Embodied experiences for speculative design- Collaborative Unit - - Speculative Design -
Johanna Koljonen is a writer, radio and TV host from Finland. She has researched, written for, about and through Larping and is a popular lecturer on the subject.
This Introduction to Nordic Larp from the Nordic Larp Talks Stockholm 2010 is an overview of what is Live Action Role Playing can be, where it came from and how to create one.
Johanna starts her talk by relating her experience in a larp called Ground Zero (1998) designed by Jami Jokinen and Jori Virtanen. The game, who took place in Turku, Finland, was set in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis. The participants played the roles of ordinary American families who had found refuge in the bomb shelter they had built as the conflict escalated. They spent 24 hours in a basement surrounded by cardboard boxes full of supplies. Only a radio played continuously alternating between patriotic music, news and presidential announcements both historical and fabricated.
What was interesting to me was the perceived realness of the game as each player seriously prepared before the game to make the experience as accurate as possible. They constructed their characters based on information they found on American families of the time and even trained themselves to merge with their character’s personality. One of them, playing a war veteran trained himself to react to loud noises.
Curiously, they were vaguely told that the Larp may be a historical game or depict an alternative ending. This meant that though they were fully aware the game was based on historical facts they were unable to assume that like in history, the nuclear conflict would be avoided. Effectively, half way through the game, the radio is lost, followed by electricity and an explosion following which the participants continue playing for 12 hours in a context now dramatically turned on its head; they are survivors of a nuclear catastrophe.
Johanna then goes on explaining how this cathartic experience made its way back to her mind years later as she was watching news about bombings in Bagdad. Of course, she couldn’t claim knowing what it might be like to be alongside the victims, but the experience brought about a feeling of empathy. She says:
“Somehow experiencing this thing with my physical body had made this thing much more real and had helped me understand a little bit about what the experiences can be like for other people”.
This made me think about what Larping could bring to speculative design. As a design practice that challenges assumptions by positioning itself against the status quo speculative design could benefit from using embodied experiences to raise awareness about the future. In his presentation on critical design, Tobias Revell introduced us to a large variety of speculative design projects. It occurred to me that projects like United Micro Kingdoms (2013) by Dunne and Raby rely substantially on written text and the explanation of research. Although thought provoking and/or unsettling, a lot rested upon intellectual stimulation, visual cues, narration and diegetic prototypes that for the most part can only be looked at. Embodied experience is baggage we all have which makes it impactful. Speculative objects do not have to work, nor do they even have to be made to make a statement but they could exist in within the magic circle of Larp.
Digitarian Cars – Dunne & Raby (2013)
However, there are projects that use role playing. The Extrapolation factory invites the public to engage in discussions about the future and change. In Alternative Unknowns (2015) they invited New York City based practitioners to enacted emergency scenes around seven speculative artefacts for emergency preparedness. These improvisations served as a basis for discussion around issues with the NYC Emergency Management.
Micro Nations Revolution (2011) could be considered as a science fiction pop-up show curated by NBH Studios for Shunt-London. The two-day program encompassed a music, performances and workshop exploring the imaginary geopolitics of four fictional micro nations.