Solmukohta 2020

Like everything else, Solmukohta - the Finnish version of Knutepunkt - was cancelled due to plague. But its happening anyway, online, using (yick) a Facebook group with embedded video. There’s a programme guide here:

Unfortunately, its on Eastern European summer time, which is 10 hours behind us (so its just gone 7am there ATM). But you should be able to watch some of the morning content at night (e.g. an 11:00 item would start at 21:00 NZ time). And it will all be on NordicLarp eventually anyway.

Anything in there people like the look of?

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Anything in there people like the look of?

The Inbetweeners - making games that 12-18-year-olds can be welcome in.


Maps, Loops, and Larps - about reducing that low point at the start before everybody finds their feet and who they’re supposed to be talking to. (I know how I managed it, but I’m interested in other people’s solutions.)

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Don’t know if that helps, but they’re only 9 hours ahead from next week…

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Keynote: “The Future of Larp as a Commodity” by Usva Seregina (video in private group)

  • “commodity” is understood as not necessarily involving money, but as being about consumption.
  • a big driver of commodification is the desire of larps for “legitimacy” in the eyes of others, which is gained by being a business or having a big budget.
  • Essentially concerned with the idea that commercial and artistic success will lead to a loss of communality, alienation of larpers from each other and larp, and growing class differences between people who can afford to go to the Big Expensive New Thing and those who can’t.
  • Explicitly notes that it is not based on empirical research, so there’s no hard evidence that any of this is actually happening.
  • Thinks that “we can’t just commodify some of the larps” - commodification means consumerist attitudes which will overflow into non-commodified larps.
  • ends by urging people to think about how they want larp to develop, and whether they want commodification (which they think is avoidable at zero cost).
  • There is a longer talk on this on Saturday evening (EEST)
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"The Inbetweeners - Teens in Larps" by Janina Kahela

  • speaker organises a larp for children. A common complaint from the teenagers she works with is that it is hard to get into games as most are written by (and for) over 18s. Challenge to writers is to think about whether the age limits are there for a reason, or just for organiser convenience.
  • there is a huge audience for children’s larps in their country. Most are activity- rather than character-focused. Biggest demographic is 8-11 year olds; older teens feel that the younger ones undermine their immersion and prefer to NPC. But they can’t get into non-kid larps, so there’s a danger they will leave the hobby. Speaker would prefer they attended general larps rather than specific “teenagers only” ones.
  • Teenage interests are pretty much the same as adult ones, but there are big differences in emotional level, and a lot depends on the player and their co-players.
  • “Try not to put underage players in a position where they feel they might have to do more than they are comfortable doing”. Also, avoid romance with over-18s because yick and social power and yick
  • Why are there age limits? Some games are not suitable for underage players, or won’t provide the full experience to them. But GMs should consider whether they’re really necessary, and whether they can lower them. Workshops, no alcohol, and thinking about the plotlines can help.
  • Place teens in vital roles so they get involved even if they’re quiet. Give them responsibility. But treat them like any other larper: make sure they know what the game is about before signup, keep them involved.
  • If the game is overnight, let players join in on the main day rather than having to stay onsite. Give parents organiser contact details so they can discuss what’s involved if they’re nervous, as well as the game schedule and logistic details.
  • How to get teens involved in game organisation? Speaker brings them in in minor admin, handling checkin or props. Or get them to NPC so they see how things work behind the scenes. And (obviously) encourage their larpwriting ideas.
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"Never prepared, always ready" by Kari Fedyk & Ell Glowacka

  • About preplay - pre-larp IC interaction with your co-players. Usually text roleplay or IC discussions, which means it is time-constrained and you miss out if you’re not online at the right time. Which creates FOMO from those who can’t or don’t want to participate, or can lead to them being disadvantaged due to being cut out of information flow or relationships.
  • Not suitable for all games or game formats. GMs should communicate expectations around preplay (and it can be a hassle for them too).
  • Preplay ups the intimidation factor for first-time larpers (if they do not have a tabletop rpg background).
  • Often done through Facebook. One of the speakers hates that. Can be done in other formats, e.g. video chat as well. But using other platforms e.g. slack, Discord, can create hurdles for others. Bigger games can be spread out over multiple media.
  • Preplay can let players connect names with faces, learn their IC social environment, and become familiar with the game background. If public, it can be consumed passively.
  • How to prepare for a larp without preplay: costume, tropes, playlists, moodboards.
  • You can avoid or minimise preplay by: playing a well-known character (presented in official material), a newcomer who can be naive and discover relationships in-game, piggybacking on another player.
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Maps, Loops, and Larps by Eleanor Saitta, Johanna Koljonen, Martin Nielsen

  • A theory talk on the topic of what is happening in people’s heads when they are larping - “what do we do when we larp”. It seems to be a CogSci approach. Slides are online here, and there will be a chapter in the Solnukohta book.
  • Key concepts: “maps” and “loops”. The “map” is the structure in the player’s minds of what is going on in the larp - their model of fictional reality. The “loop” is the decision cycle: observation, assessment, decision, performance, repeat. There are multiple loops at different levels of the game: immediate performance, tactical (scene level) and strategic (act-level: what am I doing this session?)
  • The map starts being built before you even sign up for the larp, when you get OOC information about themes, settings, venue, and then gets deeper as you sort out your character and its relationships. It starts out as hypothetical, and becomes a realtime map as play starts (this is why play is often slow at start of play).
  • “Map conflicts”: when players disagree over what is true in the fiction.
  • Motivation and agency are key issues in the loop: what actions do you want to do as a character, or as a player? What ones are actually achievable (both IC and OOC)? Heuristics are important here, things like “playing to lose”, or leaving the room to avoid boring combat bubbles.
  • In many play cultures, character and player goals will not be aligned (!)
  • What good is this? For players, they think you can use it to analyse your performance, your play heuristics, and what you want out of a larp; for designers, they think it might help people think about how to help people build maps quickly and design situations players might want to interact with.

Larp/Theatre Crossover in NYC by Lindsay Wolgel

  • This is relatively low S/N, with a lot of self-promotion, pointless name-dropping, and time wasting, which made me sceptical about the whole thing. Skip the first 7:30 to get onto the real content.
  • “Participatory theatre” involves audiance agency, interaction, and onboarding and expectation setting. Also specifically commercial projects, for money, not volunteer / community efforts as normally seen in the larp community. Aimed at paying customers with no experience of roleplaying, not larpers.
  • Draws a distinction between NPCs, who are volunteers, and actor/facilitators, who are expected to know the design/mechanics of the larp (NPCs aren’t?), help to manage people in the game space (NPCs don’t?), and are paid (probably the real difference).
  • Some specific examples: “The Mortality Machine”, which is based on theatre-style larp. The performers were all facilitators of the larp, there to help get the audiance get into their roles and pursuing their objectives. The Infinity Engine - a steampunk pub-crawl with two NPCs and a game at each stop, with over-arching puzzles. Calculations, which has 2 participants as interactive theatre to allow increased audiance agency. (All of these BTW are by real larp designers, who have used their larps skills to inform theatre. I would love to see a comparison of how their events stack up against those which have developed from the other direction)
  • A common theme seems to be that the speaker oversteps her role a lot, though usually to improve participant agency and give them choices. This would be completely unproblematic in a larp; its apparently sometimes (but not always) questionable in a theatre context.
  • Unfortunately there’s not a lot of info on what its like to play one of these things.

Thanks for the write up - there are some really good points here.

On teens in LARP: I think there’s a lot to be said for avoiding such a stringent ‘18+ because it’s easier’. Teenagers can be super passionate and imaginiative - especially for activities they’ve actively chosen to do like this. Beyond legal necessity, I’m a fan for devolving decisions to the child and guardians with appropriate content warnings.

I think the ‘Maps, loops, and Larps’ discussion runs the danger of putting everyone in a hyper-rational place, which can be less fun. Many of the most enjoyable actions I’ve taken in games have been the ones where I’ve become unaware of what is influencing my decisions and acted in the ways that feel right.


For “Maps, Loops, and Larp”, I don’t think there’s any suggestion that people should consciously think this way during play. Instead, its an attempt to explain what’s happening in our heads as we play: that we navigate the fictional world the same way we navigate the real one. Its also intended to encompass different play-styles: you can choose to pursue immersion as one of your strategic decisions, or you can more actively play to lose or play to “be loyal to the character” or whatever. Either way, using the language of loops gives them a descriptive tool.

Is it a useful tool? Maybe. I’m not actually that interested in the abstract question (I gave up philosophy literally decades ago, and don’t really care to go back), but getting players to figure out what they want, and what approaches they can take to a game can be helpful. Its far less useful as a designer, though - all it really tells me is that onboarding is important (and maybe that popular genres and tropes are an easy way of doing this).

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That’s all fair, though all of those options still describe rational ways of engaging with a character as if they’re the only ways of being.
I like to understand a character rationally during prep, so I feel I can inhabit it, then if I’m lucky and the game gets good I somehow turn that off partway and just be. I’m not sure how much rationality features in my decision-making after that point, and thus how accurate the model is.

I’m raising the point because I think our games could benefit from less rationality from players, and more playing the experience of emotions rather than a cognitive/logical representation of emotions. I’m too prone to this myself, as well. It’s a preference, but I often enjoy interacting with people who are being more fully led by their emotions, rather than people who are primarily intellectualising what they will do next (whether for in character or OOC reasons).
I’ve been looking for a way to raise and explore this idea for a while, and this discussion has sparked it.

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Larp Design as Rhetoric by Eirik Fatland

  • Nordic larp has a long tradition of larps which engage with social themes, and a belief that larp can change their society. In this talk, the speaker is focusing on the idea that larp can change minds, and give people strong opinions which they didn’t have before, and whether this is true, or right.
  • Larp is a terrible tool to brainwash people (because it doesn’t have enough isolation, or dependency). But you don’t need brainwashing to change people’s minds.
  • Larp can be used as a tool of persuasion.
  • Some persuasive larps: Europa and The Quota (both dealing with refugees). But both were small.
  • Larp is not a mass medium. It only persuades 30, or maybe 300, people at a time.
  • Would bigger larps, or many re-runs, affecting 10,000 people, help? Red Cross has run Young People on the Run, an EduLarp for teens about refugee issues, since 1995. Tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of people have played it. But its run in Denmark, where refugee rights have gone backwards and the debate is toxic. So this larp has not been persuasive of Danish society. Research on this larp says the participants did not change their views about refugees, or their belief in myths about refugees, but felt more confident in their knowledge, and in their negative stereotypes. As a rhetorical tool, it is a miserable failure. But it is possible we would see better results if modern Edularp practices were followed.
  • Nordic Larp anecdata suggests larp can persuade. How? Four rhetorical styles:
    • simulation: put you in someone’s shoes e.g. most refugee larps, or base material heavily on the real world, make the players live it and feel it in their own body, then (maybe) tell them what they can do with their new knowledge.
    • recontextualisation: get people to do something (e.g. sing patriotic songs in their fantasy siege larp) then reveal that it means something completely different (the songs were from the Hitler Youth). Usual message is that the capability for evil or oppression is inside you, and you should be on your guard (or have been “vaccinated”). (See also every Stanford Prison Experiment Larp ever?)
    • puppetmaster rhetorics: targets someone other than the players. e.g. larp is AmerikA (the garbage-pile larp), which encouraged bystanders to watch. The players are playing and having fun, but what they’re doing is being used to convince others (an audience, the media, other larpers later). Obviously big issues with consent.
    • community as rhetoric: larp is a powerful tool to build in-game communities, and these can continue post-game. Just a little lovin’ built a queer larp community around its players. Many participants of AmerikA joined the global justice movement.
  • Is it right? Depends on how it is used.
  • Different rhetorics raise different issues:
    • Simulation: is there space for individual fact-finding.
    • Recontextualisation: Deceit.
    • Puppetmaster: Consent.
  • The “other guys test”: If people who believe the opposite of us made a similar larp with similar methods, would it be OK? e.g. a pro-Israeli larp similar to Halat Hisar (Gaza in a larp), or a pro-fascism larp using that recontextualisation technique. (Fatland’s answers are “sure, but I disagree with them”, and “hell no, so that original larp was unethical too”).
  • Roleplayers who went to “Young People on the Run” came away with an average 2.5 more new friends than non-roleplayers. Its an example of larp as a tool to build (and design) communities. This is larps real rhetorical power.

Living or Larping Consumer Culture? Exploring the Commodification of Larp by Usva Seregina

  • An expansion of the earlier keynote.
  • Commodification driven by wider acknowledgement of larp via media coverage, easier access to larp, integration of larp into wider society. But because that society is a consumer culture, people (who, specifically?) approach larping that way as well.
  • Growing demand (and over-demand) for larp drives professionalisation which in turn drives commodification. Participants become customers and expect customer service; organisers become producers / service providers. High production standards help create a customer mindset. New larpers are acculturated into larp as a commodity, making it more difficult to run communal larps.
  • Objectification of larp via language (e.g. buying tickets rather than signing up), fan products (event or faction t-shirts), and professional documentation (all those pretty photos, post-event books; the author thinks it is somehow wrong to capture an ephemeral event in this way).
  • The quest for legitimacy also drives commercial marketing, and careerisation, people making a living out of larp. Thinks we should think about why we want to be recognised and who we want to be recognised by, and concerned that people making money off larp undermines the community.
  • (Repeatedly the speaker says “this isn’t bad, but…”, but it is clear that they think all of this is Bad)
  • Commodification leads to class differences, targeting the wealthy and leaving out the poor and marginalised groups (though: were they participating before anyway?).
  • Professionalisation and high standards for props, costumes, and playing makes it difficult for new larpers to learn skills or participate.
  • Thinks repeatable larps, which can be run for wider audiences, are Bad.
  • Bigger larps with bigger budgets and more players are cool, but thinks we should ask why we want growth (which drives professionalisation and therefore commodification).
  • Scarcity: more demand for some games than there are spaces.
  • Thinks commodfication undermines creativity and interactivity (why?)
  • Through all this there’s a seeming nostalgia for the non-commercial “good old days”, of lower cost, lower production-standards, smaller games, when everyone was friends (supposedly) and larpers were marginalised outsiders

Is Immersive Theatre the Future of Larp? by Thomas B, Melanie Dorey and Michael Freudenthal

  • Immersive theatre is short, local, requires no prep, workshops or pre-play, but still has pretty costumes.
  • What sort of immersion do they provide? Setting, story, character, task, or social? None of the above.
  • Some use excellent sites and props, but are glorified escape games or treasure hunts; those with characters tend not to involve roleplay and the “NPCs” are just there to drop clues for the puzzle.
  • Promenade theatre: you move around in an immersive setting, but are just a passive audience.
  • Fetes galantes (Versailles): costumed, historical dance and games, but no story.
  • Sleep no More: is promenade theatre with the odd brief bit of audience interaction. Then She Fell has a smaller audience, and so more interaction, but very limited agency.
  • Promenade+ : Smoke Rings (Paris) drafts the audience in to play minor parts, but its still railroaded. Another example has more interaction, but the actors are surprised when you roleplay and try and participate.
  • Turn it around: is larp the future of immersive theatre. A slider for the mixing desk of larp between larp and classical theatre, measuring participant agency.
  • The Lost Generation immersive party: you can sign up for different levels of interaction, allowing a real larp experience. But you pay for it, while the actors are paid.
  • Most of these productions do not provide safety rules or briefings. Only one had rules on touching or verbal abuse, many will play with separating you from their friends, taking your phone. Compared to edgy 1990s larpers deliberately creating uncertainty about the boundaries of the game.
  • If Immersive theatre keeps co-opting stuff from larp, it may be a future of larp.
  • Rest of the talk is from the designers of The Lost Generation. Which sounds an awful lot like a larp, with tiered characters and actors playing all the important roles, and customers playing the less important ones.
  • Written as a play (but in an interactive way, and recognising that the “script” was a canvas to work with, not set in stone). Also had handbooks for the actors, setting out the rules for interaction. Participants had roleplay cue cards, to encourage them to step into the show rather than just watch.
  • Design: the actors spoke in non-theatrical voices, and blurred the lines between scripted and improvised material. A deliberately non-heroic narrative, so focused on emotion and persuasion, with greater equality between actors and audience. No McGuffins or mysteries. Trying to include introverts and less mobile participants by not favouring boldness. Sitting down gets you the most intimate play with the actors (so they come to you). Up-front content warnings and no-touch rules for safety.

professional documentation (all those pretty photos, post-event books; the author thinks it is somehow wrong to capture an ephemeral event in this way)

I have to confess to having quite mixed feelings about this sort of thing myself… :confused:

Its obviously not the larp, doesn’t tell you the whole story, and there are people and things who (for various reasons) never show up in it despite being present. But its a great memento for the participants, potential inspiration for other designers, and (of course) great marketing (if you want to market).

Oh don’t get me wrong, I like looking at them! I just…worry about what they may be used for.

These videos and others are now up on NordicLarp: