This first, inaugural issue of the journal begins with an invited foreword by game designer Kondō Kōshi (Adventure Planning Service), followed by contributions by the editorial team of JARPS to showcase what kind of contributions we seek to publish in this journal.
Physical safety has played an important role for larp practices worldwide, especially concerning boffer-weapons. The introduction of a safety seal by the Japanese larp association CLOSS, directly after larp increased in popularity in Japan, attests to the concern about bodily harm. Recently, the attention is moving towards questions of emotional and psychological safety: Pre-game workshops, post-game debriefings, and various calibration tools have become a cornerstone of Nordic larp discourse but also in other regions and fields of role-playing. This first issue of the journal seeks to link the mostly English-language discourse to related concerns in the Japanese context and extend the discussion to table-top/talk role-playing games and other connected practices. The need for a safe environment to immerse oneself into a role-playing game requires continued interrogation, especially considering the increasing trend of pedagogical and applied forms of role-playing game practices.
The events of 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic challenged TRPG and larp groups and players across the world with interruptions and emergency cancellations of their face-to-face role-play activities, impacting the social well-being of individual players as well as the situation of small RPG businesses. First evaluations paint a disastrous picture in some areas. But 2020 also showed the potential of adapting analog formats for digital game play in times when local social gatherings were restricted. During the course of the year, we have seen not only adaptations of planned RPG events from the offline to the online realm, but also a renewed interest in old forms of remote RPGs, such as classic letter larps, play-by-mail/play-by-post or the usage of online community platforms and social media tools. Innovative forms and experimental designs for laogs (live-action online games) were created and tested, mixing and mashing blended play styles from text to video, and from the challenges of home-based play with children to care for, to international, immersing online sessions. This issue features contributions from scholars and practitioners worldwide dealing with these challenges and innovations.
The Master with a Thousand Faces: Game Mastering, Organizing, Plotting, and Running Analog Role-Playing GamesNo. 3 (2022)
World builder. Storyteller. Rules arbiter. Plot writer. Director. Facilitator. Actor. Entertainer. Improv expert. Enemy. Caretaker. Group manager. Event host. The game master (GM) fulfills many tasks, takes on many roles, too numerous to count, and thus, has many faces – and also many names. In TRPGs, usually one single GM juggles all the aspects of this role. In larps, we literarily can encounter a thousand faces if we consider mass conventions. Plot-GMs and battle-GMs have direct player contact in mainstream larps, with plot writers and logistics managers working in the background but with equal importance. Many game masters – or storytellers, dungeon masters, keepers – and organizers prepare and host play as a hobby. Increasingly, we encounter professional GMs, for example, in TRPG cafés in Japan or as educational larpwrights working for an NPO. The thousand faces become ten thousand. Contrastingly, some games follow a trend of GM-less play, eschewing this role completely. Still, how individual GMs take on their role or how the game dislocates the game mastering onto rules or the other players, crucially affects the entertainment value of TRPGs and larps or how they can become vehicles to transport messages and learning goals. We believe the time is right to put the GM into the spotlight of academic and practical investigations. Thus, the JARPS 2022 special issue deals with all aspects of game mastering, focusing on this particular role, but being open also to questions of larp organization or plot writing.
Hybrid forms, such as the fusion of text and game, are familiar to contemporary readers and players. Tricks with words are done since the most distant poetic productions, and the oldest ergodic texts bring different ways of reading and interpreting their message depending on how the reader engages with them. However, from the 20th century onwards, books, comics, films, and various games, even sporadically, bring the consumer something different from most sequential narratives. The height of these productions – which usually start as isolated experiments – occurred in the 1970s, with the popularity of series like Choose Your Own Adventure. The gamebook boom provided by the Fighting Fantasy series followed in the 1980s. These “different” book collections and many others aimed at younger readers achieving relative success by following and improving on the pioneering formula. Still, they have experienced their decline to the popularization of the internet and when video games developed an ever better graphic quality and gameplay.
However, with the nostalgia for the customs and products of the 20th century and the possibility of media coexisting among so many others without necessarily prizing the elimination of competitors from the entertainment market, we can observe the return of this type of book in the first decades of the 21st century. Within these books, the reader makes the decisions for the protagonist, interfering directly in the course of the narrative and knowing the consequences of their choices that may or may not bring them closer to a happy ending.
The 2023 JARPS special issue considers these text-game-hybrids from various perspectives, asking what triggered a new interest in such games, or what motivates new readers to engage with these media. The papers included in this issue concern the materiality of gamebooks, their potential to restructure academic writing, and how they fit into a larger matrix of analog role-playing games.
Cover © Jéssica Beatriz Tosta
Symposium 2023 Video Recordings are available here.