A preface before I dive into this.
This blog is mostly for the Americans out there who haven't considered, or don't want to consider, Nordic Larp due to the negative interactions they may have had with it. My experiences of what Nordic Larp is as an American have come through some pretty aggressive lenses. I’ve been vilified, made to feel wrong, like my work was invalid; I’ve been called a sexual assault and rape culture supporter, a sell-out, a criminal. I know I’m not the only one, and I’ve probably gotten off a little easier because I’m a woman. None of this really happened to me before American students of Nordic Larp theory took to the scene here, and none of these accusations have ever been levied by anyone but other Americans. What I’ve learned now, in retrospect, that a lot of this has hit me so second- or third-hand down the information chain that it might as well be the Cliff Notes version of what’s happening here. I have a strong respect for some of the American scholars of larp that are consistently represented here, in particular Lizzie Stark and Harrison Greene, but what I’ve learned is that anyone who really wants to take philosophies and tools back to the American scene should come here and learn and talk first hand.
I’ve undoubtedly learned more valuable information and techniques to apply to my own games in one weekend than I have in the past two years of second- and third-hand info, and from individuals that were warm, kind, intelligent, and willing to debate as well as listen. For those of you who produce games and have a resistance to Nordic Larp based on experiences like my own, I promise you -- it’s worth coming. I go into a lot of detail below.
This is the first of probably what will be three articles about my time at Knutepunkt. Given that I’m not a scholar, but a pragmatist like many of the larpers of my era or before it, I hope it helps shed some light on why it’s worth listening and paying attention to what’s happening out here and why I am very glad I moved past my knee-jerk reactions and fears.
Nordic is Not Nordic in the US
Prior to Knutepunkt, my experiences with Nordic Larp and what I believed to be the ideals it stood for came through the lens of Americans preaching its gospel, often coming to me second or third hand. Five years ago I couldn't tell you what Nordic Larping was; three years ago the first whispers started to reach me and it sounded like an even less mechanically inclined version of games like Vampire; one year ago they were only the people who were seemingly telling me I was doing my job wrong despite doing it successfully for years. I was hesitant to come out to Norway. I assumed I would find more of the same that I experienced in America and I would feel accused and defensive.
I was very wrong.
My experiences of how Nordic Larp has reached me on American soil is tainted when facing the real thing. The individuals who study and practice Nordic Larp here treat it like shared knowledge, an educational experience where there are no right ways to do anything but there are absolutely pieces that can be learned from and harvested from each other. They also suffer the same problems as Larpers and Larp organizers in the US, rather than the weird golden gods that the American dialogue about Nordic Larping has often made them out to be.
They were willing to listen, willing to debate without anger (which, frankly, was a novelty to me), and willing to share. I was questioned, but I was never attacked or made to feel insignificant. There were moments where discussions got heavy, but they were willing to make light of their own nature, to laugh at themselves and forget ills over a beer. It’s not to say there aren’t accusatory voices in their communities (just like in our own), but there was more of a sense of openness then I expected.
It left me with the distinct feeling that what America is brewing is not Nordic Larp, but an offshoot of it. A keynote by I think Jaakko Stenros (who, by the way, has the most soothing and delightful voice I’ve ever heard and you should be sad you missed it but you can find the text of his keynote here) discussed the idea of Nordic Larp as a tradition which games can be based off of or an artistic movement, and like any other art, when it travels it changes. Simply put, we don't have the culture or the personality to create Nordic Larp as it is out here and we shouldn't be trying. Instead (as some Americans have done), we should be pulling back some of the best practices and sharing it with our communities to see if we can add them to our toolbox instead of treating it like the only good way to do larp. We are not Nordic Larp; we can't be Nordic Larp. But we can be something different and new based on those experiences.
No One Knows What The Fuck We're Doing Out Here
More than once I entered a conversation in Knutepunkt and they would look down at my name tag, which includes a flag for my home country, and then glance up at me knowingly while saying "Ahh-- you're American, you must be with New World Magischola." They were always a little surprised when I explained I never played it, but I’ve been writing and running Larps for ten years.
With the exception of some of the work Imagine Nation is now doing with teams out here, NWM was the first "blockbuster" LARP from America to seemingly reach Nordic ears. This is not to say there hasn't been an American presence here -- Shoshana Kessock, Sarah Lynne Bowman, Harrison Green, and Lizzie Stark have been here for years, but primarily as students, critics, and theorists in Larp as a study. It felt increasingly common to have to explain that there are people here who have thirty years of Larping experience and that “American” Larping is as too broad a term as Nordic Larping is for what’s going on here. Larping here has a broad and varied history of experiences, all of which was almost completely unfamiliar and misinterpreted as Nordic Larp was and is in the US.
For those few of us who have Larp as a business and make a living off of it, it’s something of an American dream and what many Larpers here seek to achieve with their hobby. However, the often immediate reaction when individuals in the Nordic scene hear “yes, I am a professional Larper and this is how I make my living” was a mix between dislike and bafflement. I found myself explaining the concept of Larp as an entertainment -- if you pay $20 (or 90395874895798457 kroners, sorry Norway) to watch a movie for your enjoyment, what’s the problem with doing that for a Larp and knowing, in both cases, part of that money is funding the future of the industry by paying us to live?
- The Danes are to Nordic Larp as New Jersey is to American Larp and they should be treasured.
- One Hour Parties (I will discuss this further later) are an incredible concept and we should start using them at every con and convention.
- The Open Chair policy is something I will use from now on (I will also discuss this later).
- We should make more of an American presence here for Larp organizers and designers who can benefit in further collaboration and a push toward an “international” Larp scene.
- We are same same, but different.
I will be coming back to Knutepunkt next year. I will be talking more about what American Larps are doing, where we’ve been, how they’ve changed and how our separate experiences can benefit each other. I’m a huge supporter in being the change, or the voice, that you want to be and Knutepunkt has made me excited for future work with individuals or teams here. If you can spare the money and a week of stress on your liver, knutepunkt is a worthwhile endeavor for American Larpers looking to expand their industry and learn more.