The Strange And Exciting World Of Nordic Larping

I’ve been meaning to learn more about the serious “unfun” games known as “Nordic Larping” ever since I learned about the activity from Eleanor Saitta at WeirdShitCon. Lucky for me, Paul Graham Raven just happened to finish a three part series of articles for Rhizome on the topic:

First played in 1998, Ground Zero has a good claim to ur-game status, and is a great example of the ‘un-fun’ ideas that Nordic larp plays with: its players sat in a room standing in for an Ohio nuclear shelter circa the Cuban Missile Crisis, listening to mocked-up radio reports of a blossoming bout of Mutually Assured Destruction, then spent the rest of the game having their characters come to terms with the annihilation of the world outside. Far from being an outlier, the deep emotional implications of Ground Zero are indicative of the psychological spaces that Nordic larp would go on to explore.
For the sake of simplicity, I’ll be following Stark’s lead and using ‘Nordic larp’ to refer specifically to the avant-garde school of gameplay rather than the geographically-defined set of players. As Stark is careful to point out, larp in the Nordic countries is not a monolith so much as a collection of localised scenes, and the Knudepunkt circuit — despite its greater visibility to outsiders — is a marginal part of the greater whole.
Marginal it may be, but Nordic larp is a teeming ecosystem of styles and approaches which, again, mirrors the confusion of subgenres and styles to be found in the contemporary genre fiction scene.

Full Story: Rhizome: This Is a Game: A (very) Brief History of Larp
Part 2: This is More Than a Game
Part 3: Everything is a Game
I also just read Adi Robertson’s experience playing perhaps the first Nordic Larp in North America:

Other larps build a more open-ended world. The White War, a larp about military occupation, is one; Mad About the Boy is another: it has a few scripted events, but the outcomes have been vastly different over its three runs. In one Norwegian run, the Last Man’s arrival was met with tea and blankets. In our version, the game ended with a convoluted quadruple-cross and a lot of brandished prop guns — although, while our organizers feared Americans might be trigger-happy, none were actually fired. The forty of us were given a place to live and people to be; what we did with that was up to us.
Giving players this control tends to lead to unexpected results. “I don’t think I’ve ever organized a larp where at one point I haven’t said the following words: He did what? She did what?” Raaum says. In one of her larps, the World War II-based 1942, a group of soldiers was meant to execute a prisoner, but the plan was derailed. “They were meant to feel what it was like to look her in the eye and shoot her.” Their commander, however, “wanted to spare his soldiers their feelings, so he did it himself. That’s bullshit,” she adds.
In some cases, though, this turns out well, even if it started with a failure on the organizers’ part. Finnish war larp Valokaari was meant to feel cramped and filled with interpersonal conflict, but due to a misunderstanding, participants decided to play it as a hyper-realistic military enactment. “The characters who we expected to get on each others’ nerves never did,” the organizers wrote in larp anthology States of Play, “because most of them spent all their time either patrolling, eating or sleeping.” At the end, the players considered the game a success, even if the game hadn’t worked out remotely how the organizers intended.

The Dark Side Of The Gamification Of Work

I wrote for Wired:

But some believe gamification may do more harm than good. Kathy Sierra, a game designer who has given talks on the dark side of gamification, tells Wired that game designers and scholars are almost universally against gamification.
As Sierra points out, gamification replaces an intrinsic reward with an extrinsic one. In other words, it shifts a participant’s motivation from doing something because it is inherently rewarding to doing it for some other reason that isn’t as meaningful. This, she says, is ultimately less motivating.
Sierra cites research from University of Rochester psychologists Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan, which was popularized by Dan Pink’s book Drive. Deci and Ryan concluded that the most powerful motivators for employees are the mastery of the task at hand, autonomy, and something called relatedness, which might involve helping a customer with a meaningful problem. Gamification replaces these motivators with extrinsic motivators like points and badges.
The other problem is that gamified applications aren’t necessarily fun. Most of what is called gamification would be better described as pointsification, according to game designer Margaret Robertson. “What we’re currently terming gamification is in fact the process of taking the thing that is least essential to games and representing it as the core of the experience,” she wrote in a 2010 blog post

Full Story: Wired Enterprise: How ‘Gamification’ Can Make Your Customer Service Worse

Psychotherapist/Sex Game Designer Nicolau Chaud Talks About Next Game

Nicolau Chaud is a Brazilian psychotherapist and indie computer game developer responsible for such hits as Marvel Brothel, which is actually more of a business simulator than a sex game, and Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer. Here’s Joel Goodwin’s description of the latter:

“The Dungeoneers” is a clandestine society of sociopaths who believe “pain to be the most intimate form of relationship one person can have with another”. They carry their mental disease with pride. They inflict it on their victims with impunity. A dungeoneer’s finest hour is when he or she tortures a victim to a sweet spot on the verge of madness and death called a “beautiful escape”. They also upload videos of these torture sessions for others to review, in an intentional nod to the experience of releasing games online for peers to high-five or tear down.
You are Verge, a dungeoneer of poor reputation with honed self-loathing skills. This is a game without heroes. Verge is not a likeable character.

Chaud is now using his RPG Maker skills to create a new game called Polymorphous Perversity. Not much has been revealed, but he’s given a few interviews on the game. Here’s an excerpt from Goodwin’s:

In May, Chaud’s mood was ebullient: “I had a very weird insight today: I treat my game like a girlfriend… Yeah, I know, weird. But the good thing is: it loves me back.”
But his posts were infrequent and in June he made a quick remark that this special relationship was fast becoming dysfunctional: “Making this game has been a very interesting and weird experience. Researching sexual preferences, googling for pictures, spriting 24×32 sex, reading and writing porn, getting e-mails with naked pictures from players… it’s all very weird. Fun, at first, but gets somewhat unpleasant after a while, and the feeling of numbness I’m getting towards the theme is disturbing.”

Electron Dance: Not Safe for Work
Nightmare Mode: Interview with Nicolau Chaud, Mind Behind Polymorphous Perversity
Kotaku: The Sex Game That Crossed Lines and Unnerved Its Creator
All three sites have screenshots that contain adult material (NSFW).
(links via Metafilter)
Polymorphous Perversity is currently open to its final round of testers. You can apply here.

Game Mechanic of the Day: The Super Mushroom in Super Mario Brothers

Mario Super Mushroom
Why is the Super Mushroom an awesome game mechanic? My friend Jesse Combs tells you why on his new blog Game Mechanic of the Day:

1. When the game originally came out, video games were hard, very hard. If a bad guy hit your platform-jumping character, that was it. Start the level over until you ran out of lives. If you’re just learning the game, that really doesn’t encourage you if you’re still trying to get better at it. Being able to get hit without starting over is big, since you can still realize you screwed up without being wholly penalized. It’s kind of like having a save game point, except there are still consequences to getting hit. (Two hits and you really are dead.)
2. It’s a simple way for a character to have health without getting meta and having a “health bar” or “meter”. It keeps the game within it’s own strange fiction and makes the mechanical rewards part of the universe that Mario lives in. Yep, immersion.

Game Mechanic of the Day: Mario grows bigger and stronger when he gets a Super Mushroom. If he’s hit by an enemy, he’ll shrink back to standard Mario

The Neuroscience of Video Games, a Review of the Literature

Gamer
John Walker takes a look at the journal Nature‘s recent Brains On Video Games collection, which includes both possible negative and possible positive outcomes of video game play.
The bad news: much of the positive cognitive gains from video gaming are non-transferable, and gaming may increase both aggression and the symptoms of ADHD. The good news: it doesn’t sound like that should be a problem for people without existing aggressive tendencies or ADHD.
My take-away: if you like playing games, keep playing them. If you don’t, there’s probably not much benefit in starting.
Rock, Paper Shotgun: Nature’s Neuroscientific Review Of Games
See also:
Video Games Boost Brain Power, Multitasking Skills
Video Games and Spatial Cognition (PDF)
Video Gamers Are Better Lucid Dreamers?

What's Next for Cognitive Training Games?

brain

Most of the cognitive training games of 2011 resemble the simple games you can play online for free or apps designed for smartphones. However, in ten years, we can expect many of the big developers, following Nintendo’s lead, to introduce critical gaming elements. Envision games featuring improved graphics, compelling gameplay, and engaging storylines that compel players to train their brains often and in a variety of ways. Imagine a role-playing game (RPG) in which your character’s level and progress are determined in part by your performance on a variety of cognitive training tasks, and the selection of tasks are dependent on the class chosen by the player, and thus tailored made for each individual user. Much in the same way that RPG style games will foster unique training experiences, cognitive training games in general will become tailored to individual interests, focusing on training specific cognitive mechanisms, rather than providing a general training regimen that the user may not be looking for. […]
Non-Conscious Defenses- Starting all the way back in the 1950’s, firms have sought to understand human psychology in order to capitalize on our biases and tendencies through influencing us on the sub-conscious level. In the past couple decades however, research into non-conscious processing and subliminal priming have begun to unravel the fascinating ways that people develop preferences for products and how they estimate value. Companies have been following this research closely and already implement their findings into many forms of media: magazines, movies and even presidential election commercials (5). Expect that training games will begin to offer cognitive defenses against advertising seeking to influence us on the sub conscious level.

The Future of Brain Workouts
See also: N-Back Training Exercise Still Holding Up in Tests

N-Back Training Exercise Still Holding Up in Tests

soakyourhead screenshot
Above: the Soak Your Head Dual N-Back Application
I’ve covered research on how most brain training exercises don’t actually hold-up in tests. The good news is that dual n-back training, also covered here previously, is continuing to hold up in tests:

Jonides, who is the Daniel J. Weintraub Collegiate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, collaborated with colleagues at U-M, the University of Bern and the University of Tapei on a series of studies with more than 200 young adults and children, demonstrating the effects of various kinds of n-back mental training exercises. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and by the Office of Naval Research.
According to Jonides, the n-back task taps into a crucial brain function known as working memory—the ability to maintain information in an active, easily retrieved state, especially under conditions of distraction or interference. Working memory goes beyond mere storage to include processing information.

Medical Express: A Brain Training Exercise That Really Does Work
(Thanks Bill!)
Soak Your Head offers a free Web-based n-back training program, but it requires Microsoft Silverlight. You can find a list of other applications here.
Another way to boost your mental capabilities? Play first person shooters. This NPR story provides an overview of the research. You can also find a research paper that looks at multiple studies here (PDF).
The best way to stave off cognitive decline, however, may be to spend time socializing with friends.

Alan Moore Hints That He May Be Making a Video Game

Alan Moore

The revelation came during a Q&A at an event celebrating his fine magazine Dodgem Logic last night in London, where Moore was asked if he had considered making video games. […]
Moore revealed that he is now looking at a project created with a number of different mediums in mind. While it’s evidently not settled yet, he said there may be “possibly some surprising stuff happening in the next 12 months”

Shack News: Alan Moore hints at making video game
One shouldn’t read too much into this, he could just be referring to Jimmy’s End, which is supposed to be both a film and a television series.
(via Matt Stags)

What's The Difference Between Game Mechanics in the Enterprise and Good Management?


A follow-up to my last article on the gamification of work:

And to some extent, “pointsification” is just quantification – something enterprises should be doing anyway. In fact, most the principals of a good game should apply in the workplace.:

  • Quantification: Tracking sales, average customer support response time, server uptime and other metrics that identify success.
    Recognition and Reward: Raises, bonuses, promotions.
    Autonomy: Robertson notes that for a game to be truly engaging players must be able to make decisions that “meaningfully impact on the world of the game.” Autonomy has been identified by Daniel Pink and others as a requirement for motivation and job satisfaction.
    Challenge: I think this should be self-explanatory.
  • Looked at this way, is there any difference between “gamification” and “good management”?

    The Gamification of Work

    puzzle
    I wrote a follow-up of sorts to my post here The Problem with Gamification:

    With all this in mind, is it possible to effectively apply game mechanics to work-related applications? The jury’s still out on Rypple and Moxie’s implementation of badges, but I’m hopeful about both. Meanwhile, Pietro Polsinelli has written an essay on game mechanics and how he applied game design to his social bookmarking/task management web app Licorize. Polsinelli considered how certain common game activities correlate to activities in the application and added points and scoring to those activities. The essay is well worth reading for anyone interested in game mechanics in work related applications.

    ReadWriteWeb: Buzzword Watch: The Gamification of Work