Dogmatic manifestos

I’ve finally read something I’ve been meaning to read for a long time: the manifestos Dogma 99 and The Manifesto of the Turku School. While I understand, at least partly, the motivation behind these texts, I have to strongly disagree with both of them on some important facts. This is not surprising, as both we’re written in a polemical style, especially the Turku Manifesto, it being a witty version of the Communist Manifesto.

While my objections on the Turku Manifesto are more general, I found I sympathize with the Dogma 99 on most points, but I think some of their rules or opinions are counter-productive. The Vow of Chastity contains 10 rules for larpwrights and ends with some general instructions. In this vow, there is a part that says: “My highest goal is to develop the art and medium of live-action role-playing. This, I promise, will be done through all means available, and at the expense of good taste, all conventions and all popularity amongst the so-called LARPers.” What amazed me was the glaring contradiction on submitting to these rules and at the same time, vowing to break all the rules needed to achieve better larp. I’m quite sure at least some of the rules have to go in favor of better games. On the other hand, I understand the Dogma as a tool of breaking old habits in writing larp, and in this it is probably quite effective. I have to say the part I agree most is rule ten: “The playwrights shall be held accountable for the whole of their work.” I’ve once participated in a larp where the game couldn’t begin because all the playwrights were too drunk to stand. In the gaming community where I learned what larp is, this was not that uncommon. It is a marvel I still (occasionally) larp.

It seems that both the Dogma 99 and the Turku Manifesto have a similar view of larp in general, and especially stories in them. To put it simply, there aren’t any. They could be described with the term “simulationist”, although there is a risk in using the term. I think larp can be used to tell stories, and should be. The Scandinavian group Vi åker jeep does this spectacularly, but I think that neither the authors of Dogma 99 or the Turku Manifesto would call their style of gaming larp.

One thing the two manifestos seem to disagree is whether you can larp alone. I agree with Dogma 99 that larp is created socially, and you cannot larp alone. That is because I also disagree with a central point in the Turku Manifesto: using immersion in defining larp. The Turku Manifesto defines larp as follows: “Role-playing is immersion (“eläytyminen”) to an outside consciousness (“a character”) and interacting with its surroundings.” I have two separate disagreements with this definition: the first is about social power, and the second a more analytical one.

  1. Not all larpers feel strong feelings of immersion (as defined in the Turku Manifesto), or seek to. Some players define the game and their experience (whether it was a successful or enjoyable) in some other terms. This is shown by Harviainen in his empirical study Testing Larp Theories and Methods: Results for Year Three. This was also brought up by a friend of mine, when she was worried that she was a “terrible larper”, because she didn’t feel strong feelings of immersion. This is why the definition of larp by the Turku Manifesto is a exercise in social power: it marginalizes those players, who do not immerse, at least completely. (I believe it is a theoretical continuum with no attainable end.)

  2. (The following is but an outline of an argument. The whole argument would need a lot more work and space.) Be defining immersion by ‘outside consciousness’, immersion is rendered both unattainable and intuitively unattractive. By unattainable I refer to the philosophical problem of ‘other minds’. “Outside consciousness” is by definition, outside our grasp. It is, therefore, not a very practical definition. This is a rather technical argument, but there is also another one: immersion is unattractive because, if (completely) successful, the person immersing disappears. But that is not what happens in larp, or what should happen. People are capable in separating the diegetic from the non-diegetic. And people are capable in reading several contexts or frames at the same time, separating what should be seen through the character and what shouldn’t. If they weren’t capable of this, it wouldn’t be larp, but some form of mental disorder. We need a definition that doesn’t rest on some outside consciousness, but on our own.