Posted by: Stenros | October 23, 2009

Invisible Theater on the Ferry


The book Markus and I are currently working on, Nordic Larp, will obviously feature some pervasive larps. One of those is Samir Belarbi’s 1997 game Föreningen Visionära Vetenskapsmäns Årliga Kongress (eng. The Annual Congress of the Society of Visionary Scientists), an early non-vampire pervasive larp from the Nordic scene played on the “luxury liner” ferry that travels between Sweden and Finland. The game has been poorly documented in English thus far, Johanna Koljonen’s description in the 2007 Knutebook is the only description I’ve found:

An onboard conference centre was rented for the titular meeting. The players stayed in character for the exact duration of the cruise, bringing only character belongings with them (although, presumably, offgame IDs). The setting automatically solved some of the central challenges later identified with the style and especially with larping in “the real world”: providing borders to the game that are solid but feel permeable, managing character movement and communication, and dealing with non-player interaction.

In contrast to a situation in which a person larps in public in his home town, here the player’s private life could intrude on the character’s experience only in the unlikely event that another passenger happened to be an off-game acquaintance. And as for interaction with non-players, the choice of location made sure that they would in some sense be “in character” as well. To Finns and Swedes alike, these cruise ships function as transitional or indeed ritual spaces. It is an unvoiced cultural given that what happens on a cruise does not “count” as part of every-day life. Nearly all groups of passengers define for themselves a new set of behavioural rules for the duration of the cruise, whether the trip to them is labelled “family vacation”, “romantic getaway”, or “graduation blowout” – or larp. Thus the FVV players could assume with some safety that non-intrusive weirdness would be dismissed by the other passengers as some variant of cruise behaviour, rather than mental illness or offensive provocations.

The reason I’m bringing up this game is that the game organizer recently listed some of his influences. I had been under the impression that the Nordic pervasive role-play has mostly come about as a side effect of Vampire: The Masquerade larps spilling to the streets. However, that was not the inspiration behind FVV, according to Belarbi:

To play in public isn’t something new. At this time I studied at an art school and  I was very much influenced by the art movements from the sixties, like Fluxus and Neo Dada. I was also familiar with Augusto Boal and his ideas about The Invincible Theatre – a method to perform short undercover plays in public. The objective of those plays were to enlighten the spectators and force them to take action and becoming part of the actual play.

Belarbi also mentiones that playing a variant of Killer inspired by the film Gotcha! was an inspirational in respect to FVV. I am quite excited about this as in Pervasive Games (which, I just noticed, is priced at €22.60 at Book Depository, hint, hint) we list Fluxus, Invisible theater and of course Killer games as historical activity forms that are similar to what is today called pervasive games. We did not claim that there was necessarily a causal connection between these – mostly because proving that would be close to impossible in many cases. Yet I am filled with joy to yet again find a little bit more proof that the history we constructed in Pervasive Games is not just conceptual.

Addendum: Belarbi clarified in an email to me that Vampire: The Masquerade was also something he was very much aware of. He also mentioned an article that was published in the Swedish live action role-playing magazine Fëa livia (Belarpi was the editor in chief of the magazine at the time) in November of 1995: Live ute bland vanligt hyggligt folk. By a freak accident, I happened to be in a place that had most issues of Fea in their library. The name of the article, written by Daniel Krauklis, translates roughly to Larping out amongst normal decent people. Krauklis writes about Vampire larps that spill onto the streets, how Killer is a clear predecessor of Masquerade and how Augusto Boal’s Invisible theater could inspire street larping. He also talks about how playing in the real world gives you a rush, making the game more exciting. Basically this article, though a little naïve, draws a roadmap for what would later be called pervasive larping.

I ran into Krauklis the day after finding the article (sometimes these things just have a way of working out). He recalled that that was pretty much the time when the Swedish larp community started reading theater history and theory. So Krauklis confirmed that Boal, Killer, Fluxus and theater history not only had a direct influence on Belarbi’s Föreningen Visionära Vetenskapsmäns Årliga Kongress, but also on Knappnålshuvudet (Eng. The Head of the Pin), the lighly pervasive larp he co-organized in 1999.


  1. Dude, this is FASCINATING. Because as you know, but don’t spell out, FVV and Knappnålshuvudet are also the first two Swedish larps to really have an impact in the Nordic community, both directly – through Knutpunkt and in the case of Knappnålshuvudet the presence of foreign players – and indirectly, since they helped form a Swedish community of “elite” or super ambitious players and designers. Man, it would be VERY interesting to make a social map of people who participated in different games in relation to which of them later went on to design other games. And I know a guy with the software to model this, if we could just get the names.

    Also, somewhere I should still have the text of Samir Belarbi’s 1998 KP lecture on FVV. Have to dig it out for you guys.

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