The Entity of Emotions in Real Game Play
Walking and Talking with Omsk Social Club

This conversation takes place while walking side by side at night. Our thoughts get exhaled while our bodies are in constant motion. Imagine a pedestrian way on top of a dike near a coastline. Imagine a clear sky and fresh air. Even if it is just text we are exchanging right now on these pages, the idea of walking together might help us set up a more personal chat.

MW: During the last months I’ve been thinking a lot about emotions and how they are perceived, kept in memory and are bound to signs, objects, and spaces. I’m asking you these questions in the belief that you are a sensitive observer of emotions in the realms of RGP (Real Game Play), character building, and giving workshops. Your artistic practice which combines these activities brought us together in a group with others. So we share memories, too, which are affecting my questionnaire, by letting my own emotional experience be part of this inquiry.

Does a RGP offer the opportunity to feel epistemologies emotionally through a body experience?

OMSK: That would be very much based on the individual, perhaps it’s more telling if you answer that question?

MW: The message you sent to me days before getting into the RGP delivered a road map with a diagram of dependencies, questions about my character, and references. I used them as a starting point for my own character development. When you try to self-identify as somebody else, you will create a backstory in your head. This requires an examination of the given concepts and ideas which accompany the given character and scenario of the RGP. You are shifting perspective from how would somebody else act under certain circumstances to what would I feel and do. RGP then provides a territory to perform this mental state physically.

OMSK: Yes, you are unsettled, you cannot repeat or resume a state of thought. The work we do is in order to create ruptures and holes in thinking to let the body start questioning from a personal and unique state of mind. It is not to give answers, it is to explore answers.

MW: I described some thoughts to you in January. I told you that I’m impressed how being in character is tied to the constant interaction with the others you are forming an experience with. It feels like a body of dependencies is holding the new mode of existence in a RGP alive. These dependencies feel strongly driven by emotions. How would you describe it?

OMSK: It seems to us that nothing is obtained without an emotional drive, even the smallest thing which we find ourself doing instinctually is driven by emotions–whether they are ours by choice or not. Think about saying “thank you”, there is a huge history of emotional structures behind that small everyday act, do you say „thank you“ because of societal norms, behavioural conditioning or emotive politics. Well, it's likely all of the above and various other reasons, too. Our practice of RGP just unveils emotional direction as one of the vital nodes in connectivity. But it's not as simple as that we just have to unlearn our emotional states first. This is why we use role-play and begin our work in a state of mind that can be likened to the uncanny. When you enter one of Omsk’s scenarios we hope you find yourself connected to various shades of life and in a heightened state of sensory exposure.That said, what we have also noticed is what happens if someone does not connect to the others, cannot live inside their collective imaginarium. This person usually quickly become alienated and takes on a very toxic persona, it's an interesting landscape to watch being in or out. I guess we should rephrase here what we are talking about is not someone who is playing an alienated or agitating character but one who chooses not to open themselves to the process. It's also very fascinating watching the people who end up with difficult identities to play out in the work. They often become very close to the rest of the group, as the debrief period usually reveals how much they suffered and how much they internalised for everyone else to believe them to be that character. Naturally, this is a generalisation or more likely a somewhat common occurrence, but yes, you are right to say that emotional fission is what creates a good atmosphere for us as it's built on openness for better or worse.

MW: Experiences seem to build upon emotions that are shaped by impressions perceived through the body. How do you think the body itself is an active mediator or host for emotional interaction between characters?

 OMSK: The body is crucial. Which is why communication is so dormant in the western sphere. We constantly neglect the body in favour of the verbal. At present, we are trying and testing modes of harnessing and conducting ourselves based on intuition which is hard as the verbal vernacular of others always tries to negate your gut feelings. But in the end, your gut often turns out to be right and we suffer for ignoring it. A lot of the work we do leading up to the real game play, is based on trying to unleash the language of our body to both ourselves and others. Sometimes even we don’t know how to translate our own bodies, so these exercises are crucial in learning our individual physical mapping and our group’s, too.

MW: Objects, symbols, and costumes seem to support players of RGP in
defining and performing their character. How are they used to communicate and get emotionally charged up?

OMSK: We see our practice as one of aesthetic and mind, we use images to alter our states of perception. Objects, symbols, and costumes allow us to focus the eyes into a space of the other. They are tools which help us concentrate and craft the world which we will momentarily inhabit. They also offer a beginning to this lucid state since as humans we are very affected by our environment, both in the immediate sense of what is on our skin and the atmosphere we find ourselves in.

MW: What happens if a character gets played over and over again?
How does the character connect to the multiple players she inhabited?

OMSK: That comes up sometimes due to the fact we have works that have been played over and over again. For example in the Cryptorave series, which is in collaboration with Mediengruppe Bitnik we have smartphones for the eight core players. Each time a new work starts the players are handed the phone, complete with the back history and images from former players. This also gets eerie when someone’s face appears on another character's history as that protagonist and not the person they are playing at present. This is very much where we differ from the conceptual drive of LARP (Live Action Role Play) our works are manifested to see the fragility of life, unsettle the participant and bridge new spaces in the individual and collective psyche. This is why our work is not for everyone, it requires a very specific person who wants to explore themselves and others to partake in this work.

MW: I experienced us players building up one body of feelings that became a cohesive memory for us all. What are your thoughts about an autonomous emotional sphere that is forming a collective memory?

OMSK: This is the template in which the works can only ever exist and be created inside.

MW: Have you ever experienced cultural histories or memories of a space had strong impact on a RGP? Have you ever been able to reformat a space emotionally by inhabiting it?

OMSK: Yes, a piece called “Dead Air” for us was able to reformat the emotional and structural architecture of the present world. It's a 72 hour work, that plays with sleep deprivation and collective lucid dreaming. The whole piece is set up to be uncomfortable, there is a 72 hour soundtrack from 53 musicians who created scores for the time the body is in REM sleep. The space itself runs on a daily routine of conversations, rituals, and one meal a day. The architecture is bright coloured neon lights and panelled spaces designed by Jonas Schoeneberg and players are dressed by LECKHAUS. We cannot explain it as rational even though it may sound rational to read now, the whole feeling of being in Dead Air is irrational and euphoric but it is also deeply real and shared by all who inhabit it with their minds. One forgets the world outside but you can never forget Dead Air after you have been inside it.

MW: Sara Ahmed writes about the cultural politics of emotion, saying that normativity is connected to the ways individuals are feeling their way towards other individuals and objects. Do you think we can expose or change these ways of feeling through the practice of RGP?

OMSK: By questioning normativity we hope to find out if we can do that, yes.