Posts Tagged ‘Larp’


Tests, flyers and letters from the College of Wizardry

1 joulukuun, 2014

I wrote about my experiences in the Harry Potter themed larp College of Wizardry. I mentioned having the students do a test to determine their natural learning ability. Here’s a few samples of finished test papers and the results. Also included a flyer for C.A.N.D.L.E. and a letter from the Ministry of Magic.

Flyer for C.A.N.D.L.E.

Flyer for C.A.N.D.L.E.

C.A.N.D.L.E. Committee for Advocating Natural Dark-Light Equality * Close down Azkaban, Nurmengard & Quasimodo Bay * Release children born to imprisoned witches! * Stop Auror misconduct! * Freedom of speech also in Dark matters! * Freedom to criticize Aurors and MoM! * End persecution of families of criminals! * Minister of Magic should be elected by voting! Czocha Chapter first meeting of the semester this Thursday at 21:30 in Prof. Bane’s classroom. Bring your allies! ALL DIFFERENT ALL EQUAL

Letter from the Ministry of Magic to Professor Bane regarding the hearing of his son Vladimir Bane. Vladimir is charged for killing his mother in Azkaban.

Letter from the Ministry of Magic to Professor Bane regarding the hearing of his son Vladimir Bane. Vladimir is charged for killing his mother in Azkaban.

The Ministry Mr Bane, This letter is to inform you of the date your son Vladimir Bane will be summoned to the Wizengamot – this is 15.12.14 We have received information about your valiant efforts to captures Prisoner Storm and hereby extend a formal invitation to what will be an open court trial. Your son will however not be present in person, a representative will be selected. Two witnesses have stepped forward to testify for your son. Three have stepped forward to testify against. Janus Breakbanter Wizengamot

Test answers of an anonymous student.

Test answers of an anonymous student. I love the quotation marks around ”No, I have not.”

Test answers of an anonymous student.

Test answers of an anonymous student. Most ”good” answers to the questions about Unforgivable Curses resembled these.

Test answers of an anonymous student.

Test answers of an anonymous student. I’m not sure, but I think this same young wizard (or witch) used to actually cast the Torture Curse (Cruciatus) on himself (or herself). Awwww. 

I have taught Writing For Interaction at university level, and know first hand that a college teacher doesn’t need to have any pedagogical skills. Imagine my surprise when my mandatory Swedish class teacher at the University of Art and Design presented the class with a test of our learning abilities, and conducted her course accordingly. I decided that my Professor Bane would be not only possibly quite evil, but actually a pretty good teacher. So he presented the students with a similar learning style test, a bit more twisted and completely unscientific, but still, more than I ever did to any class that I actually taught. Here are the results.

The results are in! Magizoologists are Verbal learners

The results are in! Magizoologists are Verbal learners.

The results surprised both me and my character. Magizoologists are Verbal learners. Fair enough. Unspeakables are Visual and Mental learners. Aurors are Visual and Kinetic (learn by doing) learners. But both Curse Breakers and even Healers are what I dubbed Dark learners. Meaning that they learn by committing crimes, inflicting pain, breaking the rules, and so on. Nevertheless, none of the Healers had any prior experience with casting Unforgivable Curses. (Unlike many other Senior students.)


Teaching Dark Arts at a Magic School

27 marraskuun, 2014

”You should never use the Torture Curse on a baby, especially an unborn one.”

This is a personal account of my experiences in the larp College of Wizardry played in Czocha Castle in Poland in Nov 13-15, 2014. The larp was set at a university in the world of Harry Potter.

College of Wizardry was a real emotional rollercoaster, with crying and laughing, grimacing and growling, cursing and charming, teaching and learning.

The castle. Picture by Liveforrm.

The larp was set in 2014 at a College of Wizardry and Witchcraft. Meaning that when kids graduate from Hogwarts or Durmstrang, and want to continue with their studies, the come here. The Harry Potter books were set in the 1990s, so this is around two decades after those events and the rise and fall of Lord Voldemort. Many teachers would still remember those times, but students had only just been born.

The illusion was really strong. The castle was great, it was wonderfully decorated by the set designers and the participants, the costumes were great, everybody played wonderfully, and there were enough special effects and costumed monsters to really create the feeling of living in a world of magic.

Students having dinner. Picture by John-Paul Bichard.

The larp was designed by a Polish-Danish team of organizers, and lasted for two and a half days. There were about a hundred student players, thirty or so staff players, and maybe fifty supporting characters and organizers. Altogether close to two hundred people. Maybe half of the larp was lectures, with the other stuff school politics, sorting into houses, initiation ceremonies, dancing, meetings, and adventures.

Professor Miclariotic (Christopher Sandberg) holding his class on Magical Artifacts. Picture by Christina Molbech.

Create your own character

The larp was more or less ”create your own character, but we give you a few pointers which you are free to ignore”. This meant that characters didn’t really have any pre-made relationships with other characters, but players would have to forge all those amongst themselves before the larp.

One way to do that was to contact individual players you knew from somewhere else, and agree that you are my enemy, or you are my old friend, or something in that vein. Facebook groups and live meetings were utilized for that. Another way is to start a group (like C.A.N.D.L.E., see below), and invite all other characters to join it if they would be interested in that. Third is to create a plot, and ask game masters link other characters to it, or invite them yourself during the larp. (I did this, too, creating a mystery around the disappearance of my predecessor.) I’m sure there are lots of other possibilities, too, but as this sort of thing is rarely done in Finland, I’m no expert.

One of the mane secret passageways. This one leads from the Library to Bane’s classroom. Picture by John-Paul Bichard.

For some larps this kind of thing can work, but when you are trying to create a community, it’s not a very good method. It meant, for example, that the Potter style ”who’s related to whom” thing is very difficult, as everyone has a different family name. Or trying to introduce a ”murder mystery” after all the characters are finished, and trying to ask the organizers to find the culprit. I don’t know if someone was actually contacted saying ”Oh, by the way, you killed the previous Professor.”

In Finnish larps family relations, multiple relations to other characters, plots and intrigues, murders and the like would have been an obvious part of a character description, but I’ve heard it goes against the Danish style, because someone might not want to play that. (”In soviet Finland, the game plays you.”)

As far as I’ve understood, the Polish writers would’ve preferred to write personalities, plots and relations, but were told not to according to some Danish aesthetic. Similarly, us Finnish players almost had to force the Danish organizers into allowing us to create a timeline for the staff. As in who’s been in Czocha for how long, who remembers which events, who used to be a student under whom, and so on. We felt it would be impossible to forge our character relations without it, while the Danes felt it would be unnecessary and clunky and only hinder improvisation. Personally, I think the Polish/Finnish style would have suited this larp much better.

All that said, personally I had a great time at the larp, and received very much support from the organizers whenever I did come up with some plot, faction or need. Our agreements didn’t always become common knowledge to all the other players, but still.

Potions lab. Picture by Cosmic Joke.

Professor Bane

I played Bombastus Bane, Professor of Dark Arts. Defense Against the Dark Arts, I mean.

Just before Expecto Patronum. Picture by John-Paul Bichard.

I wanted to make Bane seem as evil as possible without getting him in jail. Everyone is sure he’s a former Death Eater but they can’t prove it. Everyone knows he teaches Dark Arts, but he’s never been caught. He just looks so evil.

And by evil I don’t mean real-world evil like anti-gay, but Potter evil meaning he dresses in black, has a distorted face and voice, and hates head Auror Harry Potter with a vengeance. Sort of like Czocha’s very own Severus Snape.

I went out of my way to have evil make-up, ridiculous Wicked Witch of the West hat, red-and-black robes, fresh tattoos where the Dark Mark would have been, and a scary voice. Many people complemented me on the voice afterwards, and I heard many students made fun of it during the larp. So it worked quite well.

Bane in his ridiculous hat talks with Janitor Igor Vadenko (Mikko Pervilä). Picture by Sofie Falk.

To have a little twist to this, I figured Bane wasn’t born bad and had a good ”soul.” This was reflected in his beautiful pearly white wand, his swan Patronus, his heart tattoo, and his tragic love for his imprisoned family. This was the inner layer of Bane that some got to see and many guessed at during the larp.

Bane was also the founding member of the Czocha chapter of C.A.N.D.L.E. It stood for ”Committee Advocating Natural Dark-Light Equality,” and was envisioned as a sort of ”evil Amnesty.” An ineffectual college political association that wants to close down Azkaban, stop Auror misconduct, stop pure blood harrassment, and so on. All perfectly reasonable political goals which just happen to be very Death Eater friendly. Treatment of Muggle-born witched and wizards was not the prime concern for C.A.N.D.L.E. (That said, many non-dark witches and wizards did start to sympathize the organization during the run of the larp.)

But for the most part I tried to be as comic book evil as possible, on the border between silly and scary, between obvious villain and tragic anti-hero.

Family tragedy

What some people knew is that Bane’s whole family (mother, father, wife) had been in Azkaban since the war. What no one knew was that Bane’s wife had been pregnant at the time of imprisonment, and had given birth to their son Vladimir in Azkaban. Vladimir had grown up there surrounded by Dementors and criminals.

Friday at lunch Bane received a letter informing him that his wife had passed away at Azkaban. Bane left the dining room to ponder on this in the Dark Forest. (And while there, I realized my natural playing style demands for several long hours alone pondering about this. But the playing style of this larp would actually benefit from me making this as public as possible.) After Bane’s disbelief had turned to anger, he returned to the dining hall to attack the Auror Caitlin O’Doherty, who’d just spent a year in Azkaban ”studying” the prisoners. Clearly she had killed Bane’s wife!

Ministry official politely asks Professor Bane not to point his wand at the Auror Caitlin O’Doherty accusing her of killing his wife. In the foreground another professor continues with his lunch. Between the official and Bane, the prominent nose of a Gringotts goblin asking what to do with the property of Bane’s wife, of whose death he had just been informed. (Azkaban tells the bank before they tell the relatives, apparently.) Photo by Jean-Paul Bichard.

Wands were drawn and death threats growled in front of horrified students, but eventually O’Doherty managed to drag Bane to his classroom to explain the thing.

”You’re wife was very sick, had been for a long time,” she said. ”He would have died anyway. But what you must know is that she didn’t die naturally. She was killed.”
”By your son Vladimir.”
”He wanted to save her from further pain. But now he will be accused of murder. Only you can help him, if you prove you are working against the Dark Wizards.”
”I’m trying to help you!”

She managed to convince Bane his son had killed his wife. All the fault of the Ministry, of course, but still.

The Auror Caitlin O’Doherty (Mia Häggström). Picture by John-Paul Bichard.

Crying at the Sorting

What really broke Bane’s heart (and mine) was the Sorting Ceremony on the evening of that day. Looking at all the new juniors walking to their houses, and being cheered, Bane suddenly realised Vladimir was nineteen, and this year he would have been a junior.

Sorting Ceremony. Picture by Christina Molbech.

Thinking that if Vladimir hadn’t grown up in Azkaban he would’ve been sorted into Faust, and Bane would’ve been so proud. Or sorted into some other house, and Bane would have had petty arguments with his son. And Vladimir would be so excited about all those student crushes and initiation rituals and all the ordinary life of the nineteen-year-old wizard.

And maybe his mother Miranda would have been there on the balcony with Bane watching him. I cried in and off for an hour about this, first looking down at the ceremony, and after that when the Feiersinger witch too me aside I poured my heart out to her.

I still get a little misty thinking about that. What could have been.

Laurent liaison

The larp wasn’t all sad, far from it. It combined tragedy, comedy, romance, mystery, school life, and all the other great elements that make the Potter books magic.

The love story part for Bane was mostly about his wife. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have a little time for a secret romance with a student. (It perhaps doesn’t make sense in real-world terms, but there is an internal realism to the whole experience. Perhaps like the emotions and events of a whole school year packed into two and a half days.)

Titienne Laurent was Bane’s least favorite student, kind of like a female Potter to my Snape. Laurent was a good student, but as a Muggle-born, could not understand Bane’s hatred for Aurors. Bane hated her guts, and she his. Too bad they had a mutual attraction going on.

Laureeeeeen (Josefin Westborg). Perhaps their shared love of stupid hats brought them together? Picture by John-Paul Bichard.

They had never spoken about their feelings until the day when Bane lost his wife. They met discreetly in the secret cellar, having descended many, many stairs. She wanted to discuss her studies, her investigations and the Torture Curse. Bane couldn’t concentrate.

Laurent, unwillingly, concoled him.
Five minutes later, they were doing the dirty against the cellar wall.

By the next day Laurent had already fallen in love with another student. (Talix, it turned out after the larp.) She and Bane met again at the Secret Cellar where someone had drawn a huge magic circle.
She thought she shouldn’t see Bane before she knew if the infatution would leave to an actual relationship.
”What you and I had, Professor, was just sex. Really good sex.”
”Professor Bane, I hate you.”
They were shortly interrupted by two Professors trying to find Death Eaters, and seeing Bane there with the obvious remains of a summoning spell, made them suspicious.

”It doesn’t work like that for me.”
Awkward silence.

Play to lose

Larps of the Nordic tradition differ from American larps in that there are virtually no rules. That is to say, we didn’t have Magic Points, skill checks, or anything that would get in between the player and the characters, or the character and the world.

How did this work? Very simply: Everything that you can and will do, you do for real. Meaning running, arm wrestling, sleight of hand, and so on. Stuff like sex and death that you can do, but don’t necessarily want to do, you pretend to do. And then there’s magic.

There was a lot of magic in the form of spells, artifacts, monsters, curses, potions, omens, portents, ghosts, and so on. To create a list of every possible spell and potion and their combinations would’ve taken forever, and would have made for very dull reading. So they didn’t.

The magic system for spells was very simple: You point your wand at someone, describe what you attempt to do, and then the victim decides what happens. Staff always wins duels against students.

At one instance I pointed my wand at our Quidditch coach (who was actually a dark wizard polyjuiced as the coach), and yelled: ”Paralyzio!” The player got it immediately, and pretended to be paralyzed. (I know there’s also the actuall Potter spell Stupefy, but I couldn’t think of it in the moment.)

The coach’s player could’ve said ”Deflecto!” if he’d wanted, and then we would have had a magical duel, but in my experience most of the time people played to lose, and most spells had the desired effect. (I had some students cast spells on me that I could’ve decided to ignore, but didn’t.)

No one was at the larp to win all the magic duels, or have the most powerful character, but to immerse in the world of Harry Potter. And for that you don’t need much more rules than that.

Lessons in torture

Much of the larp was taken by actual magical schoolwork. Bane had just become Professor of Defense Against the Darks Arts II (or DADA2 for short), having taught DADA1 for many years. This meant he would teach the students how to defend against the Unforgivable Curses, which include… Class? Yes! The Torture Curse, the Imperius Curse, and, of course, the Killing Curse.

Bane teaching his class.

To learn how to defend against them, the students would first have to understand them and learn how to cast them. Since they are Unforgivable, this posed a bit of a problem, but Bane had it all figured out.

(For the larp I had prepared two lectures, and Bane gave both of them three times. The first one started with a test on their natural learning ability and on theory of the Unforgivable Curses. The second one was all about practicing the Torture Curse on other students.)

Bane’s favorite student Norah Asar, and least favorite student Titienne Laurent both want to speak their mind.


Professor Bane would teach the Torture Curse in the Torture Dungeon. In his hand are one-use wands used to cast the Imperius Curse on the one who will later cast the Torture Curse. (Otherwise it would be quite illegal.)


Bane and the one-use Imperius wands. Picture by John-Paul Bichard.

He found these great one-use Solberg wands where some anonymous person had already imbued with the unforgivable Imperius Curse. (The Imperius forces the victim to do whatever the caster says.)
As you know, in a case like this, the legal responsibility for the Torture Curse is on whoever placed the Imperius Curse on the wands, but unfortunately we will never know who that wonderful person is.
So as you can see, it’s all perfectly legal and moral and educational.

The students were divided into pairs (”Partner up with someone you will have no trouble hating.”), and each pair was given one of these wands. Then the victim would cast the Imperius Curse on the torturer saying: ”Cast the Torture Curse on me for one second.” Then the torturer would torture the victim with their own wand. After this, the victim would tell the torturer what they felt. Then they would switch. (The wand had one use per caster.)
At the end of the class we would discuss our experiences, and figure out ways to use what we have learned for defense.

In one of these classes Bane had one pregnant student, Norah Asar (Pernilla Rosenberg). He was partnered up with Sebastian Dolohov (Markus Montola).

Bane did have a soft spot of sorts for protecting babies, and another one for Norah Asar. So he didn’t want the baby hurt.

Dolohov: ”Professor! Can the baby be accidentally hurt when you cast the Torture Curse on the mother?”
At this Bane remembered how his own pregnant wife had been taken to Azkaban to be tortured by Dementors.
Class snickers.
More snickering.


The larp was extensively photographed, and the film crew Cosmic Joke was there making a documentary film about the larp. They filmed the whole thing and conducted player interviews after the larp.

Teaser for the Cosmic Joke documentary.

I would have preferred clearer information about where these photos and videos would be used, and a shared understanding nothing would get shared without player permission. (And from a legal point of view, Cosmic Joke might enjoy having signed release forms from all the players.)

But that’s a minor nitpick. Go check out the galleries, they’re great!

John-Paul Bichard’s photos.

Christina Molbech’s photos

Cosmic Joke, batch I

There will be a sequel on April 9-12, 2015. And a rerun of the original on April 16-19, 2015. Stay tuned…

The school coat of arms by Tia-Carolina Ihalainen.


”Stop ruining games for us!”

20 lokakuun, 2014

”Don’t bring X into gaming! Games are supposed to be fun.” I’ve heard that argument a million times, and usually it isn’t true.

Can games be art?

In the late 90s I heard a lot about how we’re not supposed to call games a medium or an artform, because games are supposed to be fun, and art is to opposite of fun. The discussion went on for a while, then a consencus was reached, and then a year or so later it would spring up again.

As far as I know, it never got to the point of death threats or rape threats or even online stalking, just flame wars online and in real life, and sometimes people got slightly mad at each other.

It went a little bit like this:

– This game that I’m making is art.
– No it’s not, you pretentious piece of shit, it’s a game!
– It’s a game that is also art. It’s an artistic game.
– How dare you call games art?
– It’s my game, and if I say it’s art, or at least aims to be art, then that’s what it is.
– Stop it! If you try to make all games into art, then they’re not fun anymore!
– I’m not trying to make all games into art, just this one.
– But a game is supposed to be fun.
– Can’t art be fun.
– Technically I guess it’s possible, but I know you’re trying to make the kind of art game that’s not fun.
– You’re probably right, since it deals with heavy themes, and the whole point is to make the player experience negative emotions and make hard decisions.
– There, so it’s not fun!
– You’re right. At least if you define fun as mindless escapism. Shooting at monsters and having a laugh.
– Hang on, I also have fun playing horror games.
– You mean it’s fun to be scared?
– Totally! And I have fun dying horribly, and sending armies to die, and battling wits against world leaders.
– So your definition of fun includes experiencing negative emotions, dealing with heavy themes, and making hard decisions?
– Shit, you’re right. Okay, so ”fun” is a bad word, maybe. But games should be entertaining and meaningful.
– I think art should be entertaining and meaningful.
– So what kind of art game are you making, then?
– Do you want to become a playtester?
– Sure! Sounds like fun!

That went on for a while in different forums and conventions, and so on, until everybody agreed that games are a medium that you can use to convey different experiences. The experiences could be entertaining or artistic or pornographic or political or pedagogic, or whatever. Just like with books or television, except sometimes cooler because they are interactive and participatory!

But even during the worst of those times, I bet that if I had been in a bar with my strongest opponents heatedly debating these issues, if a bunch of violent non-gamers had arrived and picked a fight with one of us, the others would have stepped in. Because after all, we are all interested in the same stuff, and share the same passion, and are even so passonate that we want to discuss it.


Once we agreed that games can be art, the pro-art group broke into smaller groups. Because an even more difficult question is: What kind of art should games be?

At one point I wrote a manifesto explaining how the point of role-playing games (both tabletop and larp) should be to immerse in your character. It was written in a very provocative style when I was 21, and obviously got many people riled up.

So we debated whether it’s more important to be your character, or tell a good story, or create a believable world, or have an important topic in the game, or what!

Many people who had previously not been so interested in talking about games as art now joined in and chose sides. And still some people were put off by all this fancy pancy talk about games as art, since they’re just supposed to be fun, right! (They tried to join the previous discussion.)

Once I was approached at a bar in a very strange manner by the owner of the bar. He said: – Mike, there’s a lady here who said you’re an idiot and you should kiss her ass.

I went to her table, and introduced myself.

– Hello, my name is Mike. I heard you think I should kiss your ass.
– Well, yeah.
– May I ask why?
– Because you wrote that stupid Manifesto, and you want to stop us from role-playing the way we like to role-play.
– Did you read the Manifesto?
– We’ve talked about it extensively in my group.
– May I give you the highlights from my point of view?
– Fine.
– I think role-playing games are so great and role-playing is so much fun that it makes sense to think about what you’re doing and do it as well as you can.
– Sure. But that doesn’t mean everyone should do it the way you want!
– No, they should do it the way they want to! And to help them, we should have clearly stated goals and styles that people can choose from or create their own style, or pick and mix.
– That makes sense. I just love role-playing games so much that I don’t want anybody to spoil them for me.
– Me, too! That’s the whole point. And obviously, you wouldn’t have been so angry about my Manifesto, if you didn’t really love the games you play!
– That’s true.
– Do you still think I should kiss your ass?
– No. Actually, I was expecting you to come to the table and be an asshole, and we’d have a shouting match and you’d storm out.
– I’ve noticed people can usually talk things out.

And that was true back then. This was around 2005, when we already had lots of forums and stuff, but social media was still in its infancy.


Now we’re seeing a new kind of discussion. That the message told in this medium should not be analyzed because then it’s not fun anymore.

For reference, message in all media is analyzed. Myself I’ve taken some courses on Media Studies and Comparative Literature at the university. People study films, tv, radio, music, websites, social media, video games, board games, mobile games, card games, role-playing games, gamers, gamer identity, gamer culture, gaming, and so on. It’s widely studied.

One of the many things that are being studied is the content in the games. By content I mean the audiovisual execution, but also the story, the characters, the world, the theme, the morals, and so on.

You can argue that studying games isn’t as much fun as playing them, and for many, you’d be right. Some people love to study games, because they love them so much. (In the 90s there were some game scholars who only studied games but rarely played them, which seemed to me like studying literature but not reading books, and which created a whole set of other debates, but let’s not get into that. Nowadays game scholars play games.)

Anyway, some people study games. And it’s probably not making the games less fun for you if somebody is doing that, as long as you don’t have to do it. But you can, if you want to.

One of the kinds of games that are studied are the big AAA titles like Grand Theft Auto V, and Alan Wake, and Shadows of Mordor. And one thing that’s been discovered, is that there are huge similarities between those games. Similarities that don’t exist between all major movies or major books or major tv shows. Often you don’t even have to be a scholar to discover these similarities, you just have to play a few of the games.

For me one of the major similarities is the main character. It’s very often a 30-something straight white guy with a low, growling voice, short dark hair, beard stubble, and a thirst for vengeance. Sometimes the guy is black. Sometimes he’s not out for revenge but he wants to save the world. Sometimes he has long or blond hair

And there’s nothing wrong with that guy! I love that guy! But is he the only thing that I love?

Now, I’m a 30-something straight white guy, so you’d expect him to be targeted for me. Someone in the game studio must sometimes say, ”Hey, could we have a gay main character? Or a female main character? Or a happy-go-lucky gay rastafarian artist main character?” (You get the point.) And the they’re told ”No, Mike Pohjola is a 30-something straight white guy, and he just can’t get those characters.”

I’d imagine that if we can play in the future, play in the past, play in imaginary lands and even abstract lands set in the imagination, we could play a woman, too.

Not all the time. I’m not saying all video game main characters should be women. But if less than 10% are women, isn’t that a bit odd? Like female gamers wouldn’t like to play ladies every now and then. Or guys just couldn’t take it if in one game they had to play as a woman?

When I make games (not AAA titles, but I’ve worked on many other kinds of games), I try to make sure the cast isn’t all male, all white, all straight, all 30, and so on. One of the characters can definitely be a 30-something straight white guy. But if they’re all 30-something straight white guys, and the game is not strictly about that, then it’s just odd.

The argument seems to go something like this. (Or would go if it wasn’t side-tracked by anonymous trolls.)

– Not all video game characters should be 30-something straight white guys.
– Why not?
– Because it’s not realistic.
– It’s not supposed to be realistic, it’s a game. It’s set in Middle-Earth!
– Even in Lord of the Rings not all characters are 30-something straight white guys. But I admit Tolkien didn’t have too many active women in his stories.
– There! Was that your only reason for wanting to forbid 30-something straight white guys in video games?
– I’m not forbidding them! I’m saying there should be other characters, as well.
– But why?
– Because many players are women, many players are gay or queer, many players are not white.
– If they love playing games so much, I’m sure they can get into the skins of a 30-something straight white guy.
– Of course they can! Otherwise they couldn’t play any games!
– Well, that’s what gaming is all about! Exploring new worlds and trying on new identities! I’m sure it’s quite an adventure for them to experience the life of a 30-something straight white guy.
– It used to be. But now it feels as if every game was set on Middle-Earth.
– What’s wrong with Middle-Earth?
– Nothing, but a little variety would be nice. You enjoy GTAV and Gears of War, right?
– Of course!
– Right, and they’re set in very different environments.
– Exactly. So a completely different experience.
– Except that you’re still playing a 30-something straight white guy.
– The main character in GTAIV was black!
– And that was great! But the fact you still remember it just tells me how rare it was.
– What’s wrong with playing a 30-something straight white guy?
– Nothing, but that’s all we do. What’s wrong with playing a 14-year-old gay black girl?
– Why would I want to play that?
– Let’s say you are a 14-year-old gay black girl, and…
– I’m not.
– Let’s say I am. And I love games. In what game can I play a character like myself?
– How would I know?
– Let me tell you: In no game with pre-made characters.
– What about roleplaying games where you make your own characters?
– They’re great. But what if I want to play something else?
– Don’t be so selfish. Not everyone wants to play a 14-year-old gay black girl!
– Not everyone wants to play a 30-something straight white guy.
– Yeah, but most gamers are 30-something straight white guys.
– First of all, that’s not true. Most gamers are women.
– Most real gamers, I mean.
– Second of all, even if it was true, could it be because most games are made by 30-something straight white guys about 30-something straight white guys for 30-something straight white guys.
– Of course! Because they’re the ones who buy and play games.
– By that logic, if you had more female characters, you’d have more women playing these games.
– Yeah, but women don’t like games.
– Because…
– Oh, you mean they don’t like the kinds of games that are all about 30-something straight white guys.
– Many women do like them. But it’s a bit repetitive.
– Okay, but you women are still a minority.
– Actually, I am a 30-something straight white guy. And I find it boring. I want more variety in my video games.
– Okay. I’m actually a 14-year-old straight white boy.
– So neither of us really knows what anybody else wants?
– I know what I want.
– And I know what I want. Can we agree that we’re both gamers and we both have a right to want these things from our games?
– Yeah, okay.
– Wanna play a game with me?
– Sure!

As I said, this very reasonable (but imaginary) discussion tends to get side-tracked into line two by trolls desperate to make everything about evil feminists destroying games. The chance to actually have this discussion is destroyed.

Not a discussion anymore

GamerGate pretends to be about the above, but it’s not really about games anymore.

For some people it’s about expousing the corruption in the game media. And that’s a really lofty goal. But the corruption in the game media is not about individual game journalists receiving favors from indie game developers. (Maybe that sometimes happens, too, but that’s not what it’s about.)

The corruption is that the only reason game media exists is to get advertising money from game companies. This is the reason they do not write critical reviews of major games, or write exposes on game studios, or do any sort of proper journalism at all. Game media is a part of the marketing wing of the big game studios and distributors. That’s the corruption we should be looking at!

For many others it’s against standing up to ”social justice warriors,” i.e. people like me who are bored with only having 30-something straight white guys in games. If I had an honest one-on-one discussion with any of the people who think they oppose us, I guarantee it would go more or less like the discussion presented above.

Then there is the third group, the mean-spirited trolls so full of hatred and energy who often kidnap the above two groups to support their agenda. These are the people organizing campaigns of death threats, rape threats and boycott. Who dishonestly claim to want to stop game media corruption or stand up to ”social justice warriors” but who simply like to entertain themselves by launching these wars.

Wars that, to them, feel like entertaining online campaigns happening almost in a virtual reality. But which for others are deadly real. When people have to leave their homes and cancel their presentations because of fear that they will get attacked, killed or raped, you have stepped over the line.

Dear mean-spirited trolls, do you want to know what’s the reason why games sometimes are not fun? You are the reason. You take the fun out of gaming and out of being a gamer.

Stop ruining games for us.

/Mike Pohjola
The writer is a role-playing game designer, transmedia consultant and a novelist who has also worked as mobile game fiction designer, story consultant on video games, and game journalist. He is waiting for Shadows of Mordor to come out on Xbox.