All About Jeep

Since I’m running a couple jeep games here at DEXCON 14, I wanted to spend a post exploring this play style a bit, and what better way to do this than to get the word straight from the horse’s (chauffeur’s?) mouth.

Meet Frederik Berg Østergaard, freelance game designer and member of Vi åker jeep (tr. We go by jeep), who was kind enough to answer a couple questions.

What are the characteristics of a jeep game?

Most of the games play out quite close to home, seeing that the drama in everyday life is equally as interesting as playing vampires on spaceships. I mean I know how to play out a relationship drama or the sad clown in a circus, but not so much about playing an 3000 year old vampire on Titus. We have to realize that what we put in our characters comes from within us as players; experiences, emotions, etc. We are assuming that players can cope both complex form and content.

What is it like to play a jeep?

To play in a jeepform game requires you to be able to sense the direction of the story and act out your character in relation to that. It’s more about working with your fellow-players to reach a certain goal or conclusion, as determined by the game. We want to experience a emotionally thick stories, stories that are about something. How we get there is more important that reaching our individual goals in it self. What truly set us apart is that our game mechanics are form-oriented, subtle and directed. How we tell the story is equally important as the story told.

So there is a very close connection between how the game is played and the content of the game. It’s about choosing the best form–or structure–for the game. If you’re playing a game about obesity, whats more fitting than using chocolates as a way of propelling the game forward? It’s about eschewing the preconceived elements that belong in a certain play style and just using the elements that fit the story we want to tell. I mean chocolates are a prop, but it resides in the metaplay level and not the actual play level, as part of the structure of the game.

What is bleed and why would I want to experience it?

In the progressive larp scene of Scandinavia, which includes jeepform, bleed is becoming the reason to play at all. Today’s players today want to experience emotionally complex and/or tough situations. In many ways the progressive larps are like extreme sports for your mind.

The kick you get out of being emotionally fucked up brings its own reward. Bleed is just one of those factors that makes it work. When you as a player experience something via your character, that something has a tendency to spill over. Either you had a personal experience that resonates with the something in the game or you put your character in a situation that has an effect on you as a person. It could be an intense feeling of love towards an other character, that lingers on after the game toward the player of that character.

The bottom line is that the magic circle that sets the game world apart from the real world is blurred. Bleed is just one of those mechanics that works in between this division. Remember when you got angry at your dad after loosing a game of Monopoly? Same shit.

How is a jeep game different from more conventional tabletop rpgs and larps?

Tabletop games mainly use simulation to achieve story. This simulation most often takes place through rules describing what you can do, and how you interact with the game world. How much damage does a psionic blast do? How many sixes do you need to roll to make someone to fall in love with you? In tabletop games you are essentially playing in a pre-built, simplified and compartmentalized world. In Jeepform (which is what we call our play style) games we don’t sit around a table, we don’t use rules to describe our play world, and we act out what happens in the story instead of talking about it or rolling for it. In many ways it resembles larps, but is different.

Larps, on the other hand, achieve story through immersion. Players often aim at immersing themselves into an outside consciousness; a character. You try to act and behave as if you are that character in a world that supports that immersion via  furnished locations, costumes and various props. What exists in the game world should ideally also exist in the play world and when playing the game. Instead we use symbolic props and locations. As the tabletop players, we use the powers of the mind to imagine various locations, guns etc. It’s not so much about character immersion but more about story immersion. Having a unified vision of where it would be best that the game should be going among the players. The game master sets the mood, the direction, and the premise. A game about the complexities of maternity should not be about whether to drive stick shift or not. In other words, it’s about staying on target and making the journey towards that target the most interesting as possible

The Story Gamers are doing something along the same lines, except we are using the game’s structure to facilitate play, and not the rule set. Every jeepform game has it’s own structure that shapes the story, and as such the individual game is very different from another. By structure I mean the actual play mechanics of the game and how the story is narrated. It could be playing out two stories in parallel, using physical game mechanics to facilitate character switching, or harnessing the unpleasant power of keeping eye contact while narrating. Jeepform is about facilitating the telling of a specific story, and that story can be pretty much anything, as long as it is about something.

How and why did the jeepers form up as a group?

This year (2011) is our 10th anniversary. The group started in Sweden as a reaction to the staleness of a similar play style called freeform. Freeform was mainly aimed at removing rules, physical tables, dice, dragons, and exotic locations and replacing it with a more free mode of play. Drama was the cornerstone of that play style. But over time, that freedom with was replaced with its own fixed play style. Worse, the games often lacked premise or subject, and didn’t use resolution mechanics at all, replacing them with de-facto game master fiat. Many games lacked complex characters and more often than not took place in exotic locations.

A typical bad freeform of that time would be players trapped in an escalator in New York while screaming at each other for no other good reason than this was deemed ‘good roleplaying’. That sucked and we tried to replace that with something more meaningful. After discovering that other countries had similar interests, the group became more of an international entity, working hard to push our play style all over Europe and the rest of the world.

Where does the name “jeep” come from?

There are different stories about that. As far as I know it was just a silly thing about going to conventions in a Jeep. I don’t know if there was an actual Jeep involved, but somehow the name stuck. It had the added benefit later, that it would make it much easier to Google jeepform than freeform. Try Googling freeform and you end up with a lot of jazz.

What is your favorite jeep game and why?

Eschewing my own games, I think that the game Drunk is formidable. It combines a very hands-on physical play mechanic with very tough content. The game is about the power of alchohol and choosing the easy way out, in the most difficult matter. Using a bottle filled with water, the players attach scenes to it, playing out the scenes when the level of water reaches the scene. I think the game has some very beautiful play mechanics and is elegantly constructed. It is most definitely a game worth checking out.

Frederik Berg Østergaard is a Scandinavian game designer and jeepform evangelist. His work has mainly focused on taking the medium further and farther away from its tabletop roots into an adult oriented form,  that has more in common with performance and psychodrama. Frederik also holds an M.A. in History of Religions from the University of Copenhagen.