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!
In my Jesus-themed novel Son of Man there’s a scene where the main character visits his future friends’ commune in the 90s. Much like I did. On the wall he sees a black-and-white A4 that parodies horror movie posters. It’s got a picture of Jesus who steps out from his mountain-side grave looking like a zombie. The captions say “It’s Easter night, and he’s back from the dead!” and “He wants your immortal soul!” I’ve forgotten the name of the artist, so if you remember it, please post a comment.
Back then I found it funny and clever (and really daring), but these days zombie Jesus has become just another internet meme. Thus Easter Sunday, when according to Gospels Jesus arose from the dead, is now called Zombie Jesus Day. I’m a day late, but here’s some zombie Jesus material for your enjoyment. Some of the artists clearly think this is the first time anyone has thought of this, but many refer to the already existing phenomenon.
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.
I’m browsing texts about Dionysos worship, and came across a piece where historian Herodotos writes about Egyptian sacrificial animals.
“Moreover in my lifetime there happened in that district this marvel, that is to say a he-goat had intercourse with a woman publicly, and this was so done that all men might have evidence of it.”
Then, a couple of sentences later:
“Now to the other gods the Egyptians do not think it right to sacrifice swine; but to the Moon and to Dionysos alone at the same time and on the same full-moon they sacrifice swine, and then eat their flesh: and as to the reason why, when they abominate swine at all their other feasts, they sacrifice them at this, there is a story told by the Egyptians; and this story I know, but it is not a seemly one for me to tell.”
Public bestiality is okay, but the reason for sacrificing pigs is too horrible? What the hell?
I got married this Saturday to my bride Elina Lindroos, and made her my wife Elina Pohjola. In a couple of hours we’ll be on our honeymoon in Denmark and Greenland, and can’t be reached via e-mail until September 10th.
Our wedding had a Kalevala theme, and was appropriately called The Pohjola Wedding. The color was purple. The amount (and quality) of congratulatory speeches surprised all the guests, not to mention ourselves. The ceremony itself happened on top of a hillfort by a judge and a shaman. We are really happy 🙂
Here’s a couple of photos (by Claus Raasted and Saara Malmila), more through these links:
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.
After sleeping rather long, the four of us join many others at the Oslo Central Station to board the Knutepunkt bus. We were almost on time, but apparently two full busses had already left.
On the bus I read the larp scenario ”School Trip” that I and many others will have to run after the opening ceremonies. Nobody was asked about wanting to do it, I think – film director and Knutepunkt founder Erlend Eidsem Hansen simply picked twenty people with game mastering experience, and gave them the task. Eirik sitting behind me was similarly burdened.
The location turned out to be next to a beautiful mountain-rimmed half-frozen lake. Cabins, a hotel, and a big lavvo by the shore. Lots of old friends came to greet and hug us. I shared a bunk bed with my P co-owner Martin Ericsson, in a cabin with five other people.
The event was about to start with a ritual (Norwegians are crazy about rituals). Erlend told the game masters to help him out with it, as the opening ceremonies would meld seemlessly into the game. Carrying torches and accompanied by drum and flute, we twenty walk slowly to the circle of the two hundred participants. Most of the participants are wielding unlit torches, and we go through them, picking the ones that will play in our runs of the game, and lighting their torches.
For my run of The School Trip, I was joined by Lars, Jeep veteran Tobias Wrigstad, and six other people, some of whom I knew, some not. I had some problems with the game – it was a seemingly realistic game about a class reunion that will be interrupted by the teacher showing off a time machine he’s invented, and giving the class a chance to travel back to a traumatic event in their youth. That is, traumatic for like two or three people in the group. The rest weren’t really interested in the events at all, and just wanted to leave when this opportunity was introduced.
Every game master was to run the game in their own fashion (360 degree illusion, jeepform, tabletop, with theatre-like physicality, or whatever). I wanted to make mine as immersion-friendly as possible, and felt this would require me to somehow explain away the disruptive time machine and create a strong sense of group and place with practically no props, sounds, lights, costumes or anything, or time to prepare.
What I had, though, was a lot of people with slightly strange hair and clothes (them being larpers) and a shared understanding of some geek trivia. So I decided to make it a Harry Potter game with the students having gone to a school for wizards. That explained the time machine (magic) and managed to create a suitably unique atmosphere for the hour and a half. Fortunately the room I was given happened to have lots of books in it, so that helped, too. Many thanked me afterwards, so I think it was a succesful solution.
After this we all rushed into the main hall to hear my good friend Joc Koljonen hosting a live talk show with about a dozen varied Knutepunkt goers talking about the stuff they’ve been doing the year before or will do at the event. This included Martin talking about Dollplay and Marika, researcher Jaakko Stenros talking about their pervasive game studies, and a Finnish British theatre professional from Teatteri Naamio ja höyhen, Johanna MacDonald, who’d never visited Knutepunkts before but realized (quite right) that larp has quite a bit to do with performative arts.
I tried to go to sleep around two to be able to attend Johanna’s programme item at eight in the morning. Unfortunately Martin was under the influence that ours was a party cabin, inviting people there to keep partying when all other rooms had switched off the lights. But that’s just part of the magic of Knutepunkt!
I’m leaving for Norway tomorrow to take part in the four-day conference Knutepunkt that begins Thursday. I first attended this Nordic festival for roleplaying arts and theory in Denmark, 1999. That means this is my tenth year and eleventh time.
For many years now there’s been a conference journal published, and this year many of the articles are published online beforehand. Go and read them, they seem good! Larp culture in Latvia and Brazil, and articles from Malik Hyltoft, Eirik Fatland, Morgan Jarl, Andrea Castellani, and many important Finnish luminaries.
On Friday I’m trying out something new, and holding a ritual workshop. The Norwegians have long been very interested in ritual use in larps, and the relationship between ritual and roleplaying. I’ve searched for texts on emotional immersion in an art context, and found Nietzsche made interesting points about the worship of Dionysos and Apollon in his early writing. The ritual workshop is part of my larger ten-year aesthetic project dealing with writing and roleplaying – one that will also include my thesis work at Taik. So… I expect the Knutepunkt to be great and am quite exited to still be doing something new after ten years!