Tøysete podcast om det nordiske laivmiljøet


Hunden Joppe. Dog and prop.

Noen fleibete abekatter har tatt på seg tullestemmen og laget korte sketsjer satt til en fiktiv versjon av det nordiske laivmiljøet, inkludert internasjonale deltakere. Forutsetter overfladisk kjennskap til Knutepunkt og laivmiljøet.

Se den komplette spillelisten her

Imagonem anbefaler særlig:

Intervju med den svenske laiveren Skotberg Skvatle om en spennende ny metateknikk

Intervju med den svenske laiveren Hasse Halmström, arrangør av Caveman Fantasylarp (litt lang – 4 minutter)

Interview with main Danish Knudepunkt organizer Raus Rasmussen

Hasse’s highlights from Knutpunkt

Interview with German larper Stefan Abelwurst


This thing of ours


The Foundation Stone of Nordic Larp
Knutpunkt 2014

Edited by Eleanor Saitta, Marie Holm-Andersen & Jon Back

(318 pages)

The annual larp conference Knutepunkt (alternating between four of the Nordic countries) has a tradition of putting out one to several anthologies with larp-related essays. This year, there are two books. Both are available for free download here.

Imagonem has previously reviewed The Cutting Edge of Nordic Larp: Chewing on the Cutting Edge.

The Foundation Stone is meant to serve as a primer to the “Nordic Larp discourse”. It has some new essays commissioned especially for the book, but mostly consists of papers, articles and essays from previous Knutepunkt anthologies.

The papers selected from previous Knutebooks represent “games from the perspective of the player and theorist”. That means papers written especially with the larp designer in mind have been consciously left out. Larps used for educational purposes are also not covered. That probably makes the book less practical and hands-on than some might have hoped for (I’ll let you know that a certain well-known Nordic larp theorist and designer is currently working on a book specifically on larp design, though).

HAMLET (2002). (Photo: Bengt Liljeros)

HAMLET (2002). (Photo: Bengt Liljeros)

The Foundation is a good primer if you’re interested in larp (or even roleplaying in general) considered as a form of expression with artistic potential. It’s probably also of value if you’re into role playing theory or game research. It gives you an overview of discussions that have taken place, terminology in current use, and presents a smattering of interesting, often avant-garde, projects.

Some of the texts are quite high-flying and abstract, and don’t shy away from using complicated terminology and namedropping more-and-less obscure philosophers and academics. Some are more straightforward reads.

The copy-editing seems much better than in the “Cutting Edge” anthology, at least to my untrained eyes. Some essays have photos, most don’t (I think this is a consequence of what they looked like in the original anthologies). The layout is clean and functional.

If you want to approach these texts, I suggest doing so at your own leisurely pace, rather than reading as fast as you can in order to write a review no one really asked you for (well, except Anders, bless his heart) just in time for Knutpunkt.

Disclaimer: I’m acquainted with many of the authors, and consider quite a few of them friends. I’ve played some of the games mentioned in the book, and have dipped my toe and various other appendages in this scene for years. So I’m not really much in the way of an objective, neutral source.

TOTEM (2007). (Photo: Rasmus Høgdall)

TOTEM (2007). (Photo: Rasmus Høgdall)

Here’s a walkthrough guide to the book, where I go through the essays one by one. I hope this will prove useful in finding your way to the essays that’ll interest you the most:

The first part of the book is a presentation of some selected “Nordic Larp Talks”. These are short (between 10 minutes and half an hour), TED-talk-style video presentations on various larp-related topics. The PDF has both QR codes you can scan with your cellphone and links to the videos on YouTube. I haven’t seen all of these, but the Nordic Larp talks I’ve attended have been both good and entertaining. I suggest you see if you find a topic that interests you and go have a look. All of the videos are presented at nordiclarptalks.org.

Then there are three essays on “The Nordic Larp Community”.

Andie Nordgren has an essay titled “A Community Shaped by Participation”, where she talks about how the Nordic social and political context has shaped the community, and argues that you have to take part in order to actually understand how larp (and this particular larp tradition) works. She concludes that the tools, skills and perspectives you gain by larping and organizing larps are also applicable beyond larp itself. “I personally hope this book can be a way for larp to meet practitioners from other fields with a wish to shape reality – to trade tools, methods and visions for possible futures – real and fictional.” This sentiment is quite typical of the Nordic Larp mentality/discourse, and may be seen as a somewhat radical notion. Especially if you’re in the “roleplaying games are only a form of entertainment/hobby” camp. And it goes beyond mere talk and theorizing: quite a few participants in the Nordic scene make a living doing educational larps for schools and organizations, several larps with a political message/intent (usually of the left-wing variety) have been run, some have experimented, or continue to live in, relationships on the side of “heteronormative” practices, and (in the same vein) some use the tools/mindset of larp (and various political theories) to challenge base assumptions of identity, gender and so on.

DRAGONBANE (2006). There was a dragon. It didn't breathe fire. (Photo: Janne Björklund / Kuvateko.com)

DRAGONBANE (2006). There was a dragon. It didn’t breathe fire. (Photo: Janne Björklund / Kuvateko.com)

An Introduction to the Nordic Player Culture (Helene Willer Piironen & Kristoffer Thurøe)
Tries to explain some core concepts typical of many larps in the “Nordic tradition”, like immersion (to a certain extent “forgetting yourself” during play), “bleed” (when your thoughts and feelings are influenced by those of your character, or vice versa), “playing to loose” (setting your character up for failure), transparency of design, co-creation of setting and character, and so-called “meta-techniques”. The essay admits that not all of this is readily accessible to a newcomer in the form of essays or guides on what constitutes “good play” in this particular tradition. It also suggests that the best way of learning to play Nordic larps is to, well, play them, and invites the reader to come do so. The authors don’t necessarily mean that you can’t have use of the Nordic canon of theory, practice and methods outside of the Nordic countries, although they give an example of how it can be hard to transfer the player culture to an environment where the players have trained themselves to think of gaming in a different way. “We still believe that the best way to get the full picture is to come and play our games with us. We would love that.” That might be beyond the time and means of many readers, though (and Nordica is kind of expensive). Personally, I believe that there’s plenty you can learn, adapt and take home to spice up your local tradition in both this book and other parts of the voluminous output of Nordic Larp over the years.

Knutepunkt — A Love Story (Margrete Raaum)
Since 1997, Knutepunkt has been the social and theoretical hub of the Nordic larp community. This essay shares some of the convention’s history and peculiarities. “Even if we come from an expressive cultural tradition by Nordic standards, the weirdness of the Knutepunkt crowd is ridiculous — at least during the Knutepunkt weekend. There are no mundane people. It’s like an energetic porcupine.” The essay is short and enthusiastic, and probably a good primer if this is your first year at Knutepunkt or if you’re considering going sometime.

The next part of the book is titled “Essays from the Nordic Larp Discourse”, and consists of a choice collection of essays from 13 years of Knutepunkt anthologies. All the essays have short, new introductions written especially for this book.

(Photo: Dragonbane project)

(Photo: Dragonbane project)

Play to Love – Reading Victor Turner’s “Liminal to Liminoid, in Play, Flow, and Ritual; An Essay in Comparative Symbology” (Martin Ericsson)
Ok. Well. We’re off to a start with a real easy and accessible text. Real tabloid stuff (I’m being sarcastic). Ericsson has a look at larp through the lens of something called “performance theory” with which I’m personally not familiar (it seems to spill over into something akin to anthropology?) and the ritual drama of ancient societies: “(…) it seems clear that current larp-practices share more traits with dramatic ritual than with any other form of human behaviour.” This seems to be meant used not only as a tool for (pseudo?)academic analysis of a fun pastime, but rather a radical mission statement of using larp to change yourself and the world. “The ideal player must become a Liminaut – a free explorer of the threshold realm – and abandon all illusions of being an individual defined by the fetters of her mundane prison of self. The equation is as simple as it is potent: to truly play one must be truly free.” For someone who has a cursory interest in Chaos Magic, social rituals considered as games for both subjugation and liberation, identity and stuff like that (me, for instance) it’s kind of inspirational and feels like a throwback to my early twenties. Maybe I was onto something then I may have forgotten. You also get to read fun words like “ethologically” and “quadrilogical”, which I personally didn’t bother to look up.

Temporary Utopias – The Political Reality of Fiction (Tova Gerge)
The essay looks at the Swedish larp Mellan himmel och hav (Between Heaven and Sea) from 2004, a sci-fi story about an alternate society inspired by the works of Ursula K. Leguin and feminist identity theory. It initially claims to use “the larp (…) to look at how themes and dramatic structures correspond with political focus.” I’m not really sure what that means, or whether the text accomplishes it. It does however give a sketch, an impression, of what sounds like a very interesting game by describing some of its structure, scenography and methods. The larp played around with social structures and the concept of gender. Gerge states that many players were deeply affected, both during and after the game. She touches upon a similar theme as Ericsson in the previous text: “Role-players are slowly deconstructing the wall between reality and game”. To me, it would have been interesting to hear more about this aspect of the game, not only what happened during actual play, but also what kind of social and emotional impact it had in the time after. Maybe those stories would be too personal to tell, maybe it was beyond the scope of the essay, or maybe the time wasn’t right only a year after the game.

AmerikA (2000).

AmerikA (2000). (Photo: Britta Bergersen)

Lessons from Hamlet (Johanna Koljonen)
“The last three acts of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet were reproduced as a three-day larp in Stockholm in 2002.” Kind of a meandering essay reflecting on a larp experience in hindsight, a larp considered “important” in the “Nordic Larp discourse” (like most of the larps mentioned in this book, probably). It gives you a certain impression of what it was like as an experience and how it was organized, both logistically and with regards to rules and written material. The essay also says something about what Koljonen has later called the ideal of the “360° illusion” in many Nordic larps. It’s a personal, subjective essay, and (to me) also a testimony to the difficulty of communicating why and how a larp experience felt/was important.

High Resolution Larping (Andie Nordgren)
Introduces the term «high resolution gaming», using the game Totem (2007) as an example. Totem had a tribal setting, where one of the main focuses of play seems to have been the character’s positioning in the tribal status hierarchy. Nordgren gives an introduction to both the game and some of the methods used; workshops and various symbolic ways of representing aggression and conflict, sex and relationships. She emphasizes the interaction of the characters, and the preparatory work for enabling the interaction, as a key to creating the detailed, subtle play experience she characterizes as “high resolution”.

KAPO (2011): It's all fun and games in Denmark.

KAPO (2011): It’s all fun and games in Denmark. (Photo: Peter Munthe-Kaas)

Without using the word, Nordgren also touches upon the concept of “bleed”: “It could be argued that when we have access to increasingly subtle diegetic communication, the things communicated in a game could spill over into our lives outside of the game, making it harder to uphold a sharp boundary between ourselves and the characters we play.”

Eye-Witness to the Illusion – An Essay on the Impossibility of 360° Role-Playing (Johanna Koljonen)
Presenting the concept and ideal of the “360° illusion” in larping. Basically I take it to mean something like “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” 1:1 environments, where the player’s surroundings; houses, furniture, decorations and so on all exist in the game setting. The title implies that such games are “impossible”, as there will always be some non-diegetic elements present. The essay itself is more forgiving, however, and open to this approach as one possible way to go when designing games – with both benefits and drawbacks. The essay also touches on various other topics, like visualization, the symbolic and physical borders delineating the gaming space, different approaches to role-playing and immersion, and more.

Social Reality in Roleplaying Games (Markus Montola)
This is a new essay, commissioned especially for the book. It gives a brief introduction to a framework for discussing and analyzing pervasive games and roleplaying the author presents in more detail in his doctoral dissertation.

Montola bases his framework on something called “social constructionism”, developed by the philosopher John R. Searle. Basically, reality is viewed as consisting of two layers, the social reality (immaterial things) and the brute reality (material things). The rest of the framework follows from this model.

MAD ABOUT THE BOY (2010). (Photo: Li Xin)


I found it a highly interesting and worthwhile read. It deals with fairly abstract topics, but does so in a clearly written and accessible way.

I also find the text to have some deeper philosophical implications about the social world(s) we live in and, check it out, help create. These implications are both fun, empowering and somewhat scary to think about.

Consider this:

“The Monitor Celestra is a good larp to use to illustrate this framework, as it was set in the somewhat well known universe of Battlestar Galactica. In that game I had the status of being Major Darlington of the Colonial Fleet. That status was based on the same kind of social mechanics that assign the status of legal tender to a piece of paper and make Barack Obama the President of the United States.”

Ok. So the position of being the most powerful man on the planet is a social construct? Something possible only by way of consensus, because it’s agreed upon as fact? (obviously supported by quite a lot of very “brute facts” indeed, heavy weaponry for instance). What does this tell us about smaller social games we play in “real life”? About roles we assign to ourselves and others? If this is true, what can it be used for?

I’ll leave it at that. This book, and article, is “only” about role playing games. Which is just a fun and innocent pastime. Right?



Autonomous Identities – Immersion as a Tool for Exploring, Empowering and Emancipating Identities (Mike Pohjola)
Immersion, again. I found the introductory paragraphs to be somewhat tedious, referring to a bunch of models and manifestos I’m only superficially acquainted with (e.g. The “Turku Manifesto”, presented later in the book). The first part of the essay I found a little boring. It shows some ways of describing roleplaying games, even giving a definition. In this day and age, I’m happy to just nod and wink: yes, that’s a possible way of looking at it. The good stuff is hidden towards the end, where the author gets into stuff like the anarchist concept of “Temporary Autonomous Zones”, and suggests that the tools of larp can be used to create “Temporate Autonomous Identities”, always available to the player, which can help you both “game” and “mold” reality. This echoes suggestions and sentiments we’ve seen in earlier essays (both Nordgren’s and Ericsson’s, at the very least), and the stuff I mentioned in the previous paragraph about the philosophical implications of certain ways of looking at role playing games. It also makes me wish I was around in the scene when these discussions where hip, to find some like-minded peeps, instead of sitting around in my basement doing Phil Hine-inspired wank magic and dreaming of “Ego destruction” and similar concepts. I feel old and static. Yeah, well. Some dream the revolution, some go do it. Others just go mad (for real).

SUBCOMMANDANTE MARCOS. Illustration: Gabriel Widing.

SUBCOMMANDANTE MARCOS. Illustration: Gabriel Widing.

My Name is Jimbo the Orc (Ulrik Lehrskov)
A blissfully simply worded essay at this point. Starts off by relating an anecdote of the “annoying-dude-telling-me-about-his-character”-variety, briefly skimming through the topic of “story attribution” and looks at how this can be used to analyze and re-tell larp experiences. Rounds off with describing a game of just such attribution, which actually sounds like a lot of fun. Not anything earth-shattering, but kind of a nice breather after all that has gone before.

Rules of Engagement (Emma Wieslander)
Considers the topic of simulating sensuous/sexual encounters, asks why there hasn’t been more focus on creating a framework for dealing with these topics in larp, and describes  one such method (the so-called Ars Amandi technique of hand-stroking). One of the more practically oriented essays in the collection.

The Nuts and Bolts of Jeepform (Tobias Wrigstad)
A nice introduction to the peculiar brand of Swedish-Danish (well, actually Nordic, at this point) freeform games known as Jeepform. It has informed some of the meta-techniques currently in vogue in Nordic Larp and “Blackbox style” larping (I think, at least, influences here seem a bit criss-cross and all over the place), and a lot of the key players are active in both scenes. So it seems a natural inclusion in the book. Jeepform is kind of like larp-influenced tabletop (no costumes, few props), using inspiration from improvisational theatre, psychodrama and whatever else they can get their hands on in order to tell high-impact stories (usually using some kind of director). The freeform tradition hasn’t been particularly strong in Norwegian tabletop roleplaying (I’m from Norway), and I sometimes feel we missed the boat in the mid-90’s (I’m an avid table top role-player in addition to doing the occasional larp). Fortunately a lot of these experiments, methods, games, and theories have been written down and shared online. Never too late, I guess.

The Positive Negative Experience in Extreme Role-Playing (Markus Montola)
Montola again. The PhD dude. I like Montola. Here he goes head-to-head with the “games are just for fun” camp, by exploring “gratifying but “negative” play experiences elicited by two freeform role-playing games.” The author looks at two games from the Jeepform collective (see previous paragraph), namely Gang Rape (which, as the name suggests, deals with rape) and The Journey. The author has interviewed designers and players, and participated in one of the games (The Journey, which is based on the post-apocalyptic novel “The Road”). It’s a serious study, by a serious author, on a serious subject. Highly recommended reading.

The Golden Rule of Larp (Simo Järvelä)
An essay about ethical considerations in larps, informed consent and player safety. Especially in light of the fashion (that may or may not be somewhat out of vogue currently?) for “hardcore games” and “extreme gaming experiences” like those mentioned in the previous paragraph, this is a highly interesting discussion. The article is well-written and clearly communicated. For the first time with one of these pieces, I actually feel it ends a bit abruptly (barely touching on the topics of safe-words and debriefs, for instance).

The Book of KAPO – (Claus Raasted (editor))
This is a curious addition to the book. I think it’s meant to be a sample of larp documentation, namely from the Danish larp “Kapo” (2011), but it doesn’t really tell you all that much. There’s a powerful, short, introductory text, and three vaguely unpleasant photos. I think the editors could have easily expanded this section somewhat.

Excavating AmerikA (Eirik Fatland)
In 2009, Fatland decided to dig up and have a closer look at AmerikA, a larp organized eight years previously in the Norwegian capital Oslo. A ton of junk was gathered on one of the city’s main squares, and a larp with a “magical realistic” setting took place there, with onlookers and visitors. The author asks why it had been “forgotten” in the Nordic Larp discourse, but also sets out to bring it back to memory. This is a very thoughtful and insightful essay that gives an impression both of what the larp was like, including positives and negatives, frustrations and revelations, but also what it meant as art. Recommended reading!

Walking the White Road – A Trip into the Hobo Dream (Bjarke Pedersen & Lars Munck)
I really, really like this article. It’s a simple story about a simple larp using simple methods to deliver powerful impact. It also touches upon stuff like pervasive gaming (bringing your game out into the real world), alcohol in larp, and the dilemma of “cultural appropriation” touched upon in an essay in the other Knutebook anthology this year. Basically, six players set out to do a short larp inspired by a very peculiar Danish subculture I didn’t know existed, “The Road Knight” hobos. They use the real world as their setting, and interact with people who are not part of the larp while remaining in character. They use the framework of one of the manifestos at the end of this book in their design. This, to me, works as a beautifully concrete way of doing and living some of the things that are hinted at and theorized about in other parts of the book. Supposedly, the game had some profound impacts on many of the players as well. Thanks for sharing, as they say.

24 Hours in a Bomb Shelter – Player, Character and Immersion in Ground Zero (Heidi Hopeametsä)
Immersion, flow, the magic circle, debriefs, larp as art… the paper considers all these subjects, using the Finnish game “Ground Zero” as example. It’s well-written, clearly stated, but at this point in the book feels somewhat superfluous. If you (like me) read the book from start to finish, most of these topics seem to have been covered already. I think I’d have placed the article (which is a summary of a Master thesis) earlier in the anthology or dropped it altogether.

Post Panopticon (Gabriel Widing)
Starts off with a refreshingly honest and self-deprecating foreword (basically stating that the author was quite young when the text was written and that his references to heavy theory were “a bit dubious, as I honestly didn’t have much clue about what I was writing about”). Widing maintains that the basic analysis of the larp “Panopticorp”, is still valid though. It’s been a while since I read this text, even longer since I played the larp. I think the text is less interesting than the larp was, but it gives some good hints and pointers.

The Dragon Was the Least of It – Dragonbane and Larp as Ephemera and Ruin (Johanna Koljonen)
This essay revisits the international fantasy larp Dragonbane (2006), a somewhat megalomaniac half-million euro production held in Sweden. Featuring a 26 meter long animatronic dragon weighing several tonnes. The essay touches upon the ephemeral nature of larps, the difficulty of larp documentation, and returns to the previously mentioned ideal of the 360 degree illusion. It also demonstrates, like Fatland’s text on AmerikA, that it can be interesting to discuss, document and reconsider games that were initially considered somewhat flawed. It’s should prove a very interesting read for any larper or larp organizer, I think. Especially one’s considering undertaking projects of such a magnitude. I found the writing to be evocative and clear, and that it was easier to follow the author’s train of thought than what was the case with her previous two essays in this book.

Mad about the Boy (Tor Kjetil Edland, Trine Lise Lindahl, Margrete Raaum)
This text is quite different from the previous ones. It’s a “larpscript”, describing the general setup of a re-runnable larp, Mad about the Boy. It includes some notes on each act the designers envision, pre-game workshop and so-called “meta-techniques” utilized. More details and complete characters can be found on the larp’s webpages http://madabouttheboy.laiv.org. In a way, it echoes the essay on Jeepform presented previously in the book. The Jeepers also have a tradition of writing down their game scripts/scenarios so that they can be run by others. But up until Mad about the Boy, I believe this has been less common in Nordic Larp. The “meta-technique” concept itself also reminds me of some of the techniques mentioned in the Jeepform essay. The larp is about a world were all men have died. The characters are gathered as part of a government-sponsored insemination program. Then a real man appears. It’s inspired by the comic Y: The last man.

Prosopopeia — Playing on the Edge of Reality (Markus Montola & Staffan Jonsson)
We return to pervasive larping, this time not on the country roads of Denmark, but a larger-scale production covering an entire Swedish city. The article describes what sounds like a very interesting and ambitious project, where a whole city is used as the gaming area, and the borders of the so-called “magic circle” are intentionally blurred. By choice, the article does not cover the ethical implications of designing such games, such as outsider’s reactions to the game in progress. I’m reminded of Grant Morrison’s essay “Pop Magic”, where he describes an exercise in creating a “magical mindset” by reading meaning into everything, and looking for meaningful coincidences. This kind of game seems ideal for achieving such altered states of mind (and maybe for triggering psychosis if you’re vulnerable to that kind of thing or haven’t gotten enough sleep over a sufficient amount of days).

Collective Realities – Thoughts on Politics, Ontology, and Role-Playing (Gabriel Widing)
Young Widing is back, five years older. This time he delivers a much more intelligible essay (along with the contemporary, more humble, foreword of someone eight years older than the author was). It echoes sentiments from earlier essays in the book: what if we can use this thing we’re doing – larp – to actually change reality? What would that look like? What could we be? There’s some critique of “consensus reality”, the capitalist system, idealization of the Zapatistas of Mexico (wonder what’s happened to them during the horrible Mexican Drug War that broke out the year this essay was written?) I’m reminded of what little I know of situationist theory.

Larp and Aesthetic Responsibility – When Just a Little Lovin’ Became an Art Debate (Tova Gerge)
This text is an excellent choice for the last essay of the book. It considers the brief debate about the larp Just a Little Lovin’ in the Swedish tabloid Expressen, that occurred before the game was actually held. Just a Little Lovin’ is a larp about the Aids epidemic in New York in the early ‘80s. The game’s critics perceived it as a kind of “Aids exoticism”, the organizers publicly defended it. It was an interesting debate, where our somewhat marginal hobby/artform/medium/whatever was suddenly criticized as “real art” (exactly what the Nordic Larp scene has been claiming that it is for years, if you’ve been paying attention). But seemingly the wrong kind of art for treating certain topics. Anyway. Go read Gerge. She took part in the debate and makes a much more nuanced and informed presentation and discussion than I’m able to right now. Yet again, this also touches on the challenges surrounding “cultural appropriation” in the other Knutebook I reviewed.

The Dogma 99 Manifesto (Eirik Fatland and Lars Wingård)
A manifesto encouraging game designers to consider larps as a viable artform, and detailing a “Vow of Chastity”, sort of a recipe or set of restrictions for creating one form of larps. I think it’s mainly included in the collection for historical reasons. It’s referenced in previous essays and is an important part of the “Nordic Larp discourse”. Still, it’s a surprisingly good read, 15 years after the fact. I feel like a lot of the goals the authors envision actually came true, at least in the Nordic scene. New methods and genres, indeed. I suspect it could also still have the potential to serve as inspiration in other gaming cultures.

The Manifesto of the Turku School (Mike Pohjola)
Another manifesto. Again, historical reasons. Again, maybe it will still have the power to provoke and inspire, as the author writes in the freshly written introductory foreword. It’s also heavily cited in a lot of the “Nordic discourse”, so I guess it’s useful to make it available in this kind of context. “Roleplaying is seen as art”, “focusing on immersion and society simulation”. It’s also highly normative, alludes to a revolutionary movement of “Turkuist roleplayers” and is written as sort of a pastiche of the Communist Manifesto. I found that kind of amusing, anyhow.

The Turkuists obviously also had a “vow of chastity”:

“10. As a player I shall strive not to gain fame or glory, but to act out the character as well as possible according to the guidance given to me by the game master. Even if this means I have to spend the entire game alone in a closet without anyone ever finding out.”

Sorry, Pohjola: I think Nordic Larp is out of the closet for good.

Chewing on the Cutting Edge

400px-The_Cutting_Edge_of_Nordic_LarpImagonem reviews one of this year’s Knutepunkt books, “The Cutting Edge of Nordic Larp”.

Knutepunkt is an annual larp conference alternating between Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. Every year since 2001, one to several books have been published in connection with the conference. They’ve been distributed to all attendees as part of the entrance fee, but are also made available as PDF documents online for anyone interested.

You can find a collection of links to all previously published books at the Nordic Larp Wiki, including this year’s books.

The articles in the books have varied a great deal over the years. Essays, academic texts, pseudoacademic texts, larp documentation, manifestos, and articles with a more journalistic bent. What they have in common, though, is that they all deal with larp one way or the other. And usually this peculiar breed that has come to be known as “Nordic Larp” (a term or brand that has come into existence for a great deal thanks to the Knutepunkt scene. More on that below).

This year’s Knutpunkt in Sweden will be the sixth time I attend the conference, and I have several previous Knutepunkt-books on my shelf. I have to admit, though, that I haven’t read most of them. Maybe a handful of articles? Usually the ones written by people I know, or on subjects that interest me especially. I have an above-average interest in larp and role playing games. I don’t really mind academic jargon (as long as it’s explained). I’ve followed many of the online debates on roleplaying theory over the years. Why haven’t I read more of these articles?

I think maybe I’ve sometimes found them a little daunting. Some of the articles have tended to throw around big words from various academic disciplines I’m not familiar with. Some might have had a tendency to presuppose a lot of knowledge on the reader’s part. About larps organized, theories discussed, terminology, etc. It’ll probably always be a tricky balance for the authors and editors of these books to ensure enough clarity and explanation that most interested readers can follow the topic at hand, whilst retaining some kind of limit on space.

Anyway. I thought I’d give this year’s collection of fresh articles a chance, and take you – faithful Imagonem reader – along for the ride.

There are two books this year. “The Foundation Stone of Nordic Larp” is a collection of articles from previous Knutepunkt books, sort of a Greatest Hits of Knutepunkt. The one’s I should’ve read, probably.

In this walkthrough article/review, I’ll concentrate on “The Cutting Edge of Nordic Larp”, which consists of texts that are (mostly) new.

The book has a sober and functional layout. Some of the articles even have photos with captions, which I appreciate.

The book is available as a PDF and will be available in physical copies to attendants of the conference. I would have very much liked for the articles to be available in web format as well, for ease of reference in online discussions and articles such as this one (that way, I could hyperlink the various articles I’ll go through below, and you could just click on the ones that interested you the most).

The 25 credited authors are presented at the end of the book. They are an interesting bunch with lots and varied larp experience. Most of them have various academic backgrounds, some work specifically with game research, most have designed games themselves.

This year’s editors have worked by the following criteria, where the articles had to meet at least two to be considered for publication: “how well they related to the Nordic larp discourse, how well they used this year’s theme of looking towards the future, and how well they were targeted towards the Knutpunkt audience”.

– The Game and the Design –

Larps from the Factory – How to Write a Good Larpscript (Elin Nilsen, Lizzie Stark & Trine Lise Lindahl)
“The book Larps from the Factory came out in October 2013. It is written in English, and contains larpscripts of 23 Norwegian larps. In this article the one American and two Norwegian editors share some thoughts about the book, the process, and about larpscripts in general.”

I was a contributor to this project, so it’s hard for me to have proper distance to the article. It’s more or less a three part thing: the first part argues why one should write scripts for re-runnable larps (and that it’s possible to do so), the second part briefly outlines the requirements of such scripts, the third part says a bit about the actual work process and experience with editing this particular book.

I think the authors should have included a sentence or two on what the “Larp Factory” concept in Norway was (basically they were monthly, cheap, one evening larp events which required no or very little preparation on the part of the players). Other than that, I think I’m too biased to say much more. I’ll say this, though: you should really check out the Larps from the Factory website!

A Lion’s Game – a Vampire’s Tragedy (Marije Baalman & Rene Barchmann)
This was a confusing and somewhat frustrating read, starting with the lead and just getting more convoluted from there on out. Basically, I think it’s down to a problem of poor structure (of the article itself) and poor editing (of the language). The essence seems to be that some people in Germany and the Netherlands have been running a larp campaign since 1998, which is basically set in a variant version of the well-known larp/tabletop setting of Vampire: the Masquerade. But you have to read a lot of weird, quasi-philosophical text before the authors choose to reveal this fact. There are some musings about how what they’ve been doing seems similar to the so called “Nordic larp tradition” (rules light, focusing on “immersion and bleed”, etc). But there’s also a bunch of text before that dealing with what it would feel like to be a vampiric elder and whatnot, which might as well have been presented as White Wolf fluff text back in the 90’s. It seems the organizers have encountered the problem of munchkins/power gamers in Vampire larps, and found a way to deal with that. The dichotomy of how Vampire presents itself (“a game of personal horror”) and the playing style the mechanics seem to fuel (XP-driven munchkinism) was part of the foundation for a lot of Ron Edward’s essays over at the indie table top RPG site The Forge, the GNS theory and all of that. The authors of this piece seem to be a little late to the party, and reading the article feels a bit like hearing an especially opaque artist explaining his work. Which is a shame, because I have fond, nostalgic memories of Vampire (as I’m sure many, many gamers and larpers do), and would’ve loved to read a more accessible presentation of this campaign. Preferably with some photos.

Typology in Character Creation (Charles Bo Nielsen and Hanne Urhøj)
Another quirky, and quite complicated, article. This one has better structure, though. It basically deals with Jungian typology (mapping people’s personalities with archetypal labels, it seems?) and how you can apply various forms of that when creating characters for larps and role playing games.

I’m somewhat apprehensive when it comes to both Jung, the concept of archetypes and “personality tests” of different kinds (and scientific qualities). In parallel with reading this article, I asked a psychologist friend on Facebook whether Jung is considered “kosher” amongst psychologists. “Depends on who you ask, but mostly no”, was his reply.

But the article admits as much, stating that “Viewed with strictly academic eyes, typology as a method in psychology is frowned upon, and the studies of Carl Jung lack credible studies.” The main intent of the article seems to be the use of these typologies as inspiration for character creation. It also uses Star Wars characters to exemplify various typologies, which I thought was a nice touch.

A fun and inspiring basic idea. All in all, I found it to be an unnecessarily difficult read, though. Page 39, for instance, I barely understood at all. Too many specialized terms are introduced in a very brief space, with little in the way of definition/explanation. I might be stupid, the authors might need to dumb the article down a couple of notches, or both.

(I’ve signed up for the workshop relating to the article at Knutepunkt, where reading the article first is recommended, so now I’ve tried to do that, anyway.)

Sharpening Knives – Integrating Phone Use in Larp Design (Elin Dalstål)
A clearly written, accessible article in a down-to-earth language about something I could easily understand: using cellphones (of the smart phone variety) as a tool in larps. Dalstål uses an ongoing campaign (that sounds like a lot of fun) as an example, and elaborates on how cellphones can be utilized for in- and off-game communication, documentation and creating handouts, meta-game techniques and more. Inspirational, easy to grasp, and the author didn’t find the need to use the word “diegetic” even once. There are even a couple of photos.

A Critical Review of the Mixing Desk (Nathan Hook)
This is one for the especially interested or those who have been paying attention to the “Nordic larp discourse”, I guess. But it’s presented in a reasonably straightforward manner, gives good and understandable examples, and briefly explains the stuff it references whilst keeping it short. Basically the article is a response to/consideration of the so-called “Mixing Desk of Larp”, a model for larp design that has been used at the Larpwriter summer school (an interesting project in itself, by the way – check out their webpages) and presented in last year’s Knutepunkt book “Crossing borders”. The article also references the GNS theory I mentioned above and the “Turku manifesto”. I think Hook raises important questions and makes some good points, but as I’m only superficially familiar with the Mixing Desk model, I’ll leave it at that.

Bringing the Occupation Home (Kaisa Kangas)


Students and staff cross a checkpoint on their way to the university. Ingame photo, Halat hisar. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen.

“[The larp] Halat hisar (2013) was an attempt to transfer the Palestinian experience of living under occupation to Finland.” An essay dealing with the challenges of constructing such a game and alternate reality, larp as a tool for/form of political activism, nationalism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The author references other larps that have been organized in the Nordic countries dealing with similar or related subject matter, but in a way that will probably not be alienating even to an “uninitiated” reader. Kangas makes some claims/statements about the real life conflict in the Middle East that will be considered highly controversial in other political climates, but are relatively uncontroversial on the Scandinavian left: “there is not only a military occupation, but also a situation of settler colonialism and apartheid.” Halat hisar sounds like a deeply unpleasant, and maybe important, game (the larp was organized in collaboration with Palestinians. No Israelis, as far as I can tell). An interesting read and a well-written article. The Halat hisar webpage.

– The Play and the Culture –

Larp for Change – Creating Play for Real World Impact (Juhana Pettersson)
Another article dealing with Halat hisar, discussing whether or not larps can work as political projects and concluding that they can by way of example. The text is very concrete and down to earth, patiently describing how various game mechanics (and off-game media relations) where utilized for achieving the goal of creating a political larp/project. No high-falutin’ theoretical terms (whether from larp theory or political science/sociology/psychology/etc) or namedropping of political thinkers. I think both this and the previous articles were very interesting and worthwhile reads. Some might see it as an overkill to have two different organizers of the same larp writing on similar subjects using this particular larp as an example. I didn’t mind.

The Psychology of Immersion – Individual Differences and Psychosocial Phenomena Relating to Immersion (Lauri Lukka)
This article deals with the hoary old topic of “immersion”, variously described as the Holy Grail of Nordic Larp and a misleading/confusing term. It does so from a psychological perspective (the author is a clinical psychologist and game designer). I found it super-duper interesting, as it deals with altered states of mind, the concept of “flow” and immersion, and how all this relates to role playing, subjects that are all dear to my heart. For me, as a layman, it also comes across as a “proper academic article”.

Larping in Lebanon (Harald Misje, Martin Nielsen & Anita Myhre Andersen)

Scene from the Wolf larp; the first children larp for and by Palestinians. (Photo: Ane Marie Anderson)

Scene from the Wolf larp; the first children larp for and by Palestinians. (Photo: Ane Marie Anderson)

An essay on running a children’s larp in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, with the aid of local volunteers. The Norwegian organizers from the Fantasiforbundet youth organization give a run-down of the project, practical challenges faced, lessons learned and future plans. A mixture of idealism, humanitarian work, political activism and children’s larp. It’s a nice read, and an accessible presentation, somewhat marred by typos and poor language editing. Fantasiforbundet’s project portal: http://fantasiforbundet.wordpress.com/

Larps, Interactive Theatre and Participatory Arts – Cutting and Pasting (Alexey Fedoseev)
Looks at “art approaching/akin to larp”, rather than “larp considered/labeled as art”. Gives many interesting examples, without any photo documentation (for some reason).

New Tastes in Brazilian Larp – From Dark Coke to Caipirinha with Nordic Ice (Luiz Falcão)
A presentation of larp in Brazil over the past 20 years, with especial emphasis on the influence of “Nordic larp” over the past five years or so (which I guess is sort of natural, given that this is a Knutebook). It was fascinating to read about a larping culture developing in parallel with ours, and how ideas from the US and Northern Europeans scenes have been picked up, disseminated and tweaked to fit a Brazilian context. I also feel a certain sense of pride that my friend’s games, concepts and theories have influenced play culture in a faraway place like Sao Paulo. It says something interesting and nice about internet as a communication tool, globalization and the international language of geekery. Art, sorry. I mean “art”.

Cultural Appropriation and Larp (Shoshana Kessock)
The term “cultural appropriation” offends my postmodernist sensibilities. ;)

Kessock writes:
“The term arose as a way to recognize the borrowing of cultural materials of one culture by another, implying an uneven cultural exchange in which a dominant culture incorporates items from minority groups. Cultural items can include any item from a group’s way of living, including “language, customs, basic values, religion, core beliefs, and activities.” (Young 2005) The item becomes assimilated into the dominant culture’s narrative, stripped of its original context and is instead reinterpreted from the view of an outsider.”

This infamous Che Guevara painting is actually a forgery created by Gerard Malanga (who was in need of money) and sold to a gallery in Rome. When Warhol heard of the fraud, he "authenticated" the fake, provided that all the money from sales went to him.

This infamous Che Guevara painting is actually a forgery created by Gerard Malanga (who was in need of money) and sold to a gallery in Rome. When Warhol heard of the fraud, he «authenticated» the fake, provided that all the money from sales went to him.

(To me, that seems to be partially how cultures operate and change over time, by borrowing and incorporating from each other, a process obviously speeded up by globalization and mass migration.)

However, she also notes that:
“It is important to note that the idea of cultural appropriation by its initial definition is not inherently positive or negative. It is simply the act of taking another’s cultural artifact and utilizing it in another cultural context.”

Most of the article deals with how such “appropriation” can come across as negative, though. It’s written for a larp context/audience, and gives examples (especially from Nordic larps).

A positive example of “cultural appropritation” might be the Brazilian larpers mentioned in the previous paragraph, who run Nordic games and are influenced by the Knutepunkt discourse. It’s a source of pride for our community that our ideas and games are spread in this way. And spreading the ideas was probably part of the idea behind documenting them in the first place. A negative example given by Kessock is (presumably white) players showing up to the game “Darfur Bingo” at Intercon 2010 in “blackface”.

(I think that might be another thing I find problematic about the appropriation concept, the tendency to conflate terms like “ethnicity”, “race” and “culture”.)

“(…) the artist who puts Che on their t-shirt must then understand that their statement of revolutionary ideals also incorporates everything Che embodied, as well as the notion that there are those that might see the use of their cultural icon in that way as insensitive or offensive.”

I guess I disagree with the conception in the first sentence of how symbols work, and how art works. A swastika has several different connotations, depending on who it’s viewed by and what their personal connotations with the symbol are. To some, it’s a holy symbol. To others it primarily represents a horrific political movement. To some, Alberto Kordas iconic photo of Che and its derivatives might symbolize “revolutionary ideals and everything Che embodied”, to others “machismo and the oppressive state socialism of the Cuban regime”. To the hypothetical artist in question, the statement might be exactly about the stuff Kessock’s article discusses, like “political symbols disassociated from their original meaning and context”?

That some might see such use of cultural icons as offensive, I agree with. But some people will find something to be offended by no matter what. I guess I’m just more afraid of artists and larp designers limiting their range of expression, motifs, subjects and themes out of fear of causing offense than I am of “cultural appropriation”. Good art can be offensive, but it obviously helps to consider whose toes you want to step on. And whether you want to kick those who’re already down. I guess a lot of it boils down to intent.

All that being said, the article gives plenty of food for thought, and good ethical questions to consider for designers and players alike.

(This seems to be something of a hot-button issue on the scene these days, and is the subject of at least one panel debate at this year’s Knutpunkt in Sweden.)

Crowdfunding Celestra (Markus Montola)
Discusses benefits and drawbacks of using crowdfunding for financing larps (where the participants pitch in money at a certain level before it’s actually certain that the project will materialize, thus spreading financial risk). The article uses the big Swedish production The Monitor Celestra, a Battle Star Galactica larp, as an example. It was the first Nordic larp to use the crowdfunding model for financing. I found the article both interesting and clearly written.

– The Meta and the Agitator –

What Does “Nordic Larp” Mean? (Jaakko Stenros)
motivational_norpThis article was delivered as a keynote speech before last year’s Knutepunkt in Norway, and posted online shortly after that. Stenros sets about defining the term, tradition and brand “Nordic larp”, and does so in an eloquent way. One may like or dislike the term (I personally think it’s a little counter-productive with a fixed geographic label, as the ideas and traditions are now spreading and the discourse has gone global). One may enjoy or detest definition debates (I’ve spent far too many hours discussing whether role playing games can be considered “art” or what constitutes a “gamist” approach, hours I could rather have spent playing and designing games). Nevertheless it’s useful before entering a discussion to agree upon the fundamental terms utilized.

Before bandying about more or less informed opinions about “Nordic larp” and what that term entails, I highly advise at least skimming through this article. It tells you the basics of what you need to know about the term and how it’s used in current discussions.

Play: The Soul of Knutepunkt (Markus Montola & Jaakko Stenros)
This article might not be about Nordic larp discourse, but it’s very much about the Knutepunkt discourse. Which are sort of intertwined subjects. It was posted online after a social debacle at last year’s event in Norway, which spilled over online, involved people who didn’t attend the conference (but felt a stake in the scene), and kind of snowballed from there. Depending on your point of view, you might call it “storm in a teacup” or a “shitstorm”. Or a shitstorm in a teacup. Anyway, it was (and still is) unpleasant for many people, and the debate this article is part of continues at the time of writing, both online (Facebook and forums) and over many a beer. Montola & Stenros’ article is diplomatic, carefully worded and expresses great love for the Knutepunkt community. It also gives some suggestions on how to deal with unwanted behavior. It’ll probably be of interest mostly to participants at this and last year’s events, but might prove valuable to anyone who’s interested in fostering liberal, playful and reasonably safe communities/spaces.

Nordic-Russian Larp Dictionary (Yaraslau I. Kot)
I don’t understand Russian, so I skipped this article.

On Ethics (Eleanor Saitta)
A compact article where the author sets out to give a descriptive overview of what she finds to be the current ethical consensus in the Nordic larp community on various topics. The author has consciously constructed the examples instead of taking them from actual games. I think it was a good read, which might have been even more interesting given real life examples and anecdotes to ponder (although this might have proved controversial, I think one could have found a way around it given consent from parties involved). It’s also a timely and useful summary, given the tendency to push for extreme experiences and treat controversial, charged subject matter that has for many years been a facet of the Nordic larp tradition.

So You Want to Spread the Larp Revolution? (Claus Raasted)
Danish larp professional Claus Raasted rounds off the book with a fast paced, tabloid, tongue-in-cheek ten point manifesto of sorts, which basically deals with how you can get more people interested in larps.

[EDIT = For some reason I overlooked this article in my initial read-through]
From Hobbyist Theory to Academic Canon (J. Tuomas Harviainen)
This meta-article deals with the reception of previous Knutepunkt books in academia (especially in the fields of larp and game research), and which articles seem to be cited the most.


So there you have it. I’ve read my first Knutepunkt book, and ended up with this long-winded text that’s hopefully somewhat useful/informative/ interesting for you as well, if you bothered to read this far.

As you have noticed, I’m not a native English speaker. The same is true for many of the anthology’s authors. My impression is that some (too many) of the texts written by non-native English speakers could have benefitted from some stricter editing.

The anthology sort of confirmed my preconceived idea of the Knute-books: it’s a mishmash of various styles, genres and subjects. Some contributions are proper academic articles. Some are essayistic, there’s a manifesto, practical guidelines, some larp documentation… it’s a varied mixture. I think that’s just fine. Previous conferences have approached this by publishing several books, this one has a three part structure that thematically seemed a little vague to me.

Lots of interesting ideas to chew on, many highly skilled contributors, and it’s impressive indeed that these books come out and have such a reasonably high quality, considering that they’re made by unpaid labor, by idealists, and given away for free.

See you in the diegesis!


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