THE UX OF Xenosomatics LARP | Collaborative Unit

Yiwei Han (David)
7 min readMar 25, 2021

25/01/21–29/01/21 (1 intense week)

📃Brief: Design a sensory-based ritual or experience for the characters of the Xenosomatics world/culture we build together.

🤝Group Members: Gabrielle Bennett, Max Hain, Yitong Han(Giada), Yiwei Han (David).

👩‍🎨Guest Lecturer: Susan Ploetz — An artist-researcher working with Somatics, theory, writing, performance, simulation and live-action role plays (larping) in different configurations.

Want to know why I collected these objects? Read this article: )

Online-LARP Workshop

As a new collaborative unit began, we were very honoured to invite Susan to introduce her area of expertise and guide us through this week’s design collaboration project based on that. It started by introducing us to Somatic and LARP with some case studies and then carried out her two online LARP sessions.

Somatics: coined by Thomas Louis Hanna in 1976, is a field within bodywork and movement studies that emphasizes internal physical perception and experience. It is widely used in therapeutic movement, emphasizing the restructuring of the mind-body connections and the central nervous system, but its effectiveness still debatable.

“thought, feeling, perception and movement are closely interrelated and influence each other.” — Moshé Feldenkrais.

From my understanding, somatics is a concept that emphasizes interiorly explore the entire universe from a first-person perception. Its experience is immediately factual and blurs the mind and body, which could enhance LARP in a complementary way.

Left: Nordic LARP (Courtesy of Susan); Right: Screenshot of Sandbox game (Courtesy of Animocabrands).

LARP: Stands for Live Action Role Play where the participants physically portray their characters and enact the game's plot. From 1970 onwards different genres and formats of narratives were developed. The less competitive and goal-oriented nature of LARP sets it apart from traditional game features, but in a way, we could see LARP as an immersive, explorative and improvised-oriented “Physical sandbox game”.

“Using LARP to simulate and prototype different ways of being.” — Susan Ploetz

LARP is full of co-design concepts where players are free to use their own creativity to collaborate on the story. LARP designers do not need to design each fixed character, but a safe guided system capable of generating unlimited possibilities. It is worth being applied during the research phase when we want to elicit true data from the target group and to make the process more natural and productive.

Roles of users, researchers, and designers in the design process (by Sanders and Stappers).

The challenge is to design a suitable ‘Alibi’ environment where people could voluntarily become vulnerable (open) and authentic, rather than being restricted to serious instructions.

Online Skinship & Xenosomatics

We prepared the materials in advance — rocks, leaves, mugs of water, toilet paper, pillows. We then ‘transformed’ into our own alien characters under Susan’s step-by-step meditative guidance and began to ‘collectively collect’ intelligence through our four senses and popcorn form (One person says a word of the ‘intelligence’ he perceives out loud, the others repeat it and then move on to the next ‘intelligence’). It’s a very unique and inspiring experience.

Popcorn: to gather intelligence together (Courtesy of David).

The deprivation of visual senses enables our other senses and imagination to intensify, and the whole process of intelligence collection impressed me a lot. It was a very vivid and fundamental form of showing how an intelligent civilisation’s knowledge base is gradually built up (the process of manifesting epistemology). This intriguing way might be a fun version of Brainstorm and Artefact Analysis.

For the second session, we started creating our own new characters and stories in the world of Xenosomatics (Susan designed this LARP based on the fictional work Xenogenesis Trilogy by Octavia E. Butler, now published as Lilith’s Brood). The aliens in the books being these sensing very observant creatures have a close relationship with the somatic study.

Following Susan’s recommended ‘Yes and +’ method, our group quickly completed the creation of our group’s three characters and created a story in which the planet is destroyed and the ooloi rescue other species.

Xenosomatics concept created by David, Tatiana and Sue (Made by Sue).

Brainstorm

After two online LARP experiences, we had a preliminary understanding of this design task. As time was tight, We decided to develop a ritual based on the concept of Susan’s Xenosomatic and quickly brainstormed in miro on the question “what kind of ritual do we want to make”. Interestingly, we had a common theme of similar interest — the rebirth of the universe/deity.

“What will happen next time the universe is reborn, what will come after Chthulucene, Xenocene?”

Brainstorming about our ‘Rebirth of Universe’ idea (Made by Group).

Building

Susan mentioned that how we design a LARP in a LARP. How we have to guide participants into the universe of the LARP and then guide them into the ritual contained in that universe.

LARP in a LARP process (Made by David).

Based on her tips, we started building ideas, conceptualising the backstory, designing the ritual steps with considering various online and realistic factors. I created a LARP design sheet (based on two references: a video by Bjarke Pedersen and an article recommended by Susan) to combine our group’s ideas, involving two key points:

Magical Circle: it is essential to create and close a ritual. Although we couldn’t create this circle in the physical space because of the limitations of online, we came up with some alternatives: leveraging the crude similarities we all have — curtains, light switches, our heartbeats.

Mechanics: it includes Rule: The main interaction design of our ritual is "collective humming" and different "hand-raising behaviour" (guided by a ritual leader); Replacement: Changing the Nametag & background image of the Zoom, GIFs of the success of the ritual; Meta-techniques: monologues, background music, communication of special situations.

Ritual LARP Concept Design Sheet (Made by David).

Play-testing

Rebirth Deity Ritual Flow (Made by David).

After we had the basic flow (as shown above) with scripts (for four of us to read out to guide players to experience our ritual), we tested it both within & outside the group to refine our ritual flow. The feedback from the tests was very positive, they liked many of our details such as switching off the light to create the right atmosphere and the five-second countdown to get a natural transition, both of which were good “magical circle” techniques. However, some technical issues, such as the background music and vocals, were difficult to match up well.

Intra-group and cross-group testing (Courtesy of David).

Based on the feedback, we prepared and improved everything we needed (scripts, pictures); then we continued to polish our voices and practised the transitions between each session and matching voices and music.

Presentation

Left: Ritual Concept diagram (Made by Gabrielle). Right: Final Presentation (Courtesy of David).

We received precious feedback. The students all enjoyed the experience of saving the universe via summoning the Deity collectively. They thought we steered the entire process well, that we controlled our pitch and cadence well, and that they felt relaxed and united. However, some aspects could be improved, such as the group harmony session which was similar all the time could have been varied. The characterization session could have left a little more time for the players to explore new habitats. Unfortunately, we didn’t remind all players to turn on the microphone and lost some resonance effect. Alaistair also suggested that we could have done it in sequence rather than in sync to address the limitations of the platform (Zoom). I believe if we do this again in the future or do an offline version of the experience, we can definitely do better.

📚Reference

Animocabrands. “The Sandbox Partners with Atari.” Animocabrands, 27 Mar. 2020, www.animocabrands.com/the-sandbox-partners-with-atari. Accessed 27 Mar. 2021.

Hanna, Thomas. “What Is Somatics?” Somatic Systems Institute, 2016, somatics.org/library/htl-wis1. Accessed 27 Mar. 2021.

Larpwriter Summer School. “Mechanics — Fader Talk by Bjarke Pedersen.” YouTube, 21 July 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfqkMnPiubo. Accessed 27 Mar. 2021.

Sanders, Elizabeth B.-N., and Pieter Jan Stappers. “Co-Creation and the New Landscapes of Design.” CoDesign, vol. 4, no. 1, Mar. 2008, pp. 5–18, 10.1080/15710880701875068. Accessed 27 Mar. 2021.

Vejdemo, Susanne, and Elli Garperian. “Group Improvisation of Larp Rituals.” Nordic Larp, 27 Feb. 2018, nordiclarp.org/2018/02/27/group-improvisation-larp-rituals/. Accessed 28 Mar. 2021.

“Xenogenesis Series.” Octavia E. Butler, www.octaviabutler.com/xenogenesis-series. Accessed 27 Mar. 2021.

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Yiwei Han (David)

MA User Experience Design - University of the Arts London