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!
I updated my English resumé, and decided to post it here on this blog, as well. Check it out!
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 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!
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.