The oldest Norwegian underground magazine Gateavisa reviews Nordic Larp in their current issue. This is what they say:

LARP i Norden

De færreste jeg kjenner har noen som helst formening om hva laiv-rollespill innebærer, og de som har det går som oftest ut fra at det gjelder folk som løper rundt i skogen med plastikksverd og rare kostymer og leker Tolkien. Årets utgivelse, prydboken ”Nordic Larp”, forandrer alt dette.

Boken omtaler 30 LARP (Live Action Role Playing) -spill fra 1994 og frem til i dag, og viser hvordan de nordiske larp-miljøene gradvis har bygget det som begynte som en hobby om til en distinkt og egen kunstform, både hva gjelder teori, utforming og instilling fra spillerne. Jeg skal komme tilbake til selve kunstteorien som trer frem i en senere artikkel, men da dette er en bokanmeldelse vil jeg bare kort skissere noen kjernepunkter i det som gjør nordisk Larp unikt.

Først og fremst ligger det hele i begrepet ”immersion”, på norsk blir vel dette innlevelse. Spillerens utfordring er å gå inn i rollen i høyest mulig grad, og i spillets gang holde på denne rollen uansett hvilke situasjoner som oppstår. Dette betyr at man aldri tar ”off-game”- pauser i spillet med mindre det er fare for liv og helse, noe som en del har funnet ganske så skremmende.

Det andre elementet er hvordan larp-sjangeren har utviklet seg fra å være enkle Tolkien- og vampyr-ripoffs til å bli seriøse intelligente produksjoner, basert vel så mye på akademisk teori og allmenn literatur som på fantasy-sjangerens velkjente formeler. Det kanskje vakreste eksempelet er ”1942 – Noen å stole på” som gjenskapte ned til minste historiske detalj livet på øya Herdla utenfor Vestlandet under tysk okkupasjon. Her var ingen actionsekvenser, ingen kjemping, bare et stille rollespill hvor man levde ut spenningene i bygda mellom de lokale og den tyske utposten med alt det innebar. Et annet spill verdt å nevne er ”Europa”, hvor spillerne i tre dager agerte flyktninger fra den store nordiske borgerkrigen som har søkt asyl i et slavisk land. Spillet foregikk på en interneringsleir, komplett med russiske vakter, og ble for mange av spillerne en erfaring helt opp mot det mentale smertepunktet. Et langdrygt og intenst teaterstykke uten annet publikum enn spillerne selv, der ingen så helheten men bidro til å male et fragmentarisk verk kun seinere manifestert i den kollektive rekolleksjon av spillet.

Boka er som sagt et prakteksemplar, over 300 sider fullfargetrykk, og hvert spill er beskrevet av deltagere eller arrangører. Noe av det mest interessante for oss kunstinteresserte er å se utviklingen fra lek til kunst, hvordan miljøet rundt spillene blir gradvis mer selvbevisste på sin egen skapning og hvordan kunstbevisstheten nærmest vokser organisk frem hos arrangørene. Boken er et must for enhver kunstinteressert, koster 250 spenn pluss frakt, og kan bestilles via nett på nettbutikken Fëa.

Anbefales!

In a short summary for those not getting into Google Translate; they recommend the book and call it a must have for their art-interested readers. In addition, they appreciate the growing self-understanding of the Nordic larp community, and — perhaps because they are Norwegian — praise especially the things they found out about 1942 and Europa.

Earlier reviews: Särkijärvi, Harviainen, Mäyrä

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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!

Jukka Särkijärvi, also known as NiTessine of Worlds in a Handful of Dice blog, reviews Nordic Larp. He’s a long-time tabletop role-player who has never been to a larp, and one of the authors of a Finnish compendium of tabletop role-playing games called Roolipelikirja.

The review is long and thorough, but here’s the gist of it:

Nordic Larp sets out to present the full scale of what you can do in a larp and how people have done it, be it entertainment, social commentary or artistic expression. I think it accomplishes all of this, and looks good doing it. It’s an excellent introduction to the topic and tells you where to go for further information (though I can’t actually find web addresses for any of the Knutepunkt books, which might be handy to have since they’re free online). Though it uses concepts and terminology developed in the study of larp, it explains those concepts as it goes and does not require prior familiarity, merely an open mind.

It’s a fucking awesome book. It’s big, it’s well written and it looks beautiful, which is important for a coffee-table book like this. What quibbles I have are relatively minor. The production values are absurdly high for something that costs only €30. If you have any interest at all in the topic, I can heartily recommend you buy it.

Not a bad statement from one of those non-larpers, right?

Earlier reviews: Harviainen, Mäyrä

J. Tuomas Harviainen, who is about to finish a PHD on the informatics of larp, writes the following review in his blog:

The long-awaited volume, edited by Jaakko Stenros and Markus Montola, is finally out. And boy was it worth the wait! I expected something very nice but not magnificent, and was totally wrong. Hard covers, 320 pages of material with a very good layout and tons of excellent pictures.

Now, I have read and heard plenty of most of the 30 games inside, but not all of them. Really intriguing new material inside aplenty. The perspectives are fresh, and the slightly different target audience means that things are explained with a more beginner-friendly way. This is a very good thing. One can also see definite lines of influences in the book, going from one game to another, which is nice.

Nordic Larp is something you can hand over to someone dismissive of larp as juvenile, and have them very likely reconsider their opinion. It’s an art book, no doubt about that, even if Stenros’ very nice essay at the end critiques such definitions as too limiting.

I am glad to own a copy of the book, and to have been able to participate in writing it. A special thanks goes to the two people who provided the necessary photographs, Mikko Asunta and Sampsa Rydman, to the players who allowed themselves to be quoted and those who allowed their pictures to be seen, and of course my co-designer Nina Hämäläinen, without whom I would not have had the games to write about in the first place.

My sole complaint is that the font is a bit too small for comfortable, fast reading (and my own text has a couple of strange grammar mishaps, probably my own and not due to editing). Everything else is just great. Nordic Larp is a milestone, one that should be found on the shelves and tables of any serious fan of larp, as well as people involved in sibling arts. Go get a copy here. It’s worth the money.

He wrote to Nordic Larp about his PehmoYdin larps, and is portrayed as the Moominpappa of En stilla middag med familjen. Nevertheless, we are pleased to read his review!

Earlier reviews: Mäyrä

We’ll try to collect all reviews and comments here, whether they are positive or negative. The first one is from Frans Mäyrä, the professor of hypermedia and digital cultures from the University of Tampere. Yeah, he’s my supervisor and Jaakko’s boss, and this is not a thorough review, but hey, this is what he said:

This hefty tome is definitely worth all the extra publicity we can spare: Jaakko Stenros and Markus Montola have done major cultural service to game, culture and art studies (as well as to the history) by collecting and putting together an amazing volume of photos, descriptive texts and cultural essays to celebrate the fine art of live action role-playing, Nordic style. Great work, congratulations.

If you review Nordic Larp to some magazine or website, please drop us a tip so we can blog it. Or if you want to review it yourself, drop us a mail at firstname.lastname@uta.fi and we’ll see about a review copy.

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

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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