Roleplaying Game Movie Night #27: Aamusydämellä

I and some friends have a project of trying to watch all movies, tv episodes and other stuff with moving pictures related to roleplaying games ever made. We’re pretty far along on this goal. I’ll write here about old and new things we’ve found and watched.

Aamusydämellä, the episode Isä poika ja roolipeli from 2008.

Aamusydämellä is a Finnish tv show in which guests are interviewed about topics such as depression in athletes or experiences with the prison system. In the 2008 episode Isä, poika ja roolipeli, the guests were a father and son who both larped.

Much of the episode is spent on pretty simple questions on what larp is. How characters work, who decides what happens and so on. In the end, they talk about having a shared hobby between father and son, and it’s interesting to see. The idea that parents and children have something they can enjoy on an equal level is not a given, and here the father says that you have to be able to be seen as silly if you want to do it.

All in all, it’s a pretty decent “slice of life” take on larp. More info here.

Roleplaying Game Movie Night #26: Vain elämää

I and some friends have a project of trying to watch all movies, tv episodes and other stuff with moving pictures related to roleplaying games ever made. We’re pretty far along on this goal. I’ll write here about old and new things we’ve found and watched.

(Apulanta singer Toni Wirtanen reflects on his episode in Vain elämää.)

Vain elämää is an extremely successful Finnish tv show in which famous singers perform versions of each other’s songs. Each season, there’s a group of artists, and each episode is built around one of them. In the middle of the episode, the artist leads the others in a fun activity.

In episode 5 of season 7, the featured artist is Toni Wirtanen of the band Apulanta. His fun activity of choice is larp, so he leads the other artists in a short mini-larp where he portrays an evil wizard and they his followers and enemies.

This was fun to watch. The approach to larp was cheerfully positive, and it was funny to see pop stars like Sanni or Jari Sillanpää get their larp on. Kaija Koo, who’s from an older generation of Finnish entertainers, really distinguished herself by jumping right into it, improvising pretty convincing fantasy jargon.

Roleplaying Game Movie Night #25: LARP

I and some friends have a project of trying to watch all movies, tv episodes and other stuff with moving pictures related to roleplaying games ever made. We’re pretty far along on this goal. I’ll write here about old and new things we’ve found and watched.Larp-3

Larp is a Polish short film directed by Kordian Kadziela and released in 2014. It’s the story of a larper guy who lives in the shadow of his boxer brother. He goes to larps, and in one of them, he confronts a bully in-game. The event proves transformative, but the rest of the story is handled surprisingly deftly for a movie based on such broad ideas.

This is definitely a gem among movies about larp. I realize this will set the bar pretty low, but it’s made by people who understand both filmmaking and larp. That’s not always the case…

Here’s the trailer:

Roleplaying Game Movie Night #24: Treasure Trapped

I and some friends have a project of trying to watch all movies, tv episodes and other stuff with moving pictures related to roleplaying games ever made. We’re pretty far along on this goal. I’ll write here about old and new things we’ve found and watched.

Landscape-Poster

Treasure Trapped is a documentary film about larp in the U.K. and the Nordic countries. First we get to learn about U.K. larps, and the filmmaking seems amateurish and meandering. As the movies goes on, it becomes more proficient in storytelling terms and the focus shifts to games like The Monitor Celestra.

I feel bad about being negative about this movie because it shows my larp scene in such favorable light. The segment about Panopticorp is excellent. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sustain this level of quality.

Still, if you just look at the material they have in the movie, and if you’re curious about Nordic games especially, this can be an interesting movie to watch.

Roleplaying Game Movie Night #23: Nineties Satanism Panic

I and some friends have a project of trying to watch all movies, tv episodes and other stuff with moving pictures related to roleplaying games ever made. We’re pretty far along on this goal. I’ll write here about old and new things we’ve found and watched.

One of the curiosities of roleplaying is that many countries seem to have had their own, local moral panics over the idea that roleplaying and Satanism are connected. In Finland, the panic hit the media in the Nineties.

Here’s an episode of a show called Lauantaivekkari, originally broadcast 25.10.1997. A journalist called Susanne Päivärinta interviews two people, the editor-in-chief of the Larppaaja magazine (a magazine about larping) ELF Vesala and a woman called Anna Lintunen, one of the loudest voices drumming up the Satanism panic. Päivärinta seems to be on Lintunen’s side, although close to the end she becomes suspicious of the mysterious documents Lintunen starts to quote. When Päivärinta asks where they’re from, Lintunen replies: “From my home!”

One of the most interesting parts of the discussion now is to see Päivärinta quote stuff from the Larppaaja magazine, fairly and unfairly. It turns out that some of the scene humor in a small magazine does seem weird when subjected to the glare of the uncomprehending national media.

In a surprise twist, Lintunen also accused larp of promoting Neo-Nazis.

As an extra, if you watch the video, pay attention to the bizarre studio decor. It complements the general seriousness of the program in a wonderful way.

Roleplaying Game Movie Night #22: The Battle of Orgreave

I and some friends have a project of trying to watch all movies, tv episodes and other stuff with moving pictures related to roleplaying games ever made. We’re pretty far along on this goal. I’ll write here about old and new things we’ve found and watched.

The Battle of Orgreave, a documentary by Mike Figgis, is not strictly speaking about larp, but its themes come so close to many of the ideas explored in Nordic Larp that we felt it had to be included in the program. Indeed, if you’re making a political larp, this is must-see.

The documentary is about a re-enactment of the titular Battle of Orgreave, a key confrontation during the 1984 U.K. miner’s strike, brutally crushed by Margaret Thatcher’s government. The re-enactment was held at the real, historical locations, and many of the participants had personally been part of the actual events. At one point, an old former miner tersely notes that the sound of the policemen’s shields brings back memories.

The documentary explains the re-enactment and contextualizes the strike and its aftermath in interviews. There’s a lot of stuff here: Using re-enactment to situate the strike in the context of British historical battles. Having the actual people the event is about present. The limits and possibilities of re-creating events in a fictional framework.

There’s been a lot of Nordic Larp with a political focus, but none of the games has gotten quite this close with it’s subject matter. There’s a lot to learn here.

The whole movie is on YouTube:

Roleplaying Game Movie Night #21: Gravity Falls

I and some friends have a project of trying to watch all movies, tv episodes and other stuff with moving pictures related to roleplaying games ever made. We’re pretty far along on this goal. I’ll write here about old and new things we’ve found and watched.

Gravity Falls is an American cartoon series, sort of like Twin Peaks for kids. Dungeons, Dungeons and More Dungeons, episode 13 of season two, features roleplaying and larp. It’s a dismal exercise in hoary stereotyping and the self-hatred typical of a lot of American geek media.

There’s a joke based on the “Lightning bolt! Lightning bolt!” video. The game becomes real, as it always does. Roleplaying games are complicated and ridiculous, but normal folks should humor roleplayers so as not to be assholes. The end credits feature an extra scene of larper bashing, as if the makers of this episode suddenly thought: “Wait! There’s not enough stupid cliche here! We need more.”

A summary goes something like this: A kid receives a game analogous to D&D. He plays it with an older scientist dude. The game becomes real. Non-geeks have to compete in the game, and naturally win. Everyone watches a non-geeky tv show in a picture of family harmony. PS: Larpers are losers.

Roleplaying Game Movie Night #20: German Larp Documentaries

I and some friends have a project of trying to watch all movies, tv episodes and other stuff with moving pictures related to roleplaying games ever made. We’re pretty far along on this goal. I’ll write here about old and new things we’ve found and watched.

Two recent, feature-length German larp documetaries both focus on the biggest larp in the world, ConQuest, and even feature some of the same people. Uta Bodenstein’s Die Herren der Spiele is from 2012, and Andreas Geiger’s Wochenendkrieger from 2013.

If Die Herren der Spiele has one thing going for it, the footage from the mass combat scenes is very cool. I know from experience that shooting larp is not always easy, but this time, the camera is right there in the middle of the battle.

Otherwise, the documentary is a portrait of different larpers. One is a pharmacist, another a school teacher. They’re quite articulate and good at explaining what they do and why, but the material is a little humdrum, as if it had been important to convey that larpers are just people too.

Wochenendkrieger doesn’t have Die Herren der Spiele’s kinetic action scenes, but otherwise it benefits from a more interesting artistic vision. Its take on the subject is more nuanced and the use of images more creative. An elderly local resident from the village where ConQuest takes place sounds proud of the larp and the inside look into the logistics of running a game on this scale is fascinating.

Among the revelations of the movie is a gay man who sculpted elf ears that sell 50,000 pairs annually all over Europe. He explained that when it was time to go out and meet guys, he favored a butch skinhead aesthetic.

Roleplaying Game Movie Night #19: Mazes & Mutants

I and some friends have a project of trying to watch all movies, tv episodes and other stuff with moving pictures related to roleplaying games ever made. We’re pretty far along on this goal. I’ll write here about old and new things we’ve found and watched.

Mazes & Mutants is a recent episode on the second season of the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series. The Turtles find a D&D-style game and start playing. Soon they escalate into larp.

The episode is both a compilation of the greatest cliches of game movies and a surprisingly fun spoof of larp.

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(Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, season 2: Mazes & Mutants)

First the cliches. Once the Turtles start larping, the GAME BECOMES REAL. The larper they meet is an overweight nerd with acne. They have to rescue the princess.

But as the episode progresses, it becomes apparent that despite the wearying cliches, there’s a lot of smart stuff in there as well. The title of the episode references the classic scare movie Mazes & Monsters, about a bunch of kids who go nuts after playing D&D. Mazes & Monsters is the original GAME BECOMES REAL story, and referencing it here (instead of making it Mutants & Dragons) indicates some self-awareness.

Tabletop roleplaying and larp are portrayed as a straightforwardly fun activity, and the episode teems with clever little references to game culture. It has also spawned a series of larp-themed Turtles toys.

LARP TMNT

(From the left, the fighter, the elf, the dwarf and the wizard.)

Roleplaying Game Movie Night #20: Warhammer 40K

I and some friends have a project of trying to watch all movies, tv episodes and other stuff with moving pictures related to roleplaying games ever made. We’re pretty far along on this goal. I’ll write here about old and new things we’ve found and watched.

Dragonlance is not the only gaming franchise that’s been badly served by adaptations. Another is the Games Workshop juggernaut Warhammer 40K. Its world has been created principally for war games, but there’s a solid line of roleplaying games as well.

There’s an official, animated 40K movie from 2010 called Ultramarines, and a German fan made movie called Damnatus from 2008. Of these two, Damnatus is inarguably the better.

severus

(Ultramarines)

Ultramarines features a bunch of space marines who go to a planet to investigate a distress call. They battle against their inner demons, but most importantly they seem to walk around a gravel pit for ever and ever.

The gravel pit is a classic location of fan-made and cheap genre movies, but why it was chosen as a location for an animated movie, I have no idea.

damnatus

(Damnatus)

Damnatus is a fan movie denied release at the last minute by Games Workshop. Mysteriously, following the ban it leaked into the internet. It’s about a bunch of mercenaries hired by an Inquisitor to investigate strange phenomena in the lower depths of a planet.

Very obviously a fan movie, Damnatus suffers from its lack of actual actors, a solid script or anything resembling interesting characters or dramatic scenes. However, I’d argue it’s still a must-watch for any 40K geek, because it captures the tone and style of the world so perfectly. Unlike in Ultramarines, in Damnatus you know you’re in the far future where there’s only war.

It’s full of fun little detail that only makes sense if you know the world already, like the servo-skull pictured above. It’s in German, and demonstrates that German is the only proper language for 40K.

Roleplaying Game Movie Night #19: Dragonlance

I and some friends have a project of trying to watch all movies, tv episodes and other stuff with moving pictures related to roleplaying games ever made. We’re pretty far along on this goal. I’ll write here about old and new things we’ve found and watched.

When I was twelve, I thought that Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman were the best that the fantasy genre had to offer. Sure, I liked Tolkien too, but he had nothing on Dragonlance.

Now that I’m 34, I see no reason to revise this opinion.

It’s a shame that there’s so few adaptations of Dragonlance, good or not. We’ve been able to find two, the animated version of the first book, Dragons of Autumn Twilight, and the Russian musical version of the second trilogy, Legends.

You can watch the musical here, with English subtitles:

The thing about the musical version is that it’s absolutely excellent. You have to know the story, but for an old Dragonlance lover such as myself, this is manna from heaven. According to the YouTube page, it’s actually a promo concert held by the theatre studio Lege Artis at the 8th of February, 2014 in Moscow. It features scenes from a musical called The Last Trial.

Before this, I had never realized how operatic the Legends trilogy was. It’s been distilled into a story about Raistlin, Caramon and Crysania, and the interplay of love and power in Raistlin’s character. The possibly best scene has Raistlin singing a duet with Takhisis the Queen of Darkness about his love affair with Crysania. The YouTube video above features people from three different casts, so don’t be confused if the actor playing Raistlin suddenly changes.

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(A still from the movie Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight)

Unfortunately, the animated Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight movie fails to live up to the standards set up by Russian musical theatre. It goes through the story of the first Dragonlance book, somehow combining the worst features of both classical Eighties Saturday morning cartoons and modern 3D-animated stuff.

It also remains faithful to some of the dumbest stuff found in the original book, things that any reasonable adaptation would have cut out. It’s a dismal effort.

Roleplaying Game Movie Night #18: Uber Goober & Dark Dungeons

I and some friends have a project of trying to watch all movies, tv episodes and other stuff with moving pictures related to roleplaying games ever made. We’re pretty far along on this goal. I’ll write here about old and new things we’ve found and watched.

Ub1

(Uber Goober)

Uber Goober is a case study in how to defend something in such a way as to make it look as bad as possible. It’s a documentary about roleplaying games, larp and other non-digital games and people who play them, but more importantly, it’s a documentary about prejudices against gamers and gamers who have internalized them.

Two of the interviewees appear only in silhouette because they fear repercussions if they’re publicly outed as gamers. In one scene, a man who doesn’t want his face shown sneaks into a children’s playground at night to collect some sand for a structure he’s building for a miniatures game.

It’s true that gamers face a lot of attitude in U.S. society. However, when someone appears in a documentary in silhouette, it makes him look bad, like there’s something shameful to hide. The set up communicates the shame, and reinforces it.

The bad impression is strengthened by the low technical quality of the movie. Because of bad lighting, normal folks look grubby.

The whole thing has a depressing, defensive tone, and many of the interviewees seem desperate to justify gaming. The problem is that when they do this, they, and the makers of this documentary, implicitly accept the premises they try to argue against. In cases like this, you have to change the rules of the discussion, not try to win by arguing that roleplaying is not Satan worship, honest!

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(Dark Dungeons)

Dark Dungeons is a roleplaying pride movie. It’s well made, hilarious, and makes roleplaying look cool. In 1984, Jack T. Chick published a little comic about the Satanic menace of roleplaying games. At that time, the moral panic about roleplaying games and their occult connections was still going on, and the comic tried to dissuade young people from playing. You can read it here, it’s pretty funny stuff.

Dark Dungeons is a movie adaptation of the comic. It’s quite loyal to the source material, often using dialogue word for word. It trusts the sheer weirdness of the original comic to carry the day, to great effect.

Since it needs to sell roleplaying as a dangerous, seductive menace, all the cool bad guys roleplay. Of course we’re meant to take this with a wink and a nudge. It’s a joke. But that doesn’t take away from it’s effectiveness: We see roleplaying that looks fun, the same way sex, drugs and rock’n’roll is fun.

The movie Mazes & Monsters was Dark Dungeons, except they meant it. It was shown on Finnish television in the late Eighties, and essentially started the Finnish larp scene. Many different folks around the country saw it, thought it looked cool, and decided to try to do the same. Dark Dungeons takes this aesthetic of making things seem seductive by advocating against them, and uses it knowingly.

Roleplaying Game Movie Night #17: Good Luck Charlie, Huge & Emily Owens, M.D.

I and some friends have a project of trying to watch all movies, tv episodes and other stuff with moving pictures related to roleplaying games ever made. We’re pretty far along on this goal. I’ll write here about old and new things we’ve found and watched.

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(Good Luck Charlie, season 2 episode 5 “L.A.R.P. in the Park”)

The larp episode of the American family comedy series Good Luck Charlie is one of the most miserable pieces of roleplaying television we’ve seen. Larp appears as ridiculous and stupid, but the real issue is the general conservative atmosphere. The gender roles in the family, the assumptions about the Mom, all of it seems to be from some kind of a rancid Eighties tribute.

Teddy (in the picture, left) tries to learn to play a Pokemon-stand-in to get closer to a guy she has a crush on. The guy proves to be a total dork and even talks Teddy into joining his larp group. The only upside to the whole thing are the bizarre costumes worn by the larpers.

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(Huge, season 1 episode 3 “Live Action Role Play”)

Huge is an American tv series about a group of people at a camp for losing weight. In this episode, one of the characters wants to organize a larp, another hijacks it and corrupts her vision, and moderate drama ensues.

As seen in the picture above, the view of larp in this episode is not the most dignified I’ve ever seen. For some reason, the apparently adult people at the fat camp behave like twelve year olds with their temper tantrums and pouting, so the whole thing is emotionally unsettling to watch.

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(Emily Owens, M.D. season 1 episode 9 “For the Love of LARP”)

One of the side-effects of our project is that we see a lot of individual episodes from tv series we’d never watch otherwise. This is true especially for inconsequential American series that don’t really make any kind of a splash here in Finland. Without our project, I wouldn’t even know that a series called Emily Owens, M.D. existed.

Emily is a blonde and bland doctor in a featureless hospital. In this episode, larpers have medical problems too. In the end we learn that they can separate reality from fiction! What a relief!

Roleplaying Game Movie Night #16: Shakma, Gamerz & Skullduggery

I and some friends have a project of trying to watch all movies, tv episodes and other stuff with moving pictures related to roleplaying games ever made. We’re pretty far along on this goal. I’ll write here about old and new things we’ve found and watched.

Shakma-gonna-get-ya

(Shakma)

Of all the larp movies we’ve seen, Shakma has one of the simplest, yet singular concepts. A group of medical researchers and students lock themselves into a building to play a really crappy-looking larp. A raging baboon kills them one by one.

The best thing about the movie is that the baboon is played by a real baboon, called Typhoon. No special effects bullshit here! Only hardcore baboon action.

The larp seems to be a treasure hunt style thing where players communicate with the game master via walkie talkies. “I’m using one of my keys to open this door.” The game master has a primitive computer simulation of the game, connected to tracking devices each player has.

During the movie, we had a lot of speculation about how it would end. Perhaps the baboon would kill the game master and take his place. Maybe he would rescue the princess and they would live happily ever after. He could kill everyone, and the last shot would be him driving away smoking a cigar.

Unfortunately, none of these things happened in this movie.

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(Gamerz)

We’ve seen a lot of movies about roleplayers or larpers, but most of them have been made in the U.S. A typical feature of these films (Unicorn City, A Game of the Year) has been a depiction of the hobby and the people in it that I can’t recognize from my personal experience.

The 2005 movie Gamerz was made in Scotland. In style it’s a European slightly comedic slice-of-life film, with little of the overly mannered structure or self-hate that characterizes bad American films of this type. Along with Zero Charisma and The Gamers 3, its one of the best movies about roleplayers out there.

The movie is about Ralph, a university student and game master who hijacks the local roleplaying club and starts to run the game himself. He falls in love with the only female player (like almost all roleplaying movies, Gamerz is routinely misogynistic). His local bully wants to join the group. Off-game bullshit creeps into the game.

I spent my high school years roleplaying intensively, and a lot of the people and situations in Gamerz are recognizable from my youth. Some of the people made me go: “I’ve played with that guy!” One of the themes is the responsibility of the game master not to use the game as a vehicle for personal power games.

Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t quite carry to the end. The scene where Ralph goes over to the dark side (so to speak) is too hard for a movie like this.

Despite it’s problems, Gamerz is worth watching. In the opening credits, the letter i looks like a penis. This is not an accident.

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(Skullduggery)

Skullduggery (1983) was described as Mazes & Monsters meets El Topo. This description is accurate. It feels like an Eighties moral panic movie about roleplaying games where the filmmakers have gone native in the weird and occult world of fantasy games.

The movie is about Adam, who works in a costume shop and playes in a game that looks something like early D&D or Talisman. There’s a game master and other players, one of whom does exactly the same sexist jokes as a guy in Gamerz. It was uncanny.

Adam is cursed: one of his ancestors played a game and fell victim to a sorcerer or possibly Satan. The curse manifests through Adam and the game, making him attend strange amateur theatre where immensely talentless people try do do farce and a janitor wanders around with a game of Tic-Tac-Toe on his back.

I don’t mean that negatively. That was all great stuff. For much of the running time, Skullduggery felt like something directed by Jodorowsky.

Unfortunately, by the end Jodorowsky fades away and is replaced by Dario Argento. I suppose one could charitably say that the persistent misogyny of roleplaying movies reached its logical conclusion here in the form of a killing spree.

Skullduggery follows one of the two main cliches of game movies: “The game becomes real”. However, it would be reductionist to think it was nothing more, because this time the cliche was only a starting point in a movie that became something else. By the end, it’s unclear in a metaphysical sense if Adam is still alive or acting from beyond the grave. As his last act, he reaches out to kill his game master.

Sometimes the movie was also pretty funny. There’s a hospital scene where we see the sihouette of a nurse fucking a doctor on a hospital bed. The nurse moans: “You’re the best! In this room. At this time.”

That’s a great line.

The nurse comes out from behind the curtain in her underwear. The doctor sneaks behind her back, and startles her. He’s wearing a gorilla suit.

Because this is Skullduggery.

Roleplaying Game Movie Night #15: King of the Nerds, season 2

I and some friends have a project of trying to watch all movies, tv episodes and other stuff with moving pictures related to roleplaying games ever made. We’re pretty far along on this goal. I’ll write here about old and new things we’ve found and watched.

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(The contestants on King of the Nerds, season 2)

King of the Nerds is an American reality tv series in which a group of people compete on who’s the nerdiest. We watched season two because one of the contestants, Xander Jeanneret, is a larper. In the picture, he’s the guy with the red pants.

A lot of the second season is characterized by a single casting choice that makes the whole thing seem exploitative and unpleasant. I’m fine with strange people on reality tv, but this time it felt like watching someone who probably shouldn’t be on tv.

Simplistic tasks, crass sponsor visibility, terrible hosts and pointless cheesecake all carry over from the first season. There’s little to like in King of the Nerds.