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General Forge Forums => Publishing => Topic started by: Eero Tuovinen on October 09, 2005, 03:17:56 AM



Title: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on October 09, 2005, 03:17:56 AM
Ben Lehman visited Finland for a month just now. Ben's just published a game, Polaris, so what we did was to try something new: a special book tour around Finland to promote the game and to see Finnish hobbyists. We've discussed the idea of a Tupperware-like promotion here before, so I thought to write some notes about our experiences with trying it. Ben's tucked into the trans-siberian train right now, but he might have something to say, too, when he gets out.

Touring partners: The cornerstone idea of the tour was to use Ben's status as an American game designer as an excuse to arrange indie gaming meetings with various gaming clubs around the country. Ben would supply himself and his game, while I would arrange the meetings, bring the Arkenstone inventory of games and push our new publication, the Finnish translation of Dust Devils. In addition we took my brother Markku for a driver and handyman, so that's three people.

Tour arrangements: We decided on the idea of a book tour only a couple of weeks before Ben came to the country, so I had only limited time to make arrangements. It became evident that the local rpg clubs were interested, though; I managed to arrange a meet in Helsinki, Tampere, Jyväskylä, Lahti, Turku, Kuopio and Oulu, which are pretty much the rpg capitals of Finland insofar as organized clubs go.

My local arrangements were simple: the locals would worry about the audience, suitable space and a place for us to sleep after the event. We would bring the night's program and a library of indie games for perusal and buying. I also consulted with each local club on their specific interests: rpg theory, publishing advice, actual play, lots of demos or whatever they were interested in.

Tour program: In practice a tour meeting went like this: we'd get to the place in question, set up a sales table and chat around while audience trickled in. Then Ben would give a lecture ranging from half an hour to two hours depending on the nature of the audience and touching everything from theory to practice to publishing. After that we'd run short and mid-size demos of games; with a smaller audience lots of short demos, with less people longer stuff. Discussion to taste; many hobbyists, especially the "theorists", strongly prefer talking about roleplaying to playing demos.

Tour finances: Before the tour we agreed to split the travel costs of the tour between Ben and Arkenstone, my company, based on the percentages of sales we each made. Ben would sell Polaris, we'd sell our own stock. Whoever sold more would also pay a larger share of the costs, which was sensible when we had no good idea of the amount of sales or the proportions beforehand.

The goals and benefits of the tour: The main meter of success was profit, whether or not we could cover the costs of travel by tripping between Finnish cities and selling games. The long-term benefits would come in the form of meeting Finnish roleplayers for contacts, added publicity and thus long-term sales. And, of course, it's something to do while you're in Finland with nothing better to do.

How it came to pass: We made roughly 1000$ total in sales, with Arkenstone selling 62% of the total and Ben selling the rest. The audience in average was around 10-15 people, ranging from six to 25. The costs of travel were around 400$, so the profits were slight, but there was some. For those who are familiar with the geography of Finland: the southern leg of the tour was easily affordable, while the northern trip to Kuopio and Oulu shouldn't be considered an economically feasible proposition. Interestingly enough, the size of audience did not correlate with the sales at all; the people with interest in buying came anyway, so we sold thrice as much in Oulu (6 people) than in Tampere (25 people). The sales profile of an indie meeting like this is much more efficient than a convention, we sell significantly more per audience member than the average convention operation. Smaller scale of course offsets the lucrativity.

The audience and the kind of interactions we had with people differed a lot in different cities: in Turku we were ignored by gamers who preferred boardgames and mainly chatted with theorists, in Jyväskylä and Kuopio we had intensive gaming, in Lahti we stayed with a local gaming store owner. In Lahti the lecture was very short, while in Jyväskylä it was academically credited for the local digital culture students and took the full two hours. Staples of the events we built the program around were:
- Ben's lecture: he refined it continuously, so the presentation was pretty good in the latter part of the tour.
- Polaris, Dust Devils and Under the Bed demos: All of these are relatively straightforward to demonstrate and play. 80% of our demos were of these games, the rest were a smattering of My Life with Master, City of Brass, kpfs and such.

We also met a lot of interesting Fins, including most public Finnish rpg designers and the central theorists. Ben and the tour were for the most part confronted courteously, even when people had a need to assert their superiority towards the Forge.

Things to improve: With more time to prepare and experience in doing this kind of stuff, what would I have done differently? First and foremost is better media publicity; rpgs hold a different cultural position in Finland compared to the US, so it's not really that difficult to get to the newspapers and such with an American designer on tour. This time I pretty much intentionally ignored mainstream media and concentrated on getting the word out to gamers. Another one is to get more copies of the primary product: this time we had to print more Polaris halfway through the tour, as I'd underestimated the sales. A third one is outside financing: get the government, the cities and other public organizations to pitch in with travel and other expenses. That's something that requires months of lead time, so I left that out this time.

So that's pretty much it. While in Finland, Ben sold a total of 45 Polaris books (including what he sold to retailers) and talked about the work at the Forge to roughly 120 people. The number could have been somewhat more with better preparation and publicity, I should think. If somebody else decides to do a Finnish tour with us, I expect that you'll pay your way in Finland with the sales, but won't make much of a dent in your overseas travel expenses. On the other hand, for Arkenstone and us folks in Finland in general this is certainly a worthwhile endeavour and technique of promotion: in the local rpg clubs we have a readymade local organization for pulling off a tour, and I have the knowhow and contacts to arrange it. I'll definitely do this again when I find a suitable excuse again.

Anything else? Ben can probably add something when and if he survives Siberia. Meanwhile, if something's left unanswered feel free to ask.


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 09, 2005, 06:36:18 AM
I am struck with awe. Eero, this is one of the single most significant efforts toward promoting the value of role-playing I've ever heard of.

Culturally, artistically, procedurally, economically ... simply incredible.

Best,
Ron


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on October 09, 2005, 07:28:29 AM
Thanks, Ron, your approval means a lot to me. Really. And I agree, overall the tour gave me as an operator in the Finnish scene a great deal to think and develop. I guess it was much more routinely for Ben (who was a guest in the local scene, after all), but for me the couple of weeks we spent on it was just great. And that includes the one session of Nine Worlds we got to play, just mindblowing. I got to meet lots of people I only usually see at Ropecon, for instance, and lots of people who've never felt it necessary to even get into dialogue with me. (A guy from the Ropecon organization board talked with Ben about an indie GOH, for instance; that's something I've tried to do for two years.) And I got to familiarize myself with the local clubs, and to talk with folks who I only ever meet online, even if we live in the same country. Then there's the inspiration and experience proffered by the tour: we've been quite seriously talking about petitioning for a grant to ship us some more American game designers for added dialogue, as an example of the kind of energy and enthusiasm the tour generated. Also, the sales afterwards have done a lot to make the work I invested worthwhile: right now it seems that the tour is generating roughly 30%-50% more sales for Arkenstone afterwards, if the sales spike of this week is anything to go by. Of course it's impossible to know in the long run what sales are caused by what, but right now the very people I talked with on the tour are making orders, and it's pretty nice.

But the best thing was that this method really allowed us to interact about the practice of play with gamers from all around Finland, including a lot of folks who don't do the whole internet community thing. Also, the short demo technique perfected at the Forge allows for very concrete communication about the real practice of play: in Kuopio, for instance, I really felt that we were doing something useful. There weren't many people, but man those people were willing accomplices for some crazy and energetic Dust Devils. At that point I had my demo sharpened razor-sharp, and we got lots of play mileage out of a short evening of play. The same was true in Lahti, too.

Some further details to consider, now that I think of it:
- Is this model feasible for another country? For me organizing this was made possible by the tradition of university rpg clubs in several Finnish cities, and my personal knowledge about who to contact to set things up. Does the US, for instance, have comparable grassroot structures? I imagine that you'd have a larger population base, at least.
- Mainstream. It's always interesting to get to interact with non-roleplayers. In Jyväskylä Ben's lecture was billed as a special academic thing, so we got electronic gaming people, but also just plain newbies. The same's true about the game sessions I've run in Helsinki after the tour. Tentative claim: there's no reason for a tour like this to limit itself to university rpg clubs, we might as well have booked a local library's lecture hall and gone mainstream.
- The Nordic theorists. I got more talks done with our theory people thanks to lugging Ben around in my backpack than I've got in the last year and a half, total. An insight: the reason that the Nordics and the Forge are not communicating is not that they're very close-minded, it's that neither tradition is at all interested in the kind of roleplaying the other is. This is a topic for another thread, but I've got some pretty interesting thoughts about our native Nordic rpg culture, now.


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: J. Tuomas Harviainen on October 09, 2005, 07:44:34 AM
We also met a lot of interesting Fins, including most public Finnish rpg designers and the central theorists. Ben and the tour were for the most part confronted courteously, even when people had a need to assert their superiority towards the Forge.

... and also when Ben had a need to assert the superiority of the Forge ...

On a serious note, I too would like to extend a big thanks to Eero for organizing the tour, and naturally also to Ben. I definitely enjoyed the two opportunities to discuss theory and design issues _live_ with someone from a very different school of thought (and, furthermore, with several very different views purely his own.), as well as the contrast between the two events (one was the Turku demo meet, the other an informal "beer and theory nite" near the end). Given the tour's length, it was also possible for us Finns along the route to discuss the presentations where we'd been, as well as Polaris itself, and then talk about it all later on with Ben again. So the long tour was definitely a far better way to meet and converse than, say, the typical convention guest invites are.

Having a guest speaker also motivated a lot of other rpg-theory/design/publishing/sales discussions, by giving a good excuse to gather up and talk about the stuff - at the last meeting, while Ben demoed Polaris for one group after another, the rest of us kept talking about these things on a level we seldom have time and energy for these days. So I think that this catalytic extra value is definitely something to take into account in the future, when designing tours and meetings.

More of these kinds of projects, please.

-Jiituomas


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: talysman on October 09, 2005, 12:24:14 PM
I'm jealous. I want to go to Turku and see the pig-duck.

I'm wondering about the legal side of this. it's my understanding that most countries ask what the purpose of your visit is, and if you're selling, you wind up with more bureaucratic hurdles to jump and fees to pay. at the very least, I would think the government would require a business or sales license, and may charge a tariff of some kind.

now, I'm also involved in the experimental music/noise scene, and we often have have out-of-town or even out-of-country performers perform and sell cds at shows, but it's pretty much "under the table"; there's probably a lot of taxes and fees that are being overlooked. we get away with it mainly because whoever is hosting the show has whatever licenses they need for their normal operations, so no one asks any questions about the cd sales.

was it more or less like this?  or did Ben get some kind of official permission?


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on October 09, 2005, 01:07:51 PM
No permissions. Our own operation is very much over the table, though, and we did all our own transactions with Ben according to our socialistic responsibilities. Ben, on the other hand, just came in, sold and left. I have difficulty believing that he's breaking any laws, unless he's evading taxes in the US... and, of course, he might have had to pay tariff for the books he brought (I'd have to check, but the cost would anyway be minor). But merely selling stuff in Finland is not illegal, and you don't need a business licence of any kind.

If something like this became a problem, I would suggest doing it through a local company: we buy the incoming stock and act as the retailers, and then pay the foreign guy the profits (minus our taxes caused by the sales). No practical difference, except for the taxes. If you'd do it this way, the actual person would just be in the country to talk and tour.


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: Ben Lehman on October 11, 2005, 12:55:01 AM
I am incredibly enthusiastic about the results of this tour.  I would certainly recommend a similar thing to any designer who has a month free and happens to be in Europe.  Would it be worth the cost of airfare?  No, probably not, unless you had another reason to be in the country.

Hopefully, I'll be producing a series of Actual Play posts about the experience -- I have a long train ride ahead of me and some of that time will probably be used for writing such.  For this thread, I want to talk about how I think that the same sort of thing could be done in America, because I think it could, and a couple of different approaches that could be taken.

Here are the things that you'll need:

1) A designer with two to four weeks free for travel, lecturing, and sales.  Ideally, one could do a ticket of designers (Ron Edwards, Matt Wilson, and Matt Snyder, or whoever), which might have more draw.  You will certainly want a couple of people on the tour to help run demoes, share costs, and do sales-- doing this alone would simply be too difficult.  If you want to do something similar to what I did, at least one designer should prepare a short lecture about some RPG related topic.  It might be possible to arrange this with someone else.

2) Each city would require a host, probably someone contacted through the Forge's Connections board.  The host would commit to the following:  Finding a venue for the event, advertising the event in various ways (depending on the goals of the tour:  mailing lists, RPGnet, game stores, flyers at the library, etc.), hosting the designer(s) for a night or arranging for motel accomodations for them, and generally providing hospitality and guidance for the designers in their home city.

3) The event consists of sales (hopefully from a catalog of indie games), a short lecture, and short demoes, a little longer than the Forge Booth's play (perhaps 30 minutes to an hour.)  Events should be scheduled for around 3-4 hours.


Now, such a tour could have various sorts of goals and venues, and these are probably going to vary by city, rather than by the tour, depending on what kind of venues are available.  Two highly obvious venues are the University RPG club and the local Game Store, which will reach ordinary gamer sorts.  Those can probably be expected to produce low, consistent sales and small, interested audiences, and the lecture should probably focus on Indie Publishing (I did this, you can do it, too) or on basic play theories.  You could certainly break even with this sort of thing.  The "theory" approach may not work so well outside of the Nordic countries.

But one could also do more of an "outreach" tour, based either at Universities or through libraries and community centers, where the lecture would more be a brief introduction to role-playing and the whole event could be focused on a "new hobby" sort of approach.  Whether or not this would be successful in terms of profitability -- I have no bets either way.  It could be a great success, or a terrible failure.

In terms of an actual attempt to reach the mainstream, it would be fascinating.

I would be happy to help arrange such a tour, and go on it when I am back in the US.  This is in terms of years, not months, so I hope someone goes ahead and does it sooner.

All in all, a great and exciting experience.

yrs--
--Ben

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on October 11, 2005, 06:43:49 AM
Fascinating.

Now, Ben, you also did a great deal of touring around the US -- and I will credit your swing through the Washington, DC area with not only catalyzing the first gathering of local Forge-folk that I know, but for inspiring us to try to reconvene more-or-less-monthly since. So could you compare and contrast your Finland tour with a hypothetical US tour?

Several issues come to my mind:
- On the one hand, doing this in one's own country is obviously cheaper; on the other, it is obviously less of a bridging of cultural divides.
- The density of RPG clubs on the ground should be at least as high as in Finland -- e.g. when I was in college, both Harvard and MIT, just a couple of subway stops apart, had very active science-fiction/RPG groups.
- Government grants are probably harder to come by in the US.
- Would such a tour in the US be redundant given the number of conventions that already occur? Or does this push out into communities that might never attend a convention? Or is such a tour stop essentially a "mini-con" itself?


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: Ben Lehman on October 11, 2005, 07:12:18 AM
Fascinating.

Now, Ben, you also did a great deal of touring around the US -- and I will credit your swing through the Washington, DC area with not only catalyzing the first gathering of local Forge-folk that I know, but for inspiring us to try to reconvene more-or-less-monthly since. So could you compare and contrast your Finland tour with a hypothetical US tour?

I seperate my American touring, which was largely just "hanging out / being a bum" from my Finland touring, which was "commercial endeavour / being a bum."  But, in terms of the Forge DC meetup, I am talking about a similar sort of thing, except I'm talking about leveraging that enormously powerful Forge community in terms of sales / actual play / outreach, rather than "let's get together and play some games."

Not that the latter is a bad thing, but I'm more excited about the possibilities of the former, especially outreach.  Hopefully, I think that local Forgies can get behind that, too, both in terms of "grow our hobby" (by which I mean Games Forgies Play rather than Gamer Fandom) and also in terms of forming new and exciting play groups and meeting new and exciting people.

Imagine an event like the Forge DC meetupm but taking place at a library or university room, open to the public and advertised, with the same level of actual play and discussion.  That's what I'm thinking right now, based on my experiences in Finland.

I'm going to discuss your issues point by point, since I think each of them is a good topic.

Quote
Several issues come to my mind:
- On the one hand, doing this in one's own country is obviously cheaper; on the other, it is obviously less of a bridging of cultural divides.

I am unconvinced.  Frankly, Finnish gamers, without exception, resemble American gamers to an almost terrifying degree.  They have the same campaign difficulties, the same play frustration, the same half-baked fantasy heartbreakers, etc.  (Some of the Finns on this board are going to hate me for saying this, but) This is up-to-and-including a group of theory minded LARPers, which exists in both the Nordic countries and the US, although the Nordics are more outspoken, the concerns and aesthetics of both groups are the same (emphasis on immersion and "experience," "avante garde" topics like sex in LARPs, and experimentation with the elements of exploration, rather than creative or technical agenda.)

Now, this isn't to say that our tour wasn't a serious effort of cultural outreach.  It was.  But it was cultural outreach from a culture indoctrinated in habits of functional, fun play with CA front and center, and a culture largely used to / expecting zilchplay and social dysfunction.  (Not to say that they didn't have functional play.  It just wasn't the assumption about what play was.  Also, I leave out the LARPers from this divide.)  This divide exists in both the US and Finland in, I think, equal measure.

Furthermore, I am cautiously enthusiastic for such a tour to make overtures between Forge game culture and mainstream culture as a whole.

Quote
- The density of RPG clubs on the ground should be at least as high as in Finland -- e.g. when I was in college, both Harvard and MIT, just a couple of subway stops apart, had very active science-fiction/RPG groups.

In terms of reach, Finnish clubs are way larger.  I'd say around %10-20 of gamers are in clubs, as opposed to %1-2 in the US.  However, Finland is much smaller in terms of population, so in absolute numbers you are probably correct.

In general, however, we found that success (in terms of both sales and play and good lecture and discussion) was totally unrelated to the number of the people who showed, and far more related to getting the word out to the right people.

Quote
- Government grants are probably harder to come by in the US.

The tour was not at all funded by the Finnish government, but rather by Arkkikivi and TAO Games.

Quote
- Would such a tour in the US be redundant given the number of conventions that already occur? Or does this push out into communities that might never attend a convention? Or is such a tour stop essentially a "mini-con" itself?

Totally different environment than a convention.  Much more focused on play, much more focused on a specific type of play and a specific set of games.  It was much more like a book tour or a book signing as opposed to, say, WorldCon.

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: Revontuli on October 11, 2005, 12:50:31 PM
Considering that arguments are much easier and less prone to misunderstanding when had live, maybe I should've confronted you more openly when you were here. But since that ship has sailed, I have to question your opinions here.

However, first I'll say the tour was a brilliant idea, and it's always great to have a chance to discuss roleplaying theory.

They have the same campaign difficulties, the same play frustration, the same half-baked fantasy heartbreakers, etc.  (Some of the Finns on this board are going to hate me for saying this, but) This is up-to-and-including a group of theory minded LARPers, which exists in both the Nordic countries and the US, although the Nordics are more outspoken, the concerns and aesthetics of both groups are the same (emphasis on immersion and "experience," "avante garde" topics like sex in LARPs, and experimentation with the elements of exploration, rather than creative or technical agenda.)

As one very outspoken immersionist, I guess I've gotta take this. I find it rather uncortious of you to equal your own agenda as creative, and ours as "avante garde" (sic). Experimentation by definition is both creative and avant garde, so I guess those attributes fit both our games. What I see as the bit difference is your focus on form (technical agenda), and our focus on content (avant garde topics).

I'm glad to hear there may be American immersionists out there somewhere. Maybe someday they'll reach us.

In my experience, the Forge style narrativist/formalist games are very well constructed for providing a very specific and narrow emotional experience. Like fighting your fear of the master with your inner love, or facing your inner demon in a wild west environment. Or whatever. This particular experience is further limited and tightened with specific rules that leave everything else out. These make for excellent short-term games where you read the booklet, and start playing immediately. What immersion there is is almost purely immersion in the situation. I've played these games with you, Eero, and others, and there's nothing wrong with them as such. But they're not what I look for in roleplaying games.

The immersionist games I (and many other Nordics) run have an entirely different goal. You need to understand that this is not because we don't know any better. It's because we prefer it this way. Yes, really. Our aim is not specific scenes and situation immersion. Our aim is character immersion. This means when the role-playing starts we might not have any idea what kinds of experiences are in store for us. The experience we strive for is that of a "real" made-up world where "real" made-up people live. We don't want a story that the GM subtly guides forward. We don't want number-bashing. We don't want the mechanics decide character actions or decisions.

When I told Ben in Helsinki that we typically have no rules mechanics, or mechanics known only to the GM, his first reaction was: "Yeah, but how do you know he doesn't cheat?" I know he doesn't cheat because there's no possible reason for him to cheat. There's an implicit trust between the players and the GM based on the shared goal of living in that other world. (And it can be Earth in 2005, of course.)

Quote
Now, this isn't to say that our tour wasn't a serious effort of cultural outreach.  It was.  But it was cultural outreach from a culture indoctrinated in habits of functional, fun play with CA front and center, and a culture largely used to / expecting zilchplay and social dysfunction.  (Not to say that they didn't have functional play.  It just wasn't the assumption about what play was.
I'll try not to be insulted by this. What do you mean by zilchplay and social dysfunction?

But might it be, just maybe, that even if you don't understand the creative agenda, there could still be one? That whatever it is that you call zilchplay may have some meaning hidden from you?

I can only assume that when you say "social dysfunction", you mean characters with different goals. I can easily see how this would be dysfunctional from the perspective of always trying to create specific kinds of scenes that deal with specific kinds of emotions. (I kind of get that this is pretty much what you take CA to mean.) But our goal is elsewhere, and we can reach it just fine.


All that said, meeting Ben has strengthened my resolve to make a small roleplaying booklet, only focusing on immersionist goals. More on this later.


Mike Pohjola


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: J. Tuomas Harviainen on October 11, 2005, 11:24:37 PM
Frankly, Finnish gamers, without exception, resemble American gamers to an almost terrifying degree.  They have the same campaign difficulties, the same play frustration, the same half-baked fantasy heartbreakers, etc.  (Some of the Finns on this board are going to hate me for saying this, but) This is up-to-and-including a group of theory minded LARPers, which exists in both the Nordic countries and the US, although the Nordics are more outspoken, the concerns and aesthetics of both groups are the same (emphasis on immersion and "experience," "avante garde" topics like sex in LARPs, and experimentation with the elements of exploration, rather than creative or technical agenda.)

This is in my opinion essentially correct. You do, however, almost completely miss the effect of local inhibitions and discourse culture on said games. A textually identical larp about sex would probably be very different when run in Finland than it would be anywhere in the U.S., for instance. The base materials and logistical issues of role-playing are indeed very much alike in both countries, but the interpretation of the elements strongly differs. (Also meaning that your Actual Play experiences here were a hybrid: Finns adapting to an American game master not used to the sparse, blunt discourse we normally tend to use in both normal life as well as gaming.)

Keeping this in mind when analyzing games published for one target audience/culture is highly recommended. The emergent play produced by the printed material is strongly influenced by local traits, with connotations and results that may not necessarily be at all what an outsider (including the original designer) expects. The rules&cheating example Mike notes is a good example of such differences.

-Jiituomas


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: matthijs on October 11, 2005, 11:33:55 PM
(Side note: Since the "Nordics" are being mentioned again, I'll just mention again that nobody on this forum - including myself, Mike, Eero and Ben - are in a position to say how people they've never met play. We all have data points - some personal experience, some hearsay - but nobody has the big picture.

"We're all individuals!" "I'm not.")


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: Eetu on October 12, 2005, 04:58:52 AM
As a Finn familiar with both the Forge way of thinking and the local, I agree with most of the stuff Ben said.

That said, I want to clarify why I think this doesn't make the Nordic experientalist scene suck.

First, what I think what Ben was saying (and I'd appreciate a clarification) with
Quote
a culture largely used to / expecting zilchplay and social dysfunction. 
(Not to say that they didn't have functional play.  It just wasn't the assumption about what play was.  Also, I leave out the LARPers from this divide.)

which seems to be the knifepoint in this outrage, is that by and large the general roleplaying population in Finland is as clueless about what it takes to get good play as the general roleplaying population in the US. And I think the reference to larpers, ie the nordic theorists being left oustide the divide means that Ben thinks their play in general doesn't suck, even though they do lack the tools to negotiate creative agenda.

And here's why: In general, the Nordic theorists have been playing and experimenting with each other for quite a while. During this quite a long time, they've come upon a common, mostly uniform creative agenda which suits them all quite well. That would be the experientalist agenda, in which a vivid, thought-provoking player experience and reflection of the game is the goal, with immersion, "direct experience", of the game content seen as a powerful tool.

So then, for that agenda, the Nordic theorists have developed a load of wonderful methods that really do a good job of supporting it. (If you want to know more, check out this post  (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=14273.msg151603#msg151603) of mine).

So the Nordic theorists have good play and have created wonderful methods to hone their craft. However, how they ended up with the experientalist agenda is pure chance. There are very few if any good tools in the Nordic circle with which to talk about CA, or even to analyze how different methods support the experientalist CA, which usually isn't ever recognized as such or stated. The Nordic scene has locked itself to a corner (a very nice corner at that, but still a corner), with no tools to claw their way out.

And here, I think, is the possible junction and meeting place of Forge theory and Nordic theory. The Nordics could utilize the Forge theory to formalize their desired creative agenda, while the Forge could add the experientalist agenda to their repertoir, with ready to use tools for attaining good results in that play courtesy of the Nordic theorists.

 - Eetu


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on October 12, 2005, 06:47:12 AM
The "High Nordic" LARP school (to distinguish it from "the general roleplaying population") is indeed very cool, very different from the Forge, and to me personally a little scary (see this thread for me whimpering in public (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=16549.msg176556#msg176556)). To create a common understanding that can encompass both "schools," and thus allow cross-fertilization, would be tremendously useful.


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: Revontuli on October 12, 2005, 08:52:45 AM
And I think the reference to larpers, ie the nordic theorists
Not all Nordic theorists are larpers, and certainly not all Nordic theorists are immersionists.

Sweden has a very influential narrativist tabletop scene, which (despite my best efforts) is slowly spreading to Finland, Denmark and Norway. Their creative agenda and methods are very similar to the Forge ones. Check out this page for more on the Swedish "freeforms": http://dict.jeepen.org/


What is this "experientalism" you keep mentioning? A quick Forge search reveals Mr. Harviainen as the first user of this wonderful nonsense word. Even I wouldn't go around saying character immersion (or anything else) is more experience-centered than some other style.


Mike Pohjola


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: J. Tuomas Harviainen on October 12, 2005, 09:28:18 AM
What is this "experientalism" you keep mentioning? A quick Forge search reveals Mr. Harviainen as the first user of this wonderful nonsense word. Even I wouldn't go around saying character immersion (or anything else) is more experience-centered than some other style.

"Experientialism", games created with the primary intent of producing an experience of being someone else or somewhere else, as opposed to primary emphasis on narrative elements, intrigue, competition, etc. Sort of a politically correct (read: "not mentioning immersion of any kind, nor art, nor media use") phrase invented during Nodal Point discussions in 2004 to cover the common trend in the less mainstream Nordic design works. Note that this term concerns /intent/ only, and does not denote any opinion on whether other design styles produce similar, or as strong, experiences.

(But if we want to debate this, or similar questions, I suggest splitting a new thread from this to the Theory section, where it's more approriate.)

-Jiituomas


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: Montola on October 15, 2005, 10:28:43 PM
This discussion forces me to ask the following: Ben, did you learn anything theoretically/artistically/practically useful on your trip, except about the funny differences of role-playing cultures? Since that's the other side of cultural exchange. In addition to being a missionary you gotta be an anthropologist. In addition to being a crusader you gotta be a diplomat.

If you want to bridge the gap, you need to give an honest attempt at understanding why the people in the other side of the divide act like they do. In this I have to give a kudos for John Kim for his trip to Knutepunkt 2005.

Now I regret -- and I had a chat with Juhana who regrets too -- that we didn't have you play our games the way we play. The reason I didn't do it (even though I considered) is that role-playing with your non-native languages is hard, even for the "fluent" speakers such as myself. We tried it sometime with and it didn't do justice.

Finally, I have to agree with Matthijs' argument that none of us has a picture good enough. After chatting with Swedes about their larps for five years, I finally found the will and the way to go to one of their larps, Moira (http://weaver.mine.nu/moira). It was quite different from what I expected it to be, even though in retrospect the most of the things I'd heard before applied to the game. But when tacit knowledge is externalized, the externalized version is very different from the original.

Regards,

Markus


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: matthijs on October 16, 2005, 12:12:07 AM
It was quite different from what I expected it to be, even though in retrospect the most of the things I'd heard before applied to the game.

This is why I hesitate to say very much about the Nordic scene. I can read what the Danes say about their Fastaval scenario tradition, but since I haven't played a single one of those scenarios (or met any of their creators), what do I know?

Now, I believe this is a very real problem when it comes to Forge debates about Nordic LARP immersionism. The LARPers can explain their experiences, and the Forgites can analyze them (or pretend immersionism doesn't exist), but... it's like analyzing a Tarkovskij movie based not on seeing the movie, but reading an English translation of the script.


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: Ben Lehman on October 16, 2005, 02:19:38 AM
This discussion forces me to ask the following: Ben, did you learn anything theoretically/artistically/practically useful on your trip, except about the funny differences of role-playing cultures?

Tons.

Guys, I think you're really taking what I said out of context.  What I said was: "Boy, Finnish RPG culture and American RPG culture are pretty similar, including both an expectation of zilchplay and this wierd art/LARP scene which regards itself as above all that."

What I did not say nor imply was: "Finnish / Nordic LARPers are lame / weak / simpleminded / or anything of the sort."

I am really sad that I didn't get a chance to play one of your games.

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: J. Tuomas Harviainen on October 16, 2005, 03:39:02 AM
Guys, I think you're really taking what I said out of context.  What I said was: "Boy, Finnish RPG culture and American RPG culture are pretty similar, including both an expectation of zilchplay and this wierd art/LARP scene which regards itself as above all that."

We're possibly taking it out of context (if we are), because you use alien words (zilchplay) and seemingly offensive terminology (social dysfunction) without giving any real context. As the original text stands, it reads "In general, their games are exactly like ours, except theirs are clearly less good. And what they call innovation isn't - we've been doing exactly the same things here for a long time" to us. And we feel obliged to respond, since a lot of people (especially among theorists)  here consider seemingly uninteresting play and creative dissonances things worth exploring, instead of an automatically lesser way to play. "Having fun while playing" isn't necessarily a virtue or a thing to strive for around here, and emphasis is more often on the level of actual play than on design.

So I hope you'll explain whether you mean that or something else. Because it's really a question of whether you tried to understand what the differences are, why they exist and what can be gained by studying them, or just judged the local gaming by the standards you brought with you from overseas. As it stands, your original messages very clearly seemed to be of the latter kind.

It's probably hard to get internet access time where you currently are, but hopefully you'll have time to give us a proper explanation soon enough.

-Jiituomas


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: LordSmerf on October 16, 2005, 12:47:22 PM
I can't claim to speak for Ben (well, not honestly anyway), but I read his statements like this:  "It turns out that the problems that Forge-ites see in 'traditional' roleplaying in America is just as common in these other places, and there exist analagous bodies to the Forge there as well that recognize these not-so-fun ways to play and seek to improve upon them."

When I hear Ben saying "they have this sort of play", I read it as "Hey, it's not all interesting LARP theory and such, quite a lot of players (perhaps the majority) have the same dysfunctional play that the majority of American players do."

Thomas


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: Ben Lehman on October 16, 2005, 07:34:27 PM
Guys, I think you're really taking what I said out of context.  What I said was: "Boy, Finnish RPG culture and American RPG culture are pretty similar, including both an expectation of zilchplay and this wierd art/LARP scene which regards itself as above all that."

We're possibly taking it out of context (if we are), because you use alien words (zilchplay) and seemingly offensive terminology (social dysfunction) without giving any real context.

Okay.

First, my audience here is not, well, you guys.  I'm talking to people for whom this terminology makes a great deal of sense -- it's the precise and exact way that we talk about games.

So, given that the common perception around these parts is that every single role-playing in the Nordic countries plays strictly based on the Turku Manifesto (a slight exaggeration, but not much), I felt the need to clarify that, in terms of role-playing, I didn't see a strong difference between Finnish players and American players.  Hence the following statements:

1) The bulk of both Finnish and American gamers are stuck playing games that they don't really enjoy with groups that they've been playing with for a really long time and drifting (slowly changing) the system to try to get it to produce something that they want.  Zilchplay and social dysfunction are the key words here (check the glossary!)  The difference here is that Finland has a much more active club scene than America's.

2) Also like America, there are a small group of people who are focused on LARP, character immersion, and experimentation with respect to the elements of play (Exploration), rather than the goals of play (Creative Agenda).  They are largely anti-formalized rules and see themselves as artists and above the bulk of other players (1).  The difference is that in America, these tend to be isolated groups, whereas the Nordics seemingly have more communication with each other.

3) There are a few designers with super-keen insights into the process of play and what they want to get out of it (Creative Agenda) operating essentially solitary.  Petteri Hannila is one of these.  His game is really cool (http://www.cc.jyu.fi/~jphannil/chaos_order.pdf)

4) Lastly, there is a very small group of people who are interested in breaking down play into it's components and trying to study the real process of role-playing.  This group corresponds to the Forge in terms of America, Canada, and Western Europe, and to the Process Modellers and also some of Marcus Montola's recent work in Finland.  Satu Helio and I discussed some similar stuff, too.

(A note to the sensitive: I'm *not saying* that "oh, the stuff you guys are just like us, but slower."  It's saying "wow, we're both doing similar projects!  Nifty!")

Does that clarify things enough for you?

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: J. Tuomas Harviainen on October 16, 2005, 09:53:20 PM
1) The bulk of both Finnish and American gamers are stuck playing games that they don't really enjoy with groups that they've been playing with for a really long time and drifting (slowly changing) the system to try to get it to produce something that they want.  Zilchplay and social dysfunction are the key words here (check the glossary!)

Glossary checked way before. But the difference between the glossaried plain "dysfunction" in play vs. "social dysfunction" as an analytic term is huge, with the latter transfering also the meaning of what zilchplay would have been in this context. That's why I wanted you to clarify (as well to provide your own explanation to those not familiar with the glossary). While you may write mostly for Forge regulars, many of the people you met over here are reading this thread to see your opinions on the trip and its results.

The statements as you explain them now are just an opinion on play, instead of the _insult_ the other interpretation easily implied. Clarified now, including a quite clear opinion on where you stand on the learn/judge line. I find it not at all surprising (but quite amusing) that the people you mention by name as doing the play deconstruction are this country's most outspoken anti-immersionists, the people the loudest artiste-approach Nordics (esp. in Norway) criticize for supposedly having a biased ivory tower approach to the field...

Pleasant journeys,

-Jiituomas


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: Eirik Fatland on October 17, 2005, 01:01:13 AM
Quote from: Ben:
given that the common perception around these parts is that every single role-playing in the Nordic countries plays strictly based on the Turku Manifesto (a slight exaggeration, but not much)

Oh dear, has Mr. Pohjola's propaganda really been that successfull? :) Speaking from a different corner of the Nordic thingy, I think the immersionist and/or experientialist trends are far from as central than they're made out to be in this topic. Quite a lot of "avant-garde" Nordic larps have ended up with on a more dramatic and theatrical note - scene cuts and main parts in "Hamlet" and "Hamlet Innifrån", extravert and highly physical role-playing in "AmerikA", fate and myth in Amaranth and Knappnålshuvudet, etc. These are larps where Story Does Matter, and expression usually trumps immersion.

Quote
2) Also like America, there are a small group of people who are focused on LARP, character immersion, and experimentation with respect to the elements of play (Exploration), rather than the goals of play (Creative Agenda).  They are largely anti-formalized rules and see themselves as artists and above the bulk of other players (1).  The difference is that in America, these tend to be isolated groups, whereas the Nordics seemingly have more communication with each other.

The "anti-formalized rules" thingy is not an avant-garde invention. It's true for maybe 70% - 90% of mainstream larps in the Nordic countries, in a network of traditions that count somewhere between 80.000 and 300.000 active larpers. The same goes for "persistent play", the principle of banishing all Out-Of-Character conversation during a larp. These two things alone set Nordic (mainstream) larp aside from (mainstream) larp in the US, UK and rest of Europe. And I think "Experientialism" works a lot better as a description of the dominant style of larp in Norway and Sweden* than it works as a description of a "common thread" in the quite diverse world of experimental Nordic larps.

Seems to me the biggest difference between Forge indie games and Nordic arthaus larp is that the Forge has an obsession with formal (endogenous) system, that correlates with a Nordic obsession on diegetic system - i.e. society, culture, etiquette, situation, personalities, psychology. What you do with game rules, we do with society and character and player briefing.

rgrds,
.eirik.
* the language barrier makes it kinda hard for me to speak with any authority about the Finnish larp scene.


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: J. Tuomas Harviainen on October 17, 2005, 10:37:29 PM
Just for the record, as my previous message above has apparently been perceived as an insult: It isn't.

The tone may not carry through (damn internet), but I'm really glad for the clarification that Ben made. His initial message about the differences in play culture seemed highly condescending, but now that it has been given the proper context, it clearly is not. He apparently shares an opinion on play quite close to what a lot of people are saying over here, a view that I do not at all agree with, but respect as a valid approach.

By the way, most of the active rpg theorists in Finland have an anti-immersion (as in "doesn't probably really exist") stance, which is rather funny given the common stereotype. But we've reached a nice synergy due to this - the works of both sides of the divide receiving constant friendly criticism from the other - which is precisely the reason we're so interested in discussing the dissimilarities and what they can produce on the Forge, too.

-Jiituomas


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 18, 2005, 05:23:01 AM
Hello,

1. Tuomas, I think you should review the guidelines on charitable reading as set out by Chris Lehrich, which are found in a sticky thread at the top of the Site Discussion forum. If people have to deal with your impassioned defense every time you "feel" insulted, the whole forum suffers. Assume no insult as the default.

This is a moderator interjection, not a topic for discussion in this thread.

2. Ben, in this thread, I'd like to open up the dialogue between you and Markus (welcome, Markus). Your answer to him was "tons." Well, tons of what? Any general points, any specific ones, etc?

Markus, I'm told that you have basically arrived at what, around here, we call the "Lumpley Principle" on your own. Which may or may not be fair; for all I know, you have presented something better or more powerful or whatever, but I'm interested in knowing more. I'm also interested in your experience of play which led you to your conclusions, and what you found most interesting in meeting Ben and discussing role-playing with him.

Best,
Ron


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on October 18, 2005, 12:00:34 PM
Markus, I'm told that you have basically arrived at what, around here, we call the "Lumpley Principle" on your own. Which may or may not be fair; for all I know, you have presented something better or more powerful or whatever, but I'm interested in knowing more. I'm also interested in your experience of play which led you to your conclusions, and what you found most interesting in meeting Ben and discussing role-playing with him.

Actually, this is a pretty interesting topic, because now and then it seems that Finnish theorists (not larp designers) arrive to very similar conclusions with the Forge, but independently. For instance, I consider the Hakkarainen&Stenroos Meilahti model a pretty solid parallel conseption of SIS as social structure (which is at the heart of the Big Model). The case of Markus and the Lumpley Principle is pretty much the same, it seems to me.

Then again, if I may suggest: taking this stuff into new threads would be cool, too. Just in case anybody has anything to add about touring as a technique, which is what this is supposed to be about.


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: Montola on October 19, 2005, 11:51:59 PM
2. Ben, in this thread, I'd like to open up the dialogue between you and Markus (welcome, Markus). Your answer to him was "tons." Well, tons of what? Any general points, any specific ones, etc?

Markus, I'm told that you have basically arrived at what, around here, we call the "Lumpley Principle" on your own. Which may or may not be fair; for all I know, you have presented something better or more powerful or whatever, but I'm interested in knowing more. I'm also interested in your experience of play which led you to your conclusions, and what you found most interesting in meeting Ben and discussing role-playing with him.

I'd be happy to answer, to whatever thread the answer would belong to, but I must say that I don't understand the question perfectly. Lumpley principle is just a definition of the system, right? I'll try to guess what you asked here:

I don't know who first claimed that the Rules of the Game are the Laws of Nature of the Game World, or something like that. It might have been me even, but as far as I know it's been a truism since day one of Finnish self-understanding of role-playing. From the era before theory scene was so established, that the authors are muchly unknown. (Feel free to correct me).

From this is derived an issue, which I debated extensively with Ben at very late and somewhat drunk hours of night, without conclusion. The thing is this: If the rules are laws of nature, a natural scientist inside the game might be able to learn them.

Cheesy example from D&D: Falling makes d6 damage per 10 feet, max 20d6. Does this lead to the point where generals can jump from high cliffs (casually?) while troopers can't? If yes -- that's the way World of Warcraft works -- it's a law of nature. If not, it's a game rule, and somewhat inconsistent with the diegetic reality.

I was debating with Ben how the conflict resolutions systems handle diegetic natural scientists trying to find out the rules, in order to understand the different relationship of world fiction and rules in them. This *might* be the discussion you are pointing at?


 - Markus


Title: Re: [Polaris tour] Book tour experiences
Post by: Ben Lehman on October 20, 2005, 12:14:55 AM
Markus --  Actually, I was referring to your three point "Definition of Role-Playing."  (Quotes for title, not for sarcasm) which you showed me when we first met.  Let's talk about that in a new thread.  It is excellent RPG Theory material.

Things I learned from this trip, with respect to Eero's desire to keep this on topic of the tour as an activity rather than "Ben's trip to Finland:"

About / from Touring:

1) It is highly feasible, provided that you have the time, to make a modest profit from an RPG touring circuit.  For previously mentioned reasons, I see no reason why this should not hold true in the US as well.

2) The amount of sales you get from events is in no way related to the size of the audience.  Quality of discussion is likewise hit or miss.  Lastly and most bizarrely -- the size of city that you're in effects your audience size and sales not at all.  I think that this essentially comes down to what Eero said -- the important thing is to get the word out to the people who really want to attend.

3) I saw living, breathing examples of a great deal of the player types that got posited in the GNS essays, including some that I was skeptical about.

4) People will fight tooth and nail that some type of role-playing game will never work but this in no way impacts their ability to play it well and enjoy it.  (For clarification -- this is largely not about the people who self-identified as theorists, who were very excited to try new types of play.)

5) Drift is very, very real, and trans-cultural.

About the RPG culture in general:

5) The vast majority of Scandanavian LARP is done through youth groups and corporate trust-building exercises and is almost unrelated to WoD, Theory / LARP, or any other movement, though it does share a common ancestry.

6) The theory community is highly diverse, despite the impression that we've gotten from places like Juhana's RPGnet column and the Turku Manifesto.  There are lots of different opinions about what goes on in games.

7) Academic studies of role-playing games by people who have a clue about them are just starting out, but there's already some surprising conclusions.

I'm going to leave "Ben's conversations with the theorists he met" to another thread, a little later, given that I'm on the clock right now and Eero wants to keep this thread about just touring.

yrs--
--Ben