2013 Conference Marathon Part 2: Belarus

22-24 November: the first academic larp conference in Minsk, Belarus, called “Modern Society. Larp Methodologies.” With J. Tuomas Harviainen from Finland and Alexey Matusewicz from Poland, we were the only guests from the Western part of the world who came in person, with speakers from USA, Germany and Japan joining us on Skype. The majority came from Belarus, Russia or Ukraine. I had already peeked behind the Russian-speaking curtain, but there is still an immense body of theory, practice, design tools etc. I haven't even heard about. Yaraslau Kot's text in the proceedings of the 2013 Polish Larp Conference comes in handy if you would like to learn about the larp-like interactive theatre heritage of the Soviet Union. Also, Aleksey Fedoseev revealed some of the most recent larp culture in Russia. But there is still much more we don't know. And it turns out even the Russian-speaking larp/drama practitioners sometimes don't know about one another's activities. At this conference, I could meet larpers from Eastern European gaming fandoms, as well as silver-bearded theatre critics or seasoned drama educators, who have been doing/studying larp-like things for dozens of years and hadn't heard of larp. 

This calls for action. I strongly endorse the Grand Scheme, outlined by Yaraslau, of building bridges between the English-speaking and Russian-speaking larp communities. There is a lot we can learn from one another. First steps are already taken, with a bi-lingual publication on the way, and transnational projects cooking up. For my small part, I recruited two former students of mine, ladies with a passion for gaming and with degrees in English-Russian applied linguistics, to help with translation and perhaps act as intermediaries.

I gave two talks. "Gamified Drama, or Larp as Drama In Education" was based on my IJRP#4 paper, and was focused on the design of edu-larp for mainstream classrooms. In "Applied Larpology: Larp/RPG Design as a College Course", I presented my vision of an academic course in larp design, which will start this February as part of our Game Studies & Design programme. This was a unique opportunity: discuss your new course with experts, collect feedback, and use this  to refine your syllabus before the course opens. I find it extremely useful. And I'm going to repeat the trick at PROLARP next week. :)

I also had a long, 2-hour talk with Dr. Prokhorov, deputy dean of the Faculty of History at the Belarusian State University, about the 2nd Gen Humanities programme we (that is, the Kazimierz Wielki University I work at) had launched this October, with me in charge of the Game Studies & Design specialization. With the huge success in both enrollment rates and support from the industry, it seems we have the power to “infect” others with our ideas, setting the standards of “applied” or “practical” humanities. The faculty of History in Minsk, just like our History at UKW in Bydgoszcz, is struggling with the decreasing enrollment rates and the unfavourable image in the media (like, a degree in humanities is a waste of time, or perhaps even a handicap that will make you unemployable). The Minsk university could use our experience with Humanities 2.0 as inspiration in the modification of their study programmes. A strange coincidence: just a few days earlier I had been talking to the heads of History at UKW about the prospects of a degree in “applied history”, focused on historical games, reenactments, event organization, digital history etc. Chances are we will be building this programme as a joint Polish-Belarussian project. But that's a topic for another blog post.