Reflective Games: Shared Knowledge & Horizons of Expectations

critical making, reflective games

For my Reflective Games work, I am currently still playing around with nanolarp design, which has been a productive but challenging constraint. As with “This Just In”, the problem with running a nanolarp that also aims to inspire critical reflection is that there is so little time to convey a nuanced, in-depth situation to the player. So, situations that players are likely to be familiar with lend themselves well to having a larp created around them.

I’ve spent the past month or so exploring this limitation through a variety of different research paths. I started out thinking about “stereotyping as shorthand” — the kinds of information that are compressed by stereotypes in order to communicate quickly (but without nuance, of course). When I took an introductory philosophy class, we spent a fair bit of time talking about the difference between “stereotyping” and “negative stereotyping”, and how humans have historically used stereotypes for survival. That fire is hot and that gravity will cause me to fall if I step out of a window are both stereotypes that I don’t have to test in order to believe that they are true.

But the connotation of the word has been pretty strongly cemented at this point, and it was difficult to find literature that explored this idea of “shorthanding” — I also tried looking into “data compression”, and of course that was largely about technical protocols and algorithms for encoding data. From there, I moved into more linguistic areas of thought, after detouring around fortune telling and how fortune telling props are used as prompts for fortune tellers to access information stored in their brains. I did gather some interesting reading materials, including a source all about cold reading — I think that I will almost definitely use this information in a future project given how we made use of objects as “tarot”-style cues in The Truly Terrific Traveling Troubleshooter.

Really, I thought to myself, all of language is about representing complex objects, ideas and wholes with just a few syllables. So, I decided to do some research into Semiotics and Linguistics (and just for fun also found some texts about Contextual Behavioural Science that I intend to read).

Last week, during our Reflective Games check-in meeting, Rilla and Enric brought up some interesting ideas about the moment that we are forced to rethink received knowledge and shorthand that we have taken for granted, and the moments that come afterwards, and how these moments might in fact be the most crucial to reflection. From there, I returned to thinking through what kinds of information people in a particular region or culture were likely to commonly know.

While “This Just In” had been about narrowing in on a common narrative by trying to please competing concerns, I want this next larp to be about widening out from a narrow idea of what the horizon of expectations might be. I have been thinking carefully about how to seed these moments.

Through some free association, I started to think about the essay/letter that the teenagers write at the end of The Breakfast Club, describing how they were so much more than the stereotypes that people might see when they looked at them. From there, of course I thought about the eighties more generally and John Hughes, and coming-of-age movies/texts (which are a not-so-guilty pleasure of mine).

This led me think about Fiasco and how it operates on movie genres. A genre sets a common horizon of expectations in a way that isn’t too proscriptive. But then, I wanted to be sure that things would go off-script, and that the players would definitely move beyond that horizon of expectations and those genre tropes.

In games like Spyfall and Fake Artist in New York, one player is missing information that all the other players have. I am still formulating what this larp might look like, but I think it might go something like this: all the players are given a movie genre, but one player’s genre is different from the others. I might tell them something like “be the genre-movie-version of yourself” and include a set of rules that mean that the other players have to also behave as if the odd-genred person is perfectly normal and integrate whatever they bring to the table into the play.

I’m not sure on the rules yet, or the set of objects, but I think that this could be tested pretty easily.

So, we’ll see how things develop. I’m excited to be making something again, alongside all of this reading and research.