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.

It’s been a long time. I shouldn’t have left without word. Can you ever forgive me?

If you’re still reading, perhaps you have. Maybe you’ve put aside the long wait for this post and wait instead to hear what has been going on in my life. For that, dear reader, I appreciate your patience and would reward you with cookies if the internet had the ability to send real baked-goods thru wifi. But sadly, since I can’t email a brownie, I’ll just give you the low-down on the world as according to me.

Life has exploded exponentially lately. I was accepted earlier this year into the NYU Game Center MFA program for Game Design for it’s inaugural class. For those of you not familiar, Tisch School of the Arts within NYU has a program that studies games of all kinds. It’s built around the Game Center, which is its library of games that students can come in and play as part of an ongoing project to study games as a growing media and job market. This year was the first time they expanded the program to include a graduate program and yours truly was accepted. I’m humbled and ultimately boggled by the fact that I’m studying under amazing teachers like Jesper Juul, Eric Zimmerman, Katherine Isbister and the head of department, Frank Lantz. I applied on a wing and a prayer and now I’m studying game design and theory at one of the best schools in the world! For a while it was hard for me to fathom – the whole thing felt very surreal.

Then school started and surreal disappeared when the work-load began. Graduate school is, no joke, probably one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever had educationally. The work load is pretty intense and, along with the other projects I’m working on, keep me very busy. But I’m designing some great games with some amazing people, all to make me a better designer for my future career, so how can I complain? I’ve met some amazing fellow students so far and we’ve jumped head-first into the work. Already we wrote a kind of cracked-out version of the card game war called WarSlayerz (the Z is very important) and I’m learning how to work on digital games via platforms like GameMaker and Unity. The digital aspect of the program is the most daunting for me, as I’ve never done computer programming at all in my life, and I’m struggling to grok a completely different language to translate game design ideas into little digital dudes. I’m also making sure to rep pretty hard the wonderful world of analog gaming, especially the live action role-play community and their importance as an evolving international media. I’ve been up, burning the midnight oil to do all my work and my other projects outside of school.

Speaking of those other projects, I’m still blogging over at Tor.com even though my posts have slowed down distinctly. GenCon rolled right into a LARP weekend and then into orientation and graduate school, which effectively tore through my writing schedule. I’ve recently taken on reviewing NBC’s newest post-apoc show Revolution for Tor.com and I’ve got a few more posts coming out. I enjoy working for Tor.com so much and the chance to do review and criticism is something I don’t want to give up while going through school. There might, however, be a wee slow down from the posting schedule I had before.

That’s also because, outside of the Game Center, I’m working hard at developing my tabletop RPG game Wanderlust. In the coming weeks there will be more information about it, including the launch of my company Phoenix Outlaw Production’s website, the exciting announcement of new talent being added to our company’s team, and even a schedule of publication and (hopefully) our Kickstarter. We’ll have a Facebook page all set up for updates too that’ll get put up here with commentary from my partner in crime Josh Harrison and more articles here about how things are going development-wise for the game. I believe it’s important to keep folks in the loop about how a game dev is going so they can see the process from the bottom up, and I’m excited as hell to share the development of this game with you. I’m working with a fantastic editor as well in John Adamus and he’s been fabulous at helping me turn this book into a space-epic reality.

I also recently broke through one of my most challenging fears by completing and submitting a short story to an anthology (which I’ll be writing about in a future post). That plus some other freelance work, my storytelling for Dystopia Rising New Jersey and preparation for Double Exposure’s Metatopia convention has kept me busy. When do I sleep? Let’s just say the last few weeks has been full of Red Eyes (lots of espresso!) and power naps.

So that’s the lay of the land, sports fans. I’m working hard to produce what writing I can in both the game design field and in plain creative writing. But I don’t want to forget that I have this blog too and it’s chock full of space for commentary and articles I want to put together too. In the upcoming weeks you’ll hear more about lots of nerdy things, including stuff I’ve read that is keeping me sane throughout the hectic work weeks and some views on writing too. Meanwhile, I’m staring down a pile of work with my name on it so I’m signing off.

Until next time, writers and gamers and geeks out there – don’t let the man get you down. Or the beagle. Those beagles are deceptively shifty.