bribe, they are allowing the other player's statement to become diegetic reality, and also gain tokens which can be used to bribe others, along with a few other mechanics. It is worth noting that everyone starts each game with an equal number of tokens, allowing newcomers and longtime players to have equal power in leveraging their will in the diegesis.

    The second major mechanic of this game is called a “contest.” Video documentation of a contest may be found here:

    A contest occurs when I am not satisfied that a person has rejected my bribe, so I might evoke a contest to attempt to brute force my desired diegetic thing into the reality of the game. The winner is the one who roles highest from a pool of dice. In the video, a contest ends poorly for the player on the right, as he finds his character has been “poisoned to death.” As a larp of the mystery genre, no round of Port of Secrets is complete without a few murders. This is a feature of the genre, and shouldn’t be thought of as a quality of larp anti-code.

    Thanks to their ease and simplicity, these two mechanics allow new players to rapidly gain the literacy in the larp’s gamified system of deploying diegetic signifiers. When Evan showcased Port of Secrets as part of the featured program for the Los Angeles Freeform and Theatre Larp Collective in 2016, I was impressed by the speed with which a group of mostly new players were able to begin leveraging power over the diegesis (it took around 20 minutes for everyone to pick it up), and likewise by the sheer level of autonomy afforded to players to make decisions independently of game staff. Based on my prior experience with larps, I had assumed these two features to be mutually exclusive.

    These two core mechanics of the game subvert the conditions in which diegetic code could arise, making them the backbone if this form of what I call “anti-code.” For example, while playing Port of Secrets, say I were to try to create an intradiegetic object and link it with some code I’ve made up. Perhaps I’m trying to create a weapon or a magic item that lets me do some advantageous game thing. Doing something like this would be a waste of my resources because another player could easily say “nope,” and spend some tokens to remove the code’s existence from the game reality.

    What I find interesting about this anti-code is that it addresses the question of how to deal with the code smell of typical diegetic code by approaching the problem from the level of extradiegetic statement exchange (EASE). By facilitating a distributed model in which players equally hold the potential to engage in EASE deployment, it becomes impossible for diegetic code to remain stable in this game. The conditions that allow players to establish what is what within this game's diegesis simply aren’t stable enough to facilitate the creation of intradiegetic objects linked with diegetic code, preventing the formation of diegetic commodities. This is what makes this a system of what I call “anti-code.”

    But should the term “anti-code” really apply? After all, this is just a way of using a set of procedures at one level to prevent another kind of set of procedures from arising at another. That ostensibly isn’t a very direct confrontation of code, so maybe “anti-“ is too harsh a word.
    Perhaps a term like “negative code” is more fitting. But of course “anti-matter” isn’t exactly overtly against matter either... gosh, finding the right language for this stuff can be tough!

    Discussion questions:
    * Please share any general impressions, thoughts, and questions you might have about larp as a medium, EASE, diegetic larp code, anti-code.
    * Have you had any experiences making or interacting with RPG code? If so, feel free to share your experiences and observations.
    * What questions or impressions do you have about the Port of Secrets system? Please be sure to ping @Evan_Schauer in your post.
    * Have you identified any “anti-code” in other code-based mediums? If so, please share!

    Thank you very much for any and all attention to this code sample! Evan S. and I are honored to receive your questions, thoughts, and feedback!

  • edited February 3

    WORKS CITED

    • Blackstock, Ryan. 2016. “Origin Stories: The Phenomenological Relationship Between Players and their Characters” The International Journal of Roleplaying, Issue 7.
    • Fatland, Eirik & Lars Wingård. 1999. “Dogma 99: A programme for the liberation of LARP.”
    • Genette, Gérard. 1980. Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
    • Mackay, Daniel. 2001. The Fantasy Roleplaying Game. A New Performing Art. McFarland & Company.
    • Mauger, Vincent. 2004. “Interface” Mark J.P. Wolf and Bernard Perron. 2014. The Rutledge Companion to Video Game Studies.
    • Mizer, N. 2016. “Enchantment and the Experience of Imagined Worlds” Talk at Living Games Conference. Expanding the Boundaries of the Imagination Panel.
    • Montola, Markus. 2003. “Role-playing as interactive construction of subjective diegeses.” As Larp Grows Up: Theory and Methods in Larp, ed. M. Gade, L. Thorup & M. Sander. Knudepunkt Conference Proceedings. p.56-64.
    • Pohjola, Mike. 2004. “Autonomous Identities. Immersion as a Tool for Exploring, Empowering, and Emancipating Identities.” Beyond Role and Play: Tools, Toys and Theory for Harnessing the Imagination. Ed. Montola, M. & Stenros J. Ropecon
    • Prudkovskaya, Olga. 2015. “The Modelling Rules in Russian Larps. Nordic-Russian Larp Dialogue. Ed. Alexey Fedoseev, J. Tuomas Harviainen, and Olga Vorobyeva. COMCON Larp Convention. Moscow.
    • Richardou, Jean. 1967. “Problems du nouveau roman.” Paris: Seuil, Tel Quel.
    • Sandberg, Christopher. 2004. “Gensi. Larp Art, Basic Theories.” Beyond Role and Play: Tools, Toys, and Theory for Harnessing the Imagination. Ed. Markus Montola & Jaakoo Stenros. Ropecon
    • Simkins, David. 2015. The Arts of Larp: Design, Literacy and Community in Live-Action Role Play. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland
    • Searle, J. R. (1975). “A Taxonomy of Illocutionary Acts”, in: Günderson, K. (ed.), Language, Mind, and Knowledge, Minneapolis, vol. 7. 1975
    • Semenov, A. 2010. Russian Larp History. A view from St. Petersburg. In: Playing Reality. Knutpunkt Conference Proceedings.
    • Steele, Samara Hayley. 2016. “The Reality Code: Interpreting Aggregate Larp Rules as Code that Runs on Humans” The International Journal of Role-Playing. Ed. Evan Torner and Sarah Lynn Bowman. Volume 7, Special Issue: Living Games Conference Proceedings.
    • Sternros, Jaakko. 2015. “Nordic Larp: Theatre, Art and Game.” Nordic-Russian Larp Dialogue. Ed. Alexey Fedoseev, J. Tuomas Harviainen, and Olga Vorobyeva. COMCON Larp Convention. Moscow.

    LUDOGRAPHY

    • Alliance LARP (1989-present): Michael A. Ventrella. Alliance Rulebook. Version 1.2., 2013.
    • Beyond the Aether (2012-2014): Paul Vorvick, Bryan Gregory, Paul Robinson, Katrina Acaster, Cassandra Boggio, Jonathan Singer, Cristina Rivera, Ash Law, Carrie Rasmussen, Justin Gallaher & others. Olympia, Washington.
    • Blood and Tears (2010-2016): Evan Schauer, Adam DeCamp, Nicholas Reale, Jesse Butler, and Eric Leitterman. Irvine, California.
    • Dead Space. (2008) Visceral Games.
    • Devia (2009): Bryan Gregory. Devia Core Rulebook. Olympia, Washington.
    • Houses of the Blooded (2009): John Wick.
    • The Mario Franchise (1982-present). Nintendo.
    • Port of Secrets (2016-2018): Evan Schauer, Adam DeCamp and Nicholas Reale. Irvine, California.
  • @SamaraHayleySteele Thank you for continuing your work in helping us see how ccs might speak to other rule-based systems. I have some thoughts but first anti-code is too negative, unles you are naming just the actions of the person who refuses the code. Both people seem to be engaged in the production of the code.

    I wonder if we could draw an analogy with programs that allow users to add to code, perhaps even something as seemingly mundane as spreadsheets, although the lacks some of the dialogic, collaborative, and contestatory nature you are describing.

  • First off thanks @SamaraHayleySteele for the write-up of the LARP I helped create and your thoughts on it.

    I sort of agree with @markcmarino here- I feel anti-code may be too strong. I'm not sure I 100% understand the framework here but I think of it more as meta-code or some kind of 'fuzzy logic' system such as neural networks.
    If we think of LARP as code, let's think about the goals and design principles that go into it. LARPs can have different goals, but a typical one is for as many players as possible to experience a narrative for their character that they find fulfilling.
    A typical approach in American LARPs is to use what Haley refers to as direct diegetic statements to relay top down narrative with a focus on simulation of a consistent game world that they believe will satisfy the most players.
    In my mind, this is roughly analogous to traditional programming approaches: Identity problem, design or employ the most efficient algorithm(s) in a linear or iterative fashion to solve as much of the problem as possible with an (ideally) internally consistent framework, transparency and reproducibility.

    In my system we dispense with the notion of internal consistency of the diegesis. This is because the diegetic simulation is less important to my design principles than the experience of narrative satisfaction from the participants.

    I think this is analogous to a neural network approach - you set up a distributed system to reach your result for you, and while you control the starting condition and parameters of the system, the operation itself is a black box essentially that is not necessarily internally consistent or reproducible.
    Each player's experience of the diegesis is different, but that's okay because reality is the same way- rarely do people agree on the actual state of the real world, so why should they need to agree on the state of the game world?

    Im not a super experienced programmer by any means so if I've gotten anything wrong please let me know.

  • edited February 7

    @markcmarino said:
    anti-code is too negative, unless you are naming just the actions of the person who refuses the code. Both people seem to be engaged in the production of the code.

    Thank you Mark for your response! That is very true: both people are engaged in the production of code. Yes, @evan_schauer's system is definitely still code: it is a system of reading things as diegetic material that is different than what those things are, just like how these words (another type of code) evoke something beyond the shape of their letters.

    I suppose it isn't that Evan S.'s code is anti-code here, but that anti-code is something it does. What I think makes the Port of Secrets system function as "anti-code" is that it is a codic system that thwarts the conditions necessary to produce a different kind of code, which, in this case, is the diegetic commodity. (it's worth noting, I suppose, that I consider capital to be a diegetic commodity, but one has crept out of its magic circle of meaning and gained what would appear to be a type of veridicality through the aggregate deployment of ISAs and RSAs that defend its truth-value, acting alongside what I've been calling "anti-apparatuses" or "nihilistic state apparatuses" that actively hold in place conditions that thwart those who fail to interact with a system of code from directing labor towards their needs and whims. So, capital I guess might be thought of as a type of diegetic code that has been crowned king.)

    Many larp designers approach the question of "How do we stop the diegetic commodity from creating a fun/power imbalance in our game?" from the ideological level down. For example, as the collective of larpmakers who wrote the manifesto The Dogma 99: A Programme for the Liberation of Larp explicitly "forbid" the use of diegetic commodities (i.e. diegetic code linked within intradiegetic objects) within their community's games. So, this tactic isn't what I think if as "anti-code" because it entails thwarting a type of code (i.e. a replicable way of creating meaning) from being practiced from the ideological level down, through the creation of social and repressive apparatuses than clamp down on anyone who tries to use that sort of code.

    Evan S's code takes the opposite approach to the same question, and leads us to ask what happens when we, instead of writing manifestos and creating social apparatuses to thwart a type of code from being practiced from the ideological level down, what happens when we build new systems of meaning-making from the codic level up? It's sort of like making a dress from the level of the weave, rather than the pattern. Such an interesting approach!

    So, yes, I think you're right Mark. Both are a type of code. And perhaps calling one type "anti-code" is misleading, insofar as it's still code we're talking abut here, it's just code that it would seem has a built-in solvent for another type of code. But "code with a built-in solvent" seems too bulky...
    "Solvent code"?
    "Antiseptic code"?
    ..."Un-code"?
    ... ... ....."Zamboni code"? (I mean, Evan S's code is a type of code that metaphorically resurfaces the ice regularly, keeping the experience fun for people no matter how late they stepped into the ring. But this is more a specific feature of this type of anti-code, rather than anti-code as a whole though....)
    Also, maybe Evan S.'s code could be called "Jubilee Code," as it has built-in cyclical reset mechanisms. Only instead of erasing debt, it also cyclically redistributes what might be called "wealth," or a least the ability direct the labor of others towards enacting the types of stories you want to have told.

    But as for the larger catagory of "anti-code"--

    @markcmarino said:
    anti-code is too negative, unless you are naming just the actions of the person who refuses the code.

    ya know, I think that is exactly what I am doing: Naming the actions of someone who refuses a type of code, or at least a community that doesn't want its rules to interfere with their game. So maybe "anti-code" isn't too negative, at least when talking about this as a tactic.

  • edited February 12

    Thank you for diving a bit more into your game design, @evan_schauer!

    @evan_schauer said:

    A typical approach in American LARPs is to use what Haley refers to as direct diegetic statements to relay top down narrative with a focus on simulation of a consistent game world that they believe will satisfy the most players.
    In my mind, this is roughly analogous to traditional programming approaches: Identity problem, design or employ the most efficient algorithm(s) in a linear or iterative fashion to solve as much of the problem as possible with an (ideally) internally consistent framework, transparency and reproducibility.

    I realize we are getting very close to the end of the working group, but I'd be curious if you might have time to elaborate a bit more on how these programming approaches translate into making larp code, and in particular, I'd be course about your take on identity problem, transparency (the others that you mention--reproducibility, small math (a term sometimes used to talk about creating the most efficient larp code), and internal consistency make immediate since to me. But yeah, what are you doing when you design larp code for transparency, and what does it mean to deal with identity problem in this regard?

  • @evan_schauer said:

    In my system we dispense with the notion of internal consistency of the diegesis. This is because the diegetic simulation is less important to my design principles than the experience of narrative satisfaction from the participants.

    That's an interesting way to frame it. I'd be curious as why you'd say your system increases narrative satisfaction more so than more authorial/centralized models of co-creating diegeses?

  • @SamaraHayleySteele said:
    Thank you for diving a bit more into your game design, @evan_schauer!

    I realize we are getting very close to the end of the working group, but I'd be curious if you might have time to elaborate a bit more on how these programming approaches translate into making larp code, and in particular, I'd be course about your take on identity problem, transparency (the others that you mention--reproducibility, small math (a term sometimes used to talk about creating the most efficient larp code), and internal consistency make immediate since to me. But yeah, what are you doing when you design larp code for transparency, and what does it mean to deal with identity problem in this regard?

    Sorry, I mean to say "Identify problem" as in, determining the goal of your code.
    Transparency is the quality of a game or code that every operation is tracked and clear. In the types of LARPs I'm talking about, the interactions with the diegesis go through the GM, and so it's clear how the processes is running. This is the same as 'traditional' code where you can decompile everything and figure out exactly how the program works.

    In Port of Secrets however, interactions with diegesis happen between individual players, with no centralization. In addition different players will have different ideas of what actually happened. Thus the process of how the game went cannot be 100% decompiled into a single series of 'game events'. This is similar to how neural networks function- its a huge problem (and maybe impossible?) to backtrack exactly the functions that a neural network has employed to reach its solution.

    @SamaraHayleySteele said:

    That's an interesting way to frame it. I'd be curious as why you'd say your system increases narrative satisfaction more so than more authorial/centralized models of co-creating diegeses?

    This is perhaps a biased opinion based on my experience but here it goes: The authorial model essentially relies on a fallible biased person to determine plot for others. While it's possible to craft a perfect narrative, is it really possible to craft one distinct narrative that will appeal to every player, especially over multiple sessions? And wouldn't you be inclined to give people you know to be good roleplayers more interesting story? Allowing people to craft their own stories more organically gives each player, ideally, something closer to what they're looking for out of the game, while filtering it through other players such that they feel it happening in a more realistic way than just getting exactly what they want.

  • edited February 15

    @evan_schauer
    And wouldn't you be inclined to give people you know to be good roleplayers more interesting story? Allowing people to craft their own stories more organically gives each player, ideally, something closer to what they're looking for out of the game, while filtering it through other players such that they feel it happening in a more realistic way than just getting exactly what they want.

    Oh snap. So what you're saying is people with authorial/centralized power--even if that power is over a tiny RPG game with perhaps no more than a dozen players--are likely to lend more of their attention to the needs of their friends, which by default gives their friends more power, and makes things less fair/fun for others? Gee, who'd have thought? ...but if we get rid of the centralized/authorial, then who will tell us what reality is?! 0_0 ...you're blowing my mind, Evan S. You're blowing my mind.

    @evan_schauer said:
    I think this is analogous to a neural network approach - you set up a distributed system to
    Each player's experience of the diegesis is different, but that's okay because reality is the same way- rarely do people agree on the actual state of the real world, so why should they need to agree on the state of the game world?

    Wow, this model you've created really nicely matches the subjectivist approach to diegesis laid out in the larp scholarship of Markus Montola (gosh, I wish he was part of this working group so we could get his thoughts! ...we really need to just start doing this "critical larp code studies" as its own thing, probably...) in which we are exposed to the idea that there is no centralized diegesis, or "official storyworld" hidden in some author's head, so don't have to write our games as if there is. Like, you've solved the problem of creating media that reflects that reality of subjectivist diegesis in a very different way than the structure of Nordic freeform larp--a structure which, while tackling this problem, I find privileges some personality types more than others due to its lack of a randomization process for adjudicating power in the decentralized control of diegesis (--but others might argue that doing it the Nordic Freeform way is more about "consent") (...but as many of us who've lived in consent-based communal homes know, the ability to forcefully yet tactfully articulate your will makes you the queen of any consent-based adjudication system, leading to certain well-trained individuals continually dominating what happens in "consent-based" co-created narrative situations... for better or worse.) Anyway, I'm excited to see your system as an alternative to Nordic freeform, insofar as it does the thing we all like about Nordic freeform, but does so in a different way that may be more appealing to players whose style of communication isn't privileged by consensus process. Not that I would ever want to see Nordic freeform go away! I'm just stoked to see the proliferation of a healthy & diverse interactive media ecology! I'm excited to see many types of gaming spaces emerge from the rules level up like this!

    @evan_schauer said:
    I think this is analogous to a neural network approach - you set up a distributed system to reach your result for you, and while you control the starting condition and parameters of the system, the operation itself is a black box essentially that is not necessarily internally consistent or reproducible.

    Yes!! I really enough the neural network analogy you've put forth!

    Another model this is bringing to mind for me are the cybernetic model(s) of subjectivity explored in N. Kate Hayle's book How We Became Posthuman. It's been over a decade since I've really dived into that text, but reading your descriptions of the ideas underlying your larp code design methodology is making me think it's time to pull that book out again & give it another read, as I feel it may speak to what you're doing here. :-)

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