I returned on Sunday from Knudepunkt 2011, the annual Nordic (live action) role-playing convention. As always, the five days I spent there have exhausted me physically, but energized me mentally. This is the second part of a haphazard collection of some of my highlights. First part is here.
I was able to catch more program at Knudepunkt than is usual, probably because this year I ended up on the stage myself only twice (thrice if you count Nordic Larp Talks during the Week in Denmark). With Markus Montola we presented out paper from the Think Larp book, titled Parasocial Interaction in Pervasive Role-Play: The Case of Sanningen om Marika and then we did a two hour presentation about the Nordic Larp book. The latter was actually a lot of fun. First we went through what “officially” happened during the two-year project. Then we started telling quite specifically about all the weird stuff we spent time figuring out during that process. It was conceived of as a therapy session for ourselves, and it certainly worked. It was strangely empowering to get to explain our policies on using italics, tracking down the official names of games, trying to sort out Danish names and exposing the sin that is double spacing.
The most interesting program item of the year I actually missed, but luckily it is now available on YouTube. Tova Gerge has been away from the scene for a few years, but now she is back. The title of her talk was Why Characters – Postdramatic Gaming vs. the Ideology of Story Telling. It was actually about viewing larp from the point of performance. This has been done before, obviously, but Tova made some interesting points along the way – some of which I disagree with, but which still serve as valuable starting points.
Since it is a 30 minute lecture, here is one of the main points:
What I’m aiming at here is the very norm of presenting character, that is, presenting identity in a way that reminds quite a lot of how we present identity in our everyday lives: in parties, in Facebook, in family dinners. This means that, even if we alter the position in the system (from hip to nerd to hip nerd to jerk to high school sweet heart monster) and even if we alter the code (from 2011 to funky 50′s to post futurism to the super ugly spaceship bunker war) – even if we alter those things, our basic task within the game remains the same: to show off our knowledge of our position in the system, which means, to show off our knowledge of the code.
In this I see a double affirmation of social character, which bleeds in two directions: from the player to the character and from the character to the player. The understanding of the character is informed by the social status of the player. The understanding of the social status of the player is informed by the character. So, no matter how low you let your character sink, you’re still demonstrating your knowledge of the code, you’re still a fashion creature. And what fashion adds up to is a winner’s game, a game where the already winning can only keep winning. And this has everything to do with what I find nasty in our subcultural power structure.
Now, I have very little understanding of performance theory, but recently I have realized that it is a field that I need to get into more. However, I feel that at least so far that field has not been helpful in its terminology, as there is usually an expectation of an audience, the participants/players/audience/viewers are not respected (also, not treated as co-creators), and there is a jealous attempt to both foster participation and still remain an auteur. I wrote about this in the ending essay of Nordic Larp.
I find myself thinking again and again about Tova’s lecture. She has made similar observations as I have, but as she is much better acquainted with the performance field, and is able to verbalize things that others have just had vague sneaking suspicions of. It will take some time for me to digest it completely.
Knudepunkt, obviously, is not just about exchanging ideas, marketing new projects, debating best practices and cultural exchange. It is also a party. I debated whether to call this section parties in plural, as there were parties every night during the Week in Denmark and during the Knudepunkt itself. In addition there were numerous smaller gatherings (at least the 2 Minutes to Midnight tongue in cheek one song long party for 70 people with Vampire Dancers, the Israeli-German party that denied its existence, the Secret Metal Room Party, the wacky Banana party, the mandatory annual Duckball and Helicopter Workshop, etc). Yet in many ways Knudepunkt is just one big party.
The biggest “official” party was the Saturday night extravaganza which had the theme “fantaswing” (combining swing and fantasy). Mostly this means that people dressed up to the nines, but with geeky twists. Elven ears were particularly big this year. My theory is that since even Lady Gaga now wears prosthetic latex elbow horns, donning a pair of kick-ass elven ears with your evening gown is now actually fashionable. (A development that anyone who felt slightly aroused by the Minbari foreheads of yesteryear must welcome.) This was actually pretty fantastic, as I have personally always liked pointy ears, but have never really gotten into fantasy.
Still, the unquestionable winner in the costume department was former Solmukohta 2004 main organizer Mikko Pervilä, who took a courageous step even further down the geet hierarchy and and actually managed to pull off cosplay in a throughly awesome way. Mr. Pervilä showed up in full Finland (of Scandinavia and the World) garb. Kudos!