After my stop in Denmark for Fastaval, I headed to Helsinki to participate in Solmukohta, the Finnish installation of the Knutepunkt conference that rotates its way around the Nordic capitals, changing its name according to the local languages. The event features larps, workshops, run-downs of completed or upcoming games, and tons of talks on larp theory.
The convention took place at a building that seemed like a cross between a hotel and a boarding school, a labyrinthine complex of hallways, lounges, and classrooms that seemed built into a hill.
Zombies and Bleed
Rather than attend the opening ceremonies, my Fastaplague-ridden body required a nap. When I awoke, I stumbled through the corridor, blithely ignoring the “game area,” signs, since I wished to find the info desk without wandering out into the snowy forest. (Although the skinny, red-barked pine trees looked lovely).
Scores of groaning conventioneers shambled through the hallways, their mindlesss half-witted expressions and limping gaits perfectly mirroring my physical well-being. Apparently, I had stumbled onto the convention’s opening scenario, a zombie game. The zombies inexorably advanced, and I could find no escape from their gnashing teeth, which latched onto my shoulder.
I, too, became a zombie, damned to wander the corridors, limping, until the government arrived and killed us all.
Later that evening, I attended the Hour of the Rant, where various folks get up on stage and make pointed comments, sometimes funny, sometimes serious, often a mixture between the two. There were rants on why larps may not change the world, and why they should. Rants on how current measures for psychological safety don’t work as well as they should, and rants on how larpers should do a better job of giving out credit to everyone involved in a project. American game designer Jason Morningstar zinged the crowd with a rant on why they ought to play more and document less.
Like an American jerk, I delivered a rant titled “Write a damn rulebook.” Last year, while reporting for Leaving Mundania, I’d gotten frustrated that there weren’t readily available easy-to-understand materials explaining basic concepts on the scene. In what may have been a case of “arrogantly demand and ye shall receive,” (or just serendipitous magic) the Nordic community has remedied this as of Sunday, with the delightful, searchable, work-in-progress Nordic Larp Wiki. Run! Run to your nearest new browser tab and check it out!
I love the Beckett quote “Ever tried. Ever failed. Try again. Fail again. Fail better,” so I attended a panel titled “All the Things I’ve Learned From All the Mistakes I’ve Done,” a run-down of larp-organizing errors, presented by larp organizers, including panel host Rasmus Høgdall. Among the lessons learned:
- as an organizer, it’s possible to spread yourself too thin
- know when it’s going to be a disaster and don’t be afraid to cancel
- it’s better to have a few awesome things in game than lots of mediocre ones
- also, bribing your players with booze only works if you buy a lot of booze
When explaining Nordic larp — with all its serious, emotional impact — to Americans, their first response is usually something like, “that’s not a game; that’s therapy” or “that sounds like the Stanford Prison Experiment. Do people come out of these things permanently damaged?” So I was fascinated to attend The Great Player Safety Controversy Panel and listen to a well-reasoned, in-depth discussion of these issues. I took tons of notes, so check back here later this week, when I’ll post them. (4/26/12 update: here are the notes.)
The Roleplay Contract
Riffing off the safety panel, larp maker Bjarke Pedersen gave a talk titled “Five Things We Lie About in Larp,” which generated some interesting discussion. He suggested that the “roleplay contract” is a lie, which was doubly interesting both because I’d never before heard of the roleplay contract, and because lies are fascinating.
The roleplay contract, apparently, is an agreement between players not to judge players for their characters and vice versa. So if I’m a jerk to you in game, you agree not to judge me for it later at the diner. Or if we’re both dark elves in game, I’ll roleplay with you even if I don’t personally like you, because that’s what makes sense for the narrative.
As Bjarke pointed out, this isn’t always true in practice. People want to roleplay with their friends and may shut others out. Sometimes we dislike people after seeing the way that they roleplay. I came out of the session thinking of the roleplay contract as being a bit like philosophical debate around freewill: whether or not we have it is irrelevant, because we behave as if we do.
His point that not everyone is equally capable of playing every role also generated some discussion. He suggested that super-tall dudes can’t really play hobbits, because it breaks our idea of what a “hobbit” is too much. Some members of the audience disagreed, noting that players have a remarkable ability to overlook out of game stuff during games, and that “hobbit” is a fictional category anyway, arguably one capable of expanding or contracting according to the game’s surroundings.
I had a big Saturday at this con, but since I flapped my yapper instead of listening, I didn’t learn all that much. I caught the end of a really interesting talk on a game based around a Norwegian brass band (I think), and a bit of Sarah Lynne Bowman’s talk on social conflict and bleed, which I’m hoping to catch in its entirety at WyrdCon.
I went to Johanna Koljonen’s fantastic talk, “Designing Supernatural Terror,” in which she outlined myriad ways to make players feel creeped out, frightened, and terrified. Her slides are definitely worth a look, especially if you organize horror games!
I gave a talk based on my paper “We Hold These Rules To Be Self-Evident” in the convention book States of Play (free download!), which was about American larp as emblematic of American national values. I also incorporated some ideas floated on my blog that had to do with American hyperbole and lack of historical accuracy and American litigiousness. In addition, I sat on the panel “How to Communicate About Larp to a Mainstream Audience.” More on that at a later date — including some press tips — in this space.
The Next Episode
These formal programming items only capture half of the fun of this con. Stay tuned this week for the second installment, featuring more of a social angle.
For some takes on Solmukohta by other bloggers, check out blogs by:
Thomas B: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4
Story Games Forum
The Solmukohta documentation page has tons of content from other panels too!
(Got more links? Post them in the comments, please!)