The Turku Manifesto turns ten

February 23, 2010 at 2:21 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

It was published a day before, and I was selling them at a convention. When I gave Mika Loponen a copy, her burned it at the ash tray. Everyone was watching and cheering. ”Get them while they’re hot,” I yelled.

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the Manifesto of the Turku School. It is a roleplaying manifesto promoting character immersion as a player goal, and honest world simulation as a game master goal. It may be the most talked about thing I’ve written so far.

At the time the discussion on roleplaying theory was mostly centered around the question ”should there be roleplaying theory or is it ruining our hobby?” Some of tried to talk about the theory and practice of what we find interesting, and were blamed for ruining the fun for everyone, since you’re not supposed to take it too seriously, it’s supposed to just be fun. But is it good fun? What do you mean by fun? Is it fun to play something horrible happening to your character? Is it fun if the game master pulls everything out of his ass? Aren’t some kinds of fun better experienced if you really try to feel what the character feels, instead of just going through the motions?

In the summer of 1999 Norwegian roleplaying theorists Eirik Fatland and Lars Wingård wrote the Dogma 99, a ”Programme for the Liberation of LARP”. They argued that larp can be a meaningful medium for artistic expression and that you should take it seriously. We agreed on that. Then they went on to treat roleplaying games more as acting than as character immersion, and made the game master a linear storyteller instead of an interactive or multilinear enabler. I couldn’t stand for that, of course, and had to write the first part of the until then speculational manifesto. This became the Larper’s Vow of Chastity, published in the fall of 1999.

Dogma 99, like it’s Danish predecessor Dogme 95, contained rules that a game master could try out to challenge their way of making art. Most people understood the rules as something every game must adhere to according to the writers, and dismissed the whole thing. The Turku Larper’s Vow of Chastity did contain such rules, meant to be be obeyed when playing in a Turku style larp. ”I shall not speak out of character during a game”, and so on. Most people noticed that the player is also expected to follow the game master’s vision, and misinterpreted this completely assuming that this meant the character’s wouldn’t have free will within the game. I probably should’ve written it better.

Nevertheless, the Vow got lots of discussion, and I decided to go ahead with writing the Manifesto itself. The annual Nordic larp conference Knutepunkt was taking place in Helsinki that year, and there was a pre-party at (now celebrity journalist) Johanna Koljonen’s mother’s place. That was Wednesday 23rd of February, 2000. That’s where I first gave and sold copies of the manifesto that I’d written in the preceding couple of days, and picked up at the printers’ that morning. The title had a typo, since I didn’t know ”manifest” and ”manifesto” are two different things.

There was not yet a tradition for conference journals on roleplaying theory, so people were pretty amazed, and also amused. A copy of the manifesto was burned to protest its horrors. There was a panel discussion where Eirik Fatland and I duked it out. Later Eirik Fatland and I became fast friends, organizing many larps together, such as inside:outside and (with Juhana Pettersson) I Regret Nothing.

Next year and the year after that, people started writing their own manifestos in response to the Turku Manifesto and Dogma 99, and there was a Roihuvuori Manifesto, Meilahti Style, Bristol Manifesto, the Manifesto Manifesto, The Manifest Sunday, and dozens of others. Some were about roleplaying theory, some were parodies, most were descriptions of the writers’ own preferred styles without trying to force it upon anybody else. (Although then they’re not really manifestos, if I may say so.)

The manifesto creeps up every now and again in silly online discussions and such, and new people get angry at it. (Check out this one archived from 4chan!) Then somebody points out there’s a nice idea here or there, and the discussion turns into one of roleplaying theory. And occasionally somebody likes the text so much they want to translate it into their own language. So far we have Le Manifeste de l’Ecole de Turku in French, Manifest Školy Turku in Slovak, and Manifest Školy Turku in Czech. Today I’m publishing the Russian translation by Larnir Haigh. Enjoy!

I’ve since written some other articles that I view as part of the Turku School canon, and am working on my BA and MA theses at the Aalto University of Art and Design in Helsinki. They will deal with familiar topics including larps, rituals, Aristotle, Nietzsche and character immersion. The Turku School will live on.

I’m thinking of doing something cool about regarding the Manifesto at this year’s Knutpunkt in Stockholm. Any ideas?

And finally, to celebrate this anniversary, here are some more photos from 2000. Can you recognize all the current game researchers and bigwigs then in their blossoming youth?

Portrait of the author as a young man.


  1. Petter Karlsson said,

    Lovely photos Mike!!

  2. Ten Years of Turku « Nordic Larp said,

    […] I am in stuck in Turku at the moment since the winter is wrecking havoc with the train schedules. It is very fitting, since today ten years have passed to the day since the publication of The Manifesto of the Turku School. […]

  3. Dominika Kovacova said,

    …however, there is no Czech translation, only the Slovak one on a Czech site… 😉

  4. Erlend said,

    Can it be that you have 2 different styles of hair at the same KP/SK?
    I would have thought it is 2 different occasions?

    Alas, you are also a revisionist, Pohjola!
    There is NOTHING in the DOGMA about linear storystructures!

    quote (about dogma`99): “Then they went on to treat roleplaying games more as acting than as character immersion, and made the game master a linear storyteller instead of an interactive or multilinear enabler.”

    Especially Eirik and me have been battling for multilinear storytelling, to link Dogma to anything close to linear is to lie, to spread borgeous, contrarevolutionary propaganda.
    This is treason against the gospels, against history, and this might lead to a serious fight of retorics and theory at KP010 😉

    As for the ritual workshop, let us hope it will consolidate the opposing parts of this neverending battle between good & evil.


  5. Lars Munck said,

    Three cheers for the birth of Turku manifesto, the great experiments and failures that followed 🙂

  6. mikepohjola said,

    Thank you everybody!

    @Dominika, my bad! My Czech isn’t that good 🙂

    @Erlend, when will you stop with your cheauvinist-imperialist-dramatist lies, and realize your outdated “game master as storyteller” ideology lost the battle for the hearts and minds of roleplayers. We have been liberated from your CIA/MPAA-funded oppression, and will never go back to wearing the chains of story again. Hasta la victoria siempre!

    And yes, I had three different hair styles that weekend. Those two, and then a white attempt at Robert Smith.

  7. Erlend said,

    the faces of a contrarevolutionary have 3 different hairstyles in just 1 week-end wohah!
    the true face of deceit, in one single character, one traitor of mankind, one who dare making fun of the story!

    and you start a confrontation with me.

    just you wait until the naxalittic, elitist bomber-jeepers get hold of you.
    with the coolest boys and the coolest girls..
    they will burn your hair and kidnap your wife to get you to eat your comments!

  8. Claus Raasted said,

    Wonderful. More perspective. More Ten Years.
    Just more!
    (and see you in Stockholm)

  9. Martin Ericsson said,

    I’ve got your back mate. Let’s immerse the planet!

    4chan link is broken btw.

  10. Mike Pohjola said,

    The photos are by Onni Qvickström.

  11. Gino said,

    Writing articles is tedious.I know how you can get unlimited
    articles for your website, search in google:
    Anightund’s rewriter

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