I enjoyed reading your perspective on House Rules in live action role-playing and how they might translate to the role of the teacher in edu-larps. I'm left wondering how you define house rules, and where they fit into the multi-layered rule systems of role-playing games: endogenous and exogenous, explicit and implicit, diegetic or non-diegetic. I can think of what you might be calling "house rules" in two different ways:
As the implicit rules that are not necessarily codified in the rules set, the ones that Sarah refers to as a "play culture" or what Markus Montola (2009) refers to as the "invisible rules" in level two of the system he outlines in his article, "The Invisible Rules of Role-Playing: The Social Framework of Role-Playing Process." These would be additions to, or tweaks of, codified rule systems in use in the community. They might be written somewhere, or they might just be understood by the players, and new members of the community would learn them through mentorship or by breaking them and being corrected.
As the emergent rules that happen as a result of game play. These would be the rulings by Game Masters (GMs) made dynamically when an interpretation of a rule must be made or when two or more players have varying views regarding a rule and seek arbitration from the GM. Once a GM makes a ruling about the game's existing rule system, it becomes law and other rulings are based on it as precedent. Another group of players or play community may interpret the codified rule differently, thus resulting in different "house rules." These are rules at the level of diegesis, and affect character goals and play, even though they may have been settled at the level of the player using "rules lawyering" to advocate for an advantageous position for him/herself and his/her character.
Without this distinction of your definition of House Rules, I'm not sure how to consider the rest of your assertions.
In addition, I would like to question your distinction that edu-larps have goals beyond entertainment, while leisure-based larps do not. While edu-larps may be engaging with specific educational content, I would offer that all larps engage with specific content that must be mastered (and the more mastery, the more possibilities for play) and that all larps also have goals — both in-game/in-character and out-of-game/out-of-character. Indeed many larps are created with quite specific goals to engage in content that will provoke thoughts, emotions, and learning that can be carried beyond the game. I'm not sure I buy into "just a game" for leisure-based larps.
Lastly, you make this statement: "The clearer the wording, the easier the rules will be to understand, and to enforce." This is quite a positivistic view of language. While I am certainly an advocate of clear writing, I don't subscribe to the idea that a universally understood and enforceable rules-set can be written. I believe this based on more post-modern rhetorical principles as advocated by Hall, Biesecker, Foucault, Barthes, Bakhtin, and others, who state that meaning is made by negotiation between unique, diverse, historically and contextually situated audiences and the speaker/text, not transmitted or conveyed passively from the text to an imagined audience. I also believe one should not strive for a perfect and enforceably consistent rules-set because that is counter to the dynamism and co-creative properties of the role-playing game genre, which seeks to give agency to the players (students in an edu-larp) and less control to the game designer or manager. The rules-system and all the paratexts that codify a game are not the game itself. They are the beginning point for a unique instantiation of what becomes the game, an ephemeral act that is wholly dependent upon the dynamics of the particular players and the interpretations of that place, space and time. No two games are the same, nor indeed, should they be.
In education, "House Rules" (depending on your definition) could refer to classroom culture or teacher philosophy, as no two sections of the same course would be the same, even if they both operated from the same textbook, standards, learning outcomes, or scope and sequence (this is why the educational accountability reforms are so flawed, but that is another discussion). No two games or game communities will be the same, even with the same rules-system, mechanics, materials, etc. This difference, however, is part of the art of teaching, the magic of education, and the appeal of larping. Certainly House Rules (and explicit rules-systems and the enactment of the game itself) are rhetorical acts, as is teaching. There is much to theorize here. But to do so, I believe we need to agree on some basic definitions that will allow us to clarify the conversation.
Your post is also excellent. I'd be interested in the research you've found in primary, secondary, and maybe even post-secondary edu-larps.
I can agree that children are more willing to pretend and engage in social role-playing. Part of the problem with adult learners is all of the reticence built up with pejorative connections with gaming and the "others." I would hope that young adults would be without some of the inhibitions that would discourage adult learners. I also think that if role-playing gaming pedagogy is to advance it needs to move past the infantile association with games. We may have to start smaller with lower social stakes games in the classroom.
Despite all of the above, I think the primary obstacle to edu-larps and other kinds of gaming pedagogy in the classroom stems from perceived inadequacies or the fear of a non-normative pedagogy, especially from more traditional communities who may still worry that D&D leads children to commune with the Devil.
I've played a few d20 games like D&D and Pathfinder as well as Shadowrun, a d6 game. I feel like I don't get to play enough and I would love to do a LARP, but it's very difficult to find any group in my area, especially since I've only been here for a few months.
I was referring to leisure based LARPs. Edu-larps are somewhat of a new phenomenon (for me, that is), and the vast amount of my experience comes from more formalizes leisure RPGs. Having started this sort of gaming in college, it has remained an important part of my life, and so naturally I found myself applying my studies towards it. I have often had ideas for running a larp in a classroom, but was unaware that such things were already so extant.
I need to look more into RPG theory. RPGs have been a part of my life for about 25 years, and knowing that there is an academic community around it is gratifying.
I absolutely agree with you about "rules lawyering." In any situation, be it educational or casual, such activities take away from both the immersive escapism of LARP and the value of such a situation. However, there is a time and place for such things. It seems, with leisure LARPs, there are often two separate but concurrent games: one that is actually about role play, and one that is about rules and mechanics. Both can be enjoyable, though often times people prefer one over the other. Rules Lawyering mid-game is bad, but arguing and debating rules outside of the game can be a very entertaining way to waste several dozen hours.
But you are absolutely right: this sort of debate needs to be done outside of the game setting, and should certainly be done before the edu-larp actually begins.
Thank you for sharing your ideas on house rules as they pertain to edu-larps! In RPG theory, we've taken to calling this discursive act you describe "establishing the play culture." The play culture involves what is and is not expected from players; what is proper behavior in terms of immersion vs. out-of-character behavior; which topics are open and which are sensitive; what the overall goals of the exercise are; how to treat one another; aspects such as workshopping and debriefing, which I find especially important for edu-larps. Knowing what the players want may be part of the process, but it also involves structuring games to meet multiple player types, goals, and styles of play. Ultimately, establishing the play culture, just like in any other social group, requires strong leadership and clear statements of expectations from both facilitators and students.
You specifically mentioned published rule sets. Are you referring to leisure-based RPGs here? Or edu-larps? Can you provide some examples? A lot of the edu-larps I have studied, for example, do not feature mechanics for social interactions, but rather encourage the student to role-play such things out.
Also, I think in any healthy RPG community and especially in a classroom setting, "rules lawyering" should be kept to a minimum. It's a fine line and difficult to determine at times, but facilitators should be clear in what is and is not acceptable in the game world and OOC interactions in terms of negotiation of plots, rules, and player agency. Excessive rules debates can derail a role-playing experience for everyone, which is doubly problematic in terms of edu-larp due to the need for strong leadership in the classroom.
I enjoyed reading your perspective!
Thanks for the excellent post! As you may have seen from my entry, we have similar interests. I agree that tabletop holds a huge potential to help students grow along several dimensions of learning, as does larp.
You mentioned that secondary education might be better suited for role-playing than scenarios designed for younger students. I'm not entirely sure I agree. We've seen edu-larp used at all education levels, including young children and adult education. Children pretend play by nature and may actually be better at role-taking than young adults. However, I do agree that older students are better at learning and adapting to complex rules systems. May I ask the sorts of tabletop games you think would be most instructive in the classroom? With what tabletop games are you most familiar?
Thanks for the post!
Thank you so much for your feedback on my post. The larps range depending on the wishes of the curriculum and program. The edu-larp non-profit for which I serve on Board of Directors, Seekers Unlimited, runs custom larps for requested subject matter, such as science, social studies, history, etc. These larps usually last 1 day to a week during a particular class period depending on the demand of the school. However, schools like Osterskov, which I mentioned above, use larp all year long as their primary method of pedagogy. While some traditional lecturing and studying is worked into the scenarios, they attempt to frame all subject matters and all lessons as edu-larp. Here is a documentary on the school (only 12 minutes) if you are interested. There are also groups that use edu-larp to increase empathy and raise social consciousness. These scenarios are less "game-like" and more of an experience, such as the Norwegian Prisoner For a Day scenario, in which high schoolers live through a day of imprisonment and hard labor modeled after prison camps elsewhere in the world. Subject matter knowledge is not the focus of these exercises, but rather they hope to inspire greater understanding of social issues and political engagement.
Ultimately, I think any subject can be taught through edu-larp given clever design, but clever design takes time to test and perfect. Also, the success depends on the willingness of the teacher and of the class and the competency of the facilitator.
I hope this response answers your questions!
This is a fascinating post. I'd really like to know more about how these larps work. Are they continuous over the course of the semester or limited to one or two class periods? I wonder if it is possible to design an entire course based around a larp, and if that would be pedagogically helpful.
Your suggestion that it is best used in history and social studies seems to make sense, but I wonder if it might also work for psychology or even public speaking. Any thoughts on that?
Thank you for your comment, Dan.
I think what contributes greatly to the effect that Attack on Titan has had on anime fandom and its image is that it has become well-known enough for a great many people to be reacting to it. It is an unusual series in many ways, but it is the series’ spread and popularity that likely bring attention from those less familiar with anime, that then brings up the old “Only in Japan” mantra as you’ve pointed out.
Just the fact that Marvel Comics has decided to do an official crossover with Attack on Titan says a lot. While there have been attempts to do “manga-style” comics, and plenty of titles have made reference to anime and manga properties, I can see this crossover drawing in new readers to Attack on Titan who bring with them all of their values as superhero comics readers.
I think your use of Attack on Titan and its associated texts make an excellent example of your point here. Having personally watched the show in near real-time to its original airing, I was up on all the talk about the show, its twisting plots, and especially the fan reaction after the anime ended and in anticipation of the manga (now) being ahead. For people somewhat in the know like me, this was an exciting show that was trying new things. And it wasn't even especially any stranger than many other other shows currently airing.
However, most of the reaction I saw from the West after the first season ended and it was spread more widely was focused on how bizarre the show was to them, how the fandom didn't seem to make sense, and in many cases there was just the simple reductionist response of "only in Japan." From those types of replies, it was easy to see how just being aware of the context of the show, even outside of just watching it, created a culture bridge that inculcated myself and many others to some sense of understanding the cultural norms, to some degree anyway, at play within the show.
Yet, for those who had only seen the Suburu car commercial, or even the growing number of parody videos, this was metaphorically a giant monster that was chasing them across various media. They would see people discussing the show on Twitter or Facebook, watch it cross into a new shared video or show up as part of a meme in a Tumblr feed, but ultimately have no context for it. It was just another thing from the "Other" that was Japan for them, some latest weird they felt comfortable dismissing without much investigation.
Syd, I also thought of Big Hero 6 when I listened to Dr. Roh's interview. While the landscape of the San Fransokyo seemed to be a seamless melding of Japanese and American culture, with such examples as the Golden Gate Bridge topped with a pagoda style and the trolleys decorated with paper lanterns, the setting is in the United States rather than Japan and all of the characters are American. The main character, Hiro Hamada, may be Japanese-American, but he is depicted primarily as an American teenager, more interested in making money and looking cool (can't go to "nerd school" if he's going to be a hip, fighting-robot designer) than in putting his talents to use for the good of others. It is the character of the caretaker robot Baymax who displays the most "Japanese" characteristics as he is polite, puts the welfare of others first, and is ultimately trained in the art of karate (making him a ninja-warrior, despite his soft demeanor and build). Baymax starts to adapt to American culture (with much of it acting as comic relief rather than an examination of the process of acculturating) and is harnessed for Hiro's schemes, with the boy taking advantage of Baymax's naivety to pursue his own ends. For this film, though I completely adore it and am trying not to give spoilers, Japanese culture and stereotypes become a foundation upon which American-ness (in its characters and in the values they represent) comes to save the day.