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The Cutting Edge of Nordic Larp

Next week I’m going to be attending Knutpunkt, the annual Nordic(-style) larp conference. I’ll write more about that in due course, but this post is about the book that accompanies it, which has just been published.

It’s in two volumes, which you can download from the linked pages:

In this quick review I’m just looking at The Cutting Edge, partly because the new subject matter is more interesting to talk about; and partly because The Foundation Stone only came out today, so I haven’t read it yet.

The book’s divided into three thematic chapters.

The Game and the Design

Elin Nilsen, Lizzie Stark & Trine Lise Lindahl: ‘Larps from the Factory: How to Write a Good Larpscript’
The book Larps from the Factory, collecting scripts for 23 short larps originally designed and run at the Larp Factory branches in Norway, came out last year and made an instant splash. Apart from providing the opportunity for anyone in the world to run these larps themselves, the way the scripts are structured communicates a great deal about the larps’ design, and about the general practicalities of transferrability and rerunnability of larps.
In this article the three editors describe why they wanted to undertake the project, what the requirements were, and the practicalities of doing it. As with the book itself, the advice is sound and practical, and focused on outcomes.

Marije Baalman & Rene Barchmann: ‘A Lion’s Game: a Vampire’s Tragedy’
This article might perhaps be summarized as ‘How to run a Vampire: the Masquerade game that doesn’t suck’. It recounts the design choices that the authors made when setting up their campaign to avoid the usual dreadfulnesses of Vampire, centring instead on personal horror. I didn’t personally find it of great interest, and the writing style doesn’t tend towards readability: but others may find it useful.

Charles Bo Nielsen and Hanne Urhøj: ‘Typology in Character Creation’
A discussion of three different Jungian(-derived) typology models, including Myers-Briggs, and their applicability to character design. I found this pretty opaque and rarefied… it seemed like an unnecessary introduction of substantial quantities of theory into an area where it wasn’t needed. I’ll read it again when I’ve got a bit more brain, to see if I can take more away from it.

Elin Dalstål: ‘Sharpening Knives: Integrating Phone Use in Larp Design’
A thoughtful and concise outline of the use of mobile phones in a larp campaign. The author shows how practice and imagination has led to more and more ways of using the devices as time’s gone on, and clearly describes the practical implications.

Nathan Hook: ‘A Critical Review of the Mixing Desk’
This is about the larp-description model that I wrote about just the other day. The author articulates in detail the obvious criticisms (forced (false) bipolarity, ambiguous faders) and the less obvious (inherent bias in fader choice). Hopefully this will be part of a process of evolving the model, or developing better models, and taking the whole thing forwards.

Kaisa Kangas: ‘Bringing the Occupation Home’
About the game Halat hisar, “an attempt to transfer the Palestinian experience of living under occupation to Finland”. In particular, about the techniques of ‘bringing it home’ and ‘distancing’ which were used in developing the setting so as to make it playable for Finnish players while retaining the political meaning of the Palestinian origin. And some general discussion of political larp as politically purposive. I found this article really interesting, particularly as it avoids platitudes.

The Play and The Culture

Juhana Pettersson: ‘Larp for Change: Creating Play for Real World Impact’
Also about Halat hisar, but this time all about the political purpose; in the face of recent discussion about whether larp can really be used to “change the world”. The author believes that it can, and that Halat hisar was successful in its political aims: and discusses the implications on game design of having a particular political purpose. My own feeling here is that any social product, whether agitprop or art, can’t help but have a political purpose of some sort, whether it’s explicit or implicit: so this article is preaching to the choir in my case. But I haven’t read the other side of the debate, which I probably should.

Lauri Lukka: ‘The Psychology of Immersion: Individual Differences and Psychosocial Phenomena Relating to Immersion’
Immersion is an interesting phenomenon (or set of phenomena), and this quite technical psychological article discusses it in some depth. All I can say at the moment is that it looks interesting, and I’ll come back to it 🙂

Harald Misje, Martin Nielsen & Anita Myhre Andersen: ‘Larping in Lebanon: Introducing Nordic Children’s Larp to Palestinian Refugee Kids’
A fascinating and engaging account of the project described in the title. Over the course of a week, the organizers and a team of local volunteers helped children play existing ‘standard’ larps; ran one created for the purpose by the organizers and volunteers together; and finally the volunteers created one by themselves, and ran it. The authors conclude “Everything one does, everything one dedicates oneself to, will to some degree change the society. But the degree of influence, and if one changes it to something better, will change depending how comprehensive the activity is, and how one conducts the project.”

Alexey Fedoseev: ‘Larps, Interactive Theatre and Participatory Arts: Cutting and Pasting’
A review of parallel contemporary artforms which have tendencies towards larp, such as interactive theatre. The author suggests (if I’m reading it right) that starting from these similarities is a more fruitful way of seeing larp itself as an artform than is developing its internal theory. It’s kind of discursive, but with some good material to think about.

Luiz Falcão: ‘New Tastes in Brazilian Larp: From Dark Coke to Caipirinha with Nordic Ice’
A personal history of larp in Brazil, including the waves of influence it’s experienced first from the USA and lately from Nordic larp. After an interesting overview the author concludes “The identity of a Brazilian larp will probably begin to take shape in the coming episodes of this story – and seemingly with a strong influence by Nordic tradition.” I’m always fascinated to read about the development of larp culture in other countries, so I really enjoyed this.

Shoshana Kessock: ‘Cultural Appropriation and Larp’
A thoughtful and readable consideration of this tricky subject. The author discusses the phenomenon of cultural appropriation in general; its different modes; how these can manifest in larp in particular; their effect, and intent; and how to address the issue. I feel that cultural appropriation is all too easily skated over or ignored, and people can get rather defensive when discussing it… This article doesn’t come up with any very cheery conclusions, but plenty of exhortations to do better.

Markus Montola: ‘Crowdfunding Celestra’
This presents a really fascinating account of the way that the The Monitor Celestra larp was crowdfunded, and the social implications of this model: in particular, perceived value for players who’d paid greatly varying amounts of money. To be honest I found the thought of the potential for disappointment quite terrifying, not to mention the financial risks. But it’s good that other people are braver than me!

The Meta and The Agitator

Jaakko Stenros: ‘What Does “Nordic Larp” Mean?’
The author provides two definitions (a strict one and a loose one), and an extended brand statement. It’s an engaging and thought-provoking discussion, including a look at the terminological history. The author concludes that the open discourse around the Nordic larp tradition is what characterizes it and provides its strength. To which I am glad to be contributing in a very small way with this review 🙂

Markus Montola & Jaakko Stenros: ‘Play: The Soul of Knutepunkt’
Discussion of the importance of play to Knutepunkt, and of safety and trust considerations that need to apply as the community expands. The authors conclude: “A radical community like ours is never free of tension. That element of danger is a price we pay for doing new things in new ways. To preserve our playful and safe community, we must actively confront violations in ways that do not stifle the freedom of play.”

Yaraslau I. Kot: ‘Nordic-Russian Larp Dictionary’
Unfortunately, I don’t read Russian, so I’ll be happy to assume that this article is an excellent resource. It translates a number of common Nordic-larp terms into Russian, with explanations, for the benefit of former-USSR larpers.

Eleanor Saitta: ‘On Ethics’
Thoughtful and reasoned discussion of a number of ethical issues within larp, from consent to aesthetics. I’ve only skimmed it so far, will need to study in more depth to get the most out of it.

Claus Raasted: ‘So You Want to Spread the Larp Revolution?’
A lively, joky piece outlining ten ways to explain larp to non-larpers.

J. Tuomas Harviainen: ‘From Hobbyist Theory to Academic Canon’
An analysis of how Knutepunkt books and related writings (such as the various manifestos) have contributed to academic research and understanding of larps. This throws up some very interesting findings and insights, including a typology of the most commonly-cited items. The potentially dry subject matter is handled clearly and approachably, and the author concludes with a reflection on the empirical nature of these texts and the value of the academic discourse for larp design.

So then

That’s what’s in the book! 200 pages of real variety and interest. It’s designed quite nicely, although some of the detailed layout is not great – and it’s pretty poorly copy-edited, unfortunately. There are copious typographical, orthographical and grammatical errors, and a few layout glitches. I appreciate the timescales on projects like this are very short, but I really think it would have been good to get someone professionally skilled to look over the book before publication. (And shall volunteer myself to do so in future, if that’ll help.)

Rather than end on a down note, though, I’ll say that it’s really pretty amazing that such good work is being done writing about our hobby, and collecting it together. Not everyone will want to go through the whole thing, but practically anyone will find fascinating and/or useful material in here.

7 replies on “The Cutting Edge of Nordic Larp”

Great! – I’ll be very happy to help. My professional background is as an editor in (British) academic publishing, so I’d hope to do a good job for the book.

Thank you very much, dear heart, for being the first real person to leave a message on there after approximately 120 spam, mostly blatted by Akismet. Fingers crossed, in the future, you should be able to post without being moderated.

Different question: I’m guessing this isn’t news, but it was to me. Is the Nordic LARP book freely downloadable here (and that somehow seems more official than a dodgy .epub) the one that won (? nearly won?) the Diana Jones Award? Admittedly I haven’t read the articles in detail but the pictures are fab.

It is indeed, the very same (and yes, it did win). That download only went up earlier today afaik, so news it definitely is! Well worth a read, a very interesting variety of stuff covered.

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