Martin Nielsen: Exploring
the Human Ability to Play

Playing fosters creativity, expands horizons and brings people together even under the most difficult circumstances. But can we play in the shadow of political oppression, occupation or even an imminent threat of war? Can all children play?

The Norwegian NGO Fantasiforbundet explores the uses of larp (live action role-playing) as a tool for civil society in countries where the population is oppressed in different ways, such as Belarus, Palestine and in refugee camps is Lebanon.

A larp is a co-creative framework where playing is organised around shared stories. It makes a temporary bubble where it is possible to imagine a different reality and even behave as though this other world was real. The playing of other roles than one’s every-day self creates an alibi – a permission to play – that supports the larp’s secondary goals: exploring a complex moment in local history, for instance, or making refugee children laugh.

The work of Fantasiforbundet demonstrates that role-playing is not just a storytelling platform, but that playing together has an inherent ability to break through cultural borders and create strong, long-lasting bonds between participants, whether children or adults. In this talk from the 2014 Alibis for Interaction conference, Martin Nielsen shares some of the promising results in the organisation’s work of re-igniting play, and discusses the potential and limitations of some of their methods.

About Martin

Martin Nielsen is educated as a political scientist and is the co-founder of the consultancy Alibier AS, which works with development and analysis of collaborative learning methods, including role-play. He has coordinated several Fantasiforbundet projects internationally and is also the head organizer of the Oslo international chamber larp festival Grenselandet.