Sunday, 18 April 2010


Two weeks ago I attended the annual swedish roleplaying convention, GothCon. I organize Indierummet, an event we've ran the past five GothCon's now, where we demonstrate indie roleplaying games. I played/GM:ed/demonstrated Berättelser från Staden of my own design (I'll get more into that game later on), and Lady Blackbird by John Harper. Go ahead and check it out, it's brilliant. A very interesting read whether you're a seasoned roleplayer or just curious of what the hobby is like. You can read it in, like, five minutes anyway.

Playing these highly collaborative and creative games, we got into a real flow, something I've experienced doing impro (In a previous post I described it by linking to Higher Love by Depeche Mode) but never really in roleplaying games, I think.

Discussing this with my two co-organizers, the pieces started to fall into place, and I began sketching up a model for understanding this feeling through impro theatre theory, and that's what I'm writing for this blog right now.

Just wanted to drop a little background ahead and a link to Lady Blackbird.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010


Expectations are huge. Once you have your sense of security and a sense of coherence, I'd say expectations is the one big deal in life. Take a look at expectations in these subjects:

Life happiness
Our overall life happiness and satisfaction is not primarily determined by actual life conditions, but rather our expectations, comparisons and outlook on life. Did we expect more? Then we are disappointed. Did we expect less? Then we feel lucky. It is interesting how having a monetary windfall will make us happier, but having a lot of money does not make one happier, our expectations soon adjust to our newfound wealth. The book "The Art of Happiness", written by the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler, explores this idea further.

(A friend of mine poignantly pointed out that she felt truly happy in the moments you cannot compare to others, moments of strong community together with friends, or meaningful moments)

In Psychological Therapy, Klaus Grawe describes positive expectations, or hope, as one of the most important things to establish in psychotherapy. Thereapy must change expectations to the better, and positive expectations on the therapy and a trust in the therapist energizes the client, giving a positive effect very early in psychotherapy, and this is can in turn strengthen the positive expectations.

Cognitive behaviour therapy can, in a way, be said to work entirely with faulty expectations, since it works with our inner assumptions such as "If I get up on stage in front of people, I will make a fool out of myself" or "I will never, ever find true love". - The models and answers to life issues.

What is interesting is that my model of mental health is based on sense of security, and a sense of security is just about the same thing as positive expectation on the future, based on experiences in the past.

In impro theater, we spend a lot of time to be obvious. Stay within the circle of expectations! Do what you could expect from this scene! Be obvious! What is neat about this is, what is obvious to us will seem genius to others, just because it fits so well. It doesn't have to be mundane and boring - Maybe to you it is obvious that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father, for instance - So you go with that! Others will think it's genius and go "Of couuuurse..." (because it is obvious)

Since the scenes I've done impro on is always without props or the background of previous scenes, a improv scene really is built out of nothing else than the actors assumptions (or expectations) of what objects are present, the mood of the scene, the characters and their relations... When all the actors share these visions, act on the imagined objects and relationships, the scene becomes tangible, alive - It's only in the mind of the actors and the audience, but it becomes an entity of its own. This generates a great sensation of presence, and community with the other players. It lifts you higher! (Remember my last post?)

In roleplaying games, I'd say expectations... are king.

Conflict when playing invariable spawns from differing expectations and visions, or from real life issues played out in the context of the game. Different players can have different expectations on how the fantasy world should look, how it should work, what a character should be able to do, what style of play should be pursued, etc.

This can be almost completely avoided by carefully adressing just what kind of expectations the players has on the game, instead of just making assumptions.

The opposite is true as well: When all players share expectations, when their visions come together, the same high and immersion can be achieved as the one i described in impro.

What's interesting is, I've primarily analysed my expectations as something negative: I can charge something or someone with expectations, only seeing one possible route which will end in either success (yay!) or failure (gaaah!). When my expectation doesn't match up with others, this can be a very painful situation.

I think the conclusion to be drawn is that expectations are powerful forces pointed towards others and towards the future. When expectations are open, positive, and shared by others, energy and success is almost inevetable. A sense of security can provide these positive expectations.

But when expectations are negative, the energizing charge of positive energy is lacking.
(Another friend of mine described how she used the strategy of pessimism when she was a child, so she would never be disappointed. It worked, but how can you invest and actually succeed, if you always assume you will fail?)

When expectations are stiff and forced, you will be too, pre-occupied with how things must turn out, rather than taking in, and adapting to, how they are right now.

When different people have different expectations, someone will be disappointed or frustrated. These expectations set you up for failure.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Lifted higher: Improvision Song Contest 2010

This is Siv-Britt Turesson, from a small Swedish village no-one remembers the name of. She has always loved listening to the radio stars, dreaming she could be like them, to sing like them. After winning a small contest of three participants, she got the chance to perform at the Improvision Song Contest of 2010.

She enters the stage nervous with anticipation, and she takes the microphone and sings to us how she wish she could be among her music idols, pausing to look at us excited, hardly believing she is here, and then unleashing a full opera chorus of how she can't sing like them, but oh how she wishes for it, and the lights go on, and she is there, the place she's dreamt of, and we're with her, clapping and cheering, the entire stage is lifted to a higher place.

Siv-Britt Turesson is a persona played by Karin Fjellander, opera singer, one of the participants of last sundays Improvision Song Contest 2010. Each participant came to the event with a prepared persona to portray, but the song, the music, the lights and background choreography were all improvised. Audience members provided the titles of the songs and a random genre was picked for the band to improvise from. Choreography and lights were improvised as well, everything coming together in the moment.

We all watched as the artists entered the stage, climbing up and standing on the cliff of impossibility, and then, without fear, throwing themselves forward, not falling, but soaring, singing.

The winner was not Siv-Britt, but Arne Brun, played by Michael Blomqvist. Arne Brun was a similar concept, a nobody, vulnerable and ordinary. Arne Brun had ended up at the competition by accident, but completely blew us away. Here is his act.

Notice how the audience is melting with laughter in the end, not because the act is very, well, witty funny (Impro actors are never trying to be funny) but because it is exhilarating funny: What we saw was something genuine, vulnerable, real, happening right now and right before us, and thus very hard not to be swept away with, to emphasize with the singers and be a part of it all. To be lifted up along with the soaring artists, to a higher place.

Impro can be a rush of freedom, to shake off the fears of failure and make them something insignificant and harmless, something funny to laugh at. It touches a place we dream of reaching, self-actualization. A psychological idea that it is in our nature to seek to be all we can be.

I'll end this with another song from Depeche Mode's album "Songs of Faith and Devotion", expressing my emotions of elevation when doing impro acting: