• Mad About the Boy – Interview with Lizzie Stark

    by  • August 20, 2012 • News, People & Events • 13 Comments

    It was recently announced that an all female run of LARP ”Mad About the Boy” was being set up in the US, bringing Nordic LARP across the pond for the first time. Gaming as Women decided to interview Lizzie Stark, organizer of the game and author of the book ”Leaving Mundania”.

    Hey, Lizzie, could you tell us what ”Mad About the Boy” is all about? 

    Mad About the Boy is a larp about crisis, sexuality, relationships, and power.

    The game takes place in a world where all of the men died of a mysterious disease three years ago. Now, the government is running a pilot program for artificial insemination, trying to figure out who gets the now-rare opportunity for motherhood.

    What sort of game experience are you striving to give to the players?

    We’re striving for an emotionally intense, immersive experience, one that examines the role of gender in our daily lives, and explores how women interact with one another.

    We’d also like to introduce US players to Nordic-style larp, including pre-game workshops and post-game debriefs.

    Have you gotten any interesting reactions about the choice to run an all female game?

    We’ve gotten a range of reactions — many women have been thrilled at the prospect of an all-woman game, some men have been interested, but disappointed that they can’t participate.

    The decision has also raised debate about gender in games, and a few folks have even called the run “sexist.” While I strongly disagree with the charge of sexism — we’re not arbitrarily limiting the gender of players, rather, we’re doing it to explore issues of femininity — I am glad that it’s got people talking about gender and sexism.

    Are the any plans to run more Nordic style LARPs in the future so players of all genders can participate?

    No hard plans at the moment, but if there’s interest, I’d be willing to explore a mixed-gender run of Mad About the Boy. And of course, a game like Just a Little Lovin’ seems like it ought to be run in the New York City area…

    Mad About the Boy was originally set up in Norway in 2010 (twice) and was written by Norwegian writers1. You are bringing the game into a new cultural context in this run. Both IRL culture, and LARP cultures is quite different in the US compared to Norway. Did this create any cross-cultural challenges when organizing the game?

    The main challenge we face is managing player expectations and helping players understand what they’re getting into, since Nordic-style larp differs from the US style familiar to so many of our players. To this end, there’s a little Nordic larp for noobs guide up on the website aimed at explaining some of the differences. And we hope to address some of the differences during the workshop phase of the game as well.

    In-game, there’s a big difference between a post-apocalyptic Norway and a post-apocalyptic US, since the US is so huge. We have to reckon with a different set of quandaries within the game world — do the characters come from across the US or just one locale? And if the former, does that imply a strong central government? Would the US stay unified as one country, or break apart into different smaller nations?
    To my eye, the main cultural differences out of game have to do with the game’s serious themes, the focus on emotional intensity, the structure with its workshops and debriefs, and meta-play.

    Lucky for us, all three of the original Norwegian organizers will travel to Connecticut for the game, which should make understanding this new style of play easy for everyone.

    Can you tell us something about the game design, the workshops and the debriefs you are going to do? 

    We’re adapting the original game libretto to fit a US-setting more closely. The game is organized into two acts, a longer first act about applying to this government program, and a shorter second act about how the women come together to make a vital decision. We’ll spend the first half-day of the game workshopping, introducing players to the mechanics, helping them flesh out their characters, and talking about what the world is like after all the men die. And we’ll spend the last few hours talking about the game, what was or could have been problematic, and saying goodbye to the characters and world we’ve created.

    Finally, what would you like to say to players that might be curious about Mad About the Boy, but isn’t quite sure if this style of game is for them?

    Feel free to ask questions on our Facebook group if you’ve got them. We’ve got a few folks new to larp signed up, and we’re committed to providing a supportive environment for new players, so please don’t let inexperience serve as a barrier.

    In general, if you’re interested in trying something new and up for a serious roleplay experience, we’d love to have you.

     

    (Anyone curious about the game can also watch this excellent Nordic Larp Talk by Tor Kjetil Edland about the two previous runs of the game. – Elin)

    1. Tor Kjetil Edland, Margrete Raaum and Trine Lise Lindahl. Tor Kjetil Edland was also one of the writers of Just A Little Lovin’ which Gaming As Women wrote about earlier this year
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    About

    Elin Dalstål is a game designer, larp and convention organizer living in Luleå, Sweden.

    13 Responses to Mad About the Boy – Interview with Lizzie Stark

    1. avatar
      captainecchi
      August 20, 2012 at 18:49

      I had the opportunity to play in this run, and I passed it up. Reading this, I’m kind of glad I did. Especially this line:
      “Now, the government is running a pilot program for artificial insemination, trying to figure out who gets the now-rare opportunity for motherhood.”

      I’m a woman who has no interest in being a mother. Never have, probably never will – I’m past 30, so I think at this point I get to say I know my own mind in this matter. When I play in LARPs, I specifically say, “No pregnant women or mothers” on my casting questionnaire, because it’s the kind of thing that people just… assume you’re okay with, if you’re female. And I’m not okay with it. It deeply squicks me out.

      If this game does not examine the conflation of “female” with “mother,” I’m going to be very disappointed in it.

      Of course, I suppose I’ll never know, since this is too personally squicky for me to play.

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    2. avatar
      suspire
      August 21, 2012 at 04:32

      I’ll give a bit of a preface so as to frame my response: I’m one of the U.S. assistant organizers (though not one of the writer/creators). I’m also a guy. I’m also not interested in having children.

      The game is deeply intriguing to me because of the complexities entailed. It explores new structures and units–what does a family look like now? What are the interpersonal dynamics? What sort of power politics are at play? Where do we go now, especially for the continuation of the species? What sort of new gender expressions crop up in the absence of men? How do women relate to one another in a world completely devoid of the influence and context of men? Does everyone want to be a mother–very few actually can be due to the limits of artificial insemination. And so on.

      Yes. One aspect does rotate around the concept of motherhood–or at least artificial insemination. This is fair game: many women do wish to eventually become mothers (or we wouldn’t have a species!). And so the game creates an interesting context for them to consider that role or the desire (or lack thereof) for that role. To quote another one of the assistant organizers who is a woman: “I think this game gives us a chance to explore both the devastation of losing what many felt was a right, and, for those who were not interested in motherhood before, the great pressure you might feel to carry on the human race, simply because you are able. And all the shades of grey in between.”

      I don’t think I’ve ever personally conflated “female” with “woman”, except to say that…well, only women can become mothers. That’s just a biological issue. If the scenario were an all-male one, the topic would shift drastically, due to the biological limitations of men. Even then, despite my lack of interest in being a father, I think the exploration of the topic of fatherhood would be fascinating. As a gamer, I personally enjoy tackling topics that are tricky, hard or even uneasy for me in my real life–gaming gives a safe environment for that. While much of gaming is escapist where there is little to no examination of the morality or emotions attached to a situation (stealing, killing, and other truly atrocious and heinous acts) and characters go about these things at each game session with ease, Nordic larp takes an entirely different tact and tries to approach emotions, morals and other fundamentals of humanity in an environment that is conducive and supportive of such explorations.

      And it’s one of the reasons Nordic larp is so refreshing and intriguing to me.

      I believe one of the original writer/creators may weigh in, but as a point of fact two of the writers are women and one is a guy. Out of the three of them, two of them have decided not to have children and the third is unsure whether she wants to have children or not.

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      • avatar
        suspire
        August 21, 2012 at 15:45

        Err. I meant I’ve never conflated “female” with “mother”…–sorry, I wrote my reply quite late in the night!

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    3. avatar
      captainecchi
      August 21, 2012 at 16:40

      Thanks for taking the time to explain a little better where you’re coming from. (I have the feeling we might actually know each other in the larp community, but I don’t recognize your username). I appreciate now that it seems like this larp is going to address some of the issues I pointed out, but I still don’t think it’s for me.

      I want to address something you said about Nordic larp and escapism, actually, because I think this is the crux of the matter for me. First of all, it’s my understanding that Nordic larp is not a monolith. There are millions of people in these countries, doing all different types of LARP. What you seem to be referring to Nordic larp is probably best referred to as Jeepform, which as I understand it was pioneered by a handful of guys who happen to come from Nordic countries, and has built right into its ethos “NO FANTASY.” But this does not represent ALL larp from Nordic countries.

      Secondly, I think you present a false dichotomy between “escapism” and “Nordic larp” (assuming you mean srs bzns Jeepform larp). Those are not the only two options, and I think it’s disingenuous to say that there is no morality or emotion attached to your behavior in larps that take place in a fantasy setting. Indeed, I’d say the benefit of foreign or fantastical settings is that it often allows us a distance from “serious topics” that we might have trite, predictable responses to if it took place in a familiar setting. If you were raised to see an issue from only one side, then playing a character from “a galaxy far, far away” who is on the opposite side of a relatable issue for a good reason, can actually expand your point of view on a topic.

      I can say with certainty that I’ve had meaningful roleplay experiences, and explorations of the human condition, being a fantasy assassin, or a general in a post apocalyptic future, or a noblewoman in the 17th century. This isn’t all just about wish fulfillment and escapism, and I sorta dislike the implication that it is.

      Now, in all fairness, it is somewhat about wish fulfillment, too–I enjoy getting to wield a power I will never experience with these types of characters. And, that’s okay, too. This is, after all, Gaming as Women, not “exploring the human condition through transmedia techniques for women.”

      There does tend to be a tendency in Jeepform circles to denigrate those who *like* fantasy and escapism in their larp, which is kind of the tone I’m replying to in your comment. I want to present the fact that one does not have to be juvenile to want to opt for more “fantasier” games, and that those kinds of settings are not bereft of morality or human emotion.

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    4. avatar
      lizziestark
      August 21, 2012 at 17:07

      I think there is some confusion here around what “Nordic Larp” means, because the Nordic larpers have chosen a deceptive name for their hobby. As a term, it sounds like what it means is “larp that comes from the Nordic countries.” But really, a group of larpers from the Nordic countries have gotten together to form a design school called “Nordic Larp” which focuses on things like high production values, deep immersion, etc. I’ve made an effort to explain this school here — http://lizziestark.com/2012/08/08/nordic-larp-for-noobs/

      In the Nordic countries, jeepform is considered tabletop, not larp, since it arises out of the freeform tabletop tradition and doesn’t have some of the hallmarks of fullblown larp. For example, jeepform doesn’t require costumes and features aggressive cutting rather than long, open-ended scenes.

      Nordic larp is not the mainstream of larp in the Nordic countries; genre larp is. The small handful of practitioners doing similar stuff banded together under the Nordic larp flag. It may be helpful to think of “Nordic larp” as meaning “Nordic art larp” as distinct from Danish larp, Swedish larp, etc.

      On the escapism front: there is nothing wrong with escapism, and it is neither more or less valuable than Nordic larp. And of course, Nordic larp doesn’t have a monopoly on arty experiences — I’ve had great arty experiences in traditional boffer games too. But Nordic larp is specifically driving to primarily produce those experiences, whereas in much traditional larp they may be a byproduct of the game, but not the primary aim.

      I think setting matters to the arty experience only to the extent that it mirrors the emotional experience the game creators are aiming for — some of the most influential Nordic larps have been set in places that aren’t earth, but they tend to focus on more banal and less epic plotlines than traditional genre larp. Plotlines like, “let’s all go to a wedding” rather than “let’s save the world from aliens.”

      In Nordic larp, I think, emotions are the single driving aim in a way that they aren’t in more traditional games. Again, this is not better nor worse than traditional larp: it’s just different.

      On the conflation of “female” and “mother,” Mad About the Boy is not conflating them. In a world entirely populated by women, by definition these terms cannot be identical. In a world populated entirely by women, there is also room for a range of gender expression, which has been written into the cast of characters. The women apply to the game in trios that comprise families within the new order. Only one woman in each trio will be a birth mother. Some of the characters feel psyched for motherhood, but others have less entusiasm.

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    5. avatar
      suspire
      August 21, 2012 at 17:25

      I’ll try and keep my responses short:

      There are many different types of larps played in the Nordic countries. However, when I used the term ‘Nordic larp’, I meant as described by Lizzie Stark here: http://lizziestark.com/2012/08/08/nordic-larp-for-noobs/

      Jeepform is actually a bit different, though I’d say it was related and share some common elements. But I’m not the expert. :)

      My few lines regarding some of the advantages of the usual Nordic larp and its goals and the usual American larp and its goals was simply to address your point about being ‘squicked’ out by the idea of playing a mother or motherhood in larp. In that Nordic larp can be a vehicle to engage in topics we wouldn’t otherwise explore in real life, and a chance to plumb depths that often gets neglected in U.S. larps.

      Is it possible through U.S. larps? Sure. Anything is possible in any scenario. But I’ve played many U.S. larps over many years and generally speaking, the focus isn’t on emotional exploration and depth of character or wrestling with the complexities of human nature–it’s not ‘art larp’, so to speak. By and large, it is escapism. Or it has been from me and most of the larpers I’ve interacted with throughout the U.S.

      And that’s fine. You can’t get everything you may want out of a single game/thing. You aren’t usually going to get grand adventure, epic battles, or Machiavellian politics from Nordic larp. There are things to love about both and to enjoy for their own sake.

      I think you’re reading way more into my reply than was intended and in a few cases, putting words in my mouth. Perhaps you had bad experiences discussing this topic with someone else? I don’t think we know each other. I almost never post on any board or community, etc. :)

      From various things you’ve said, I have the sense that you feel like Scandinavian games in general and Nordic larp in particular are considered much cooler, or something. I’m not sure. Most people I know in the U.S. love and prefer American-style larp and won’t even give Nordic larp a chance and tend to shrug or roll their eyes at even the mention of Nordic larp. Which is just a shame.

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      • avatar
        suspire
        August 21, 2012 at 17:32

        I wanted to add one more thing: I think the anger or resentment towards Nordic larp is misdirected and a loss for all. It’s not an Us vs Them situation. I’m an American. I love American larps. But I also think Nordic larp is amazing and has much to offer.

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        • avatar
          captainecchi
          August 21, 2012 at 19:12

          I seem to be having trouble replying to the posts I want to reply to >.< In any case, this is sort of a catch-all reply to Ms. Stark and suspire.

          I'll accept that I know very little about the distinctions between Nordic and Jeepform–only what's been told to me–so I will totally let you and Ms. Stark set me on the right path there. "Nordic art larp" seems a good all-around term for what we're discussing.

          I have in fact had negative experiences with people acting like Nordic larp is "cooler," so my apologies if I read that into your response. And vice versa, naturally. I have a bias towards more U.S.-style larp (specifically Intercon-style larp, which is where I got into the hobby), and I like fantasy elements, I'll totally admit. And I have somewhat of a streak of populism that is skeptical of the goal of "making art" as opposed to telling a good story 😉

          But that's all personal preference–my own burden to bear. I'm kind of regretting that I jumped in with so much negativity off the bat; I just had a very strong visceral reaction to the exploration of the premise. Which, you know. May be exactly what some people want in their larp.

          I wish LARP discussions didn't turn into "us vs. them," but I sometimes feel like, in situations where there's only so much time–either at conventions, where there are only X slots for games; or in our own lives, where we only have so much attention and hours of the day in which to larp–it tends to turn adversarial, you know? For example, when I'm not attending Mad About the Boy, I'll be attending another larp convention that weekend. It's just a matter of priorities, but that can look a lot like a win/lose situation.

          Anyway, I wish you both the best luck in this run. Organizing/running a weekend-long game–regardless of style!–is incredibly stressful!

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          • avatar
            suspire
            August 21, 2012 at 20:00

            I appreciate you considering the other side of the situation–too often, these discussions become intractable and people stop listening to each other.

            Great stories can be told via ‘Nordic art larp’ much in the same way they can be told via various forms of American larp. The difference, in my opinion, is that ‘Nordic art larp’ tends to focus on the internal and often the personal, intimate scale and American larp tends to focus on the external and a grander stage.

            For instance, I’m a Jane Austen fan and Pride and Prejudice is one of my all-time favorite books. The story is ‘small’, ‘intimate’ and about the emotions and personal issues of a few characters on a limited stage. Often the story is hidden between the lines in what is said and not said.

            I’m also a Tolkein fan. And Lord of the Rings is iconic. It’s story is told on a grand scale, with many characters and epic plotlines, with the world’s fate hanging in the balance. It generally isn’t subtle, but it is heroic and rousing and a lot of fun.

            Which is better? I love both and ask me on any given day and I’ll tell you I am more in the mood for reading one over the other. But both are great stories, just of a different vein.

            That’s how I feel about Nordic larp and American larp. Nordic larp isn’t just art and it’s goal isn’t just to make art. It is a vehicle to telling amazing stories, just like American larp–they simply approach it in different directions.

            And yeah, I can understand being turned off to Nordic larp because of a few encounters. I should say when I say I love American larp, I mean I love theater larp. I’ve also tried boffer larp and it hasn’t been my cup of tea in the past, but I feel I should give it another shot. But I do love the epic storylines, the fantasy, the escapism, the politics and betrayal, etc of American larp.

            Anyway, it’s been a good discussion and I appreciate the sharing of thoughts. I’m an advocate of any forum or discussion that helps the community as a whole develop and create better games. American, Nordic, theater, boffer, whatever!

            And I’ve heard great things about Intercon games. I seem to be out of the loop on how best to track them, or when they are happening, however. Could you provide me a link for a site for where they are posted? I had no idea there was an event happening the same weekend as Mad About the Boy.

            Thank for you for the well-wishes and best of luck to you, too!

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    6. avatar
      August 21, 2012 at 22:14

      I do wanna pitch in as a LARPer from a Nordic country. It justworth mentioning that it not just that Nordic art LARP culture is different, but the Nordic genre larps are different as well from US genre LARPs.

      Nordic genre LARPs are a bit like the Nordic art LARP, but not quite as much. Nordic genre LARPs do generally don’t have character sheets, have few mechanical rules, a great focus on immersion, collaboration over competition, emotional intensity, safe words, continuous immersion etc. This is true for the average fantasy for example.

      The difference between Nordic art LARPS that the Nordic genre LARPS is that genre LARPs have less focus on eta-techniques, less meta-gaming, less workshops and debriefs, they do use secrecy, and can have more externally focused plots.

      (To make it even more complicated some Nordic art larps, also happens to be made in the genres like fantasy.)

      And Jeepform is considered to be a form of tabletop.

    7. avatar
      captainecchi
      August 21, 2012 at 22:14

      suspire: ah, you get at an interesting problem, which is that a lot of these events are publicized primarily to lists of people who have already attended these events – thus making the community even more insular.

      It is… something we are working on. I actually am involved with panelcomm at Intercon M–basically, the folks wot decide what panels we decide to run–and this is is something we are discussing. In fact, the head of panelcomm, in an unrelated matter, is setting up a blog to publicize larp events of all types – here is where he is doing it: http://nelarpnews.blogspot.com/

      Of course, the difficult part is getting people to contribute to it >.<

      The event I am attending the weekend of MATB is Time Bubble, a weekend of minigames held at RPI. I don't think they have a signup page yet, but they are on FB: https://www.facebook.com/events/422295277801492/

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    8. avatar
      suspire
      August 21, 2012 at 22:44

      Elin–thank you so much for your elaboration on Nordic larps, both genre and art. I have to admit, both versions appeals to me and feel a little like the promised land I would love my larping experience to be. I like low mechanic genre larps, more emotional intensity, more collaboration, etc.

      One of these days, I’ll have to come over for a major event.

      captainecchi–thank you for the information. Obviously I won’t be able to make it to the RPI event, but I’d like to keep abreast of more larp events in the Northeast. In the past, I was somewhat wired into the theater larp scene via White Wolf/Camarilla, but these days I’m a bit on the periphery of the gaming scene and rely on friends like Lizzie Stark to let me know what’s going on and when.

      I’d attend more things if I knew when they were happening and where. My assisting with MatB was more out of friendship with Lizzie and belief in the game than a hardcore involvement as a gamer with the scene. I think more dabblers like myself would attend more games and events (at least I would) if we had an easy place to access information on them. And that growth and diversity would hopefully help the community as a whole.

      The link to the blog you listed is definitely helpful! Thanks!

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