Ars Amandi is a Nordic mechanic for simulating romance or sex in larp. The full mechanic permits players to touch permitted zones (arms, shoulders, sternum, upper back, and neck below the ears) using permitted boydparts (hands, arms, neck).
In the wake of the Ars Amandi workshop I ran at METATOPIA, I caught up with Swedish mechanic creator Emma Wieslander, who kindly answered some questions.
What is Ars Amandi and how is it used?
Basically it’s a method for doing things in a game in a way that makes the character experience them fully, enabling play and really going for the energy without the player ending up in messy situations. Much like the use of boffers enables players to rush into battle with fear and anger flaring because of the character’s fear of dying, but without the player having to worry.
It’s also a try at creating the “missing link” needed to widen possible playable themes. I believe that there are an infinite amount of stories out there to be told about love and a better world and that perhaps we need less about genocide and “all orcs/humans/martians must die.”
Why is it important to play romance or sex in a larp?
When I do larp I use the media to tell stories that I think the world in general and the players in particular really need to hear. I believe that we need stories of hope, of choosing life over money, stories that go beyond the mainstream dualistic, black and white i.e. the stories that make us strangers to each other and to the world.
Creating situations, or even whole societies, where only feelings of hate, anger and aggression are expected to surface scares me. Also that it’s so normalized tells you something about the vast need of promoting all the other aspects. Love, romance and sex are some of them. I think it’s quite sad that many players should have a greater expectancy of their character getting killed than fucked. I also believe that these stories deserve to be told in their own right and not just as background info, motivating the violence.
What inspired you to create the technique? Did anything–earlier games, techniques, etc.–influence you?
I wanted to play on love, of all kinds, and had encountered a lot of players that said that it was impossible, or at least not ethical. That made me bounce. How can it be unethical to play out romance whilst mass murdering is ok? I realized that, in many cases, it came down to fear. Fear of falling in love, of being used by other players, or of having a muddled experience where it would just come too close.
When I was exploring the possibilities I talked to an actor that said that he had once been in an improvisation where they used a form of circling each other, like a dance, to improvise lovemaking and where the touching of hands represented sex. This inspired me a great deal and I guess that was the spark I needed. I had tried some of the other methods and they didn’t quite do it for me. When I did the larp Between Heaven and Sea I had a perfect opportunity to try out out-of-this-world stuff. So I did.
Why did you name it Ars Amandi?
Ars Amandi means the art of love, which I guess it is in a way. Mostly though it’s a reclaiming from Ovid who wrote the books with the same name. They’re basically a manual advocating rape that has influenced western thinking to a great extent with regards to male and female and the subjugation of women’s sexuality. (It used to be mandatory in all forms of “classical” education since the renaissance). And then it’s a playful nod to all the martial artist roleplayers who maybe should try another “art”.
Why should game organizers use this tool?
I hope that many other methods for lovemaking will emerge. I believe that different games need different tools. Using Ars Amandi can be a start. It works on a very psychological and emotional level, allowing for players to play with the emotions but not really engage fully in the physical. It’s fairly well tested by now and several variations have been made. I guess one answer would be: Because it works.
How has Ars Amandi changed your local larp scene?
It has been a great tool for allowing the discussion to widen. To play being in love, relationships and sex, a lot of issues need to be dealt with. This means that there is a lot more gender awareness these days, but also that the games are perhaps a little less heteronormative in their hidden and not-so-hidden power structures. I think it’s definitely been part of developing the Nordic larp scene into what it is today, mostly because so many different games have used it, which has been great in other respects too.
In 2006 Between Heaven and Sea was voted the most influential larp ever in the Nordic scene. I think that is huge overstatement but maybe it illustrates how revolutionizing many players experienced it to be.
How should newcomers approach learning this technique?
I think they should do it like with everything else – with curiosity and with a feel-good set of mind. If it doesn’t feel good, take a break, play it in another direction. Remember that most of it is in they eyes. That’s where the true magic happen.
Emma Wieslander has been a gamer and larper since the late eighties and served as a front figure for the Swedish national gamers association during the times when role-playing was still under suspicion. Emma’s more notable larps explore love, gender and how we construct these norms. In creating these games, she invented methods to enable play around these topics. Her most known contributions are the frozen moments and the Ars Amandi method.