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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.

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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.

The culture section of Helsingin Sanomat opened with a full page story on Nordic larp and Nordic Larp last Saturday. For those who don’t know, HS is the biggest newspaper in the Nordic countries, with a daily circulation of some 400.000.

While they tell about the book and some of the larps covered in the book, the majority of the article is based on our interview. Since they don’t really give their own opinion on the book itself, won’t be translatinging this to English — everything they write can be read from the book itself or this blog. They chose to highlight PanoptiCorp, Europa and FVV, as such games are of highest interest for the culture section in particular.

Truth be told, we are quite busy congratulating ourselves over this!

Sarah Lynne Bowman, the author of The Functions of Role-Playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems and Explore Identity (which I still haven’t had the time to read), speaks about larp and its Nordic variety in a Bitch magazine podcast.

SR: I know that the culture around LARPing is pretty different in Denmark and Sweden, for example, from how we perceive it in the U.S.

SB: The Nordic LARPers, incredible group of people that are fascinated by LARP theory; role-playing theory in general, but specifically LARP and how it can be used to promote social change, how it can be used to challenge gender stereotypes, how it can be used to recreate totalitarian states. It’s absolutely fascinating. It makes what we’re doing over here look like child’s play. There’s this one called System Danmarc where they spent nine months creating a set in the middle of Copenhagen, and they created a shantytown. I forget how many players, maybe 350 or something like that. It’s a post-apocalyptic world, and they’re playing the lowest of lowest classes. I mean, there was like real violence, real sex, just, you know, anything goes—

SR: –As characters?

SB: –Real drug addiction—yeah. And the government was funding it. There are people in America who were doing experimental stuff too, but nearly to that degree. I mean, these people had manifestos, and anti-manifestos, and just, you know… it’s pretty incredible stuff.

Later on she goes on to a certain rape scenario too.

As we have worked on this book, and especially now that the end is near, we have in several cases been forced to meddle with crediting practices. While we try to shy away from creating a hall of fame, it is obvious that if you spent X hours laboring on a project, it’s quite important on whether you get the recognition and bragging rights when an occasion arises.

Projects like Dragonbane and Conspiracy for Good unfortunately have 100+ people working for them, and our credit box is not that large, so sometimes you can’t credit everyone. Sometimes the order of listing the credits leads to discussion, sometimes everyone should be credited for “larp design”, even when there’s one person who specifically focused on that.

Whenever there’s been discussion, the chief organizer’s say goes in this book, usually a producer or a chief creative. Then again, the organizers of System Danmarc wanted to only credit Opus, and The White Road lists all players, as it was collectively created.

Personally I think that credits are important. The Company P has stuff ranging from Knappnålshuvudet to Tähti in their early work portfolio, and Rollespilsfabrikken lists stuff starting from teen pirate larps in their cv. Being involved with something like Carolus Rex, Mellan himmel och hav or Delirium can help to open the doors of the digital game industry, a larp-based boarding school or it can help kickstart your event organizing company.

So… for any project that takes at least five person years of work, I say this: Be fair. Don’t shy away from discussing them, or constructively demanding recognition. Sort credits out early, even during the project, and list them on your website. And while it is not entirely applicable to what we do, take an hour to read the IGDA Crediting Guide.

Photo by Bjarke Pedersen, from Level Five.

Juhana Pettersson announced the new high brow Nordic magazine on larp and role-playing in his blog yesterday:

Playground Magazine is a Nordic quarterly publication about larp and tabletop roleplaying games. Its aim is to focus on new, interesting, groundbreaking and unconventional games.

The magazine will be launched in early 2011. The first issue is being worked on now.

Playground is based in Norway, but will be in English. Its aim is to cover new phenomena on roleplaying games across the Nordic countries and beyond.  The editor in chief is the game designer Matthijs Holter (Draug, Society of Dreamers).

The editorial team features people from Norway, Denmark and Finland. The “Finland team” consists of me and Laura Kalli.

If you’re a writer, a photographer or an illustrator and wish to work with us, get in touch: jlp@iki.fi We’re always on the lookout for new and interesting articles, subjects or people.

Right now, what Playground needs more than anything is people who want to do marketing or distribution. If you have a clue about either of those things and wish to further the cause of Nordic roleplaying, get in touch.

This is quite exciting. There has never been a proper Nordic magazine on role-playing. The closest thing is probably the crappy ‘zine panclou I edited with Johanna Koljonen and Markus Montola a decade ago. I wish the magazine lasts for a long time. RPG magazines in Finland have tended to die out and the situation is not much brighter in Sweden. In Denmark there is a thriving free advertising-financed magazine about the mainstream of larp, but only a few issues have come out so far.

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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