Earlier in this blog David wrote about how music can affect conflicts, and how it can be helpful in conflict transformation. Other forms of art have also proven to be useful tools in this regard, and in this blog post I want to take a closer look at the art form of live action role-playing, or larp, as it is usually called.


The balistic shot _ Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Picture taken by Ben Gun.


Maybe you have heard about larp before. As the name suggests, it is a form of role-playing; you play your own character and interact with the other players as the character, not as yourself, and everything is improvisation – there are no scripts of what you’re going to do or say. A larp can have as few as two players, or as much as many hundreds, and just like in books and movies the setting can be anything; like another world, or our world but with other aspects like magic, another year or another century, and so on. Only the imagination decides the limits.

Here some examples:

Last year I went to a refugee camp in Lebanon, where we held a larp for kids. The larp was set to a fantasy version of our world, where one group of the children played pirates who came to an island looking for a treasure, and one group played the tribe that lived on the island. Here you can see some pictures from it.

Another larp I went to was set to the Black Hills in the United States in 1877, and we played a group of people that had bought a piece of land there in the hope of finding gold. This was a totally different form of larp than the previous one I described; in this one we tried to act like they did at that time and place in history, we wore the same kind of clothing they used, and the place where we played also looked like it could have done in 1877 – there were no cars passing by, no signs of 20th century development as far as we could see, and we didn’t even have electricity in the house where we lived.


Picture from the larp Black Hills, taken by Aina Sogn Husvegg.


If you didn’t know larp from before, these examples hopefully have given you some idea of what it can be, so let’s go on to have a look at the main question in this blog post: How can larp be used as a tool in conflict transformation?

We are talking a lot about conflict resolution, but what then is conflict transformation? The difference is that in conflict resolution the focus is on resolving the conflict, while in conflict transformation it is on finding the root causes of the conflict, and seeing conflict as an opportunity for growth and development. Conflict resolution often has short term goals, while the goals of conflict transformation are much more long term. These two concepts can easily get mixed, and when people talk about conflict resolution they often actually mean conflict transformation.

The well-known peace scholar John Paul Lederach states that art can be used in conflict transformation; in different ways and in different stages of a conflict. A concept he claims is important in conflict transformation is the moral imagination, which, put in a simple way, is a form of imagination where you can picture a world without violence, and where you can see yourself including your enemies in your relationships. In her Master thesis Live action role playing (larp) in a context of conflict, Tindra Englund describes how larp can be a good tool when developing the moral imagination. When you play in a larp you have the chance to be a differen person, to put yourself in his or her place and understand this person’s actions, thoughts and feelings. This makes it easier to do the same when it comes to real people, and in this way larps can help you to develop empathy and a deeper understanding and acceptance of others. In a conflict this can let the parts gain a deeper and more diverse view of ‘the enemy’, regardless of if the conflict is on a personal or an international level. Playing in larps can also be helpful when it comes to process strong feelings, something that can aid for example in a reconciliation process and when working with post-conflict traumas. Larps have the possibility to open spaces where people can share emotionally intense situations and form strong relationships, regardless of their background, ethnicity, etc (Englund 2014). In addition to this larps can be used to spread knowledge and create awareness around a topic, both to the participants of the larp and to others who hear about it or read about it, and it can be a strong tool in developing skills needed when it comes to transforming conflicts.

To have a small example at the end I will mention a larp that was held in Palestine, called Killed in the name of honour. Here the gender roles were switched, so that the women were the ones that ruled the families, and the men were the ones getting hurt to uphold the families’ honour. This let the participants experience the patriarchal system from ‘the other side’, and gave them a new and completely different perspective. Especially the male participants were deeply impacted by this, and it let them see the stupidity of the system more clearly. (Englund 2014).

This is only one example of how larp can be used to make a change, and there are many more. I hope this has made you curious about larp and conflict transformation, and if you are interested  I can recommend the mentioned Master thesis of Tindra Englund, which is where I’ve gotten a lot of the inspiration for this blog post. If you prefer videos there is also a lot of interesting ted-talks about the topic of larp on this page: nordiclarptalks.org