2. Introduction


Before approaching the field, I had some experiences from briefly visiting another play as a player, ‘Amerika’, in September 2000 when a friend of mine took part in it. This play was special in that it took place in public, and allowed for outsiders to take part through brief ’visitor roles’. This is very uncommon in laiv plays. When I decided in early June 2001 to go ahead and do a study of laiv, I searched for a play that was of some size and close in time. The time for joining was overdue, so when I first contacted the organisers they refused to give me a role. Two weeks before the play they called me and offered me a vacant role as a slave from a player that had withdrawn. ‘Amaranth’1 was scheduled to take place at the end of that month. In this play, about 30 players gathered at an old farm in the wood north of Oslo. For 5 days, the players played a household set in Roman times in Thrace around 50 BC. I attended some of the preparations and parts of the play, and I will introduce the reader to laiv by recapitulating how this particular play was planned and played out.

The organisers - 3 young women from Oslo - had started to organise the play as much as a year in advance. There were many important tasks they had to do. One thing was to find a place to play. The setting for the play was a Roman mansion. Not so many buildings appropriate for that setting are available for rent in the area. Further, laiv players do not like audiences - they consider interference from non-players interruption to the play. Thus, the old farm was chosen due to its placement out of the way of the general public, not too far from Oslo, and being within the limited budget of the play.

Organisers also planned the Roman setting. The central themes of this play included conflict between two factions of the nobility that were rivals for power, the religious experiences of many sects at that period of time, and dramatising the radical class differences between slave, free citizen, and nobility that characterised the Roman era historically. In order to convey the setting to the player, different ‘compendiums’ were written. These were short booklets, describing aspects of the setting that the players needed to know. One compendium described aspects that all players needed to know. This included basic facts about religion, language, history, political struggles and class structure, and some basic knowledge about the different ‘groupings’ in play. A ‘grouping’ consists of characters that belong together in play. In ‘Amaranth’, the groupings included the noble family of the Senator, the slaves, the Legionaries, Praetorians, and a group of Christians. Some of the groupings also had a special compendium for their grouping, where knowledge that they only would know. The compendium also described what costumes the players should wear during play.

The organisers also had to plan the casting of characters. Each player received one character sheet written by the organisers. The sheet has its origins from fantasy role playing. It contains about one half A4 page long description of the character. This description included the basic personality type, some biographical details, and some points regarding the character’s motives and goals. There were not many details in the description. The organisers refrained from giving more instructions about the character, stating it was up to the player to do any further interpretation and preparation of his character.

Players were recruited through advertising on a web site, and through the network of the organisers. The date deadline for enlisting to the play was three and a half months before the play was to take place. There was a participation fee for the players, varying between 300-1000 NOK (between 40-125 USD). This was to cover the expenses of the organisers. When players had enlisted, they could make wishes regarding the category of role they wanted. The organisers then cast them in characters as they saw fit.

Practical things in relation to play were fixed by the organisers, or delegated to other persons before play. Food was to be served to the players playing nobility, so some persons had to organise that. The rest of the food was brought to the site of play by the players themselves. Basic sanitary facilities for the players also had to be provided. Fortunately, the old farm had an outdoor toilet; also, it was not far away from a lake that could be used for washing.

When players had got a role, it was their responsibility to prepare their play further. They had to think out a more detailed biography, and study the material on the setting provided by the organisers. Many must also have studied some additional sources on the history, since the information in the compendiums was somewhat limited. Players received a list of other players, and could contact the players who played characters they have a relation to in play. One opportunity to do so was the pre-meeting organised two weeks in advance.

The pre-meeting is an important event before a play. In ‘Amaranth’, this took place in a weekend two weeks before the play. Here all the players were gathered together with the organisers. Many players met for the first time here. The organisers first talked in front of everybody about their visions for this play. They also gave some more information on the background of the setting and history of the play. Players got the chance to ask questions. Some basic safety rules during play was talked about, in case players would feel too tired. There was a longer discussion between them, in relation to how they should play sexual relations - how far should the players be allowed to go during play?

Much time on the pre-meeting was spent on smaller drama rehearsals led by a drama student. These rehearsals focused on trust, improvisation and acting out status differences. The different groupings also conducted separate meetings. The different groupings had by and large different religious affiliation, so each spent time rehearsing the religious ritual that they would later perform during play. After the formal schedule, most of the players went out to a pub together.

The play itself began by the players assembling at the place of play in the afternoon. The farm was from the early 20th century. It had one large red barn, which was next to a larger residence. In the middle, there was a small courtyard. Next to the residence, there was a small outhouse. The buildings were surrounded by grassland in front and forest in the back. In play, the large grouping of slave characters was to reside in the open room of the barn, while the nobility and some free citizen characters resided in the different rooms in the house. About two hundred metres from the farm, the Legionary players had put up two large old-fashioned tents in which they resided.

The play was set to start at 21hrs in the evening. In the hours before, the players were packing up the equipment they were going to use in play, as well as putting on costume and even make-up for some players. Around the time of start, all players gathered and started the play by performing the sequence that they had rehearsed in advance. Afterwards, the players played by trying to act as their character at all times.

When the players were playing, much of the time was spent doing things that are similar to ‘everyday life’. A considerable amount of time was spent preparing and eating food. Meals were prepared from scratch, and both eating and cooking was a social process. Another frequent event was rituals. In the morning, most of the players took part in a morning ritual together with other members of their respective religions. These rituals were fairly relaxed. One that I attended was performed in the morning sun before breakfast. We gathered together in the field of grass a some distance away from the main buildings. Each then gave a small sacrifice in the form of some picked flowers. Then we said a prerehearsed small prayer together. Other rituals were conducted in the evening. Then they were performed in a much more spectacular manner and as a central part of play. The player engaged in a lot of small talk during the time in play. They talked about simple everyday topics such as food or the weather. The players were playing continuously for five days. Naturally, a considerable amount of time was also spent sleeping. The players also had more dramatic motifs that they engaged themselves in. These were various topics that players used in order to play dramatic situations and narratives. For example, two characters in ‘Amaranth’ had a secret love affair. They could then ‘play on’ the love affair. This is a term the players use. It points to how they use something as a topic for meaningful interaction in play. In this example, the love affair they played eventually had a tragic end. The female character was forcibly separated from him. Someone else played a wise slave character. This character was a teacher to an incompetent young nobleman. The two players could use the teacher-student relationship as a topic for their interaction in play. Their actions in play developed as a story the time the play lasted. The wise teacher eventually did such a good job that he was freed from slavery near the end of the play. For the players involved in the above examples, their actions eventually became a small tragic or happy story that they had taken part in. Unlike a theatre, the players had not decided in advance exactly what they should do. Instead, it involved a lot of improvisation during play. There were also some major events taking place that involved many players during play. One of these was a power struggle between two rivalling factions of the nobility - the Praetorians and the Legionaries and their leader. Eventually the Legionaries won this struggle and arrested their opponents. These events also took the shape as a story, with a peak occurring at the final day of play right before the play was finished.

Amaranth used a system where characters were instructed to perform certain actions at specific times in play. This was done in order to facilitate the creation of some central stories. But players also spontaneously came up with ideas of topics to ‘play on’ themselves during play. Once the play was started, the organisers had few means of influencing the events. They took part in the play themselves, as slaves. However, one method they used was to go into the outhouse. Here they stopped playin their characters, and as organisers they wrote letters, which were sent to significant characters in play. These letters could influence the flow of events. For example, one letter that they sent to the Praetorian characters was interpreted by the players to mean that the Roman emperor had died. The organisers did not know exactly how the characters would respond to their letters, but it did have considerable impact on what they did.

The ending of the play was right after a peak on the final day of play. The organisers announced that ‘Now, the play is over!’. All players then stopped playing their character. The following hours were spent talking together about what had happened in the play. Players whose characters had been enemies communicated happily about their view of the play. Each player had had his own experience of what had happened, and had different stories to tell from play. Before leaving, the players cleaned up the farm they had been playing on together. Props were packed down. The costumes were changed for ordinary clothes and put into backpacks. Leftovers of food were packed away. Everything was transported back home.

In the evening of the day after the play had ended, the players gathered for a great party after play - the ‘afterlaiv’ party. This is an institution in laiv. The players gathered in a pizza restaurant, which was filled with the players. Some players made speeches that thanked the organisers for their effort in creating a very good play. A huge applause followed. The talk about the play continued around the tables. The main topic was events in play. Who had been experiencing what? How did the character feel about this and that which had been done to him in play? Other things were also discussed. An important topic was news and information about other players in the laiv community. Many of the players only knew each other as laiv players. Sometimes, when referring to other players, they referred to him or her using the name of the character he or she had played instead of his real name. After a while, the gathering moves to a dark and worn out pub. The pizza place was chosen for its low price on beer. During the night, talk about play continues while drinking more beer. Between some of the players there is the flirtatious atmosphere common in pubs. A smaller core of players moved home to someone and continued the party into dawn the next day.

Doing laiv

The above presentation should have given the reader a small taste of what a laiv play is. It is dif- ficult to explain what laiv playing is, to those who are unfamiliar with the hobby. As a leisure activity, it combines elements from a range of different activities:

The name itself, ‘laiv’, points to a core issue of their activity. It is a Norwegian re-writing of the English word ‘live’. It gives associations towards being present, spontaneous and unplanned, in the centre of real action.3 Laiv players, who read parts of my text, reacted to my use of the word in English. ‘Laiv’ was Norwegian - why didn’t I use the word ‘larp’ instead? Larp is an English acronym for ‘Live action roleplaying game’ and is the term used to refer to a similar activity undertaken in Britain and the US. Laiv players who talk about their activity in English, refer to is as larp. However, I question the extent to which there is a similarity between larp and laiv. I don’t think there is any reason to take this connection for granted. There are some connections to players in Nordic countries, but even in between them there are significant differences. To me, there appeared to be few connections to English speaking countries. Therefore, the use of the Norwegian word ‘laiv’ is meant to highlight the local foundation of the conventions involved in the practice.

As it is common in subcultures, the laiv players have developed a vocabulary for their activity. The shared vocabulary4 counts over 100 special expressions relating to aspects of play. Many of the words are similar to words in the general culture, or are terms taken from film, theatre, and literature studies. But the meaning of many expressions, are special to the laiv culture. Some of the concepts are constitutive of the activity. To be able to play, one needs to have a basic understanding of them. Often, the players do not agree on the definition of key concepts, as the interpretation of these may have implications for the way they play. The various subgroups have different ideas of what is important to do.

On an explicit level, players follow a code of egalitarianism in relation to admitting players. In principle, anyone willing to spend some time to prepare, and pay the participation fee in time, may be allowed to play. The organisers in the plays I took part in did not do any active recruiting outside the closed circle of laiv players. Thus, in most plays the players have a background from, and knowledge of, laiv. If someone with no experience wants to become a player, he or she needs to take initiative in order to learn about how to become one. New players are recruited through friends that are into the hobby or, more seldom, through hearing about the hobby in the media. Prospective players learn to play mainly through taking part in practice. Only some basic conventions are verbally instructed upon before play.

Recruiting players for play partly follow a ‘firstcome- first-served’, since there are limited available spaces for characters. It is also common that organisers invite specific players whom they know, to play particular characters. Therefore, being part of the informal network of players is of high informal importance. The players often use age restriction. It is regular practice to have a 16 or 18-year age limit in order to become a player. The arguments used to legitimise this are of a legal nature. The players claim the reason is that they want players to act responsibly in relation to their actions, and they don’t want to have any legal responsibility for any young players’ actions. The fee for participating is usually relatively small, maybe around 300-1000 NOK for a laiv lasting a weekend. The players are a small group, and experienced players can expect many players to be familiar to them. At the same time, the community of players is so large that they can also expect to meet players that they do not know.

The duration of the plays varies considerably. The plays may last from some hours up to a week. The most common duration for a play is about two or three days – making it suitable for a weekend. In order to take part in laiv activities, a person needs the time and ability to go someplace and concentrate completely on the play for its duration. Such an escape from obligations in ‘real life’ is not easy to do for everyone. It requires a flexible job and few other daily obligations. Parents, for instance, can have a hard time participating in such events and may need to bring their children with them as co-players.

Organisers rely on players themselves to decide whether a play is appropriate for them to take part in. Thus, players decide themselves if the setting, plot and harshness of the play is something for them. There is a consensus among the players that organisers have a responsibility to signalise what type of play it is in advance, so that prospective players have sufficient knowledge in order to make such a decision.

An important part of preparing a play is the casting of characters. Before a play, the players get a ‘character’ to play. It starts as an abstract idea about a person written down on a sheet of paper. The author of this draft is the organiser, often in collaboration with the prospective player. There is a great variety in the content of this description. Some of the following may typically be included:

(An example of a character sheet, is shown in appendix V). The written description is further developed personally by each of the players. Each prepares their character’s biography, personality and behaviour further before play. They must also get hold of an appropriate costume, and talk to the other players which will play characters whom they have a relation to in play. The players also allow one player to play several characters during play. Usually, this happens if a character ‘dies’ in play, in order for his player still to take part in the play. But they do not allow several players to play the same character.

The players by and large reuse a limited selection of character types that the players are familiar with. In other words, one can say that they are standardised. A general rule of casting is that players get and are expected to play characters that they have some visual similarity to. But there are a range of exceptions to this, which I will come back to later. The list below sum up characters that two players who are also experienced organisers described as common:

A laiv play also has a ‘setting’ that differs from play to play. This is the background characteristics of the imaginary realm where the play occurs. The history, location, general culture, or metaphysics of that realm, is all part of it. The players learn about it through texts given to them by organisers before play. Different ‘settings’ implies the use of different props and costumes. Different groups tends to favour different types of settings. Some groups may also reuse one setting in several different plays. There are some settings that the players are generally familiar with, and that are used frequently – they are also, to some extent, standardised.

The organisers must acquire a physical place to play for the period of play. Players prefer this not to be so close to too many other people. The place and props required influence the difficulty of finding such a place. Laiv plays do not usually have a high budget, so the price paid for rent cannot be high. Organisers can exert considerable creativity in finding places that they find match the setting. Table 1-2 presents examples that show the variety of laiv plays, their physical setting, and theme.

During play the players also utilise many material objects. This includes costume, weapons, sleeping material, cooking equipment, and decorative props. The players denote all this as ‘stash’. This ‘stash’ must to some extent be appropriate for the setting. For example, in ‘Amaranth’, this implied that it had to seem in line with the historical Roman time period. Thus it can be difficult for players to get hold of ‘stash’. It must be manufactured by players before play, or be acquired in second-hand stores or borrowed through special connections. Due to the difficulty of customising material objects, getting hold of the ‘stash’ is a significant part of the preparations for each player. In Oslo, each organised play is a finished unit. Players do not go back to the same play-frame or use the same roles again. Each laiv, is a unique event. However, it may sometimes happen that one laiv play is run several times, but then with different players. Also, when the setting is reused, the players may then start with the characters at a different point in time, or with new characters.

In chapter 4, I shall discus how the conflicts between the role as a researcher and the role as a player were a source of insight in the activity. Now, I consider how I learned about several implicit but important conventions of laiv play by breaking them as a player. After playing my character in ‘Amaranth’, I attended the customary ‘afterlaiv’ party. I learned that some of the other players were unhappy about my performance. The criticism was that I had been ‘playing badly’. What did this imply? It meant that my actions as a character in-frame, differed from how they regarded it as appropriate to play this character. One thing was that I had failed to act in accordance to what they considered as realistic and historical correct given the Roman setting. For example, the character as a slave would require one to show deference to players of higher status. This meant to follow certain proper forms of address - such as, never to speak directly to ones Masters while other ones were present. It meant that one should be ready, to do small services for superiors - such as cooking food, serving wine, holding and fetching things, or just be present, whenever requested. It meant to maintain a specific bodily posture, and avoid gazing at anyone of higher status in the eyes. Playing laiv, requires one to have some degree of reflexiveness and control of details of the details ones behaviour. I was not good on this. Another thing, is that playing is physically and mentally demanding. Walking around and following the role, were more difficult as the hours passed. I had to be constantly within reach by the others. I did take a break after playing for two days, but this did not seem so popular. As a character in a laiv play, the players who play other characters depends on you. Laiv players stress that the performance of the play is the result of a collective and relational effort. In my case, failure to play appropriately, or taking any breaks, implied that the Roman Legionaries lacked an important means to perform social status in play. A third thing, was that when I eventually got more disillusioned and left play, I talked about it with my co-players but I did not talk about it with the three young women who organised the play. In the play, they played the characters of danceslaves. After the play, they were furious that I had left play without talking to them. They regarded it as my duty to do this. As organisers, they were responsible for the event proceeding successfully. I had not realised that the organisers, while being low status in play, were actually the commanders of the whole carefully monitored an coordinated event. They enjoyed very high authority from the other players.

In addition to stressing that one should perform ones character in accordance to the setting, the laiv players also stress that the players shall feel the emotions and experiencing the physical surroundings in a way similar to how their character would have done if the play had been a reality. This latter aspect distinguishes the conventions of the laiv players from most other performance activities. Their explicit rationale to emphasise that the material objects and surroundings– must resemble the real situation as closely as possible, is that it make the involvement in the characters they play more easy.5 Taken together, the different aspects concerning realistically recreating a setting are sometimes referred to as ‘immersionism’.6 Viewed from the outside, this appears as a strong normative and very ambitious ideology.

The background of the laiv players

Laiv play began as an activity in the 1980s, undertaken by more separate groups and individuals. During the 1990s, the activity evolved. More plays were organised, and as more people became involved in the hobby, a stable community of players scattered around the country emerged.

There is no quantitative study of on the persons involved in playing laiv. Therefore, many of the estimates following is based on informed guesses by me, or based on guesses from sources that are part of the network. The people I interviewed estimate the number of active players to be around 1000. ‘Active’ is then defined as participating in one or more laiv plays a year. Everyone is involved on a hobby basis only, there are no one working professionally with the laiv activities. The organisation of plays is undertaken by smaller groups among the culture. Such groups consist of people who know each other and who meet more often. They vary in size, maybe numbering from a few to 100. Previously, plays were announced on private mailing lists. Now this is primarily done through the Internet, through a shared web site, ‘laiv.org’. During my time of contact with the community, I primarily met players in Oslo. To some extent, the local community of players were divided into separate groups. Players in these groups had more social contact with each other, and had also more similar ‘real life’ interests. Plays were often organised by persons who had a background from the same group. However, there were no stable social boundaries between groups in relation to participation of plays – players took part in plays that were organised by other groups than the ones they had background from.

Several players noted that there had been a sharper polarisation between groups in the Oslo community early 1990s. One player presented his view on early rivalry between two groups. Ravn was a group that at that time consisted of players with a higher middle class background, who attended the more prestigious schools in the city. Some had done military service, and saw some military skills as positive and useful in relation to playing laiv plays. This is not unnatural, as many laiv plays involve living in the woods and had military elements in play. Furthermore, they put a higher emphasis on making historical laiv plays, and aimed for a high degree of historical realism. The plays this group organised often involved considerable and thorough planning. On the other hand, the group Nar involved more people with a working class social background. They had stronger connections to amateur theatre. Some of the members had artistic ambitions, both in ‘real life’ and in relation to the plays they made. Many members of Nar had political affiliations leaning to the left. They did not have so much respect for or interest in military service. They were less concerned with historical realism in the plays they organised. In addition, they also were less concerned with organising and planning the play in advance – instead relying more on spontaneity.

Two of the players noted that one of the requirements of being a good player is to relate to people that are very different from oneself in ‘everyday life’. Meeting the other players in the preparation process implied that one had to cooperate closely with these people. Players could have widely different social backgrounds and ‘real life’ interests. However, everyone shared an interest in laiv play. Based on this common factor, one had to be able to work and cooperate together. This could be a social challenge, but both players I spoke to about it mentioned that they also had learned more about relating to others.

A common conception that the players themselves shared, was that the community involved many people who in some way were unique. One player said that he felt that laiv players were either very social people – who would talk to all kinds of people in different settings. Or, they were very unsocial and introvert –typical ‘nerds’. During play, however, the latter type of people also flourished socially, in a role that was different from their everyday self. By and large, a common conception among both people outside of the laiv community, as well as insiders, was that a majority of the players had ‘nerdy’ interests involving computers, science fiction and games, and had little experience with the opposite sex. I do not think that this description does justice to the laiv community, from my point of view it appeared as a community with people who were different both socially and culturally. Nevertheless, some factors appeared to me as more typical among the players.

A number of players had background from working with IT. Many had also a considerable interest in history. A good deal of the players were connected to alternative youth cultures. They dressed in ‘freaky’ clothes. This involved dressing in black, and often using boots and chains. They would listen to and attend shows that featured dark rock music of a ‘goth’ kind, and one could often meet other laiv players at the places that featured such music. A good deal of players had background from amateur theatre, particularly for the female players. The players I had the chance to meet were from 16 to around 40, with the average maybe around 23 years old. There seemed to be a slight majority of males, but a lot of females are also involved in the community. Many players had background from educated middle class families. With one exception, all the players I met had ethnic background from western countries. This is conspicuous, as Oslo has a large population of immigrants from eastern countries such as Pakistan or Turkey. Nevertheless, there was also diversity among the players. To me, this was most evident when I met the players for ‘Amaranth’ together on the premeeting. By looking at the clothing worn by the players, the differences were clear. There were the young and ‘freaky’, the sporty, the casual, and the more grown-up formal styles.

How important the laiv culture was in the players’ lives varied considerably. Some players had it as their main interest, spending considerable amounts of time with other laiv players, engaging in written discussions about laiv topics, and organising events. But the majority had it more as a side activity, participating in one play from time to time, but less involved on a regular basis. A few of the players used laiv as a basis for organising related activities professionally. This includes special events in private businesses, or special plays with a pedagogic intention. For example, the Norwegian Red Cross has had regular arrangement with plays were the participants – people from the general public, or from schools, play refugees in a refugee camp. These plays have a lower intensity than plays organised for the player community, but the intention is to give people an increased understanding and empathy for the difficulties faced by refugees in their situation.

As a Scandinavian country, Norway is a relatively safe place to live. Education is covered by the state, making it attainable by everyone. The unemployment rate has remained low. It is likely that the wider social background from living in Norway, shapes the way the players relates to the activity. The topics that the players deal with in plays span a variety of topics. Many plays are focused on adventure and fantasy, but others deal with topics of a serious kind. In the play of ‘Amaranth’, sexuality, religion and social status were important topics. The latter involved the players performing extreme status differences in play. Other plays have used political topics such as the high level of consumption in western counties, fascism, or modern warfare. A primary way that players use laiv is precisely to approach contemporary issues that are of importance or concern to them in their life.

The importance of their social background can become visible when Norwegian laiv players encounter players engaged in similar activities that have a very different social background. One Norwegian player told me of one example that he had witnessed. In the winter of 2001, a group of Norwegian organisers organised a play called ‘Europa’. The topic of this play was related to the wars in the Balkans that had gone on during the 1990s. During the wars, a huge number of refugees fled the conflict zone. Some were granted a residence permit in Norway. In the play, the roles had been turned. Scandinavia was fictively thought of as a place of ethnic wars between the different Scandinavian peoples. The setting of the play was a fictive refugee camp in a country in the Balkans. During play, the players intended to focus on ethnic conflicts and violence as well as the traumatic process of fleeing to another country and applying for political asylum. In order to strengthen the feeling of alienation for the asylum seekers, a group of Russian players were invited to play the guard characters who received and questioned the refugees when they arrived. The characters they played were to treat the refugees in the harsh manner known from such encounters in ‘real life’. They performed their characters well. After the play, the Russian players noted that they had found the play stressful, and that they completely failed to see the point of such a type of play. In their real lives, they had to struggle in the day to day existence. The unemployment rate was high, and they had poorer living conditions. They lived in a society that had an authoritarian past. To them, the plays they played in Russia usually involved adventure and fantasies, which moved them away from the harsher reality of ‘everyday life’. Their ‘everyday life’ could be stressful enough, and they did not need to play stressful plays as well. It is clear that players from different countries can share some of the general conventions of playing, but these are twisted and adapted to their own local social context of play.

The hobby is not easily accessible to outsiders. The laiv players do little to actively inform others about their hobby. Media exposition usually takes the form a feature article once in a while by an outside journalist presenting the activities in an exotic way. Further, the players shy away from public attention while in play, the ideology claiming that the visible presence of non-players will ruin their ”experience” of the play. Sometimes, laiv groups have been associated with occult activities by outsiders not understanding the make-believe dimension of laiv. All these factors contribute to a significant symbolic boundary between persons who are into laiv and persons who are not – a typical trait of subcultures (Gelder&Thornton,1997).

Research question: Making and maintaining the definition of the play situation in laiv

Having given a basic overview of the activity, I now turn to presenting the perspective from which I study it. The research question of this text is: How are laiv players able to make and maintain the definition of the situation of play?

The processes of making and maintaining situations are general throughout social life. For example, a theatrical play rests upon the ability to engage the audience in the situation that the actors on stage perform. This involves a variety of factors. For example, the theatre building isolates the stage space from possible interruptions from outside. The audience also knows that they must sit tight and accept the make-believe of the actors on the stage. The actors know that they must communicate in a clearly spoken and vivid manner, in order to successfully communicate to the audience. Competitive games also count on the ability to make a situation. When playing a game, players must accept and make a certain definition of the situation in order to make the game work. By creating and maintaining an imaginary situation on the chess boards, for example, the players are enabled to play and compete in it. Similarly, everyday situations also depend on the participators’ abilities to make and maintain situations. Think of a casual conversation with a group of friends around a cup of tea or coffee. A shared situation is made and maintained by the participants. Each conversational partner is allowed to have his or her say. The participants must pay attention to what the interacting partners say, and politely contribute to conversational subjects that are viewed as interesting. Certain things are defined as irrelevant and must be ignored. In all these examples, the participants are competent at both initiating and ending situations without much hassle. Sometimes, persons who are engaged in a situation fail to maintain it. A person engaged in storytelling can suddenly forget the punch line in the middle of his story. As a consequence, the involvement of his listeners vanish, the situation breaks down and changes to a different situation. A person in the audience of a theatre can receive a phone call on his cell phone during the play, thus breaking the situation on stage for everyone present. Organisations may be broken by bankruptcy, and even the highly institutionalised situation of a nation state can be broken by revolution.

On one hand, the process is influenced by various pre-existing structures in advance. My use of the term ‘pre-existing structure’ here, denotes a pre-existing factor that influence the ongoing interaction. One type of pre-existig structure, are conventions. Everyone who takes part in a situation, bases their actions knowledge of rules pertaining to a situation. This knowledge informs what one should or should not do in such situations. For example, consider the normative rules of chess, tea-drinking and theatre considered above. The knowledge also provides a contextual background when actions are interpreted. For example, a tea-drinker who speaks can start to talk about a new topic that is known to the others present. Relying on prior knowledge, the other participants know that this is a way to suggest a new conversational topic. They may reply by continuing to talk about the new topic, using their own knowledge about it. Another type of pre-existing structure that influence the process, is the material surroundings. In order to talk and drink tea at all, the tea-drinkers need tea to drink. Different physical places, such as a café or a living room, may be more easily associated with tea-drinking than a sidewalk in a city, or a swimming pool. The communication is physically constrained and enabled by physical characteristics of surroundings. For example, it could be difficult to maintain a shared definition of a tea-drinking situation if there is very loud music that makes it impossible to talk. Or consider that the topics of the conversation may be affected if the physical surroundings enable others to listen. One of the participants may have prepared specific issues or material to discuss in advance, and use this to guide the conversation.

On the other hand, participants of a situation actively create and shape the definition of a situation by actions that are suitable in that particular context. For example, the tea drinkers choose to continue to talk, and they choose what to say. The content of their talk must be adapted to what is considered acceptable by the people within hearing range. If there is a limited amount of noise around – for example, that of other people talking - a speaker may adapt by talking somewhat louder and a listener may adapt to this by bending his or her head more close to the talker. Someone can use non-verbal cues to indicate if he or she is not comfortable about talking about a particular conversational topic. They must continuously use facial expressions and body posture that indicate that they are involved in the situation. The participants themselves can make signs show the beginning or end of the tea-drinking situation in someway. The definition may also change through their talk: For example, participants can start arguing and then fighting each other. Or, if the participants are a man and a woman, they may use their tone of voice, topic of talk and body idiom to change a regular teadrinking situation to a romantic date. Furthermore, while participants share pre-existing conventions and an understanding of what a ‘teadrinking’ situation is, each particular situation has unique elements. Each situation may have different people, different material surroundings, or a different temporal and historical context. Thus, there is a constant interplay between the preexisting structures and the actions adapted to a particular context. Therefore, no tea-drinking situation is ever completely the same, the resulting actions are contingent on the creative actions of participants in a unique context.

I set out to describe the techniques used by the laiv players to make and maintain the situation of laiv play. Like the tea-drinking situation, the definition of the laiv play situation is not given from the outset. Its is contingent on a wide variety of techniques the players use to make, shape and maintain the situation of play– both those involving pre-existing structures, and those involving active action in the context of performance.

More specific, the term ‘pre-existing structures’ here refers to explicit planning and instructions in advance, which is done at its most extreme in theatrical plays. It also refers to the knowledge of pre-existing conventions known by a specific group, such as the knowledge about laiv play that laiv players share; and more general given conventions of interaction, shared by most people in the surrounding culture. Finally, it also refers to the influence of the given material surroundings in that surround the interaction situation. On the other hand, the term ‘action in the context of performance’ refers to the actions that are originate unplanned during interaction. These actions are not regarded as predetermined by conventions or the material surroundings in the outset, but involve spontaneity and creativity. I use these terms as theoretical ideal types to enable analysis (Weber, 1971). In practice pre-existing structures always involve some degree of improvisatory action in the context of performance, and vice versa. By emphasising the importance of actions in the context of performance, I shall show that despite the presence of pre-existing structures, the definition of the situation in laiv play is not pre-determined but the result of an ongoing social process among the participants.

The process of defining situations is of high importance to a wide range of questions and topics in social life. When communicating, people need to have a background context in order to understand each other. When performing a task together, people need a shared conception of the situation in order to be able to conduct their work. Definition of situations also involves questions of power and conflict. How power is distributed to the actors is a question of how the situation is defined. Also, conflicts between people usually rest on the parties having some kind of shared definition of the situation. In fact, any type of interpretation of a message relies on a conception of the contextual situation around it. Thus, this context must also be made apparent in some way - it must be created and maintained. My point of departure is that it is the same basic process that goes on in ‘everyday life’ and laiv. The reader shall gain insight into questions of very general value from this special point of view.

Previous works on laiv

There has been some work done on laiv play, but most of them are from dedicated insiders and aimed at the laiv community. Grasmo (1997) provides an overview of the activity from the standpoint of an insider journalist. There have also emerged some collections of articles from the annual Knutepunkt convention, most notably Montola&Stenros (2004) and Hutchinson&Bøckman (2005). These have many abstract debates and how-to guides which are primarily useful for insiders, but some articles provide interesting descriptive accounts of plays as well as providing information on the background and demographics of the network. A few of the contributions, also has a theoretical perspective relevant to social research. Of most interest is Choy (2004) article ‘Theatricality in Larp’. Very limited research has been done on laiv from University scholars. Røe (2003) in descriptive ethnography, use a perspective from pedagogic and anthropology to discuss play itself. Bergset (1998) uses perspective form theatrical studies to discuss the interpretation of the plays. From anthropology Pedersen (2003) describes how players enters and leaves plays by using ritual action, and as well as the influence the hobby has on the players’ personal development.

Social research on the process of defining the situation

There are many different traditions in social research that have been engaged with the process of defining situations. I will limit my review to three approaches: Sociology, psychology and communication.

1. Sociology

In sociology, W. I. Thomas’ ‘Thomas Theorem’ was one of the early ways to turn to the importance on the cultural and phenomenological factors in the process of defining a situation: ‘If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.’ (Thomas and Thomas, 1928:572, quoted in Collins,1987:265). Thomas derived his theorem after cooperating with Znaniecki. Znaniecki himself did the first major empirical work in American sociology in his study of Polish immigrants to the USA (Znaniecki, 1918- 1920). Znaniecki had a focus on definition of the situation implicit: if the poles defined themselves as American, they would become American (Collins, 1987:266). Later, different approaches in sociology have studied this topic with different emphases. These have been based on a mainly ethnographic and qualitative approach.

Several research traditions in sociology have studied the definitions of the situation at the micro level of situated social interaction. The symbolic interactionist approach followed three basic principles, with the local context of interaction as a point of departure (Blumer, 1969). First, human beings ‘act toward things on the basis of the meaning that the things have for them’(ibid., 2). Second, the symbolic interactionist approach implies a strong emphasis on the interaction that takes place in the local context of interaction, at the expense of the surrounding cultural or material world. Finally, the way the way this happens is through a process of interpretation between the persons present (ibid: 2-5). The meaning is negotiated on spot between the people present. Ethnomethodology focuses on knowledge, cognitive reasoning, and trust in relation to defining a situation. (Garfinkel, 1967; Heritage, 1984). Goffman’s frame analytical perspective also concerned the definition of situations. He was initially concerned with how people presented themselves and situations in a way analogical to a theatrical performance, (Goffman, 1959) as well as the structure of games (Goffman,1961;1970), and communicative ritual behaviour in ‘everyday life’ (Goffman,1967;1963). Combining these inspirations, he presented a formalised approach to the studying how situations are defined. Since Goffman also takes into account influence on interaction that is outside the face-to-face situation, it has raised opposition from symbolic interactions (Gonos, 1977) Goffman approach will be presented in more detail in the next chapter, as it is the main theoretical approach used in later analysis.

2. Psychology

Social cognition is a sub-discipline of social psychology that deals with the influence of cognition on social behaviour. Social psychologists have studied topics which are related to the process of defining a situation. Schank&Abelson (1977) work on scripts were one of the founders of a cognitive perspective on social behaviour. Three concepts in this tradition are particularly related to the study of definition of the situation: Schema, and two subtypes of schemas: prototype and script. A schema is ‘(…) an organised body of knowledge about past experiences, used to interpret present experiences.’ (Deaux, Dane & Wrightsman, 1993:16). In relation to my concern, schemas are essentially used when defining situations. Knowledge about situations, such as fishing, going in the park, attending a lecture, are stored in different schemas. A prototype is a schema that collects an abstract set of features to one category. For example, a prototype of ‘going to a movie’ is the thoughts and expectations that immediately come to mind about such situations. A script is a subtype of schema that points to ‘a conceptual representation of a stereotyped event sequence’. (Abelson, 1981:715; quoted in Dane, Deaux and Wrightsman, 1993:91). For example, going to a restaurant involves a particular sequence of behaviour applying to those situations. Social cognition explains behaviour or perceptions by modelling cognitive processes in a sequential way based on an analogy to information processed in computers. A vast amount of experimental research has been undertaken in relation to these concepts (Fiske& Taylor, 1984). While both social cognition and some of the sociological approaches focus on the micro-level of interaction, they are notably different. Social psychology primarily relies on experimental method, and attempts to explain behaviour through considering at general causal mechanisms internal to the individual. It therefore differs sharply from the emphasis that sociology has on social factors

3. Communication

From his standpoint in anthropology, Gregory Bateson (1955/1972) was one of the first to discuss the importance of communication and the definition of the situation. Studying the play- fighting monkeys in the San Diego, he noted that they had to be able to communicate to each other that ‘this is play’. Bateson termed this metacommunication, meaning that it was communication about context - or situation - of communication. This metacommunication, decided how one should interpret the ongoing communication.

Following the philosophical concerns on the importance of the social context (Wittgenstein, 1997; Searle, 1995) the field of pragmatics developed as a subdiscipline of linguistics focusing on the relation between speech and the context of use. However, structuralist linguistics in the 1960s and 1970s strongly emphasised the causal importance of pre-existing structures in language use, following the influential work on syntactic structures by Chomsky (1957). Therefore, early pragmatics saw the context created by the use of stable grammatical rules that were encoded in the structure of language (Levinson, 1983:9, in Sawyer, 1998:17). On the other hand, sociolinguistics followed a different approach. They were concerned with the relation of language use to society in a broader sense. As part of this, they also looked at how situations could be defined during talk. They used culturally linked concepts like ‘speech style’ and ‘conversational code switching’. These concepts refer to how ways of performing speech - pronunciation, choice of certain expressions, dialects - could be used implicitly to influence the definition of the situation during talk (Gumperz, 1982). Similarly, from literary studies Bakthin (1981) used the term heteroglossia to refer to the way distinct ways of speaking is connected to specific roles and characters.

Performance studies looks at how acts are undertaken with a reflexive awareness of the signifying potential to others - how they are performed before an audience (Carlson, 1999:Introduction, chaper 1). Doing a performance implies defining a certain situation in the real world, and the field of performance studies focuses precisely on the ongoing communication in performances. Performance studies are particularly perceptive to other modes of expression than language. Researchers have studied the ritual of traditional performances (Turner, 1974; Turner 1995; Schechner 1993), various types of theatre (Schechner, 1985, Burns, 1972, Mason, 1992), political rallies (Schechner, 2002) and gang behaviour (Conquergood & Siegel,1990; Conquergood, 1992).

Lately, researchers who study language use and performance have also become concerned with the tension between structure and action. Schechners concept of ‘restored behaviour’ is used to note the tension between the way performance repeats rehearsed and conventional behaviour, and the fact each performance occurs in a new context and has novel elements (Schechner, 2002:28-29). In linguistics, this is echoed in a tension between, on one hand, the semiotic, the linguistic, the symbolic - all abstract elements and structures, and, on the other hand, the specific physical context that never repeats itself (Carlson, 2002:62, Bauman&Briggs1990) Many later researchers (such as Bauman & Briggs, 1990; Silverstein, 1979; Sawyer, 1997, 2001, 2003) have criticised tendencies to regard the use of language in everyday situations as predetermined by prior structures – the main emphasis of earlier structuralist linguistics. Also, there is an emphasis on how the context of language is not given, but actively created and shaped by participants during interaction.

Following chapters

Now, I will give a brief presentation of the topic of each of the chapters that follows.

In the next chapter, I will introduce some theoretical perspectives that will serve as a basic typology useful for studying the process of defining situations. The presentation is also meant to sensitise the reader to several analytical questions that are part of the general topic of how the play situation in laiv is made and maintained.

In chapter four, I discuss the methods used to create this text. I first describe the collection of the various sources. Next, I describe the process of analysis, and I discuss the use of theory in this text. The aim of this chapter is to give the reader insight into the empirical and analytical foundations of this text. Furthermore, I also want to show how my experiences from the time which I collected and analysed data also provide many insights into the research question.

In chapter five, I look at some of the basic techniques that the players have developed to maintain the keying during play. Many of these techniques are used by the players to respond to potential problems that may interfere with the keying process during play. When the players are playing, they are not acting only as their character – they must constantly monitor and manage the keying actively to maintain it.

In chapter six, I look at the use of suspending disbelief during play. This is a cooperative process which implies that all players have to blindly accept and support the actions of everyone else. If someone rejects a co-player’s action as not part of the key, the keying may break, not only for him, but also for everyone else present. I briefly look at the use of this technique in relation to regular situations in play. But a closer demonstration of the process is achieved by looking at transformations that take place within the laiv play – so called second-order keyings. Due to increased difficulties to make such transformations, the players are particularly dependent on suspending disbelief.

The plays take place in a material environment that varies from play to play, and the players use and relate to many material objects during play, both physically and symbolically. Chapter seven examines how this influences the making of situations during play. I consider how the material objects and surroundings are used actively to create a difference between the situation of play and ‘everyday life’. Thus, it is a useful tool to maintain the situation of play. I also look at how material objects and the environment contribute to creating meaningful distinctions and experiences inside the situation of play.

In chapter eight, I turn to the topic of casting – what characters are assigned to which players. To some extent, the players try to maintain some visual similarity between some aspects of a player and the aspects of a character. It is not possible to have complete similarity on all aspects of player and character. The players are able to accept the transformation of some characteristics, while they deny others. I discuss how their casting practice gives them more options when choosing the type of character they want to play, and helps make a play situation which is more different from ‘everyday life’. On the other hand, their casting practice is influenced by social and cultural considerations external to their activity, which limits their possibilities in play.

Chapter 9 is devoted to considering how the performance of the play situation itself are made and shaped. For example, the players of ‘Amaranth’ used a variety of means in order to perform the Roman setting with its characters and ongoing narratives. This included improvisation, reliance on conventions, preparations and planning in advance, and organiser direction and intervention during play. I discuss the possibilities and limitations of each of these techniques.

Above, I mentioned how a definition of a situation may be broken. This is also the case for the realm of play in laiv. In chapter 10, I examine the various factors that may lead to the situation of play breaking down and being replaced by the situation of ‘everyday life’. I also consider the variety of techniques of repair work that the players utilise in order to maintain play when it is danger of being broken, and the techniques the players use to start play again when the situation has been broken. Understanding what may make the play break enables one to get more insight into the factors that are necessary for maintaining play.

The objective of the final chapter is to sum up the main themes in this text. I show how the process of making and maintaining the playframe is a continuously ongoing process that involves both utilising pre-existing structures and creative action in the context of performance.

Before I begin the analysis of the laiv players, I wish first to present a range of concepts that enable more insight into as well as posing more questions about the process of defining a situation. This is the object of the next chapter.

1 ‘Amaranth’ was actually titled ‘Amaranth III’, as it was the third of a series of plays that used similar topics and characters in play. However, the setting and action of these plays has differed. For the sake of simplicity, ‘Amaranth 3’ are referred to as ‘Amaranth throughout the text.
2 Fantasy roleplaying is a game in which the players partly improvise a verbal narrative, being led by a main storyteller, the ‘GM’. It takes place with 3-6 people gathered around a table. For an ethnographic description of this culture, see Fine (1983)
3 ‘Laiv’ originates as an abbreviation for ‘levende rollespill’ in Norwegian The noun ‘et spill’ in Norwegian, may either be translated both to ‘a game’ or as ‘a play’. The phrase may therefore translate directly to English as ‘live roleplay’ or ‘live rolegame’. Likewise, the verb used to denote the act of participating in laiv – ‘å spille’ may be translated as either as ‘to game’ or ‘to play’. I have chosen to consistently use ‘a play’ as the noun, and ‘to play’ as the verb. This can give associations to the informal and creative play of children or to the performance in theatrical plays. I feel such associations are in line with the nature of laiv
4 Surveys of terms is given in Grasmo (1997) and Bøckman (2002)
5 The players appear to have a strong belief in their own ability to shape the emotions they feel as characters. This is reminiscent to Hochschild (1979) study of airline waitresses. The waitresses also appeared as able to manipulate their own feelings and display of emotions throughout a busy workday, by maintaining a strong internal discipline.
6 It is not a word in the Norwegian dictionary. In English, the verb immerse has a related meaning: ‘To plunge into, to bury, imbed, involve or include in other things.’ (Search on OED online, url:http:// www.:oed.com)