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
If you’re interested in what’s going on in the fields of participation, interaction or roleplaying, I recommend spending this evening at Club PRKL in Helsinki or online following the webcast. It’s the publishing of the new Solmukohta journal States of Play followed by Nordic Larp Talks.
The doors open at 6pm, the excellent book States of Play is published at 7, and Nordic Larp Talks hosted by Johanna Koljonen starts at 8!
States of Play is edited by Juhana Pettersson and has dozens of really interesting articles on the design, theory, documentation and results of the cutting edge Nordic tradition of live roleplaying. My article Folk Fantasy deals with Täällä Kirjokannen alla and what I think might be the dawn of a new era in the fantasy genre. The book is also published as a free PDF.
Now, here’s some info on Nordic Larp Talks:
We are proud to welcome you to Nordic Larp Talks Helsinki 2012 – an evening of entertaining, thought-provoking and mind-boggling lectures about projects and ideas from the Nordic tradition of live action roleplaying games.
The talks are presented by writer, radio & television host as well as winner of the innovator category of this year’s The Swedish Grand Journalism Prize award, Johanna Koljonen.
Mike Pohjola – How to become a god
Johanna Macdonald – From stage to larp
JP Kaljonen – The interplay between player and man in the street
Jesper Bruun – Experimental Larp Design
Lizzie Stark – Playing in Graveyards: Terror collides with larp in New York City
My presentation, How To Become A God, deals with the history of drama from Dionysian rituals to reality television, and beyond, and how all of this relates to roleplaying. While doing that, I’ll also answer a puzzling point in Aristotle’s Poetics that’s been bugging theatre scholars for three thousand years.
See you there!
The roleplaying conference Knutepunkt 2011 is going on as I type. For the first time since 1999 I’m not attending, but I’ve written a short essay on one of the books. Yes, one of the books, since this year they had three books! You can download them all as PDFs.
Do Larp has manuscripts an blueprints for several recent larps, Think Larp has academic articles on larp, and Talk Larp has various rants and essays on larp. That’s the one I’ve contributed to.
My friends Jaakko Stenros and Markus Montola have been working for eighteen months on a huge photo book about the most ambitious larps in the Nordic countries. Nordic Larp will be published today Wednesday. I got my copy Tuesday afternoon, and it’s worthy of much praise!
The book has thirty excellent live roleplaying games from Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Some games I’ve been involved in creating (Luminescence, inside:outside, Europa, PanoptiCorp, Dragonbane), in others I’ve been a player (Helsingin Camarilla, Ground Zero, The Executive Game, Hamlet, Zombie, Mellan himmel och hav, Silmäpuoli merirosvo), and all of them I’ve heard lots of good things about.
During the fifteen larp years in the book, the scene has deal with gender roles, society, cancer, Norway’s Nazi occupation, the mafia, nationality, insanity, capitalism, Shakespeare and the homeless, and adventure with vampires, dragons, steampunk spaceships, pirates and dead spirits that communicate through radio. Many of these in the same game.
My article In Prison With Kafka and Beckett is about inside:outside (2001-2002), a larp Eirik Fatland and I designed, and Irene Tanke produced, that was my first larp to be exhibited in an art gallery. The book has eight pages of text an Frode Dybvad’s photos for the game. While the pictures are good, many more articles are much more visual, since the originals were somehow lost in the Faroe Islands in Frode’s bag. (I think this accurately displays what a huge undertaking Stenros and Montola had in getting photos of some of the older games.)
Since a larp is an immediate work that cannot be recorded or reproduced, editing and publishing a book like this is a great deed for the whole culture. Without one the visionary live roleplaying games of old would remain only in the dimming memories of its participants and turn into vague stories told over proverbial campfires, but now they are documented with visual proof. With this book the history of Nordic larp is immortalized.
I obviously haven’t read the whole tome yet, but after browsing it, I can tell it’s full of interesting articles and brilliant photo pages. The book will be available online and in select bookstores, but you can also get it at the publishing party today on Wednesday, Dec 22th.
There will be four or five simultaneous parties held in Helsinki, Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, at least. 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 for Oslo and Copenhagen will be announced here.
The parties are also connected to each other with a live stream. You can also watch the video online in real time, or take part by Tweeting (#nordiclarp). (I promise not everyone there dubs themselves a Social Media Expert!)
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.
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.
I may have forgotten several key details about last night, including a strange improvised midnight quest with one master Daniel Krauklis. Also, I met a man with long fingernails and long blonde hair, whom the Norwegians had dubbed ”The young Mike Pohjola.” Nice fellow, so not exactly like me.
I had signed up for lots of programme Saturday morning, but slept through most of it, only waking up in time to attend the end discussion of Jiituomas Harviainen’s lecture where they talked about the differences and similarities between ritual and larp. A shame I missed it, but fortunately there will be articles coming up on the topic.
I woke Martin up, dragged him to lunch, and we started rigging up for our presentation. I’m not often hungover, but for some unknown reason that curse afflicted me this day. Head aching, nausea, confusion, all that good stuff.
The Knutepunkt practical arrangements were well taken care of, but I often noticed problems with the tech department. Sound cables missing, extension cords nowhere to be found, video projectors not set up in time, and so on. The guys working the tech were doing the best they could, but I think they simply didn’t have enough gear. Later in the evening I ended up borrowing my laptop to Erlend and Katri Lassila so they could show their films, that were apparently unplayable on the equipment at hand.
After everything was set up, we did our hour-and-a-half presentation, starting with Sanningen om Marika, and moving on from there. We created a sort of narrative around the fact that after last year’s Solmukohta we were just getting ready to fly to Cannes for the International Emmy Gala.
When we told the little tale of us sitting there in the gala, applying nail polish and flipping the passive media off, and winning the damn statue… people started applauding. That was a real nice, warm moment. We, both of us, had spent so many years being the annoying guys in black, making outrageous claims and being accused for destroying the hobby by taking it in all the wrong directions, this was a great sense of community. No bitterness, no envy, just joy. (And rightly so, since we strongly feel this is the Nordic larpdom combining with traditional tv.)
Then we talked in length about Dollplay, and very, very, very briefly about two projects in the pipeline: The Artists and TEVA. To summarize: ”We can’t really say anything about these.” ”But maybe we can say which country it will begin in?” ”Well, it may begin in some individual country, or perhaps not.”
The last programme for me, apart from Erlend’s film, was a jeepform game in the style of talk show. The idea was to do a sort of ”This Is Your Life” kind of show with the audience improvising/roleplaying key points in the person’s life. It’s nice to make these kinds of experiments, but I didn’t really think it worked. It was just over-long impro theatre with no unifying plot, and no point.
After the programme there was plenty of hanging out, and visiting strange parties. The Czechs held a party in their cabin, serving foul tasting alcohol which I countered by bringing them some salmiakki. People sang songs from their native countries, which was surprisingly nationalistic for Knutepunkt, so I introduced myself as coming from the klingon homeworld. I was asked to sing klingon opera, but opted out playing a scene from the tragedy of Khamlet. (Jaakko approved, saying it’s much better in the original Klingon.)
Jukka and Hakkis ran two drinking workshops this year, instead of just the one. One was a secret drinking workshop, so I can’t really talk about that. The other one was a fifteen-minute port wine workshop (porttivartti) where we were joined by a really drunk and young Faroese first-timer, whom I dubbed Junior. He didn’t know who anybody was, which we found hilarious. Had we been less arrogant and drunk, we might’ve told him, but such was not the way of the Knutepunkt Saturday night.
I managed to get up before eight in the morning to attend Johanna’s workshop Physical Rituals. It felt more like a theatre workshop combined with a bit of conceptual immersion, which was great in itself, but far from ritual in the Knutepunkt context.
After that I had breakfast and went to hear a lecture on Czech larps. I think I speak for all attendees when I say we went there a bit smug and feeling superior, and came out feeling humbled and in awe. The Czechs have had documented cases of larping since before WWII. Something like it even before WWI! Amazing.
Before lunch I had to take a short nap to regain my full capacities for the afternoon. I didn’t expect much from the meals, but they turned out to be brilliant Norwegian tapas buffets with more varieties than I could fit on my plate. I wonder how well the meat eaters must’ve eaten!
Then it was time for my ritual workshop. Just wanting to run a ritual workshop at a con should be enough to prove I’d finally become completely Norwegian.
I don’t know what else the lavvo was used for, but it was perfect for this. In the middle there was a fire, and we gathered around it. First we sacrificed little wine to the wine god Dionysos by drinking it or pouring it onto the fire, while I took my ritual knife and drew a magic circle around the participants.
We tried out three or four different types of choruses, beginning with a classic Dionysian dithyramb with just the chorus and the priest/chorus master. Then adding one actor, and then one more, moving on towards classic Greek tragedy where chorus is just one part of what’s on stage. Aristotle and Nietzsche have said that the chorus is the ideal audience, and I wanted to test out what that means. I think I get it now, but will run something like this again at Ropecon.
Masks and music and monologues and chanting. I found it pretty cool, although this was still clearly a learning experience for me. Many had expected a mock ritual rather than a workshop on rituals, so they might’ve been slightly disappointed at all the theory and the lack of drums.
After the ritual it was gala time! It was a color themed party for which I’d brought a goth suit I’d bought in Amsterdam just after Christmas. Hakkis and Jukka had chosen to wear pink stetsons and robes, becoming the wizards of love.
The party had a couple of excellent burlesque performances, great people, lots of drinks of varying kinds, people going from small gatherings to large groups and then private discussions, strange drinks, lots of dancing, and so on. This was my mandatory night of staying up ridiculously late and well worth it.