My Thesis Given Form: Graduate School Thesis Preparation

When I was accepted into NYU’s first MFA class for Game Design, I knew I was going to want to do my graduate thesis on LARP. Despite the possibility of doing anything else related to games, I was sure that live action role-playing games were going to remain my focus throughout the program. That obviously hasn’t changed. I’m still a die-hard LARP enthusiast and I believe that there is so much to be talked about and written about and explored when it comes to the game medium. Recently, I was asked to put together my thesis proposal in preparation for my second year at the Game Center. Now that it has been accepted, I’m very pleased to introduce my thesis project to you.

My project is tentatively called Living Games, and I will be organizing and running a LARP conference at NYU in 2014.

Sounds ambitious? It is. The conference will (potentially) bring together LARP designers, enthusiasts, academics and professionals from across the world to spend two days talking about live action games. The conference is meant to bring together people from all forms of LARP, from theater/parlor games to boffer and Nordic and freeform traditions as well. Attendees will get to listen to lectures, sit in on discussion breakout groups, challenge themselves in a LARP game jam and then participate in games featured by attending designers.

Additionally, LARP scholars will be able to submit papers to a journal that will be curated alongside the conference by yours truly. A call for papers will be put out at the beginning of the fall semester with a physical journal to be released along with the conference, tentatively to be scheduled for April or May.

Like I said, ambitious.

Folks have asked me why I wanted to make this my project. I could have done anything. I was first of a mind to write a book on LARP, inspired by great writers like Jaakos Stenros, Markos Montola, Sarah Lynne Bowman, Evan Torner and Lizzie Stark. I could also have run a LARP or a set of LARPs and then reported on my work with documentation and perhaps an academic analysis of my work. Yet the fact of the matter is, I do plan on writing a book about LARP but I think the project would be much longer than a graduate thesis. And I run LARPs already on a regular basis, as well as work on writing experimental ones in my spare time. So that would not be a new experience for me. Moreover, while those are worthwhile, they don’t fill my one burning interest right now.

I really want to bring together folks who love LARP as much as I do to talk about why LARP matters.

LARP as a game design form gets a bad wrap. It has a public relations problem, it has an inter-geek community relations problem, and it has an inter-tradition problem between different branches of the hobby. It doesn’t have a ton of bodies of work to pull on for those inside and outside the community, and it often gets folded into other forms of roleplaying games when the design challenges and opportunities in LARP are often unique to the medium. Still, LARP stands as a performative games medium that can not only be a force for artistic expression all its own, but can serve to teach and inspire other forms of game design and collective storytelling… if its merits can be heard.

Moreover, if there were more places within the community to discuss and share ideas, the form could grow and evolve even further than it already has. There are great places already doing this around the world, like Knutepunkt, Intercon, Wyrdcon, Fastival, the Double Exposure conventions and more. Hell, I’m sure there’s plenty I’m not even aware of out there (but I’m dedicated to finding out about). Now, I’d like there to be one in New York, under the auspices of a great university like NYU with a history of supporting innovative artistic endeavors.

So that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing. In the coming months you’ll hear more about the project as it evolves. There will be a lot of learning curve for me – fact is, I’ve never run a conference before. There’s plenty to consider and not as much time as I’d like to do it in, but I’m going to get there. I’ll be reaching out into the community to find people who want to attend and especially people who might be able to help. There’s got to be other people out there like me, who’d love to see another meeting place for LARP minds springing up on the East Coast, and I’m going to do my best to find those folks and get us together to make it happen. The details? Well, the devil’s in ’em and I’m going to wrestle with that as we go along.

For now, this is the course I’m on. Let’s get it started.

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