Is a game a product or a service? If you buy a boxed set of Carcassonne, is that the game? Or does it only become a game when you sit around with your friends to play it? This is a philosophical question, but for the last few years it has also been a very practical question for me.
Let me explain. I have been a gamer all my life, into tabletop roleplaying for thirty years and live-action roleplaying or larping for twenty-five. Roleplaying is very much a participatory pastime where the events unfold through everybody telling a story together. Pen-and-paper roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons or my own Age of the Tempest (Myrskyn sankarit in Finnish) are sold in stores for people to play them at home. But can you do this with a larp?
For much of my adult life I have tried to crack that nut, and some fifteen years ago I founded my first business in that field together with Christopher Sandberg. The Stockholm-based Company P tried to do “participatory drama”, combining traditional media with the immersive aspects of larps. We won an International Emmy Award for what has since been dubbed “transmedia,” but I keep wondering if we lost something of the essence of participation in trying to make it into a product to be consumed.
Working in television, film, theatre, literature, and digital games, I have seen traditional storytelling from several angles. But my deepest passion is in participatory storytelling, the kind you do with others, where there is no storyteller and a passive audience, but everyone participates in it together. But the manpower required is immense. How can you turn that into a viable product or a service?
Having founded Beyond Play with Vera Schneider, we believe we have found the goose that lays the golden eggs. We would create a larp room, a drama room, a game room. An interactive space where many participatory scenarios can happen, forming a longer story arc when you play all of them. Physically, it is much inspired by escape rooms. But in escape rooms you are expected to follow a pre-defined structure or fail. Here you are given interesting, dramatic choices to make up your own story. Different ways of interacting with the story and the environment, and then continuing your narrative in the next session.
We have a great team designing, crafting, programming, building, doing lights and SFX and sounds and props and space battles… But now the world-wide pandemic has slowed us down since we cannot build this physical space without physically being there. We hope to solve this issue with a crowdfunding campaign that will launch soon.
I am confident that if we have managed to solve the impossible philosophical question, we can solve this impossible pandemic situation, as well. And then bring participation to all!