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Larp colonialism is not a thing

Kamil Bartczak


This article is a response to ongoing discussion about postulated phenomenon called “larp colonialism”, which means… well, I don’t know exactly what author of the term had on his mind. I would like to do my best to find if there is anything, which could be described by this term, which would make sense. And as I already spoiled the result in the title - I think that none.



To those unfamiliar with the topic - it was started by Paweł Jasiński’s comment about the newly announced larp Rocky Horror Show, by Dziobak Larp Studios, which is one another high budget blockbuster in a Polish castle.


“... It's a larp in Poland, with a price tag higher than the monthly net income of an average Polish larper, with credits dominated by foreign authors (renowned Polish larp creators are listed under Site Logistics and Scenography). Maybe it's time we discuss larp colonialism and how Poland became (or is becoming) a kind of closed holiday resort for western and nordic larpers who can play western/nordic games without coming into contact with Polish larping culture.”

Ok, so lets find out what issue could be described as “larp colonialism”.


1. It cannot be about larp culture, understood as shared design principles or workshop, liked and popular genres, etc

Could larp colonialism refer to Nordic larp culture being so influential, that it forces others, Polish included, to abandon their ways of making larps, and adopt the superior Nordic way?

I think I could end this paragraph here, but let's do some review. At least I will not spoil an occasion of having attention of international readers on history of Polish larping. So, current larp culture dates to about early 1990s, and till 2010’s can be best understood as being 10years after the Nordics. Similar path, started later. Somewhere before 2010 there was an intense period of assimilating foreign influence. German: (limited mechanics in action larps, DKWDDK, scale and props quality), and Nordics (transparency, freeforms/jeepforms/ , fate play, etc. ) This is the time of first knowledge exchange on international conferences (participation of Nordic larpers including Eirik Fatland in Odraz Czech conference was a valuable source). Frederik Berg Østergaard came here and was popularizing jeepforms. In that time Nordic influence was high, sparked couple larp groups, as well as reluctant reactionists.

In the next years, these ideas were either assimilated, or abandoned. We can now clearly say that jeepforms are close to dying out in Poland. Transparency was never really adopted outside the freeform games, and I am saying this as a one who tried to popularize it. Last important cross-cultural interaction was related to creation of College of Wizardry, 2014. Mature design of couple Polish designers were co produced with Danish organization, which led to what we know today as castle blockubsters. Soon afterwards, some of its structural elements were ripped by 5 Żywiołów, and formed Witcher School. And that was last significant influence of Nordic larp on Polish larp culture, which was through whole this time developing also on its own. In the next years, Knudepunkts are receiving constantly declining interest from Polish larp scene, as there is not much new to take from there. Nordic problem with originality was by the way already pretty well diagnosed by Nordic theorists. And recent Dziobak’s rippoff of On the Road, or eclectic Inside Hamlet x New Age x Just a Little Loving x Polish castle are not ideas, which would be so original, to cause influence on the way in which larps are being made in Poland. I am not making statement about how influential was Nordic larp culture in the United States or in Palestine, but here it doesn’t have power to colonise anything. And never had, even in the period of its peak popularity.


2. It cannot be about larp culture understood as social group, with some hierarchy of power/popularity and emotional ties.

So maybe its about social groups formed around larps, and larp organisations? Maybe fact that players coming for an international blockbuster in Poland are not joining Polish larp discourse, is a form of colonialism?

Sorry to spoil, but it has nothing to do with nationality, of larpers or organizers. Big larps are forming own societies. Non-larping foreign players are rarely joining groups not tied to organizer of their original event. International players from international runs of Witcher School never participated in other Polish larp, not organized by the same authors (which may change with third Mir, but is a fact for now). In a contrary to larpers from around Dziobak’s international society, who did took part in quite a couple local events, and in some visible numbers in Witcher School. So, if the slow proliferation of international larpers from a blockbuster to local scene is an issue, Dziobaks are dealing with this better, than organizers of Polish international larps.

For me there bigger problem here. Dziobak Larp Studios is an organization including and engaging numerous Polish larpers. Paweł’s thesis is trying to exclude them from Polish larp culture. Please, realize that Dziobaks/ Liveform are important part of Polish larp society - maybe just not the group close to Paweł. They are organizing freaking Polish larp convention right now!

And they did a really good job in integrating with international larpers. To finish this case, I will mention that biggest obstacle in absorbing larp tourists to local culture is limited ammount of foreigner-friendly larp events. There is a one non-commercial international larp this year in Poland that I can recall right now. And only because of fact that I am organizing it.

Yes there is a cultural barrier, which makes participants from Western / Northern Europe more convenient with high-end events, organized by really international crew. This may be a bit disappointing for Poles, and bit hard to admit for Nords. This is however as far from idea of colonialism, as possible. Cultural differences are real, and we need to find a way to cross them. Currently, Dziobaks and 5 Żywiołów are making a real progress here.

Oh, also I will not refrain myself something else. Idea that Nordic larpers may culturally colonize Poland, and avoid contact with our larp society, AT THE SAME TIME, is the most incoherent idea in larp discourse since Jaakko’s Recurrence.

3. It cannot be about accessibility

So, maybe larp colonialism is a price accessibility issue, for a local players. Maybe international organizers are artificially pumping the ticket prices to make sure, that unwanted locals will not be spotted during larp?

First of all, accessibility issue is the one of most elaborately discussed larp topics, and is present in all larp cultures. It is important issue, but has nothing to do with a projection of power and influence over subjectified inhabitants of foreign country.

Rocky Horror Show’s ticker are seen as expensive not only in Poland. In fact, there are not many larpers which would consider it cheap, especially having in mind that foreigners needs to add travel costs and additional days off from work. Despite efforts to make larping in general more inclusive, most of larpers are coming from middle class, and especially lower-middle class. Participation in discussed larp is a luxury. It is not an alternative to spending a weekend with friends at a party, but for a 7 days last-minute trip in some not far away, but warm and with nice beach, country.

One may wonder is making luxury larps ok in general. One may doubt Dziobak’s claims that accessibility was a factor in making production decision (and that's a doubt that I am sharing). But making a request to a Ferrari to make their cars more affordable, doesn’t make sense. Obviously, it is possible to change parts to cheaper, choose not most expensive larp castle in Poland, mount smaller engine or increase the number of participants to couple hundred. This would result in product more accessible, but completely different from the designer’s intent. Dziobaks chose to position the larp as an price alternative for a “typical” vacations abroad. I find this decision brave, and really important for a development of our hobby. This is the required step in making larps more recognizable, mainstream entertainment. A mission to which Dziobaks are really dedicated, and about which I have no doubt.

Oh, and idea of foreign people coming to some attractive and cheaper-than-theirs country for entertainment is not a colonialism. That's a definition of a mainstream tourism!


4. It cannot be about foreigners not paying baksheesh on our turf

So, maybe the non-colonialist approach means that foreign participants and organizers would be expected to somehow contribute to local larp discourse, or materially support Polish larping? Maybe the fact that they are walking on our soil, sanctified by generations of struggle for independence, results in obligation to… buy a ticket for Polish larp?

Nah, that’s too stupid to be the thing which Paweł had in mind.

5. It cannot be about Dziobak Larp Studios refusing to provide what they owe to larp culture.

Possibly, the problem lies in the way, in which Claus’ company is seen on all sides of Baltic Sea? I have an impression, that in ongoing discourse, this really great event enterprise is seen as:

  • The champion and sole provider of progress for Nordic larpers. Group of writers on which shoulders lies the burden of not only forming and maintaining to larp culture, but also assuring its progress. Limited originality of their projects is diagnosed as sole problem to whole Nordic Larping (whichever it would be).
    Fact that commercial organization of larp events has lower tolerance for risk than volunteer larps, seems to slip from couple minds in Nordic larp discourse. If it wouldn’t we would need to admit that originality of Dziobak’s is below “experimental” level, but still really, really brave as for the amount of resources put into production.

  • Guardians of equality and accessibility in larp community. Level of expectation and demands, put on Dziobaks, is really high. Yes, PR policy and their statements are willingly putting them in this place. but lets be reasonable. Dziobak did much in are of inclusivity and more in equality. Fact, that their design decisions are having also different priorities, and luxury larps are being produced, should not be treated as betraying this ideals.

  • International bridge and intercultural prophet. Seriously, guys, if one company would be in power to colonize larp culture including 5 digit number of larpers, it would not be a really great culture. Dziobaks are not the organization responsible for integrating Polish larpers with international players, or promoting unrelated to them larpwriters. Though thay are really helping here, we should not look at them as the ones obligated to deliver this benefits.

As you probably found, i think that expectations put on Dziobak Larp Studios are unreasonably high, to the point when they are becoming demands. The bottom line is, that the hey owe credits under used inspirations. Everything above that is a bonus. Seeing this organization as “just” a group of highly motivated, talented, caring and dedicated human beings, would probably end this discussion.


6. And obviously, it cannot be about social status in the international larp discourse.

There are plenty of larp cultures in Europe, many of them are doing really fine, and are not connected to the discourse in which this article is placed (like for eg. most of French larp scene, or culture of Oldtown, Polish large scale post-apo larp event which is getting international attention “on its own”). Nordics are not dominating any of them. They are not dominating the cultures of Poland, Czechia, Spain, Italy, Germany, Russia, or any non-nordic country. Did you saw the movie from “Knudepunkt TV” in which Norwegian larpers are managing their larp colonies all over the world? That was a satire, and this colonization, if ever planned, did not worked out.

There is a one thing they are dominating however. That’s international discourse in “larpers BFF”, Facebook group hosting the discussion to which this article is referring. And they are dominating it for a reason. Though influence of Nordic larprwiting may be fading (But I am really keep thumbs for another northern breakthrough!), these guys were the first to create international discussion. First to massively write and publish in English, exchange their experience beyond national forums. This resulted in a discourse, from many cultures benefited. The one, from we are benefiting right now. Fact, that in this discourse Nords are most numerous is natural and expected. Polish larp discourse never included internationals, and never crossed the lingual barrier.

It is not the Nordic culture which is de fact influential over Poland, especially not right now, when we are looking often to Czechia, Germany or Italy. But its the one which gets the most attention when it comes to social relations and popularity on international forum.

But, obviously, this is also could not be the reasons of accusations towards Dziobak Larp Studios, as all Polish larpers involved in this discussion are too mature and too self-aware for that.

This will continue, but...

To be honest, I think that this topic will be resurrected in future with some regularity. Idea of Polish larpers repressed by chronical existence of Nordic Larpers will gather disputants on both sides. Dialogue between whining and saviour complex is just too attractive way for claiming attention and feel of doing something right. One may even look here for a symtoms of Polish inferiority complex, or Scandinavian dream of relevance, if would like to use national stereotypes.

However, as a member of Polish larp culture, I would like to make a clear statement here. Larp colonialism in not a thing. If you are a foreign larper - please feel invited to all games organized here, by Polish writers as well as any others. Our larp culture is much more open and confident, than it may seem from this discourse. Our castles are great, food is nice, rest is tolerable, and everything is cheap. Dziobaks are doing good job popularizing our hobby. Also, may be good idea to look into what is currently hyping on our local scene - there is a good chance that Nordics will be playing this in about 1-2 years from now :)


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