The Solmukohta Culture Report

I’ve written about the programming that I enjoyed at Solmukohta, but I’ve got more observations scrambling to escape my noggin. Here they are, in no particular order:

Travel Fatigue

Foreign travel depresses my natural level of pep. There’s something about the unfamiliarity of small events — the rude-sounding “toilet” instead of the “restroom,” the luncheon meat for breakfast — that is exciting, but tiring. It’s hard to catch a cab, use a non-chip credit card, or buy a bus ticket. After a week in Denmark, I felt oddly subdued at Solmukohta. Or maybe just by the Fastaplague.


The Nordicans (if I can call them that) seem to view conflict in a different way from my local community. Wherever I went — panels, parties, the bar — I overheard vociferous and to-the-point debate over issues ranging from politics to game terminology to artistic vision. And yet, the debates remained friendly.

I found this to-the-point way of treating conflict refreshing, and different from my local scene in the states, where intellectual debate can quickly give way to hurt feelings and broken friendships. For this reason, we often avoid talking about disagreeable topics unless strictly necessary.

I was also interested that critiques seemed short and to-the-point, rather than couched in complex phrasing designed to mitigate the blow. Since I come from a culture in which attitudes and beliefs seem correlated with personal identity, some of the critiques levied toward folks sounded quite blunt to me. But here, the vitriol never seemed personal; it seemed intellectual — I could disagree with your take on the roleplay contract without disrespecting you. Very cool.


The beards were not as impressive as Fastaval’s haul this year, but the hair continued to hold its own. Special points to the mohawked woman at the Design lounge ball. The dearth of prosthesis (elf ears, demon horns, etc) did disappoint a bit, but the fabulous hats more than made up for it.

Anti-American Sentiment

Did you know that not everyone likes the US? Surprise! Noridcans had lots to say about the current presidential race, and exuded a subtle pressure to behave in more Nordic fashion on the American invasion, which numbered an incredible (and incredibly awesome)  ten or so of us. As fellow American Evan Torner pointed out, most of the US contingent is involved in the indie-game community or in scholarship around gaming, and a significant percentage had published a piece in a Knutebook, so we felt welcomed in a “gobble gobble we accept you one of us” sort of way.

In Thomas B’s  Solmukohta recap, he called out Americans for being excessively apologetic about our country and its way of gaming. From my standpoint, this was a defensive posture, undercutting potential anti-American sentiment with the twin powers of sarcasm and conflict-avoidance. It was passive-aggression. Or maybe that’s just me.

And yes. We’re all envious of Nordic public transit. And the bike lanes.

Leaving Mundania

The most un-mundane thing about Solmukohta, for me, was being around so many people who’d read my work (or parts of it). Under normal circumstances, I mostly encounter family members who have read my columns and they’re obligated to like them (hi, Dad!) so it felt cool to meet impartial parties who’d given my book a try and liked it. The coolest compliment? One guy told me that my book robbed him of much needed Solmukohta sleep — his bedtime reading stretched on longer than he’d intended.


On Saturday, we partied like it was 1999. Namely, to techno music of unknown provenance with goth-kid dance moves.

Odds and Ends

Interesting discussion to be had everywhere. A few bits overheard:

  • If larps have the power to reenvision the world, what should larpwrights aim to create, cautionary dystopian futures, or future utopias that aim to model the way a better world might be?
  • Alibi. The idea that players need an excuse to play certain characters. If I elect to play a child rapist, that’s super creepy on an out-of-character level. But if I’m assigned the role by a GM, I’ve got a reason why I have to play that role, an alibi. Seems like the game itself is an alibi to act in ways not permitted by ordinary society, whether that means acting like a orc or a prison guard.
  • Lines and veils. A way of talking about player limits in games; an American indie game analogue (sort of) to the safety “cut” and “brake,” explained to me by Jason Morningstar. Players draw lines in content that other players may not cross. So for example, if violence against kids really offends me on a personal level, I can draw that line and restrict the game’s content. Veils are more porous. So if domestic violence is a hot-button topic for me, I can pull a veil over it — basically, the game can include domestic violence, but the group agrees not to dwell on it or depict it in agonizing detail. More description over on The Forge.
  • When I arrived back in New Jersey I discovered a black bowler hat of unknown provenance in my bag. It was a good con.

For some takes on Solmukohta by other bloggers, check out blogs by:

Thomas B: part 1part 2part 3part 4
Evan Torner
Annika Waern
Rafael Bienia
Mike Pohjola
Story Games Forum
My first post on SK
The Solmukohta documentation page has tons of content from other panels too!

7 thoughts on “The Solmukohta Culture Report

  1. Your behavior was perfectly understandable since you went straight into the lion’s den. E.g. if you went to a con in Switzerland, the average Swiss larper has never even heard of GNS theory so there’s not risk to call it obsolete. I guess I am too used to seeing Americans in positions (or perceptions) of power that I forgot how they behave when outnumbered or when feeling overpowered. Again, perfectly understandable.

    The following two sentences are key to understanding my perspective:
    “For this reason, we often avoid talking about disagreeable topics unless strictly necessary. I was also interested that critiques seemed short and to-the-point, rather than couched in complex phrasing designed to mitigate the blow. ”
    I come from a culture of heated debate. In France, people can have very “violent” arguments without ever thinking they could offend someone: the other is expected to react in kind, or even escalate, and no offense is meant. It’s nearly a national sport, from families to colleagues, and can degenerate so that people actually make friends by dissing each other’s ideas or tastes. The rarity of such sparring partners when I was in the US was actually one of the reasons I left the country 🙂

    • Heh. Just giving you the proverbial business there. But yes, the culture of debate is quite different from the culture of debate in my little corner of the US — I found it fascinating and enlightening to experience another way of dealing with conflict.

  2. Awesome as usual, Lizzie.

    I was one of the apologetic Americans the whole time, namely because:

    1. I had the flu and didn’t want to offend anyone who could potentially prevent me from choking to death on my own tongue.

    2. European larping is, IMHO, about five years ahead of the U.S., and I didn’t want to be put down for our attempts to catch up. I wanted help and support.

    3. I was more interested in exchanging ideas than arguing ideas. I can do enough of that here at home (I’ll just post on the Live Effects FB forum). Funnily, even when John Kim and Emily and I were sitting together, we started arguing a bit. It’s easier when it’s your own nationality, I think.

    4. I also was more humble because I wasn’t drinking nearly enough. Again, blame the flu.

    Can’t wait to see Lizzie again at Wyrd Con! Get ready for full contact verbal combat there! Note I’ll be in your corner, and I love love love me high volume cuss-filled debates full of straw men burst by level 7 ad hominem attacks.

  3. Pingback: My Knutepunkt 2013 » Lizzie Stark