Yeah, I spent more than a week in Norway, but I also attended the “A Week in Norway” events, a week of planned gatherings, games and talks aimed at getting people comfortable with one another and introducing folks to the local larp culture before the Knutepunkt convention. Aside from mingling with excellent people from all over the world (hi, friends!), I also went to some actual events.
Choosing a favorite “A Week” activity is a little like choosing a favorite child, but, well, this kind of blew my mind.
As I understand it, rituals and scenography are important to the Norwegian larp scene. But how does one hold a cool ritual, you ask? There’s a workshop for that. Run by local larp kings Eirik Fatland, Erlend Eidsem Hansen, and Matthijs Holter, the ritual workshop taught some 30+ participants how to hold an improvised ritual. Here are the techniques we learned:
- How to incorporate speech into a ritual. Basically, if one person is speaking, she does so with a raised fist. If she wants the group to repeat the last phrase she spoke, she holds two fingers aloft while doing that.
- How to chant like champs. We all tried humming together on one tone, and were encouraged to improvise. Of course, humming gets boring after like five minutes or so, and there was a natural move to hum harmonies, or to use percussive consonant sounds, or to sing with different vowels and different sets of tones. THIS SOUNDS REALLY FRAKKING AWESOME IN A BIG GROUP. It reminded me a little of improv warmup for the a capella group in high school. Many of us wanted to do it for hours, and spontaneous chants broke out at strategic moments during Knutepunkt.
- How to move in a group. We split up into smaller pods of around 7 people, and practiced moving together. We used two different formations, a line, and a diamond. They key, as we learned, is to stand really close to one another, and to follow the person in front. When they turn their bodies, the new person in front is the new leader. In order to move the whole group, small deliberate steps are needed. The other key is to follow what the people around you are doing.
After having a sense of the basics, we headed to a pretty cool site to try out our skills, an actual artist’s tomb. The space is really cool. Artist Emmanuel Vigeland had serious inadequacy issues — overshadowed by his brother, who designed the most famous park in Oslo — and so Emmanuel designed his tomb to promote his own awesomeness. The artist’s ashes are in an urn that sits over a doorway so low that you must stoop to enter. So everyone bows to his remains. The interior of the tomb is one huge dark archway, with acoustics so resonant that a pindrop would echo. As your eyes become acclimated to the soft light, large black and white paintings seem to emerge on the walls, depicting different stages of life and death. (See a photo of the site here!)
Here, we split into groups and began the ritual. Each of the four acts dealt with one stage of development — childhood, love, parenthood, and death, which one of the organizers announced. The amazing acoustics made some of the instruction difficult to hear, but we got the general gist, and embodied each stage in our small group.
My group — a bit smaller than the rest — was situated with me in the center, which means I didn’t get an opportunity to lead the gestures or anything, and I found that an intriguing experience; I always had to follow, which is not something I’m used to. For me, this involved a high level of concentration, and an openness to accepting the leadership of others. I came out of the ritual feeling the repercussions of the background noise and concentration, but also felt quite close to one of my fellow participants in particular, a person who said that the experience was the closest they’d gotten to a religious experience, that it helped them understand the draw of religion. So certainly, something worked quite well there, and the bond between us proved enduring — we hung around each other quite a bit at the convention later.
TL;DR: Ritual rocked. Would ritual again.
Larp Exchange Academy/How to Collaborate to Create a Larp
Earlier in the week, I rambled down to the Larp Exchange Academy with my cohorts Elin Nilsen and Trine Lise Lindahl to give a short talk on larp scripts. (We’ve been thinking deeply about how to write them, as later this year we’ll co-edit a book of Norwegian larp scripts.)
The Larp Exchange Academy (LEA), organized for the first time this year by the Norwegian organization Fantasiforbundet, in conjunction with Lajvverket (Sweden), Bifrost (Denmark), Court of Moravia (Czech Republic), Peace and Freedom Forum (Palestine) and Minsk Larp Factory (Belarus). Over three days, the 46 participants were split into small groups and created 8 larps later played during the “A Week in Norway” activities.
This was a tall order — for groups comprised of different national identities and play cultures to find common ground and create a larp in a mere three days, but somehow they pulled it off. The program included short talks from experts on how to create characters, collaborate, etc., and featured plenty of time for group work and feedback.
When I visited LEA, I was intrigued to see large pieces of paper up on the walls, each one covered with Post-It notes that had been neatly organized under various headings. So naturally, I sat down with Lars Nerback, a professional larpwright who works with a Swedish company to produce edu-larps for use in schools. He explained a little bit about the method the groups were using. (And he has a killer Powerpoint presentation on this that will go up on the internet along with some text in the coming weeks).
The first piece, Nerback said, is to get the group to agree on a vision for the larp which takes the form of a purpose, goal, and target audience. What is the difference between a purpose and a goal? It’s a subtle thing, and one this rookie doesn’t feel confident of yet, so I’ll wait for the experts to weigh in. Once this short group statement has been drafted, Nerback said, the group can use it as a yardstick during later collaboration.
Then comes a series of targeted brainstorming, performed with a time limit, during which participants write down stuff on post it notes that comes to their mind as they ponder the group statement. They present those Post-Its to the group by sticking them onto the wall. Then the group uses the original statement to determine whether what’s on the Post-Its fits. So sure, a battleship would be really cool to larp on, but if you’ve decided to make a quiet domestic drama, it doesn’t fit the concept. They eliminate half the Post-Its, then go a few more targeted rounds, during which like notes get clustered together with like notes and given headings. Then the group looks at the headings and sees if any are lacking. A 3-day larp in the woods for 50 people definitely needs a section on practicalities, for example. Part of the reason for this, Nerback told me, is to help avoid a rookie mistake: often, new designers will burn most of their time and energy on say, characters, or plot, to the exclusion of all else. This method ensures that at least a little thought/work has been put into the other areas.
My description here is by no means exhaustive or fully descriptive — I simply wanted to get at the gist of the process.
Let’s Face It
A few days later, I had the opportunity to try out one of the LEA games, a four-hour thing that dealt with how cyber reality relates to actual reality. I thought it was pretty solid, with an interesting mechanic standing in for Facebook profiles. The game was divided between the “real world” of an office party and the “cyber world” in which we all interacted on social media through large pieces of poster board with profile pictures, friend numbers, and status updates (delivered verbally or through pieces of paper taped up) that we could read, comment on (with sticky notes) and like (also with sticky notes). The game had a few kinks that could use ironing out, but the game was totally playable and pretty much fun — and I found it amazing that they created it in such a short time.
One of the LEA organizers tells me that a full .pdf of all eight larp scripts should be available later this year. Oh, and for those attending Camp Nerdly, I’m bringing a Danish larper bent on running a superhero dance game for kids produced as part of the program!
Guys, the Norwegians played true to their “scenography matters” mantra by RENTING A REAL ANTIQUE TRAM CAR for us to larp in.
Along with many others, I played the game Limbo by Tor Kjetil Edland, about the place where souls go after death but before the hereafter. It featured a short character-creation workshop and lots of existential discussion about who we had been in life, how we’d screwed up, and what sort of experience we wanted after the hereafter. As we drove through the streets of the eternal city. In an awesome tram car.
A great larp, and one that comes complete with some very nice directions. It doesn’t require a whole lot of scenography, props, prep, or play time, so I’m hoping to help put it up on the East Coast sometime soon.
Nordic Larp Talks
The Nordic Larp Talks are a short, TED-style series of talks about Nordic larp, and they are always pretty awesome. This year was no exception. Go to the site and check out the excellent content on stuff as diverse as “What the hell does ‘Nordic larp’ actually mean?”; how to figure out what happened during a larp; what happens when player and character emotions get mixed up; how to build more inclusive larps; the connections and challenges of larp, training, and nonprofit work; and much much more.