The next guest blogger is researcher and larp designer J. Tuomas Harviainen. An expert on live action role-playing, he writes about one-sided pervasive role-play.
One of the key topics in discussing ethics of pervasive play is the question of unaware game participation. This is a very important question, especially since a sibling phenomenon already exists. A certain group of confidence tricks, such as false romance and infiltration projects, works on the very same principle as does pervasive gaming.
While not necessary as common as other sorts of confidence tricks (or “games”, as they are also quite fittingly called), role-playing cons are of particular interest to role-playing studies. What we have in them is a person or a group of people, playing fictional roles for a purpose that is not disclosed to unaware interaction participants. These role-plays can be either simple changes in social role (such as altered behavior) or complete fictional characters as complex as those of any live-action role-playing game.
So what is taking place is effectively a one-sided pervasive larp, of which the other party will only know of once the scam is at end – if even then. It is malignant role-playing which cannot be easily defended, except maybe in the case of spies and cops in the service of common good. And even those cases come under frequent debate. Yet, excluding ethical issues and a lack of explicated rules, is there anything that really sets the role-playing confidence game apart from a pervasive role-playing game?
One distinguishing factor could perhaps be character immersion, yet nothing says that a larper will be deep in his character or that a con artists won’t – popular culture is full of stories where the infiltrator will have divided loyalties as he immerses too well in his new, fictional role. The other factor that can be suggested is lusority, yet serious infiltration can be just as playful as can gaming: The conmen in House of Games (1987) take definite joy in their work, and Danny Ocean’s crews have an undeniable sense of glee in the added challenge of their infiltrations.
Pick up that box of Lost episodes (or Wiseguy, if you want camp value) from your shelf, and take a new look at what exactly Sawyer is doing in the flashbacks. Looks a lot like a pervasive mini-larp, doesn’t it? Just a very one-sided one. And very, very differently framed as far as play ethics are concerned. So how do we keep the two apart in the public eye?
Earlier guest bloggers: Matthijs Holter on Cathy’s books, Päivi Kymäläinen on Akayism, Troels Barkholt-Spangsbo on SecretCPH, Illuminatum on problems of pervasive larp, Steve Payette on accessibility, Bjarke Pedersen on Chernobyl, Neil Dansey on apophenia and David Fono on Come Out and Play 2009.