Some thoughts and reminiscences from this year’s Solmukohta (Knutepunkt) in Finland. Solmukohta started as a conference/festival of Nordic larpers and has become a conference/festival of international larpers interested in the tradition of Nordic larp.
I’ve been a regular Knudepunkt goer since the third one in 1999. I haven’t missed a single event before last year’s one in Denmark. Which meant it was amazing to go back there this year when it was held in Helsinki.
This year apart from all the Nordics, I talked to people from Russia, Croatia, Israel, Germany, England, Latvia, Italy and the United States. On top of that I know we had visitors from pretty much all around Europe from Portugal to Latvia, from England to Bulgaria. So it’s really becoming international.
The editor of this year’s Solmukohta book States of Play, Juhana Pettersson, observed that ”Nordic larp” has become a tradition independent of the Nordic countries. So you can have Nordic larp in Mexico or Egypt. But you can also have larps in Finland that belong to some other tradition or remain more or less unaffected by that tradition. And that way you can even have Nordic larp being in dialogue with Finnish larp, and I guess my own Täällä Kirjokannen alla had quite a bit of that going on.
Next day all three hundred and sixty of us got on buses that drove us to the conference hotel Kiljavanranta next to some lake in the middle of the Finnish forest with some patches of snow left.
I ran two programs this year. One was called the Folk Fantasy Workshop, based on my article in States of Play (PDF). I gave a short presentation on the world in Täällä Kirjokannen alla, and then we started workshoping on taking each participants’ own country/nation/tribe/city/identity and turning that into a folk fantasy world. We had people from Sweden, China, Croatia and Russia present, and we had hardly gotten started when we already had to stop. The workshop might’ve been over ambitious, but I think the participants still made some interesting connections and maybe had some ideas they can later use for whatever they wish.
The other item was originally titled Contacting the Characters Within You, a self-help kind of approach to taking the roles and characters we carry around with us and using them for other things. Since the workshop was scheduled for Sunday morning, I had to rename it Hangover Yoga Workshop (and Contacting the Characters With You).
We started with twenty minutes of simple yoga exercises designed not to feel too bad for the hungover people, and wake everybody up a little bit. Then we started meditating on the characters we’ve played trying to identify five archetypes. The Good One, The Trickster, The Leader, The Shadow and The Brain. Not everybody had experience with all of these, but I think people sort of got the idea. We examined each one a little bit, and then chose two of them. Those two we made our own, trying to develop their physical language and put them on and off faster and faster. The idea was that the participants could learn to call on these characters in tricky situations in their ordinary life. For example a test might be very difficult for the participant in their everyday role, but putting on the role of The Brain might help them deal with it better. Different situations might require taking on different roles, and these sorts of exercises will hopefully help people to identify them better.
I think the workshop was a success since many people came to thank me for it later. I’m not an expert yoga master, either, but I think that went fine, as well.
One of the many highlights was being able to buy an early copy of Leaving Mundania from the author Lizzie Stark. I knew who she was since people had told me she visited last year’s Knudepunkt in Copenhagen. Leaving Mundania is a non-fiction book about larpers and the larp scene. It mostly focuses on larp in the United States, but the last chapter is titled Knudepunkt Blew My Mind. It was thrilling to read an excited outsider’s perspectives on the whole scene and the games we play and the the people we know. Of course, Lizzie’s not an outsider anymore.
She signed my copy ”Turku this!” Ironically, I accidentally left the book in the Turku School room (all the rooms were named after concepts in larp theory). So I really did Turku it. The next day it was gone. If you have it, I want it back!
The Pan-European tv drama / larp / transmedia experience The Spiral (formerly The Artists) is partly built by larpers, specifically Martin Ericsson and Adriana Skarped. They showed us a sneak preview of the tv show’s trailer, which seemed really cool. Parts of the whole thing are made through a larp, as some sort of mocumentary. Difficult to explain, but you should totally follow it when it airs in September in several European countries including Finland. Or take part in the larp parts – it’s not too late!
The social aspect is very important in these events. Even though I went to bed quite early on two nights, I had a chance to party it out Saturday. DJ Hakkis’s 90’s gothic hits marathon was well appreciated! Also interesting discussions on commercial larps in Siberia, how Taoism relates to the works of Ursula K. Le Guin, politics in Israeli larps, German film funding, the great roleplaying theories of the day, capitalism and socialism in post-apocalyptic Swedish larps and lots of other great stuff.
There’s an influential indie roleplaying scene mostly in the US, but also internationally, that used to be associated with the forum The Forge. Over the years they’ve sent one or two ambassadors that usually get converted, but this time it seemed like there was a whole faction of these great people. Some came to preach, others to listen, but continuing this dialogue between ambitious clicks is very fruitful. The Swedish/Danish jeepform tradition is, I think, a sort of love/hate child between Nordic larp, US indie and Danish tabletop. The US indie crowd is discussing Solmukohta at the Story Games forum.
Some random notes I made during the event:
“We have a special way of playing the post-death game.” -Alexey Fedoseev on Russian larps.
A StPetersburg game had in-game elections. If the conservatives won, the city was taken into history. With liberals, to the future.
Larps are not artificial, they are artifactual.
The Hollow Man Syndrome = there is no character, the player has to use their own experiences.
Read the book The Art of Curating Worship, a guidebook for Christian priests.
Solmukohta 2012 appreciation thread: http://laivforum.net/threads/20275-Solmukohta-2012-appreciation-thread!
Solmukohta talk on Twitter is here: https://twitter.com/#!/search/%23sk2012
My Nordic Larp Talk: http://nordiclarptalks.org/post/20957499776/how-to-become-a-god-mike-pohjola
Jaakko had convinced me to play Jiituomas Harviainen’s Prayers on a Porcelain Altar in the morning just after breakfast. It was the perfect thing to do in the morning with everybody tired and hungover.
The game was about a bunch of arrogant young actors the day after the entrance exams to the Finnish Theatre Academy. They’d partied heavily, and everybody had hazy recollections of what happened last night. A sort of murder mystery structure there (”Who slept with whom? Why am I bruised in the stomach?”), but just enough to give us something to play on.
The real core of the game was in the interplay between the characters. Nobody was feeling too great physically, everyone was nervous about how they did in the exams, trying to make others feel bad or just pick a fight for the hell of it. A great thing to play in this tired state of mind when everybody could just sit on the couches in nearly horizontal positions and slander others.
Harviainen had plugged this as ”a game where everybody is really hungover and nobody remembers anything about last night”, which had put me off for a long time, but it turned out to be quite meaningful and interesting. I’d heard someone had performed Faust in the previous day’s run, and gave myself permission to recite Hamlet. (Having done a piece of the same monologue in Klingon the previous night and now redoing it in more length in English gave it a slightly surreal context for me.)
All in all, a very interesting experience. Harviainen is definitely one of the foremost con larp artists I know of.
After the game it was time to pack our bags and get on the busses that took most people to Oslo Central Station and the rest of us to Gardaemon Airport. Our plane didn’t leave until seven so we had many an hour to spare at Peppes Pizza talking about larp and business and roleplaying and art and science and research and life and whatnot.
Tobias Wrigstad made two rapid-pace interview videos asking people at Knutepunkt what they thought was the cool. The One Cool Thing videos are on Youtube here and here. Apparently there’s lots of other similar videos from other cons, so I guess it’s some sort of indie rpg con trend.
Apart from the amazing Knutebook Larp, Universe and Everything, I got three other great books to bring home with me. One from Tronsmo was Lipstick Traces – Secret History of the 20th Century recommended by Martin to me some months ago. Claus Raasted had published a photo book about the larps he’d ran in 2008. It’s almost two hundred pages long with awesome pictures. And finally, I got a signed copy of Itras by, the Norwegian tabletop rpg set in the surrealist 20s. It’s being translated into Finnish even as we speek. More or that later.
I was a bit worried about being allowed back on the plane without my passport or any sort of ID, but fortunately I managed to talk the airport personnel into contacting Finnish immigration who gave them permission to let me through security.
All in all, this was a great Knutepunkt. Relaxed, inspiring, with just the right combination of heavy partying, sotto conversations, larping, rituals and theory.
Arrived in Oslo without a cellphone, or a passport, or company, with nobody knowing I was coming. Not a great start.
That was a strange experience, a freeform roleplaying game about bullying an overweight man. One person plays the fat guy, the rest create different scenes where his weight has become a problem. At one point the fifteen or so of us made a circle around him, each playing an unflattering, unrelenting alter ego, criticizing him. Then we moved closer, started speaking faster and louder and on top of each other, until in the end we were almost touching him yelling ”Fat fat fat fat! Ugly ugly ugly!” Not an uplifting experience for anybody, but an interesting experiment nevertheless.
Later that night we went to see a participative theatre play called The Night of the Serpents. They played the film noir style story in a bar, occasionally asking audience to make sounds or movements. The audience being 50 larpers, things soon got out of hand, although we let them move the story in their own direction nevertheless…
After the play, the Knutepunkt journal Larp, Universe and Everything was published. Having now read about five articles, I can tell you it’s got some hooties. I spent the night at my Eirik Fatland and Li Xin’s place, together with the Danish illustrator and storyboard artist Lars Munck. I’ve organized a couple of larps and other art projects with Eirik, and he and Li Xin have even studied in the Taik Medialab for two years.