Space and Life-Action Roleplay in Japan

Presentation at the 13th EAJS conference at Tallinn University, Estonia, 2011/08/24-28.

A presentation of research on the relationship of space and the modes of roleplaying games in a transcultural context.

Role-playing games and especially life-action roleplay are increasingly considered tools for learning in formal, civic and political education, but have recently gained attention as a new performing art, as well.
Life-action roleplay (larp) has been compared to impro-theatre as well as cosplay, the dressing-up as media characters, which thrives in Japan. In larps players physically embody fictional characters, immerse themselves into the characters‘ minds and perform in a shared, diegetic world. Roleplaying games in general can be seen as a transcultural practice and larp specifically brings people from all over the world together. The number of larp participants in Europe (and recently the US) increases every year, especially in Scandinavia. Contrarily, Japanese roleplayers do not engage in larping.
Based on fieldwork in roleplaying communities of the Tokyo area as well as on interviews with business professionals, this paper will try to answer the question of why Japan does not larp — or more precisely, why Japanese roleplayers do not see larp as possible in Japan.
While culturally “sanctioned” practices of masquerade like historical reenactments or theatre do have their time and space — even if it is only a small, hidden location like a shōgekijō (small, off-theatre) — space for “escapist” forms of performing and immersion has been rare. Additionally, memories of being ridiculed frame Japanese roleplayers‘ subjective availability of (a public) space for their engagements. This affects styles of roleplay tremendously, leading to an emphasis of the game aspects by discouraging performance and immersion.

japan, larp, roleplaying games, performance, qualitative research