Hanne Grasmo: Queer Free Love – Researching Sexual Arousal through Larp

The larp Omni Club was designed to research erotic interactions in adult pretend play. It was inspired by a real 70-ties queer bar in California. Art by Juuso Kuivila.

My doctoral research investigates the potential for erotic role-play to benefit the gaming experience, contribute to sex and sexualities education, and for the development of the players’ sexuality. The study is interested in how role-playing with sexual content affects sexual wellbeing: Can embodied erotic role-play give pain or gain outside of the game, for instance, when it comes to attitudes, the participant personal identity, or arousal challenges? The research may give indications on whether role-play can give empathy with other sexualities and identities or transform the players in other ways.

The larp Omni Club was designed to portray a real queer club with the same name, in North beach California in the 1970ties. Both the idea for the larp and the framing of it is purposefully derived from the book Ethical slut (Hardy & Easton 2009), celebrated as “The Bible” for ethical non-monogamy. Omni Club was a polysexual heaven, a place for both gays, dykes, hetero-hippies, and trans folks – but most of the regulars had a genderfuck dress code so it was impossible to know what gender you hit on.

The players had plenty of opportunities for touching and intimacy, but this was a larp, so no nudity or real sex. They could choose between three simulation mechanics; Just stand up and touch the others hands and arms (as known from Android larps), theatre sex or “dry-humping” with clothes on as is common method in Nordic erotic larps today (Grasmo and Stenros, 2022), and a new game mechanic meant to be intimate and transgressive, “hands-and-mouth” – where fingers where licked, kissed and bitten. 

Omni Club is a pilot for my PhD-project, an artist-led Research-through-design project: Sexual Arousal in Play. This multi-phase study addresses make-believe sex in role-playing games, and how playing sexual arousal and being in character are experienced. The art-larp is designed to research the complexity of sexual emotions, and how the player-character navigates a shared body in erotic play. The research study will also include facilitated immersive role-playing experiences in the intersection of game studies and sexology.  

The meeting room at Messukeskus, the conference centre in Helsinki where Ropecon was held, was transformed into a queer underground bar in North Beach, California in 1972, complete with a disco ball, lava lamp background and a hippie-DJ, played by Tampere University Game Studies alumni Juuso Kuivila, who also contributed to the project as a research assistant.

After the players had chosen their characters, there was a Genital Lottery where they could end up with either female, intersex or male genital card. On the left: Female card for the Genital Lottery, the gender expression of the characters was not limited by their sex. In the middle: Intersex card for the Genital Lottery, to also include this minority gender outside the traditional binaries. On the right: Male card for the Genital Lottery, inspired by Andy Warhol. Art by Juuso Kuivila.

In this room, with a lot of horny “hippies” having erotic encounters with one, two or many others, I was able to test out workshop methods and design elements, and how to situate research in a larp about sexuality. The players were informed before the sign-up that they could just play Omni Club as an ordinary larp and that it was a pilot for Grasmo’s research-through-design-process. Four people volunteered for a pilot small-group interview after the event.

The study builds on my own design experience in the area of larps and queer larps from the last decades, lecturing and writing about sexuality, pedagogical sexology work within the Norwegian Sexology association, and being Head of the governmental centre for LGBTQ knowledge and inclusion.

Future plans for this project are two three days Facilitated Role-play Experiences, and some of the participants in Omni Club were recruited for these future activities. Many of the players stayed for up to three hours after the event was over to discuss erotic larp, and how they had felt deeply touched and challenged through their experience playing Omni Club.

Through this pilot I was able to better understand how to run the Facilitated Role-Play Experience, I was really exhausted after five hours of game mastering, and then several hours of post larp discussion and interviews with participants. The planned Facilitated Role-play Experience will have other designers running their larps, which will allow me to focus on my researcher role.

Grasmo will be presenting this project at Tampere Spring Seminar on 4th of May. See the whole program here: https://springseminar.org/program/

Author bio and contact:

Hanne Grasmo is a Norwegian doctoral researcher at the Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies, Tampere University. Her PhD-research centers around embodied role-play and sexual emotions, both in Nordic larp and in BDSM communities. Focus areas are role-play design, immersion, queer play and transformative play. Both personally and professionally she is interested in exploring borders, edges, brinks and unknown possibilities. Grasmo holds a MA in sociology, and has additional background from sexology, education, theatre and larp design. She has discussed and written about larp for more than 20 years, founded the Knutepunkt larp conferences, wrote the first book about Nordic larp (1998), published a monograph of her well know larp: “Just a little lovin’ larp script” (2021) and an article about Nordic erotic larps (2022) with Jaakko Stenros.




Android Beginnings 2022. By Atropos larp studio, Sweden. https://beginnings.atropos.se/practical/

Omni Club 2022 at Ropecon Helsinki. By Hanne Grasmo with Juuso Kuivila. https://2022.ropecon.fi/guide/#prog/cat:LARP/tag:In+English


Grasmo, Hanne & Jaakko Stenros. 2022. “Nordic Erotic Larps: Designing for Sexual Playfulness.” International Journal of Role-play,12.

Hardy, Janet & Dottie Easton. 2009. The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures. Paperback US, originally published in 1987.