How Scandinavian players 'killed' LARPing to save it


When most people think of live-action role-playing, or LARPing, they imagine men battling each other with foam swords in the woods. But what if LARPing looked more like improv: thirteen friends sitting around a table, acting out a dinner party or a family reunion? In some places, it already does.

In 1999, a number of players in the Scandinavian LARPing scene launched an experimental movement called Dogma 99. Its goal was simple: "We wanted to kill the game," said Eirik Fatland in an article at Hopes and Fears.

The name of the movement was a reference to Dogme 95, a filmmaking movement started by Danish director Lars von Trier that encouraged the exclusion of special effects. The manifesto for Dogma 99 had similar goals, namely stripping the "superficial" elements from LARPing and transforming it from a live simulation of a tabletop game to a more immersive dramatic experience.

The manifesto—whose self-proclaimed goal was the "liberation" of LARPing—listed ten rules and restrictions that included no "main plots" that turn some players into secondary characters, no representational objects (like foam sticks used as swords), and no "gameplay" elements inspired by tabletop roleplaying games.

Although the manifesto used some strong language—"we seek the death of 'mainstream' LARP"—its creators say it was not a call for the exclusion or destruction of the experiences many players already enjoyed, but rather a provocation to broaden the horizons of LARPing as an art form: "The diversity of LARP events should be so vast, no single genre or group of genres may be called 'mainstream.'" It also sought to change the stereotype of LARPing as a "young, slightly geeky, white middle-class activity. Recruitment should aim at all levels of society, and especially at groups from which recruitment has previously been scarce."

In the years that followed, Dogma 99 inspired a wave of creative experimentation, including not just dinner party experiences like 13 At a Table, playing as asylum-seeking refugees from imaginary wars, or a LARP in total darkness where each character was a fragment of an amnesiac woman's memory.

Ultimately, the Dogma 99 movement ran its course not because it failed, but rather because it succeeded—and the eventually pushed LARP playwrights to push beyond its rules as well. "I think the perhaps biggest change the manifesto accomplished, was changing the perception of LARP… into the idea of a medium, art form or creative form that includes but is in no way limited to fandom," said Fatland.