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The award-winning, sold-out Nordic Larp is now available as a free digital edition. Up until now, the book, edited by game researchers and life-long role-players Jaakko Stenros and Markus Montola, has been a difficult to find treasure for role-play enthusiasts, researchers, and artists.

Live action role-playing has developed into a unique and powerful form of expression in the Nordic countries. Nordic style larps range from entertaining flights of fancy to the exploration of the intimate, the collective, and the political. This unique tradition combines influences from theatre and performance art with gamer cultures, in order to push the boundaries of role-playing.

Recently the Nordic larp tradition has gained attention internationally. This book presents a cross-section of this vibrant culture through 30 outstanding larps, through stories told by designers, players and researchers, with over 250 photographs. In addition the book contains essays explaining the history and rhetorics of Nordic larp, and contextualizing it in relation to theatre, art and games.

The book has been hailed as “mandatory reading” (Aaron Vanek), “a remarkable tome” (Mike Tice), and a “major cultural service to game, culture and art studies” (Frans Mäyrä). According to Lizzie Stark “Anyone interested in the future of larp and its possibilities as a medium should read this book.” In 2012 Nordic Larp received the Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming.

The digital edition of Nordic Larp is available from the University of Tampere: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-91-633-7857-7

Edit: Don’t be intimidated by the Finnish on the site. The site translates into English from the upper right hand corner.

KP2013-Axner

Knutepunkt 2013 too place last week. That means that the latest Knutebooks are now available. This year there were four(!), three of which are available online. The fourth one is a book of images, and is only available as a physical copy.

Two interesting events on the horizon, both targeting professionals working in larp and experience design, both taking place in late fall of 2013. Keep an eye out for Alibis for Interaction and ProLarp.

By the way, our Nordic Larp book is almost sold out. At the time of writing you can still order it from a German online shop. We are looking into a second printing or even a second edition.

Finally, at Nordic Larp Talks, I attempted to answer the question: “What is Nordic Larp“?

Photo by Johannes Axner.

Wow.

Nordic Larp actually won the Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming. This is what the award committee had to say about Nordic Larp:

Nordic Larp is a history of the Nordic larp scene, from its inception in post-D&D fantasy through experimental drama, historical recreation and far freaking weirdness, done as a massive and profusely illustrated coffee-table book, written by two gaming scholars. The book documents more than thirty larps that took place over 15 years, including ones with animatronic dragons and a space opera played out on a submarine. The Nordic Larp book assembles photos, memories, and designer notes, allowing the reader to survey these fantastic and sometimes legendary events. These records are bracketed by an introduction that summarizes the recurrent elements of the larps and a final essay on Nordic larping as art, theater, and game. Nordic larping is a major, dynamic branch of the gaming family tree, fully deserving of this massive, beautiful book that takes larping and game-history as serious business.

We were super-excited about being nominated, but did not at all expect to win; for a non-American thing just to get nominated is a big deal. We also did not have the funds to attend the award ceremony at Gen Con. We did, however, write an acceptance speech on the off chance that we’d win. Because how often do you have a chance to write an Oscar speech in your life? Emily Care Boss held the speech as she accepted the award on our behalf.

Thank you for this awesome recognition.

It is particularly heartwarming, because people outside the Nordic scene — people like you — are the audience we were thinking of when we created the book.

It is humbling to be recognized in this community, because our hobby grew from the seeds planted by the American tabletop role-playing industry, and we feel honored to have been able to bring something back to the table.

Even though there are only two names on the cover of Nordic Larp, this book has been a group effort. Over 50 people contributed to the book in one way or another.

But even more importantly, it was a community effort. The vibrant Nordic larp scene not only supported us through the process, but it of course created all the awesome games we had the privilege to work on. The book was very much created by the whole scene, and thus we see this award as a recognition for the whole the scene.

Finally, we see this award as a vindication of taking role-playing seriously. Role-playing is not only a fun pastime, but also a sophisticated form of expression, fully worthy of study and critique.

As participatory art is difficult to grasp with the vocabulary of traditional media, it falls unto us, the scene, to explain our passion to each other, and to the outside world — if we ever expect it to be understood.

Thank you.

The players before the "Prayers on the Porcelain Altar" larp at Digra 2011.

The biannual DiGRA conference on game studies was held for the fifth time last week. I presented a paper The Making of Nordic Larp, which is basically an academic appendix to Nordic Larp. The article opens the process behind the book and addresses challenges relating to documenting larps. Hopefully the article enables researchers to make better use of the book.

At the conference there was quite a lot of interest in Nordic larps. As a taste I ran J. Tuomas Harviainen’s short scenario Prayers on a Porcelain Altar (check also his commentary of it), or actually two simulateneous sessions of it, something I had never done before. However, quite a few people asked me how one finds out about upcoming intereting Nordic style larps.

The easy answer to that question is that you should come to Solmukohta 2012 in the spring. But few people are willing to go to a weird event just to find about something else. Also, we have not made finding even the annual convention that is the centre of the this scene easy, as the names changes every year (Knu(te/t/de)punkt) depending on who hosts the event and we do not have a central site.

Indeed, we are crap at having any kind of central sites online, period. As the community is very loose and uncommercial, no one has (taken) the responsibility to create a shared resource. There have been attempts: The Nordic Scene worked for a while, and there have been attempts on Facebook (this one is the best one at the moment, but of course there is no editorial oversight there). Also, the quarterly magazine Playground does have a section on upcoming intereting stuff. Then of course there are the national lists of larps in different countries, but these usually are not looking for an international playerbase. So the truth is that there isn’t really an established place where you can find out about interesting upcoming larps.

Photo stolen from Digra 2011 Think Design Play Facebook page.

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.

Programme

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.

Party

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!

Photos stolen from Dominika Kováčová, Allan Eising and Miriam Lundqvist.

I have just returned 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 first part of a haphazard collection of some of my highlights.

Documentation

The trend in this year’s Knudepunkt was documentation. Yes, there were still numerous presentations on bleed (the biggest buzz word last year) and some people even had to courage to still talk about pervasive (which reached its height in 2009), but what really stood out this year was documentation. It seems that this community has gotten excited about writing down game designs and capturing play experiences. Of course, it can be said that I’m just hawking our documentation book, Nordic Larp, which was very well received at the convention. But no, everyone was talking about it, and better yet, it was not just talk: five books were published, two magazines premiered and a number of film documentaries are in the works. And this includes only the stuff that was being done in English.

So in addition to Nordic Larp, there were the three (yes, three) Knutebook published this year: Think Larp, Do Larp and Talk Larp. All of are also available online for free. The fifth book, Outside the Box, is a sort of a catalogue of what Court of Moravia has done in the Czech Republic. It’s so new that I can’t even find a website to link to. Order it from here.

The two magazines are Playground and the English version of the popular German magazine LARPzeit. These magazined cater to very different audience, but both of them are great initiatives. The decidedly artsy Playground is my favourite – and obviously the one that needs all the financial help it can get. They have funding now for a few more issues, but if you would like to live in a world where there is a good looking magazine that discussed pretentious larps (and related phenomena) in an intelligent and accessible fashion, then subscribe the magazine now.

In addition, a number of documentary films about larps premiered at Knudepunkt, Sara Hjalmarsson filmed interview segments for her upcoming Play it Live! and Lizzie Stark researched her upcoming book on larpers.

Larps

Luckily it was not all about looking back. Numerous new projects were announced and marketed. First of all two projects that have been talked about for years are finally becoming reality. Martin Ericsson talked about The Artists, a project by the Company P, which has been in development hell for years. Now it has finally been greenlit. I missed the official presentation, but it will be a mixture of art, larp and television. The other talked-about-for-so-long-that-I-never-thought-it-would-become-reality is Between Steel and Glass, sequel to Mellan himmel och hav (played in 2003). It will address issued of freedom and gender. Neither of these projects have a web page at the moment.

Still, the ones I am most exited about are Projekt Systém and Just a Little Lovin’.

Just a Little Lovin’ is about two groups of friends in the early eighties dealing with AIDS. The themes of the larp are desire, fear of death and friednship. Basically it is the first gay larp in the Nordic countries. Yes, it baffles me that we have done queer and gender fuck, but we have never really done gay.
The larp is played in outside of Oslo in early July and it is organized by Tor Kjetil Edland and Hanne Grasmo. I believe that Just a Little Lovin’ is sort of a thematic sequel to last year’s Mad About the Boy. I am hoping that Tor Kjetil’s Soul Trilogy (obviously it must be a trilogy) will conclude in 2012 with The Windmills of Your Mind.

The other super-fascinating project is Projekt Systém. It is a Czech game drawing heavily on history that portrays what it is like living under totalitarian rule. I heard about this larp a year ago when the Czech delegation presented it and wrote about it in the previous Knutebook, but now they are staging it in English for the international crowd. It looks very interesting, and if the trailer is anything to go by, it might finally be the game that is a bit more subtle about it’s portrayal of totalitarian systems. Projekt Systém was one of many interesting projects presented by Štěpán Hruda that show that today some of the most interesting Nordic style games are produced outside the Nordic countries.

Edit: At least one of the documentaries, the one on Delirium, is now out on Vimeo. Notice that this is a documentary about the 2010 Danish game called Delirium, and not a documentary about the completely unrelated 2010 Finnish game Delirium: The Second State of Will (that documentary has been out for half a year), which Evan Torner discussed in the Think Larp book.

You can now order the book online from the webshop Fëa. It offers worldwide delivery from Sweden, so the price of postage and packaging varies based on how far from Jönköping you live. In the future Fëa will also stock other Nordic books and magazines on role-playing games and larp.

(Edit: Low-resolution sample pages are available now!)

 

The proud parents. Based on Jaakko's grin he is planning on taking over the world with the book.

The book arrived from the printing press today! It was printed in Estonia and reached Finland today. It should be in Stockholm tomorrow and in Copenhagen and Oslo latest on Wednesday just before the release party.

Strategic measurements are as follows: weight 1,9 kg, height 28 cm, width 24,6 cm and thickness 3,5 cm.

Yes, we did open a bottle of champagne.

Don’t forget to come to the release party on Wednesday at 19:00 is Helsinki, Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen!

Juhana Pettersson, one of the authors, just happened to stop by. He surveys the book here as the editors look on.

This is what people have said about the Nordic Larp book:

Nordic Larp is a rare and vivid glimpse into a fascinating gaming tradition. If anyone knows how to imagine better worlds and build a more engaging reality, it’s larpers.”
Jane McGonigal, author of Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World

“Now evolved far from its roots in genre consumption and modification, the progressive Nordic live roleplaying scene is building the tools for participatory performance that artists internationally will be using for generations to come. Nordic Larp is the first book to put the community’s key pieces in one easily digestible and visually seductive format.”
Brody Condon, Artist

“The rise of the ars ludorum is not confined to the bombastic power fantasies of the videogame but is manifest all over the globe in diverse ways, from the doujin games of Japan to the passionate intensity of the indie games movement to the rise of the Euro-style board game. Not least among these movements is larp, brought to its apotheosis in the Nordic countries, where vast, imaginative works of enormous artistic ambition receive attention not only from game geeks but from their national cultures as well. This vital phenomenon is now accessible to English speakers through this landmark work, an anthology of articles describing some of the most impressive and compelling works of the form. Anyone seriously interested in role-play, interactive narrative, and the collision between games and theater will find it of enormous interest.”
Greg Costikyan, Game Designer

Nordic Larp hit the printers a few weeks ago. The book will be released on the 22nd of December in four simultaneous parties in Helsinki, Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen. The parties kick off at 19:00 local time. The Stockholm part fill be held in Betahaus (Skeppsholmen 30), and in Helsinki the location is Dubrovnik Lounge (Eerikinkatu 11). Locations in Oslo and Copenhagen are not yet decided, though.

These parties are probably the only chance to get the book before Christmas. The book costs 30 Euros. Later on the book will be availble through a webshop and the better role-play/larp shops across the Nordics.

You are hereby invited to join the parties. Feel free to bring a friend.

 

In the Nordic countries, live action role-playing has developed into a unique and powerful form of expression. Nordic larps range from entertaining flights of fancy to the exploration of the intimate, the collective and the political. This incredible tradition combines influences from theatre and performance art with gamer cultures, in order to push the boundaries of role-playing.

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