Non-Digital: Becoming a Perfect Human

October 5th, 2015
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.

Pikseliparatiisi: Sä oot vaan niin ykköstyyppi

September 30th, 2015

Pelasin Mad Maxia. Pelin loppupuolella aavikolta alkaa löytyä tyyppejä joilla ei ole oikeastaan muuta asiaa kuin sanoa, että sä olet Max aivan ykkösjätkä. Seuraavaksi ohjelmassa oli Dragon Age: Inquisitionin laajennus Trespasser. Siinä jengi supisee keskenään hahmon kulkiessa ohitse, että tuossa se nyt menee. Inkvisiittori. Vähänkö tärkeä tyyppi.

Mad Max -pelin päähenkilö Max on aavikon asukkaiden mielestä todella tärkeä tyyppi.

Mad Max -pelin päähenkilö Max on aavikon asukkaiden mielestä todella hieno tyyppi.

Monissa roolipeleissä ja avoimen maailman peleissä hahmon status kasvaa ja tehtäviä tulee suoritettua. Maailma reagoi, ja hyvä niin. Tuntuu kuin olisin osa dynaamista ympäristöä, jossa asiat vaikuttavat toisiinsa.

Ihan kiva että ihmiset ovat kiitollisia siitä hyvästä, että menen ympäriinsä tappamassa milloin mitäkin häirikkövihollisia.

Pelimaailman muuttuminen fanikerhoksi tuntuu silti kiusalliselta. Vähän kuin pelaisi julkkista: Ihmisten kanssa ei voi olla normaalisti, vaan tärkein asia missä tahansa tilanteessa on se, että minä olen paikalla.

Inquisitionissa päähenkilöstä kehkeytyy supertärkeä tyyppi joten julkkisasema ja ohikulkijoiden hehkutus on sinänsä perusteltua. Kiusallisen fiiliksen ytimessä on epäilys, että näissä ei ole kuitenkaan taustalla tarinan logiikka, vaan pelaajan egon silittely.

Dragon Age: Inquisitionin Trespasser -laajennuksessa päähenkilö on tuima mutta tärkeä.

Dragon Age: Inquisitionin Trespasser -laajennuksessa päähenkilö on tuima mutta tärkeä.

Kun saan jälleen pelissä kuulla kuinka upea, fantastinen, tärkeä ja rohkea ohjaamani päähenkilö on, alan miettiä pitävätkö pelintekijät minua heikkoitsetuntoisena luuserina. Onko laskelmoitu, että minulle pelaajana on tärkeää saada validaatiota videopelien sivuhahmoilta? Heidän kehunsa saavat minut tuntemaan oloni lämpimäksi. Kurjan maailman epätoivo on taas hiukan kauempana kun Maxin ja sitä kautta minun miehekäs sankaruus on tunnustettu.

Tällainen ei ole ongelma yhdessä eikä kahdessa pelissä, vaan vasta kun siitä tulee trendi. Onko pelaajan sankaruuden hehkuttaminen samalla tavalla videopelien peruspalikka kuin koirat ja kidutuskohtaukset?

Pikseliparatiisi: Vaikea kohta

September 22nd, 2015

Pelaan työsyistä uutta Mad Max -peliä. Se on avoimen maailman aavikkoseikkailu, jossa Max ajelee ympäriinsä autolla ja tekee pääasiassa erilaisia sivutehtäviä.

Noin kaksi kolmasosaa pelistä sujui leppoisissa merkeissä, kunnes tapahtui jotain joka kauhistuttaa kaikkia meistä, jotka pelaamme deadlinen kanssa: Pelissä oli ns. difficulty spike, eli kohta joka on tuntuvasti vaikeampi kuin muu peli. Tarkemmin sanottuna piikkejä oli kaksi, heti peräkkäin.

Mad Maxin tulevaisuudessa aavikolta löytyy paljon laivoja.

Kumpikin ovat kilpa-ajoja. Ensimmäisessä Max ajaa kilpaa aavikolla, ja hänen täytyy tietenkin voittaa. Maxin auto Magnum Opus kehittyy pelin kuluessa, mutta tässä vaiheessa kilpa-ajo-olosuhteissa se tuntui skeittilaudan päälle asetetulta tiileltä. Korkeat nopeudet ja tiukat kurvit johtivat siihen, että kallionseinämät tulivat tutuiksi. Selvisin kuitenkin noin yhden illan pakertamisella ja arviolta kymmenellä yrittämisellä.

Se oli vasta alkusoittoa pelin toiselle ja merkittävästi pahemmalle piikille. Max on taas kilpa-ajoissa, ja tällä kertaa pitää saada pahis hengiltä. Se edellyttää, että hänen autonsa saa kiinni.

Ensimmäiset viisi yritystä paljastivat, etten ollut parannellut Maxin autoa riittävästi, joten palasin tekemään sivutehtäviä. Kun nopeutta ja ohjailtavuutta oli vähän lisätty, palasin kilpailuun, mutta edelleen heikoin tuloksin. Osasin radan jo ulkoa, mutta erityisesti vempula ohjaus ja dramaattisia kuvakulmia hakeva kamera tekivät voittamisesta vaikeaa.

Tässä vaiheessa päätin turvautua kepulikonsteihin. Katsoin jos vaikeustasoa voisi madaltaa, mutta pelissä on vain yksi vaikeustaso. Kokeilin, jos voisin ajaa rataa väärään suuntaan ja yllättää pahiksen näin edestä päin, mutta sekään ei toiminut.

YouTuben läpipeluuvideot paljastivat, että teoriassa kohdasta oli mahdollista päästä läpi, ja huomasin niistä muutaman Maxin auton aseistukseen liittyvän jipon. Redditin keskusteluista opin, että monella muullakin peli oli tyssännyt samassa kohdassa. Siellä neuvottiin, että sivutehtäviä on parasta jauhaa siihen asti, että auton keskeiset ominaisuudet on saatu maksimiin.

Pelin Max on aika mulkku jätkä.

Pelin Max on aika mulkku jätkä.

Redditistä löytyi toinenkin hyvä neuvo: Kilpailun oli oltava ohi 30 sekunnissa jos sen mieli voittaa. Pahiksen kiinni saaminen oli niin vaikeaa, että hyökkäyksessä piti keskittyä treenaamaan alkukiihdytyksen aikaisia aggressioita. Sain tällä taktiikalla pahiksen jo kerran melkein hengiltä, ja aion yrittää sitä kunnes pääsen läpi.

Raskainta tässä on se, miten pelin kilparadan seinät on suunniteltu. Ne ovat epätasaisia, ja auton nokka tarttuu esteisiin helposti. Niinpä ajaessa tapahtuva reunakosketus johtaa yleensä siihen, että auto kiepsahtaa ympäri, nokka väärään suuntaan. Sen kääntäminen ympäri on hidasta, joten yksikin tällainen virhe tuomitsee koko yrityksen epäonnistumaan.

Olen kirjoitushetkellä yrittämässä tätä samaa kohtaa kolmatta päivää. Tiedän kokemuksesta, miltä tällaisen muuta peliä radikaalisti vaikeamman kohdan selättäminen tuntuu: Kädenlämpöiseltä helpotukselta, ettei enää tarvitse äheltää.

Research Blog Antarctica #139 – Ice and the Sky

September 15th, 2015

ice-and-the-sky-trailer

Documentary: Luc Jacquet: Ice and the Sky (France, 2015)

Luc Jacquet is the director of the movie March of the Penguins, so this is not his first time with an Antarctic subject. Ice and the Sky is a documentary about the career of the French glaciologist Claude Lorius and also an impassioned plea to do something about global warming.

The traditional image of Antarctica is as an eternal realm of ice and cold. Climate developments in recent decades have challenged that idea, and increasingly cast Antarctica more as a melting ice cube. Lorius has been at the center of this change in perception, and you can see that for him, global warming is not abstract at all. In Antarctica, it’s a concrete reality.

The movie starts in 1957 with the beginning of Lorius’ career in Antarctica, and it’s wonderful to see all the old footage from various French and international expeditions. Other classic Antarctic locations are the South Pole and the Russian Vostok base.

Although Ice and the Sky is definitely a “great man” movie, it’s wealth of footage and the scope of its subject make it a first-class Antarctic film. Lorius’ career spans global warming, atmospheric nuclear testing and the insignificance of humanity’s time on Earth, and it’s easy to be swept away with the wonder and the terror.

Non-Digital: Seven Larps, Seven Countries

September 14th, 2015
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: How to Create a Nasty Society

September 7th, 2015

Last week, I wrote about the differences between Vampire: the Masquerade’s “game of personal horror” and the game I run, Verikartta, in which the horror has a more communal bent. The core of the matter is that for the vampires in the game, this is the only community they will ever have, so like it or not, they have to live in it.

Here are some of the ways that I used to create a nasty society:

Other Victims

The worst off are never the player characters. Indeed, people can be quite nice to the player characters, and lift them up while others are pushed down. This way, the players don’t have to experience the situation as an “us vs. the elite” situation, but instead get a broader view. They may even feel the seductive pull of joining the elite.

All photos and illustrations I use in the game are from books or off the internet. I plead private use...

All photos and illustrations I use in the game are from books or off the internet. I plead private use…

Complicated Schemes

Vampire schemes are complicated and follow their own logic. Obvious plots can’t be done because others will see through them.

For example, revenge can never target the person who actually slighted you. Instead, you must attack someone completely different, for example a protege or even someone completely unconnected who you then direct to have their own revenge against your initial opponent.

If you want to act against someone, the first step can be to go into their debt. When you owe something to them, you get closer and can then act in new ways.

Often I’ve found it useful to have supporting characters explain the schemes if they get too weird. “Obviously, this invitation cannot be a trap, because that would be obvious. Unless it’s a double-bluff, and is a trap after all…”

Counter-intuitive tactics like these make vampire plans seem baroque enough to give the feeling that people engage in them for their own sake. In-game, many of the people who do this are themselves cheerfully confused about what’s happening. The value here is aesthetic.

Violence is Embarrassing

Physical violence is a sign of weakness. It only makes sense if the victim is significantly weaker than the perpetrator. As a move in the games vampires play, physical violence is the choice of the unimaginative.

As a corollary, almost all vampires are cowards. If the situation seems to imply physical violence, they will simply not be there.

Cruelty is Fun

I read a very good book about comedy in 18th century Britain that has shaped the way I built vampire society to a great extent. Called Cruelty and Laughter, by Simon Dickie, it’s a masterclass in asshole amusements. The basic unit of comedy is cruelty, and here are some of the things that folks in 18th centuy Britain felt were simply hilarious: Beating cripples. Rape trials. Stealing from the poor.

With this in mind, in vampire society those of similar power and influence play games with each other, but with their inferiors, they simply fuck with them for fun.

What could be more funny than humiliating a Malkavian in front of all her peers or making a Nosferatu think he might have a chance with a Toreador ingenue? The key here is that these vampires don’t do these things to benefit from it, but simply for fun. Always attack the weak.

Player characters can be horrified at all this, but they also have to come up with strategies to live in this environment. In Verikartta, I had one or two older vampires who found the behavior of their peers barbaric, but this display of morality also made them outsiders in a small community.

Good Nosferatu pictures are hard to find. This one is from a Vampire book.

Good Nosferatu pictures are hard to find. This one is from a Vampire book.

Heightened Class Divisions

Vampire: the Masquerade, like many roleplaying games, is designed from the perspective of game balance. Ideally, playing any of its character types will result in equally interesting roleplaying game experiences.

I deviated from this by heightening the class divisions in vampire society. The Ventrue are the undisputed masters of this world. Even the scummiest Ventrue is still a Ventrue, and therefore part of an inside club.

The next tier is the Toreador, Gangrel and Brujah, vampire clans with their own societies and agendas, forming the “standard” level of being a vampire. The Brujah are the “loyal opposition”, who in reality keep the system going. Traditionally, every Ventrue prince has a secret Brujah lover. Below them are the two broken clans, Nosferatu and Malkavian, as well as the Tremere.

The Nosferatu are excluded because they’re ugly. For them, living as a vampire is difficult, they have to live in sewers and derelict buildings, and unless they travel with their peers, a Brujah can decide to beat one up just for fun.

The Malkavians are rare, feared and distrusted because they’re mad. A good way for a new prince to seem tough is to start a pogrom against the Malkavians.

The Tremere are powerful in a physical sense, but weak politically. They’re hard to victimize and don’t have to suffer from the humiliations the Nosferatu and the Malkavians live with, but have still been shut out of the political elites. They’re considered upstarts, and somewhat vulgar.

Vampire books are a good source of character illustrations.

Vampire books are a good source of character illustrations.

Attack Your Fans

If someone looks up to you, that person can be hurt. What could be funnier?

My favorite trick in this vein came from Marcel Proust’s book series In Search of Lost Time. There’s a lot of upper class cruelty in those novels, and Proust is very good at explaining the mechanics of how it works.

In this scene, the two important characters are both Ventrue. Lady Victoria Dynevor runs the most established Elysium in the city. Violetta Vidal is a much younger vampire who essentially wants to be Lady Victoria one day.

Lady Victoria runs a salon every Wednesday, “just for a few select friends so we talk talk freely without the bother of a big party”. Violetta has copied this and started her own salon, where she invites younger vampires she thinks are interesting. Violetta also invites Lady Victoria, but it’s assumed she won’t come. She has to be invited because to do otherwise would be an insult.

You might think that it would be a boon for Violetta if Lady Victoria indeed would show up, and conventionally this would be so. If Lady Victoria decides to come to Violetta’s salon, she can expect for this to be seen as a magnanimous act.

However, and this was why this is a great asshole move, when she shows up, she also destroys Violetta’s salon. Because of the differences in status, when Lady Victoria shows up, she will be the only focus of attention for as long as she’s present. She will suck the air out of the room and force everyone to cater to her, and the best part is that she doesn’t really have to do anything to make this happen. It’s an automatic function of the way status works in this kind of social environment.

Then she leaves, and Violetta’s other guests leave soon afterwards. Next time Violetta holds her salon, the only reason anyone is going to be there is in the hopes that Lady Victoria might appear. When she doesn’t, they’ll quickly leave. Violetta’s hope of having pleasant conversations in good company are dashed until she acquires enough social capital to make moves of her own.

Let Age Show

Older vampires have lived in their little bubble for a very long time. They all know each other. Everyone has dated everyone, everyone has fucked everyone.

When new people show up, they’re a source of intense interest. Older vampires flock to younger vampires because they’re new and interesting.

This shows most of all in romantic plots. For an older vampire, a romance with a younger vampire is all about using that person for entertainment until there’s nothing left. Then the younger vampire is discarded. For the younger vampire, there’s still a possibility of getting something out of this, because while it lasts, they can try to play the game too. The more fucked up and weird the relationship is, the longer the old vampire maintains interest.

Here it’s best to have the older vampires approach these romantic games not from a position of strength, but from a position of weakness. For them, there are toadies everywhere, and that’s boring. Since their supernatural power is absolute, they can comfortably be vulnerable in a romantic context.

This way, an older vampire doesn’t seduce someone. He maneuvers things so that a younger vampire seduces him.

Normalize Corruption

It vampire society, corruption is so normal it doesn’t really make sense to call it corruption. Everyone with a Camarilla office such as prince or primogen uses it for personal gain all the time. Mixing business and personal is also normal, and abuses of power can be done for the most trivial reasons, such as amusement.

Chelsea Wolfe is a wonderful artist, and pretty much all photos of her work as Vampire characters.

Chelsea Wolfe is a wonderful artist, and pretty much all photos of her work as Vampire characters.

Horror

In a game like Verikartta, the horror comes from the reality of living in this kind of society. It’s a subtle horror, and the characters can be very successful. The questions are, do they go with the flow and become upper class predators themselves, or do they try to hold on to some kind of decency in a society that doesn’t really put much value on it?

The thing that makes this really work is to have 90% of the inhabitants of the community essentially accept the system. Both the downtrodden and the powerful characters appearing in the game are trying to live within the limits. The last 10% consists of weak vampires who oppose the system and get crushed, and powerful vampires who criticize the system and are doomed to a life of loneliness.

Roleplaying Game Movie Night #23: Nineties Satanism Panic

September 1st, 2015

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

September 1st, 2015

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

September 1st, 2015

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

September 1st, 2015

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.

Non-Digital: The Horror of Other People

August 31st, 2015

I’ve been running a game based on Vampire: the Masquerade these past few years, and when I started it, I realized I had to adapt it quite a lot to make it work for me.

I’ve run three versions of my campaign Verikartta, and characters from each game have visited the others. All are set in London, but approach the vampire society from different angles. In Verikartta A, the characters were made into vampires by important high-society vampires. In B, they were illegal vampires created in random and chaotic circumstances by criminals and losers. C, still running, is the Sabbat game, and distinctly different from the other two.

Lately, I’ve been doing something I probably should have done a decade ago, which is to read Vampire: the Requiem. It’s been interesting to see how they modified the game and compare it to what I have done.

Every supporting character gets a slide. As for the pictures, stolen off the internet, I plead private use.

In Verikartta, every supporting character gets a slide. As for the pictures, stolen off the internet, I plead private use.

Some changes are identical: In Requiem, they’ve injected the world with mystery, so instead of ancient vampires with superior knowledge of the world, we have ancient but delusional monsters who can’t separate their fantasies from real memories. Masquerade’s overarching explanations have been replaced by local mythologies.

One of the more crippling features of Masquerade is the static nature of its vampire societies, especially if you play a young vampire. In Requiem, age is not necessarily power and it’s possible for young vampires to do important things. Masquerade’s Eternal Vampire World Government has been replaced by various local situations.

Reading the book also makes it obvious to me that the Requiem and the Masquerade are very specific vampire roleplaying games, with their own themes and approaches. In Requiem, the idea of “a game of personal horror” has been brought to the fore even more strongly than in the Masquerade, and the anti-social, miserable horror of being a vampire is heightened. The inner conflicts core to the game are rigidly controlled by game mechanics, even more so than in the previous game.

My version grew sort of organically, partly designed and partly improvised, but reading this book makes me think I diverged more than I realized, especially on the core themes.

For big group events, I make a slide with the faces and names of all supporting characters present so players can know at a glance who's there.

For big group scenes, I make a slide with the faces and names of all supporting characters present so players can know at a glance who’s there.

In my version, it’s not really a “storytelling game of personal horror” at all. There’s horror to be sure, and I’m struggling to describe how it works. Maybe the “game of communal horror”? In the sense that the horrors of the world mostly make themselves manifest in the way the supernatural communities work, and how that affects individuals. All vampires play games, and the characters have to play too unless they want to be overrun. Issues of social class govern interactions both inside vampire society, and between vampires and other supernatural creatures.

When I started the game, I decided to chuck the personality rules such as Nature, Demeanor, Humanity, Virtues, the Beast, etc. out the window. Being a vampire is essentially really cool in a simple, physical sense. Requiem makes being a vampire seem like a real struggle, and I ran games like that when I originally played Vampire in the Nineties. This time, I wanted to see what would happen if being a vampire was essentially a wonderful, privileged state, especially if you let go of your morals. Almost everyone around you already has.

Pikseliparatiisi: Kyberpunkin ihana optimismi

August 24th, 2015

Pelaan paraikaa äskettäin ilmestynyttä Shadowrun Returns: Hong Kong -peliä. Sen kyberpunk-maailmassa jättimäiset korporaatiot hallitsevat maailmaa. Heillä on omat armeijat, linnoituksen kaltaiset pääkonttorit ja loputtomat työntekijöiden armeijat.

Pelin maailma on dystooppista retrofuturismia, joka osoittaa että eilispäivän pessimistit uskoivat sittenkin liikaa yritysten kykyyn jäsennellä yhteiskuntaa.

Shadowrun on alkujaan vuonna 1989 julkaistu suomeksikin käännetty roolipeli. Sen ideana on yhdistää kaksi genrefiktion perinteistä lajityyppiä, kyberpunk ja fantasia. Haltiat ja kääpiöt hakkeroivat tiensä lohikäärmeiden hallitsemien megakorporaatioiden sisäisiin verkkoihin.

Shadowrun Returns: Hong Kong is an old-school isometric game.

Shadowrun Returns: Hong Kong on klassiseen tyyliin kuvattu ylhäältä.

Kyberpunkin kultaiset vuodet olivat 80-luvulla ja 90-luvun alussa. Se sijoittui lähitulevaisuuteen, ja vanheni kun maailma ajoi ohitse. Monet kyberpunkin kliseistä ovat nyt arkipäivää, mutta lajityyppi oli niin kiinni omassa ajassaan ettei se voinut kehittyä. Jos kyberpunkista ottaa pois kasari-meiningin, se on jo jotain muuta.

Tällä hetkellä videopelien maailmassa kyberpunkin puolesta liputtaa kaksi pelisarjaa. Ensimmäinen, Deus Ex, on lähtenyt post-kyberpunk-linjalle, jossa aiheet ovat tuttuja mutta tyyli on nykyaikaistettu. Uusissa Deus Ex -peleissä on kyberkäsiä ja lajityypille ominaista internationalismia, mutta käsitys internetistä ja sen ongelmista on tätä päivää, ei vuodelta 1989.

Toinen on Shadowrun-roolipelin pohjalta tehty Shadowrun Returns -sarja. Hong Kong on sarjan kolmas peli.

Erikoista kyllä, pelin maailmaa ei ole nykyaikaistettu ollenkaan. Se on aggressiivisen retrofuturistinen. Kaikki noudattaa vuoden 1989 näkemystä tulevaisuudesta. Haltiat ja örkit ovat koristeita, sillä maailmankuvan ytimessä on edelleen lajityypin perinteinen korporaattianarkia.

Shadowrun julkaisiin suomeksi 90-luvun alun roolipelijulkaisubuumin aikana.

Shadowrun julkaisiin suomeksi 90-luvun alun roolipelijulkaisubuumin aikana.

Maailma jäsentyy suuryritysten ympärille. Ne tapaavat keskittyä laiteteknologiaan, ja esimerkiksi Hong Kongia hallitsee yritysten edustajista koostuva neuvosto. Yrityksen työntekijänä oleminen vastaa kansalaisuutta. Ottaessaan monia valtion tehtäviä omakseen yritys alkaa kantaa vastuuta.

Nykypäivän yrityskuva vaikuttaa hyvin erilaiselta. Talvivaaran kaltaisen firman toimintamalliin kuuluu valtio, joka lopulta maksaa ympäristökatastrofin kustannukset. Brändikeskeiset firmat kuten Nike yrittävät ulkoistaa kaiken mahdollisen. Valtavat työntekijöiden armeijat eivät asu McDonald’s-monoliitissa, vaan ovat ripoteltuina Foxconnin, franchise-yrittäjien ja muiden alihankkijoiden keskuuteen.

Kyberpunkissa yritykset ylläpitävät rakenteita omaan laskuunsa. Tosielämässä ne hyödyntävät rakenteita tai niiden tarvetta tehdäkseen rahaa.

Non-Digital: Old School Fringe

August 18th, 2015

One of my pet themes recently has been how ideas in tabletop roleplaying spread, or fail to reach anyone outside a small, limited scene. Some movements have been quite successful at reaching wider audiences. The American Story Games scene is one of these, and the Danish Fastaval scene another.

A third one is the OSR, or Old School Revolution scene. Based on going back to the ideas presented in the very first roleplaying games published by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, OSR games have benefited from a lively stream of published material. You can get into it by reading book and booklets.

Finland is home to the OSR powerhouse Lamentations of the Flame Princess, but it’s not the only game in town. So to speak.

dragon union

Dragon Union is the English translation of the Finnish publication Lohikäärmeliitto. It, and a couple of other Finnish-made English-language OSR things are available from D-oom Products.

It’s a set of rules to be used on top of the classic OSR base games derived from the original D&D. It keeps the traditional set-up of the GM, the fantasy milieu and the combat rules, but adds what seems like Story Games DNA by changing the function of the character classes. These determine the story and the events to a greater degree, and create a system for managing the flow of combat. A class such as “Fighter” has not only abilities, but a function in terms of roleplaying group dynamics.

Some of the ideas are quite nifty, especially for games that use traditional concepts such as character classes and experience levels. As a bonus, the booklet has a fun fanzine feel, something it shares with the other D-oom Products publications.

mead mayhem

The particular copy of Mead & Mayhen I have is a test print made by the publisher, something the collector in me greatly approves. It’s basically a big table for creating an eventful bar fight.

One of the things I like in OSR is the reckless energy you get when everything is lethal and bizarre story complications can arise through random chance. Mead & Mayhem delivers on that theme.

temple of greed

Temple of Greed is a dungeon adventure built entirely around traps, puzzles and the concept of greed. A relevant subject in the times we live in. The adventure is supplemented by a variant on the cleric character class that looks like what would happen if Ayn Rand started designing roleplaying games. I mean that in a nice way.

I have never played many OSR games myself, but publishing stuff is key to making people aware of what you’re doing and why. That’s why I appreciate the fringe these booklets represent.

Non-Digital: Larping in the Middle of a Demonstration

August 10th, 2015
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

August 3rd, 2015

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.