Juhana @ Ropecon 2016

Ropecon on tulossa aivan pian, perjantaista 29.7. sunnuntaihin 31.7. Olen mukana kahdella ohjelmanumerolla:

Rakkautta säteilevässä maailmassa: Tšernobyl, rakastettuni -pelin julkaisu

Sali 201, perjantaina 18:00 – 19:00

Juhana Petterssonin uusi roolipeli Tšernobyl, rakastettuni ilmestyy Ropeconissa 2016. Esitelmässä käydään läpi pelin ideaa ja sitä, millaista on rakkaus Tšernobylin radioaktiivisella, suljetulla vyöhykkeellä. Hahmot ovat rikollisia jotka ovat paenneet esivaltaa radioaktiiviselle alueelle. Siellä he joutuvat aloittamaan uuden elämän, ja kenties löytämään uusia ihmisiä joita rakastaa. Samalla käydään läpi pelin taustalla olevia, hahmovetoisen pelaamisen periaatteita.

Blood, Sex and Techno Music: the New Vampire Larp

Sali 208, lauantaina 17:00 – 18:00

One of the designers of the first larp commissioned by the new White Wolf Publishing, explains why the new wave of Vampire: the Masquerade larp started in Helsinki and what’s going to happen in the future. All about End of the Line, the first larp commissioned by the new White Wolf Publishing, Convention of Thorns, the Polish castle game, and Enlightenment in Blood, a massive city game in Berlin 2017.

Meitsi aloittaa peliblogin Imagessa, ekana aiheena larppi Gertrudes möhippa

Kuva larpista Gertrudes möhippa. Kuva: Urban Wedin

Kuva larpista Gertrudes möhippa. Kuva: Urban Wedin

“Olin itse yksi Gertruden hyväntekeväisyysäätiön päättäjistä. Iso osa pelaajista ei ollut larpannut koskaan aikaisemmin, joten polttarit tarjosivat hyvän viitekehyksen: Tiedämme kaikki mitä niissä tapahtuu ja miten niissä käyttäydytään.” lisää

2015 in works that made me feel something

In retrospect, one of the best things about being fifteen or sixteen was the way you’d see a movie and your mind would be blown by the sheer awesomeness of it all. You hadn’t seen so many things, so everything appeared new. It was wonderful to experience all these ideas and aesthetics for the first time. I still remember when I saw movies like Lost Highway or Tetsuo II: the Body Hammer at Elokuva-arkisto as a high-school student, and how it felt to emerge onto the street after the movie, full of slack-jawed wonder.

Sometimes it feels like these powerful experiences are a thing of the past, that nowadays intellectual appreciation and being entertained are the best we can hope for.

I went through some of the movies I’d seen and games I’d played in 2015, and I was happy to be reminded of plenty of things that put the lie to that feeling of never seeing anything new.

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Videogame: Zombi (Ubisoft Montpellier)

ZombiU was one of Wii U’s launch games, originally published in 2012 and republished on the Xbox One this fall as Zombi. In technical terms, it’s a pretty rough game, but there’s something in the atmosphere that suddenly makes the tired zombie genre feel relevant again. Zombi is a difficult, uncompromising game where a single mistake can result in a death as a victim of a zombie swarm. Every time you die, you continue with a new character, and at the end, you only get a single try to get to safety. If you fail, you die and the game ends. I failed.

I wrote a review for Tilt, available here in Finnish.

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Videogame: Soma (Frictional Games)

The premise of the Swedish game Soma is very traditional: You’re an average dude who finds himself stranded in a ruined underwater research base. You have to solve simple puzzles and avoid monsters to proceed. The real genius of the game is in its progression of revelations that slowly but steadily increase the existential horror of what’s happening. The action is very concrete, but the questions are philosophical: What’s a human? What does it mean to be an individual? Who am I?

I reviewed the game for Tilt and also selected it as Tilt’s Game of the Year. The review is here in Finnish.

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Movie: Beyond the Hills (Cristian Mungiu)

Beyond the Hills is a Romanian film from 2012, directed by Cristian Mungiu. Its a based-on-a-true-story movie about a small religious community struggling to deal with Alina, a troubled girl who follows her childhood friend there. Considering that this is a story featuring an excorcism, lesbian lovers and brutal convent life, everything is handled with a keen eye to everyday detail and psychological complexity. Alina’s story doesn’t end well, but she’s too good a character to simply fall into the role of a victim. She demands something more than that.

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Movie: The World’s End (Edgar Wright)

The World’s End is a science fiction movie from 2013, but the scifi stuff is almost incidental. It’s really the story of Gary King, who wants to gather together all of his old friends to do a pub crawl like they used to when they were young. All of the friends have moved on in their lives, but Gary hasn’t. Watching this movie felt like one long moment of recognition: I know this guy and I know what he represents. The real kicker comes in the end, where all of Gary’s fantasies come true. Ostensibly, the movie ends on a high note, but the implications of the ending are pretty harsh to contemplate.

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Movie: What We Do in the Shadows (Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi)

I played and organized a lot of Vampire: the Masquerade larp in my teens and early twenties. What We Do in the Shadows (2012) is a fake documentary about vampires living in New Zealand, and it’s a very funny movie. However, it also manages to depict something that’s very, very true when it comes to Vampire larp, whether intentionally or not. It captures the way those larps used to be at the turn on the millennium, goofy and cool at the same time.

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Movie: Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller)

The Hollywood media machine seems designed to mold the entertaintment products we consume into bland goo. Seeing the new Mad Max movie Fury Road was a bracing experience: It’s a big-budget action movie but it also has a singular vision. It has power. It has a sense of transgression that makes us feel alive.

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The Duke of Burgundy (Peter Strickland)

The Duke of Burgundy (2014) is a movie about two women playing sadomasochistic games. It has a solid claim on being the best BDSM movie of all time. It looks gorgeous, but most of all, it captures the small dynamics and details of fantasy and reality, desire and everyday life, very well. Its characters are driven by desire and necessity in a way that avoids simple judgements and pointless moral homilies.

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He ovat paenneet (J.-P. Valkeapää)

He ovat paenneet is a Finnish movie about two teenagers who decide to run away. One of them works at a home for delinquents, the other is confined there. Somehow, the movie goes from traditional Finnish kitchen sink realism into subjective fantasy in a way that accurately captures the power and horror of being young. It’s also gorgeously shot, with a jarring style that eschews the more conventional style of most Finnish cinema.

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Dance: Kleine Monster (Jenni Kivelä)

I’ve been a lapsed fan of Jenni Kivelä’s performances: I’ve always liked them, but it’s been years since I saw one. Early this year, I saw an ad for Kleine Monster and remembered how much I liked her work, so I went to see it. And it was very good. It’s a performance about grotesque women, made from the inside: The characters may be monsters, but so are we all.

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Larp: The Zeigarnik Effect (Brody Condon)

I played a lot of larp in 2015, but the most interesting and personally affecting was Brody Condon’s The Zeigarnik Effect. Based on Gestalt therapy, the larp was one part of a work that also included a video art piece that used material shot during the larp. From a technical point of view, the larp was very interesting because of its minimal characters and setting, its present-based interaction and workshopped sense of a very tight ensemble. It’s been one of the larps that I can say changed me.

I wrote more about it here.

Concert: K-X-P

I was at the music festival Flow, and a friend told me I should go to see K-X-P. I knew nothing about the band, but the recommendation was solid. It was the best gig I saw the whole year. The ritual aesthetics and the relentless wall of sound created a transcendental experience. The band is fine on YouTube or listened from the album, but the music really comes to its own through the sheer power of live amplification.

eduskunta-ryhmäteatteri-foto-ilkka-saastamoinen-672x372Eduskunta III (Susanna Kuparinen)

Politically, this has been a miserable year. Racism is on the rise, fascist ideas are normalized and austerity politics drive us deeper into despair, seemingly for no reason at all. Eduskunta III, a play about the Finnish parliament directed by Susanna Kuparinen, is a funny broadside aimed at the rot afflicting all of us. It’s alienating to sit at home and read depressing news, but by the same token, it feels great to laugh at the terrible things going on with hundreds of other people in the theatre.

Non-Digital: Becoming a Perfect Human

An in-game photo from the larp Täydellinen ihminen, by Tuomas Puikkonen

An in-game photo from the larp Täydellinen ihminen, by Tuomas Puikkonen

Recently, me, Jaakko Stenros and Tuomas Puikkonen did a larp called Täydellinen ihminen (The Perfect Human). The idea was to delve deep into the clean, bright world of office stock photos. For a few hours, our participants would become these happy, smiling, efficient and joyful people. They would embody a certain type of corporate dream.

Me and Jaakko did the design, and Tuomas handled the photography. It was an unusual larp project in the sense that the photos were an integral part of the experience, instead of just documentation. After being a perfect human, the participants could then see themselves in actual photos, permanently part of that world.

The game was played in Helsinki on the 20th of September, 2015. Jaakko wrote a few personal reflections about the game here, and the full set of Tuomas’s wonderful photos is here.

That's me sitting in the center left, playing a client. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen

That’s me sitting in the center left, playing a client. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen

The game was about an ordinary Monday at the consulting firm Creative Solutions. The characters all worked there, and were thrilled to be back at work after the weekend. During the day, they met three clients (one about bottled water, the city of Salo and the Guggenheim) and had several internal meetings. That was it: No twist, no surprises, no drama.

One of the ideas behind the game was the concept of “the Soviet man”, the perfect communist citizen. A popular idea in the Soviet Union, this ideal also revealed the problems inherent in the system. The ideal human is not what we have. We just have ordinary humans.

For Täydellinen ihminen, corporate stock photos replace the paintings and statues of Socialist Realism. Instead of the noble, strong factory worker, we have the happy, innovative consultant. The perfect human of the larp is just one of the ideals we live with in today’s society. Another ideal of capitalism is a super-competitive individualist motivated by greed, but we chose to focus on creating the world as it appears in the photos. A place where teamwork and positivity are the most important qualities. This meant that in the workplace of Creative Solutions, everyone collaborated on everything, and always gave positive feedback. Meetings made the characters happy. The team was everything.

This is the magic of innovation in action! Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen

This is the magic of innovation in action! Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen

I understood the idea of using larp to generate a certain kind of visual surface after I participated in the Brody Condon larp and video project The Zeigarnik Effect in June 2015. In this, as well as earlier pieces by the same artist, larp and video have complemented each other. A larp has certain qualities that are hard to achieve otherwise, and those qualities can be captured on video, or in photos. I knew the idea, but really only realized the potential after having experienced it myself.

In Täydellinen ihminen, game design and visual design came together in the physical play style we workshopped together before the start of the game. In office stock photos, people are happy. They smile. They stand very close to each other. They touch.

In stock photos, people are close, and they're physical. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen

In stock photos, people are close, and they’re physical. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen

The idea was that practising these modes of being beforehand would produce the right kind of images, but also generate a certain atmosphere for the game. We forbade all subtext, hidden agendas, sex, and other distractions to focus on the game’s dream of happy, corporate efficiency and teamwork. This also made it easier for the participants to be casually physical.

Tuomas didn’t play a character and the participants were instructed to ignore the photographer, but it’s clear his presence had an impact on the in-game dynamics. When I was in the game playing a supportive character, I noticed myself and others behaving as if they were on camera even when Tuomas was not in the room. It became part of the physical, bodily language of the game.

The smile has to reach the eyes. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen

The smile has to reach the eyes. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen

So what does it mean to play a larp and become one of the perfect humans? I played a few supporting roles, so I’m perhaps the wrong person to explain what the experience was all about. That’s best left to actual participants.

At one point, I played a normal, non-perfect municipal representative, and it felt overwhelming to be subjected to the team’s energy. I felt like a hick who had come to the big town.

Non-Digital: Seven Larps, Seven Countries

Alexander Norppa, the CEO of Norppa Industries, is holding a private preliminary high-level meeting before the start of the actual summit. Photo: Harmke Heezen

Alexander Norppa, the CEO of Norppa Industries, is holding a private preliminary high-level meeting before the start of the actual summit. Photo: Harmke Heezen

One of the great things about larp is that it’s such a young medium, we can do things for the first time. Exploring new frontiers of larp is easy since there’s so much that hasn’t been done yet.

I worked on the Baltic Warriors project as a larp producer this summer. We did a tour of seven countries, and ran seven larps with a loosely continuous story. The tour culminated in Helsinki this weekend with the finale, longer and bigger than the previous games.

Summit participants discuss the issues on the way to the gala dinner, unaware of the impeding zombie attack. Photo: Sigrid Reede

Summit participants discuss the issues on the way to the gala dinner, unaware of the impeding zombie attack. Photo: Sigrid Reede

Our creative producer Mike Pohjola likes to say that this has been the most international larp campaign in history, and he might well be right. I don’t really know of any others that would have reached seven countries. We also had participants from something like 16 countries. The core team worked from Germany, Finland and Sweden.

Baltic Warriors was a political game about eutrophication in the Baltic Sea. In the Helsinki game, a summit meeting about the future of the Baltic Sea, the political aspect was realized with perhaps the greatest nuance. We also learned a lot about playing in public and playing privately, and how that affects the larp dynamics with both first-timers and experienced larpers.

The zombie action was realized in partnership with the Zero Hour zombie festival. Photo: Sigrid Reede

The zombie action was realized in partnership with the Zero Hour zombie festival. Photo: Sigrid Reede

One of the things I’m happiest about in this project is the number of first time players who participated. In some games, like in Kiel, Germany, it was over two-thirds of all players, but the Helsinki game had a lot of first-timers too. Before the game, I was worried whether it was a good idea to throw novice larpers into an unguided city game where you’re supposed to direct your own experience to a large extent, but this worry proved unfounded. Indeed, the naturalism and heightened privacy of this style of larping may have made it easier for first-timers than our previous games.

One reason we were disposed to attract first-timers was probably the anomalous production structure of Baltic Warriors. Produced by the German company Kinomaton Berlin and Goethe-Institut Finnland, the initial impulse to do all of this came from outside the larp scene. I have never worked with institutions who were as motivated to do good larp as we had this time.

A debrief discussion held after the game was over at the Goethe-Institut. Photo: Sigrid Reede

A debrief discussion held after the game was over at the Goethe-Institut. Photo: Sigrid Reede

Non-Digital: Larping in the Middle of a Demonstration

Our venue for Baltic Warriors Copenhagen was the square in front of the parliament building, Christiansborg. Photo: Juhana Pettersson

Our venue for Baltic Warriors Copenhagen was the square in front of the parliament building, Christiansborg. Photo: Juhana Pettersson

Some people do larps in highly controlled environments such as the “Black Box”, a featureless room with lights that can act as the abstract stage for any larp scene. In these games, the players can enjoy freedom from the distractions of the world and the organizers have maximum control over what happens in the game space.

Last Saturday, we did the fifth game in this summer’s Baltic Warriors series of eco larps in Copenhagen in conditions that are pretty much the opposite of that. Our game was held at the square in front of Denmark’s parliament building Christiansborg. Sharing the square with us was a demonstration against the war in Iraq, and a counter-demonstration that was also against the war but with a different political analysis.

In the photo above, you can see the anarchist counter-demonstrators.

Participants in the middle of the game. Photo: Juhana Pettersson

Participants in the middle of the game. Photo: Juhana Pettersson

As in every Baltic Warriors game, the characters were lobbyists, activists and politicians debating an issue related to the dead zones in the Baltic Sea caused by eutrophication. Every game has been about politics, but this time the politics was a little more tangible than usual, given the non-fictional political action going on all around us.

In each Baltic Warriors game, we have a local producer or producers helping us make the game. This time, we worked with the Danish company Rollespilsakademiet, and they had the necessary logistical resources to build us the tents, the benches and the tables that defined our play area.

This time, we had an unusually high number of dog participants. Photo: Juhana Pettersson

As an organizer, doing a larp in this kind of environment means that you have to make peace with the fact that anything can happen. We had wildly different estimates about the size of the demonstrations. Some said there’s be thousands of people, while others had lower numbers. We were afraid that a big demonstration would swamp us, and if a demonstration went bad, there would be further safety issues.

The way it happened, the demonstration was of a manageable size, so none of our worst-case scenarios were realized. There were no obvious cops. A lot of people stopped by to see what we were doing (or to steal our coffee). For a political game, this is of course a good thing, but it also meant that this game wasn’t about fragile intimacies.

This is what happens when you leave your guard posts unattended. Photo: Juhana Pettersson

This is what happens when you leave your guard posts unattended. Photo: Juhana Pettersson

Doing an aggressively public larp like this raises many interesting questions that can be explored further. What are the ethics of sharing a public space with another political event? Can this be used deliberately, as a central part of the larp design? What kind of new social spaces can be incorporated into a larp experience?

Our larp design was merely adapted to the venue we had, but perhaps in the future, we’ll see interesting new works that make these questions the thrust of the game.

Pikseliparatiisi: Kohti Gamescomia

Olen tänään lentämässä Kölniin ottamaan osaa Gamescom-pelimessuille. Käymme tekemässä Tilt-tv-ohjelmaa varten haastatteluja erilaisista pelintekijöistä.

Videopelikokemus rajoittuu usein ihmisen ja ruudun väliseksi vuorovaikutukseksi. Vaikka peli olisi sosiaalinen, toimii välittäjänä tietokone tai konsoli. Pelaaminen ei vaadi jalkautumista sohvaa kauemmaksi, ja maailman rajoina ovat olohuoneeni rajat. Pelien ihmeet ovat virtuaalisia, kuvitteellisia.

Talouskysymykset ja ilmiöiden rakentaminen ovat pelikeskusteluissa keskeisessä roolissa. Suomalaisista peleistä kuten Angry Birds tai Clash of Clans kirjoitetaan usein juuri taloustarinoita, ja isot pelit kuten Call of Dutyt tai Assassin’s Creedit pyrkivät olemaan maailmanlaajuisia mediajättiläisiä.

Tyypillisiä Gamescomissa liian kauan olleita kävijöitä. Kuva vuodelta 2012.

Tyypillisiä Gamescomissa liian kauan olleita kävijöitä. Kuva vuodelta 2012.

Tämä monumentalismi ei kuitenkaan yleensä ole osa varsinaista pelikokemusta. Jos pelaan Angry Birdsiä metrossa, on vaikea tuntea elimellistä yhteyttä siihen kuinka Suomen peliala pelastaa pienen maamme talouden. Kotona Assassin’s Creed on vain Assassin’s Creed, ei valtava media-ameeba, josta pulpahtelee ties mitä spin-offeja tasaisin väliajoin.

Kaikki tämä kuitenkin muuttuu, kun menee Gamescom-pelimessuille. Olen käynyt niillä jo monena vuonna työn takia, ja joka kerta kokemusta on voinut luonnehtia samoin. Kun messuilta lähtee, tuntuu kuin poistuisi armeijan ammuntaradalta, jossa testataan raskasta tykistöä.

Koelnmesse-messuhalli on suunnilleen suomalaisen pikkukaupungin kokoinen valtava kompleksi. Jos haluaa kävellä Gamescom-messut päästä päähän, täytyy varata 20-30 minuuttia aikaa, ihmismäärästä riippuen. Messuhallit ovat täynnä omakotitalon kokoisia mainospömpeleitä, jotka hehkuttavat milloin mitäkin suurellista julkaisua.

Varsinaisten messuhallien lomassa kulkeva yhdyskäytävä. Kuva vuodelta 2012.

Varsinaisten messuhallien lomassa kulkeva yhdyskäytävä. Kuva vuodelta 2012.

Kaikki tämä kuitenkin kalpenee Gamescomin perussoundin äärellä. Se on tasainen, kaikkialle tunkeva bassojylinä. Jokaisessa pelissä on jyrmeä basso, ja kaikki näytteilleasettajat haluavat että heidän bassonsa kuuluu parhaiten. Kun sisällä on ollut pari tuntia, tuntuu kuin joku olisi tasaisen rauhallisesti puristellut aivoja kunnes ne eivät enää kykene muodostamaan mitään koherentteja mielikuvia.

Gamescomin perusolemus on brutaali. Yksinkertainen viesti välitetään totalitaarisella enemmän-on-enemmän metodilla: Mitä tahansa muuta pelit ovatkin, niin ainakin ne ovat isoja.

Non-Digital: New People at Baltic Warriors Kiel

Last Saturday, we ran the Kiel game of our Baltic Warriors campaign which tours the countries around the Baltic Sea this summer. Kiel is a small coastal city in northern Germany, close to Hamburg.

The larps have a story continuing from game to game. They are set as close to their real-life venues as possible, and feature environmental conferences about local issues. And that worst of all effects of eutrophication in the Baltic Sea, zombies.

Our venue was the Kiel Kunsthalle.

We’ve always wanted to have both larpers and newcomers as participants in the Baltic Warriors games. I believe that our games are a good choice for those who are interested in larp but shy away from traditional larp themes and genres. If our games manage to spread the joy of larp to new people, that’s a wonderful thing.

However, I also believe newcomers are good for the game. They bring an energy and a perspective that cuts into the core of why larp is so fun and interesting and shake established practices, forcing us to question why we do things a certain way.

Characters trying to find out how to complete the anti-zombie ritual.

In previous Baltic Warriors games, the newcomers have been a minority, but in Kiel, two thirds of our players were participating in their first larp.

Some of them were in their twenties, others over sixty. A few had been specifically invited by us, while others were intersted in larp, Nordic Larp specifically, or had heard of the project in the local or national media. Our benefactors at the Goethe-Institut were responsible for some of the more important ones.

Larp inside art.

Larp inside art.

The Baltic Warriors games we run have similar templates, but vary according to local conditions. This was especially obvious in Kiel, where both our wonderful venue of the Kiel Kunsthalle and the unusual participant composition meant that the game would run differently.

It’s probably no surprise that as an organizer, this has an energizing effect. We added features such as the in-game art tour and tried to stay on top of the chaos of different languages and experiences.

First-time participants deep in the game.

First-time participants deep in the game.

Having players who have larped before brings a kind of “herd competence” to the game: If enough players know how to do it, the rest will pick it up. When the percentage of larpers goes down, chaos increases, but as an organizer I had the feeling that after doing Baltic Warriors in Tallinn, St. Petersburg and Sopot, a little chaos doesn’t faze us.

Non-Digital: Beach Larp Manifesto

Today, we played the third of this summer’s seven Baltic Warriors eco zombie larps in Sopot, Poland. Finding a good venue for the serious political discussion and the even more serious zombie action proved to be difficult, but we found a wonderful host in a place called Klub Atelier, a venue in a beach theatre.

Since the weather was good, we held the game itself on the beach. This proved to be a very good choice: The presence of the Baltic Sea was palpable every moment of the game, a very important feature considering the themes and aims of Baltic Warriors in general. It’s easy to ignore the problems of the Baltic Sea when it’s out of sight and out of mind, but it’s something different when it’s right there.

Setting up the scene for the larp.

Setting up the scene for the larp.

Doing a larp on a beach made me ask a very obvious question:

Why are beach larps so rare? Why don’t we larp on beaches all the time? Why can’t we have fun in the sun?

This prompted me to write this manifesto in favor of beach larp, a phenomenon I foresee will take the larp world by storm in the years 2015, 2016 and 2017 before it becomes mainstream and attains global success and recognition as the primary beach activity of our species by the end of the decade.

The politicians, lobbyists and activists come to discuss environmental issues.

The politicians, lobbyists and activists come to discuss environmental issues.

Beach larp is:

1 – On a beach.

2 – Features an intimate thematic link to the water.

3 – Goes beyond the mere superficialities of fun, and becomes a profound participatory experience combining serious questions about our role in the world with being on a  beach.

4 – For players ready to take the experience seriously and dedicate themselves to fulfilling it. Or have been forced to participate by their employers. One of the two.

5 – Conflates surface and content by accepting the fact that larp is public. You don’t go to the beach to not be seen, and the same goes for beach larp. The larp experience becomes complete in the confused Tweet of a stranger. Or a spot done by local television.

6 – For romance. Our beach larp ended with a woman proposing to her pregnant lover.

Viking zombies crawling out of the Baltic Sea.

Viking zombies crawling out of the Baltic Sea.

7 – For tragedy. The lover said no.

8 – Engaging with the public. Beach larp is not insulated. Beach larp takes interventions by outsiders in stride. In our case, in the form of a zombie attack on schoolchildren.

9 – For emergence and coincidence. Anything can happen in a beach larp. The larp incorporates coincidence. Whether military helicopters or a sailing ship, everything becomes part of beach larp.

10 – For meeting larpers and non-larpers, the young and the old, friends and strangers. Everyone is one on the beach.

Join the beach larp revolution now!

Non-Digital: The Joy of the Zeigarnik Effect

I’m standing in front of a wall. It’s made of wood, painted white. There are two black, small holes, probably made by nails, at my eye level. I run my hand along the surface of the white paint. I’m in the present, aware of what’s right in front of me.

I’m playing in a larp called The Zeigarnik Effect, run in Moss in Norway 11th – 13th of June, 2015 as part of the Momentum biennial of contemporary art. Created by the artist Brody Condon, The Zeigarnik Effect consists of two complementary but separate pieces, the larp and a video installation based on material recorded in the larp. During the opening of Momentum, the camera feeds from the larp are displayed live at the installation.

A banner advertising Momentum in downtown Moss.

A banner advertising Momentum in downtown Moss.

The voice tells me, tells all of us to move our focus to the other people in the room. I turn around and face the room. I see the other participants. I look at their faces. I look at their eyes. I’m aware of their presence. I’m in the moment.

One of the core inspirations of The Zeigarnik Effect is the Gestalt therapy of the German psychotherapist Fritz Perls. Being in the moment, being present, is one of the ideas that makes Gestalt therapy so interesting to experience. We play loose characters that consist of motivations for being in therapy, and little else. The specific rituals of Gestalt mean that although everyone in the group is in close, constant interaction with everyone else, we don’t really need anything very elaborate in terms of larp fiction. I have little else than the simple motivation granted to me by my imagined affliction, and it sufficed.

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The installation after the first day of larp, before the exhibition opens the next day.

The voice is telling me to focus on my body. I feel the cramping in my back, the itching in my scalp and the anxiety in my fingers created by the condition I came up with: The fear of losing sensation in my hands and feet.

When we’re not doing mental and social excercises designed to bring us into the present moment, we’re working on someone. The language of Gestalt foregrounds the experiential, meaning that when we describe dreams, it sounds like this: “I’m experiencing remembering standing on a brown granual surface. It’s dark. I feel the heat on my face.” And so forth.

The ideas of Gestalt therapy, combined with the game design features designed by Condon with Nina Runa Essendrop, create a series of extremely intense, socially high-resolution interactions that are sometimes joyful and always interesting. A particular favorite is an excercise in which half the group moves eyes closed and the other half guides them, forcefully or with only a light touch.

In another interesting excercise, one participant asks the question “What do you want?” over and over again, and the other tries to answer. When I do this, I end up tearing my partner’s t-shirt into two. When it’s his turn to answer, he hits me in the face.

The first day is intimate and personal. The second day, animosities come to the surface.

The first day is intimate and personal. The second day, animosities come to the surface.

Playing The Zeigarnik Effect feels like someone has constructed an experimental language of larp, something honed and perfected in earlier prototypes until it runs smoothly and efficiently. Everything is simple, but I’m aware that to reach this level of simplicity, a great deal effort and trial and error is necessary.

The documentation required by the video installation is rigorous and thorough. Implemented by Paul Shin, the set-up includes wireless microphones on every participant and two cameramen who move in the game space, capturing emotions in close up.

During the game, sound goes live from the microphone on each player to the video installation in the exhibition space.

During the game, sound goes live from the microphone on each player to the video installation in the exhibition space.

Visiting the installation space, it’s obvious that this strategy really pays off. Capturing the visual surface of larp has rarely been done to such powerful effect as here, and the key is making sure that the camera is always right there, zeroing in on the face of someone who is not performing.

Non-Digital: Baltic Warriors in St. Petersburg

Last Saturday, 6th of June, the second Baltic Warriors game of summer 2015 was played in St. Petersburg. I’m working on the project as a larp producer, and it’s surprisingly strange to make a game that’s being run in a language I don’t understand, in this case Russian. Others have done this before me, but now was my first time.

Thankfully, the game seemed to be a success.

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(Members of the crew in front of the venue, the art space Taiga on the shore of the Neva river in St. Petersburg)

Each Baltic Warriors game has a similar design and structure, but we’ve learned that local variation will always play a part. The St. Petersburg game was our most aggressively localized one, with character and game design elements adapted so they’d make sense. We also had to provide all material in Russian to make sure all players can comfortably engage with it.

In each country, we have a local producer who’s job it is to do this localization, in addition to practical organizing. In Russia, we had Olga Vorobyeva, who did a wonderful job. We also had significant help from the local Goethe Institute. The Goethe Institute makes the project financially possible, but in St. Petersburg they went above and beyond in terms of practical work.

(Participants workshopping before the game starts)

Bringing people together is one of the key goals of the whole Baltic Warriors project, and if we can do a little larp evangelizing on the side, that’s good too. Because of this, I was happy to see that approximately one third of our players had never larped before. We’d been warned that the actual experts we invited to participate in the post-game panel discussion probably wouldn’t want to play, but in the end every single one did.

(The game is in full swing as some characters listen to speeches given by the politicians, activists and lobbyists, while othets write news articles and make backroom deals)

As in every Baltic Warriors game, eventually the zombies will attack. In the fiction of the game, eutrophication causes the undead to rise from the Dead Zones of the Baltic Sea. The style of the game changes, and debate turns into action as the characters try to save themselves.

This time the action was so fast, we had trouble following it with our cameras.

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(A zombie hangs back as the participants do a debrief round after the game has ended)

Non-Digital: The Last Ropecon at Dipoli

Ropecon is a Finnish roleplaying game convention. It’s also been something that’s been a part of my life for twenty years now.

It was first organized in 1994, but I missed the initial years. I’m pretty sure my first Ropecon was 1996. I was sixteen and had just discovered Werewolf: the Apocalypse. I had made a character I figured was real badass, and wanted to play it in a game.

Dipoli is a conference center in Espoo, Finland. It has been home to Ropecon from 1998, but now was the last year. Next time, it’s going to be at Messukeskus, or Helsinki Fair Centre.

For me, Dipoli was “the new Ropecon venue” for maybe ten years, because the first ones I attended had been at another place. The building has come to define the event with its labyrinthine interior and plentiful greenery outside. The event is usually held at the end of July, but this time it was last weekend.

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(Mike Pohjola places a viking helmet on top of a flapboard at our Baltic Warriors presentation.)

My Ropecon experiences tend to be defined by the program items I go there to hold, and this year was no different. We started on Friday with Mike Pohjola by doing a presentation about Baltic Warriors, the larp campaign we’re organizing this summer. This is something I’ve done a number of years: Go to Ropecon to talk about my latest things.

I got downright sentimental later when we went to drink outside with a few friends. We headed to the end of a pier down at the waterfront, because I wanted to stand there one more time. I’ve published or helped to publish five books at Ropecon, and after the book publishing presentations, we’ve had a little champagne to celebrate at the pier. This time we didn’t have a book, but it was still nice to go there anyway.

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(A larp prop from the game Tonnin stiflat, this is a “torpedo” of canisters that are filled with booze for smuggling during the Prohibition. It was used at the larp costume gala.)

On Saturday night, I held a presentation called Larpin rajoilla, the Limits of Larp, with Maria Pettersson. Our idea was simply to see what are all the places larp has gone to, geographically, socially, within the human body. It was one of the most fun presentations I’ve ever worked on, and seemed to go down well.

Here’s the Argentinean video about Hitler and Vampire larp we used:

On Sunday, we walked around the con area with Maria. It felt nostalgic to think about all the things that had happened there, the larps we’ve run, the books we’ve published, the presentations, the parties, the games and the conversations.

Ropecon will go on, but I suspect that at least for the next ten years, it will feel like its at “the new venue”.

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(The view at the entrance on Sunday.)

Non-Digital: Baltic Warriors Tallinn

I work as a larp producer in the Baltic Warriors project, and first game of our summer season was played last Saturday in Tallinn. It’s quite intimidating to go another country to do a game there. I had never even played in an Estonian larp, but it seemed to go well.

(The Estonian producer of Baltic Warriors, Aapo Reitsak, as a viking zombie. Ingame-photo by Juhana Pettersson)

This summer, we’re doing a series of seven Baltic Warriors games, each in a different country. In each game, the subject is eutrophication and other environmental disasters afflicting the Baltic Sea. The zombies are there to remind us that while we talk, the situation is steadily getting worse.

(For the venue, we had the museum ship Suur Tõll. Photo by Juhana Pettersson)

We had the distinct advantage of having a really cool venue, the ice breaker Suur Tõll, now a museum. It was almost too spectacular: It was easy to imagine a much bigger, much longer game taking place there.

The larp, like all Baltic Warriors games, was divided into two parts: Politics and zombie action. During the political part, characters come together to talk about a given issue that’s being voted upon in the parliament.

(One of the techniques we used was the media wall, in which characters can make news headlines. Photo by Juhana Pettersson)

After the debate has gone for a few hours, the zombies attack. In this case, two viking zombies shambled forth from the hold of the ship, attacking the living. The museum was open to normal visitors during this time, and it was fun to see how they reacted to the screaming and gurgling that was going on.

(Not even the Bible helps against newly zombified people. Photo by Juhana Pettersson)

After this, we have Baltic Warriors games in St Petersburg, Gdansk, Kiel, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki. It will be fun to see how they change depending on the players, the local issues, the venue, and other matters.

Non-Digital: Murder in Helsinki

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(Photo from Tonnin stiflat by Tuomas Puikkonen)

Tonnin stiflat is a Finnish larp campaign played in Helsinki in 2014. Consisting of three games, it was organized by the veteran city game designers Niina Niskanen and Simo Järvelä.

The setting is Helsinki in the year 1927, and the subject matter crime, prohibition, working class life and the violent legacy of the civil war. The characters were bootleggers and policemen, struggling artists and their sybaritic patrons.

Niskanen and Järvelä have edited and published a documentation book about the larps in English. It’s downloadable here, for free, and definitely worth a look.

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(Photo from Tonnin stiflat by Tuomas Puikkonen)

The book is especially welcome as Finnish larp has traditionally been something of a poor cousin in the milieu of Nordic larp. There have been interesting games aplenty, but documentation has been scarce and Nordic attention usually limited to the games that Finnish writers have pushed the hardest, like Ground Zero.

City games played in an open urban environment have traditionally been a Finnish strong suit, and Niskanen and Järvelä are masters of this form. It’s especially nice to see this type of game documented in book form and in English, as the games that tend to receive this treatment are usually one-weekend affair played in a closed environment, such as Kapo and Mad About the Boy.

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(Photo from Tonnin stiflat by Tuomas Puikkonen)

Tonnin stiflat (the title is an expression for very expensive shoes in the traditional Helsinki slang) benefits greatly from the fact that it’s been documented by the Finnish larp photographer Tuomas Puikkonen. His photos are all over the book, and you can see the full set here.

There are many good larp photographers in the Nordic countries, but Puikkonen distinguishes himself by his ability to be in the moment and capture the subjective feeling of the player.

The only real complaint that I have for this book is that it’s so short. I could’ve read more about this stuff.