Ending party for Metamorfozes.

A Week in Vilnius & Metamorfozes

Last week I spent at a chamber larp festival called Metamorfozes in Vilnius, Lithuania. It was my first time in the country, but I had met some of the local organizers before at Grenselandet chamber larp festival in Oslo, Norway, last year. Before the larp festival there was a couple of days of social activities with people sticking around from this years Larpwriter Summer School as well as us arriving for the larp festival. I’ve broken down my report on a day by day basis below together with my photos.

Sunday, 13 July

I flew in late lunch and spent the afternoon resting at my hotel since I was pretty tired. In the evening I joined the farewell party for the Larpwriter Summer School and was a bit overwhelmed by the amount of old friends there, but I think I managed to say hello to most of them as well as meeting a few new ones. I forgot the camera at the hotel, so there are no photos from this. I stayed the whole week at Comfort Hotel LT which was very nice and very cheap by Swedish standards. It had the added bonus of being just across the street from the Metamorfozes venue and just a block away from the youth culture center MES, which was the standing meeting point for A Week in Vilnius events.

Monday, 14 July

Monday had a scavenger hunt planned which I joined for the first part, before joining some friends having lunch at La Boheme. This was one of the few places that provided a decent meal without meat, they also gave me what I ordered, which it later turned out was not to be expected.

After lunch we went by a second hand clothing store before joining up for the evenings event, some larp themed lightning talks at a bar call Artistai. They had decent pizza and a very nice atmosphere. After dinner and the talks we went on to Bix bar for some drinks and talking before calling it a night.


See the rest of this set on Flickr: https://secure.flickr.com/photos/johannesaxner/sets/72157645387820057/

Tuesday, 15 July

We started the day with a cab ride to a bathing site on the Neris river. I was a bit late, so a group of people were already there playing the larp The Hirelings. We hung out for a very short while until it started raining, then we took a bus back to the city. There we found a park to have a picnic in and hang out for a while. Later on we took a walk to the Užupis area for dinner at Uzupio Kavine, but I wasn’t in the mood for anything on the menu, so I opted for dinner at the venue where we were to have the nights pub quiz. This turned out to be a huge mistake.

We went to a place called Juoda Raudona for the pub quiz. The place seemed nice enough, but then we started ordering food. One of us didn’t the drinks he ordered but still got billed for it. I ordered a mushroom pasta and after a half an hour waut instead got a bacon pasta. When I went back with it to explain the problem the staff became very agitated and it took the help from several local friends to calm them down and explain that when I ordered the mushroom pasta, I meant the forest mushroom pasta, not the bacon pasta which also had mushrooms in it. After a couple of minutes haggling they accepted to take it back and make me a replacement meal. After another 40 minute wait I went back again, then they were even angrier and after som translation help it turned out that they didn’t make me any food, they just graciously accepted the return of my faulty dish. After this debacle me and some friends left to get drinks and something to eat at another place.

I got some fries at a Hessburger on the way and we got a bit lost looking for Alchemikas, a great cocktail place, which sadly was closed so we settled for Vinchenso Mimoza across the street. They did not have sparkling water, but they could get us a water pipe and some coke at least. We spent some time talking there before hitting the sack.


See the rest of this set on Flickr: https://secure.flickr.com/photos/johannesaxner/sets/72157645389079540/

Wednesday, 16 July

Wednesday I slept in late, had a horrible dinner at Ararat and then played some nice boardgames at MES. The dinner experience was akin to the previous days adventures. Long wait, wrong food and meat instead of vegetarian. They even had markings in the menu for vegetarian dishes, these were apparently only for looks, since the mince meat dumplings were marked as being vegetarian. At least I got to play some Dominion and hang out with people I love.


See the rest of this set on Flickr: https://secure.flickr.com/photos/johannesaxner/sets/72157645751114066/

Thursday, 17 Juy

The last day before the festival started I had lunch at Cili Pica which delivered some pretty good pizza. Then I walked around town a while and did some shopping before joining the rest of the gang at Balti Drambliai, a very nice vegetarian restaurant.

After dinner we went across the street to join in on a public folk dancing event which was great. I was too tired to dance, but I enjoyed some ice cream while watching the others partake. After this a few of us went to Alchemikas which was really good cocktail bar. It’s worth a detour to visit, but it’s only open Thursday to Saturday.


See the rest of this set on Flickr: https://secure.flickr.com/photos/johannesaxner/sets/72157645802004394/

Friday, 18 July

I started the larp festival by playing the game Prison, a game where you play people sentenced to death in a dystopian alternate universe. The game is centered around prisoners having to decide who is executed next. The game was quite lacking in actual game design, but the players were great and it turned out quite tense. I played an opportunist who was ready to do pretty much anything to survive to the end. It was a despicable character, but sadly it didn’t show very well since the scenario has no real transparency and easily turns gamistic for everyone. I liked it though, I rarely play gamistically, so it was a fun challenge. After the game we continued the feedback at Cili Pica, which again delivered decent food.

Next up was Make up Your Mind, a larp about artificial intelligence. It was very neatly designed and run. I disagreed a bit with the character creation workshop and there was some tech that worked really well but didn’t add what was intended to the game. These were just minor nitpicks though, and I found my character quite easily and had a blast during the game. The setting was a group job interview for a tech company working with AI where all the applicants waited in a room with some sort of social challenges while they got their interviews one by one. A fun game with good ideas that I thoroughly enjoyed playing.

After the games we hung out at Kablys, the main venue for the festival, for drinks and talking. This place is worth mentioning a bit. It was built as the palace for the railroad workers union in Soviet times and as I understand it it was taken over by squatters who turned it into the cultural center it is today. Tremendously cool place well worth a visit if you’re ever near Vilnius.


See the rest of this set on Flickr: https://secure.flickr.com/photos/johannesaxner/sets/72157645845107643/

Saturday, 19 July

I was too tired and mentally exhausted to play any games on the second day of the festival. Instead I hung out around Kablys and helped document the larp The Submarine Octopus which was run in one of the coolest places I’ve seen in my entire life. Inside the union palace there used to be an opera, that space has now been rebuilt as a skatepark. Mindblowingly cool place, the pictures do not do it justice.

In the evening we had a farewell party at Kablys with a very energetic band playing, Baltasis Kiras. They ended their show by inviting the audience on stage for the last song. It was sweaty, hectic and lovely. We stayed talking and extending the magic until around four in the morning when I dragged myself back to the hotel filled with love and joy.


See the rest of this set on Flickr: https://secure.flickr.com/photos/johannesaxner/sets/72157645387820057/

Sunday, 20 July

I woke up, had hotel breakfast and took the bus to the airport. Not much to say except I was pretty drained of energy but full of love. The festival was great, the city interesting and it was great meeting old and new friends.

The Hour of the Rant. Team America.

Knutpunkt 2014

Another draft I had lying around, can’t remember events enough for a report, but here are my photos from Knutpunkt 2014.

Thursday


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Friday


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Saturday


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Sunday


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Bag of holding.

A Week in Gothenburg 2014

I had some draft lying around that needed publishing. Here are my photos from A Week in Gothenburg, the pre-event for this years Knutpunkt conference.

Day 1


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Day 2


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Day 3


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Day 4


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Great minds at work

The Larpwriters Winter Retreat 2014

A week ago I attended a retreat organized by Bjarke Pedersen (content) and Kasper Sjøgren (practical). The idea for the retreat was to be “a place to discuss, contemplate and make larp better”. As soon as I read about it late last year I signed up and was lucky enough to get a spot.

Winter RetreatWe were about 25 people gathered in a scout cabin outside of Copenhagen for an extended weekend to focus on larp. To me, it was completely magical. We talked almost only about larp. Theory, game design, ideas, experiences and much more. The strongest themes of the weekend were brutal honesty and how to make larp theory more accessible.

The brutal honesty was great, we employed in many discussions to drop prestige and a strong trust colored these conversations. I think several revelations came from these talks, and I do think some of those thoughts will be presented at Knutpunkt 2014 and in text on Nordiclarp.org. I don’t think I’ll do it justice, so I don’t want spoil anything.

Making larp theory more accessible was talked about in different contexts. Both how we talk about it, but also platforms and places for discussion. The Lajvverkstaden larp theory weekends and internet discussions came ut, as well as the problematic derogatory talk about academics. This is something I’ve taken part in pretty unreflected that I now want to stop with.

 

The great urine discussion.
The great urine discussion.

Thursday night started without much of  a program. We had an introduction, some dinner and then a lot of informal discussions. Some of us gathered around a blackboard and we had a larp theory jam, even though we didn’t realize until further on. Someone jokingly started talking about urine in larp and then we started mapping the history of Urine in Nordic larp. This ended up being several hours of interesting larp theory discussions, a filled blackboard, two filled flipboard pages and several pages of written text. It might have started as somewhat of a joke but it became quite interesting. I learned a lot about how larp theory is created and some nice insights came out of it. Quite a bit of text was written and I’m sure it’ll be published somewhere soon.

Another nice thing that popped up was a useful definition of what a meta technique is. This is a term that’s become quite trendy in the last few years but it’s been hard to define. The proposed definition was:

A formal non-representational action within role-play.

The las part was not settled on, but this is the wording I prefer. Formal means it’s agreed upon by players before hand. Non-representational means it’s not a representation of something in the fiction, like say boffer swords are representational of steel swords. Action is meant as something meaningful done by players towards other players. Within role-play means that it happens during game time between players, not before or after the game. I like it but it is sure to be debated. Nathan Hook has written some critique of it.

Brainstorming discussion topics.
Brainstorming discussion topics.

The basic format of the days were that we spent about the first half of the day doing different group exercises and discussions, then we had half an hour of silent contemplation (which was easily the hardest part for me), then a couple of hours of production time, and finally we summarized our day. This was pierced by meals and some energizing walks through the woods.

Great minds at work.
Great minds at work.

While the contemplation was hard for me, it did get my head working and during the production time I got a lot of stuff done. I’ve had a complete writers block for months with my larp Flowers from Exile, but that went away and I managed to get everything I needed done. The website and sign up information will hopefully be published at the end of next week during the Prolog larp convention.

I had some great conversations about my pet project Nordiclarp.org during the weekend too. It was decided that the website is going to be re-launched as an online magazine with a group of editors with representatives from each Nordic country. We’re still working out the details but we hope to launch before or at Knutpunkt 2014. If you’d like to write for us or contribute in any other way, please send an email to contribute@nordiclarp.org.

Supernatural cake
Supernatural cake.

Last but certainly not least we had a most awesome support staff during the weekend. Besides Kasper running logistics we had two cooks, Mikkel Sander and Kristoffer Thurøe who cooked wonderful meals for us. Almost all of the food was organic and locally produced and they really spoiled us. They are of course also great Nordic larp minds and joined us in the evening when they were done cooking. As a bonus, Teresa who was a participant, had a birthday during the retreat and a cake in the theme of the TV series Supernatural was organized.

All in all the experience was great and the atmosphere was really humble, safe and open. We had many great conversations, learned many new things and at least I left as better larp writer and person. I’m really looking forward to the next opportunity to do this and I’m looking into hosting a Swedish retreat with Berättelsefrämjandet some time soon, hopefully near Gothenburg so it’s easy for other Nordics to participate.

The History of Urine in Nordic Larp
The History of Urine in Nordic Larp
Halat Hisar

Halat Hisar

Disclaimer: I’m not sure what kind of text this will end up as, or how interesting it will be to anyone else. It’s definitely not a review of the larp and I need to land a bit more before giving proper game design feedback.

The Game

Halat Hisar was a larp about life under occupation as experienced in Palestine, mapped onto an alternate history Finland. Here is how the organizers themselves describe the concept:

Halat Hisar (State of Siege in English, Piiritystila in Finnish) is a Palestinian larp designed for Finnish, Nordic and Palestinian players. Created by Palestinian larp designers working together with Finnish organizers, its meant to bring unique Palestinian perspectives to Finnish participants in the form of an accessible and engaging game.

State of Siege is a game about life under occupation. You are a student or teacher at University of Helsinki, in the Occupied Finnish Territory of the South Coast. You are not a citizen of any recognized country, and your daily life contains crossing checkpoints and encountering occupation soldiers and violent fanatic settlers. Or maybe you are a young soldier doing her mandatory military service in the occupation forces, or a journalist specializing in the North European conflict, or a human rights activist who has come here to stand in solidarity with the Finns. The purpose of the game is to mirror the current situation of Palestine in Finland and give the players a picture of everyday life under occupation.
- From the Halat Hisar Website

You can read a lot more about the game on it’s website:
http://nordicrpg.fi/piiritystila/

Background

I’ve been interested in the occupation and Palestinian situation pretty much my whole adult life, since I started getting politically organised in my teens.

I went to my first larp in Palestine in the summer of 2012, Till Death Do Us Part, which Petter Karlsson has written a great report on. I went again to larp there in September 2013, to the chamber larp festival Beit Byout (you can see my photo report here). The larpers there are a great gang of very enthusiastic players who always bring their a-game. I’m quite impressed with how far they’ve come in just a short time.

I’ve also become a good friend of several of the larpers from Palestine, having larped with them and met them socially on several occasions both in Palestine and the Nordic countries.

This was not an objective experience and this is not an objective text.

My Experience

This experience was very emotional for me and I’m quite sure I’m forgetting large parts of the game and the order in which things happen. If you played with me and you’re feeling I’m portraying it wrong, please let me know so I can add your point of view or correct things that are wrong. I’ve chosen to not name other players and to just use initials for characters and use the gender neutral pronouns ve/hir to keep them anonymous. If you are the player of any of these characters and wouldn’t mind having the character name spelled out, please let me know. Any named player or character in the text has given their explicit permission for this.

Thursday

I flew into Helsinki with a late flight that was almost an hour late due to there being too many bags on board. It got sorted out eventually, but I’d rather have spent that time with my friends in Finland than sitting in a plane. After arrival I met up with some friends at local pub PRKL where we hung out for a while before going home.

I was staying at my friend Joanna’s place and instead of getting to bed early like I probably should have we had long and great conversation about communication and feminism that made me reflect over some of my communication patterns and will hopefully help me become a better person to be around. This also got me started on some more ideas for my character.

Friday

I woke up in the morning when Joanna left, and I couldn’t go back to sleep so I re-read the larp background material and started making some notes on my character. I was playing Lasse Blom, a fighter for the pan-nordic liberation front, a political party with an armed wing fighting for a unified Nordic people. He was a fighter with a military background, but first and foremost an ideologist. Within the fiction of the game, Sweden was a dictatorship with ties to the US, similar to Egypt before the Arab Spring. Blom was the child of Finnish immigrants who had fled to Sweden and was secretly at the university where the game was set in to help the local chapter of the Pan-Nordic Liberation Front to plan armed resistance actions against the occupation. He travelled with Swedish militant Sven Björklund (played by Olle Nyman) and Danish militant Niels Pedersen (played by Hans Christian Skaarup).

Dramatic function: Keep your eyes, and the eyes of your comrades on the enemy. The Uralians are the enemy. Collaborators are the enemy. And sometimes, in bad circumstances, proponents of non-violence are the enemy.
- From Lasse Blom Character Description

A lot of the details in the character really resonated with me and was close to me as a person. I early on had made a choice to play very close to home and pretty much took myself, dialed up a few dials to eleven and removed some inhibitions. This made some things easier and some things a hell of a lot harder. I ended up playing out some of my worst fears when it comes to personal relationships.

One of my goals for the game was to go out of my comfort zone. The ideology and violence was no real problem for me, but I’ve never managed to play a believable romance at a larp and I had an instruction to play attracted to the character Senni Railo. Maija Korhonen, the player of Senni was the only Finnish player in our group I knew beforehand and I was quite sure that I’d be comfortable playing the storyline with her.

I got a bit carried away with my note taking and just had time for a quick shower before walking to the bus that would take us to the game venue. We left Helsinki at around 12 and in the middle of the bus ride we had a break where the game masters gave us some small scenes to play out during the trip. Me and Maija got a scene about the initial meeting of Senni and Lasse, taking place just before the game start in the story, which was instructed to be played flirty. Maija also got a scene with Senni and her girlfriend Martina Lindström (played by Tia Ihalainen), where they argued over Senni’s flirting with Lasse. We did some warm up and hot seat questions to define our characters and agreed that Senni was mostly interested in Lasse for political gain while Blom was a pretty jaded person who was a bit of a nomad and was surprised to find an emotional connection and really latched on to it. The scene between Blom and Senni played out well and helped me define the character and relationships a bit more solidly.

We arrived at the venue around 15-15:30 and had lunch. The food was cooked by volunteers and a few of the players helped out as their characters in the kitchen during the game, which also gave a nice connection for us other players with the staff. We got food and snacks throughout the day and there pretty much always hot coffee to drink, something that really helped me during the game with my sleep deprivation.

After lunch we started the program. We had an introduction to the game and presentation of the game masters and then a info packed lecture about the world of the game. This took quite some time but I can’t remember how long. The following events are all getting a bit blurred to me, but some things I’m sure was done.

The game rules and safety methods were presented. Different key characters and groups introduced themselves to the players. We played out some scenes to give background and set tone, these were done one scene at a time with the rest of the players as audience. Our group of pan-nordic fighters played out a scene where we ambushed an occupation soldier and killed hir.

At some point we got our rooms assigned. The story within the fiction was an imposed curfew by the occupation force that had all the students sleeping at the university dorms and for meta reasons we were sleeping together within our groups. I’ll come back to this later. Our room housed us three pan-nordic fighters and three of the local PNLF members. I had a top bunk and across the room Maija, the player of Senni Railo had her bunk which made for some interesting play later on in the game.

I’m not sure what happened after this, but we spent most of the day doing preparation workshops but had a break for dinner. The official program ended at around 22:30 but we stayed a while to talk within our group. I went to bed at around midnight and being very tired fell asleep right, sadly that didn’t last long.

Saturday

All through the night I was having stress nightmares. I would wake up about every two hours sweaty and scared. It didn’t help that the room was very warm and had bad ventilation. The last nightmare had med waking up in a panic, drenched in sweat and panting. It was silly in retrospect, Olle Nyman who played Sven Björklund (another Swedish PNLF fighter) and me were out and about and he urged me into helping him break into a supermarket to steal some ice-cream cones and I got caught on security footage and he didn’t. Strange, but that’s stress for you.

It was around 06:00 and I got up, had a shower and went to the dining area and tried to help the kitchen staff out a bit and then have an early breakfast while preparing for the game with music and more notes. Other players started waking up and we had a pretty nice and social breakfast.

The program was supposed to start at 09:15 so we had decided to meet with our group at 08:45 for some workshopping. We practiced using the safe words, tried to build some trust and all in all make the group more solid. Few of us knew each other from before and I think this short session really helped the group to bond and that was felt throughout the whole game. I really felt I trusted the other players in the group and felt safe to push things to their reasonable conclusions during the larp.

We went on to have a demonstration workshop, meant to be outside of the timeline for the game and having us players portray nameless students protesting soldiers at a checkpoint or similar situation. We got to practice some chants, throw some boffer rocks and have some pushing and shoving.

After this, we all lined up for the last meta play before the game started, the checkpoint. It was set up at the gate of the venue, but in the fiction it was meant to represent having had to go through a checkpoint with our character on the way to the university. It was similar to my experiences in real checkpoints in Israel except a lot faster. We pan-nordic fighters had made sure to have some suspicious items on us, in my case a balaclava with a grinning scull motif on it, but we hid them too well and had little trouble at the checkpoint. I did my very best to seem shady, acting fidgety and nervous. It set the tone good for my character and gave the soldier players something to act on. After this we entered the venue and the main story part of the game began. I’m again sorry if this is a bit jumpy and incoherent.

The game had some scheduled events. For the Saturday all items were guaranteed and designed to happen at the set times, but the program for the Sunday was up to the players to decide. The events gave some structure and helped with the pacing. The game would continue until 14:00 on the Sunday without a break.

The first thing on the schedule was a lecture in Tolkien studies at 11:15. In the fiction, J.R.R. Tolkien was a cultural symbol important to the Finnish people and a widespread subject of university study. The subject of the lecture was a critical look at the use of negative racial stereotypes in Tolkien’s body of work.

Right after the lecture it was announced that the occupation force had imposed a curfew and set up shop in the campus sauna. It was decided that the student body would go to that area and do a protest right away. The demonstration was disorganised and the PNLF decided to have talks with other militant groups discussing how to be more efficient. A deal was struck to keep a low intensity harassment of the soldiers going all day and different groups would go down to the military posting and make the soldiers as uncomfortable as possible without provoking an armed response.

During this time Blom saw Tuomas Kallo, one of the leaders of the SDLP, being removed from the sauna area by soldiers in a manner that seemed quite relaxed. This in combination with the SDLP party line of negotiation with the soldiers made Blom view them as enemies of the pan-nordic cause and started to spread the rumour that Tuomas was a collaborator. Blom took every chance to plant the seeds of distrust in other characters about Tuomas and it snowballed quite effectively. What I didn’t know at the time was that Tuomas old friend Heli Koski had started to spread doubts and rumors about him before Lasse and her efforts started the thing that Lasse kept working on.

There was a plot of a minister from Jordan coming to visit, but I mostly missed this. He was key for funding to the university, but had given support to the occupying country and had given detrimental comments about Tolkien, calling his work “superficial fantasy kitsch”. I think it helped shape the overall atmosphere on the campus, but it was of little concern to Lasse Blom during the larp. At some point he visited the campus and was met with angry signs and protests.

At 15:00 there was an election panel where the different candidates for the student council could present their platform and debate their issues. Senni Railo, the love interest of Blom was the candidate for the PNLF which was one of the smaller parties. The Social Democratic Liberation Party, SDLP, was the largest party and an analogy of Fatah, the Party of Christ was an analogy of Hamas and the Socialist Resistance Front, SRF, was an analogy of PFLP. These were of course not straight translations but they sort of mirrored the dynamics of political movements in Palestine. The PNLF being an analogy of pan-arabic militant movements in the area.

Senni really nailed it in the panel and overall a very rebellious tone was upheld. During the panel a BBC reporter, DB, broke the news that the Finnish president had apologized to the Jordanian minister for his poor treatment earlier in the day. This sparked the start of another protest. At the demonstration Marie Isola, the leader of the SRF was acting very agressive and ended up dying from a gunshot wound. This was planned as a staged event by the game masters and as far as I can tell it was planned to be uncertain how it happened. I was there but I couldn’t see clearly. This ended up being a real turning point for the  game and changed perspectives for many characters. Marie was turned to a martyr and that actually served the political cause of the PNLF very well. A martyr remembrance poster was put up by her comrades after her death.

Sometime during the day, some news bulletins were written and taped to a wall in the entrance area of the venue. This was initiated by the game masters, but players started writing tweets, news stories and blog posts that were also put on the wall. This was not planned from before the game, but gave an extra dimension to the narrative. Stuff kept getting posted throughout the game and Lasse Blom posted a blog post under his nom de guerre “Fenris” sometime late Saturday.

The game had two techniques for meta play in place, the monologue box and the black box room. The black box room was a place you could play scenes set out of the normal time and space of the game. It could memories from before, things that would happen in the future, telephone conversation between characters, dreams or other things like this. I played one scene there that I’ll return to later.

The monologue box was used by using your hands to draw a box in the air while being alone with another player, stating something that is in the characters mind, then closing the box with a gesture and returning to the here and now. This is a communication between players, not characters, to help them create play between characters. It can be used to tell the thoughts or feelings of a character, or stating facts that underline or go against what they are saying.

All during the day the triangle drama between Lasse Blom, Senni Railo and Martina Lindström intensified. Lasse became closer and closer to Senni while I was using the monologue box a lot to plant doubt and confusion between Senni and Martina. I also used it to strengthen the bond between Lasse and Senni. Other characters in the group started taking Lasse aside to voice their concerns. This all got very confusing for Lasse who didn’t see any problem in what he as doing since Senni welcomed his advances and he just assumed that everyone involved was cool with it. By the end of the day, Lasse was pretty much falling in love with Senni. It felt like it made sense in the game and it really worked for me as player. I was succeeding in my goal of playing a believable love story in a larp. This would come back to bite me both as a character and player, hard. But more on that later.

The soldiers came to hold a press conference outside the campus. The faculty asked the students to not attend and did a silent protest by standing in front of the press conference with their backs turned towards it. The military commander said that Marie Isola had attacked a soldier, taken hir gun and shot herself. This really agitated the students, of course.

During the afternoon Lasse was hanging out in the main area when someone shouted that soldiers were coming. I went to have a look, saw the familiar beam of weapon flashlights dance on the wall of a corridor and bolted in the other direction, ran through the kitchen and went out the backdoor. Outside I ran into a member of the Party of Christ who chose to go to the woods while Lasse tried hiding in a dark corner. He saw Senni Railo standing far away at the corner of the same building and managed to get her to move away by signalling with a flashlight. A short time after this some soldiers came and Lasse tried to be discreet. The first two missed him but the third one took the corner properly and he was caught. They tied my hands behind my back, pushed me to the ground and shone a light in my face to let the commander identify me. Apparently I wasn’t the one they were looking for and the they left me lying on my face in the cold grass and went on. I stayed there until it seemed safe and managed to back on my feet after a while.  I went back in and got help to get out of my ties.

After this we figured out there must be collaborators on the inside since the soldiers had entered through a door only openable from the inside and they knew exactly who to get. Niels Pedersen found out pretty fast that it was Veikko Havu, a member of our group and Sven Björklund handled it by threatening him that we would kill his sibling if he named anyone from the PNLF but that he must keep giving them names from other groups to not make the soldiers suspicious. After the game it turned out that he was coerced by the occupying force with the very same threat.

After this I kept playing a low-level terror against Veikko, quietly calling him rat when passing by in a hallway, giving him angry looks, and such. This helped Lasse becoming a cold and hateful person to many other characters while on the inside he was mostly being pragmatic, knowing that a terrorised snitch is easier to keep in place.

By now the faculty was really turning in to caring and loving parental roles, giving the students tips on how to non-violently resist being arrested by the soldiers and talking about their own experiences during the last public uprising. At the game this spread a calm, which is interesting since I learned after the game that several teachers were cooperating with the occupying force.

The soldiers kept coming and the next couple of times I was in the main hall when they came and the students formed an arm-chain to keep them from grabbing anyone. These scenes were appropriately terrifying. The soldiers wore black balaclavas and blinded us with flashlights, screaming and pulling us away from the persons who were to be arrested.

As it happened, I took quite a beating during some of these incursions. I fell on my hip a few times, took hits to both of my arms and got kicked in the stomach. Nothing was that bad and the stuff that hurt was accidental. The physical pain gave me something to use in play and I enjoy physical larping. As long as I don’t get permanent damage I’m up for pretty much anything.

During larps I have a tendency to doubt myself quite a bit. I start thinking that people think I’m a bad actor, that I’m disruptive and that negative things said about my character are really about me as a player. Intellectually I know this isn’t true, but it can make me feel like crap. When I was at the hight of my self doubts, other characters in my group started having some problems with my character’s style, thinking he was too physical and controlling in a patriarchal way. Both Amalia Salo and Heli Koski (played by Kristiina Prauda) came to voice their concerns in very nicely played scenes. Being very self conscious about being a bad feminist and ally in real life that really hit me hard. I used the emotions to add to the cocktail of worry about the future, love and other things starting to shake Lasse up.

We had a person who wanted to join the ranks of the PNLF, Sari Laakso (played by Anna Nummi), but she was quite juvenile and she was shut out. As a player I felt quite guilty about this and tried to find ways to get her in to the group but never got around to it. We’ve talked after the game and it wasn’t as much of a game killer for her as I had feared.

Sari Laakso had a friend called Mikael Siivo, played by Markus Montola, who had lost most if not all hope and just wanted to die. He was planning some sort of suicide by cop at a point when things were really falling apart at the university and Lasse didn’t need the drama so he figured he’d give him a pep talk. Lasse told Mikael that frankly he didn’t give a shit if he killed hirself, but to keep his shit together and at least wait 24 hours so the rest of us didn’t have to handle the fallout. As a player that was a really hard scene to play. I’ve been suicidal and I’ve talked people down from suicides, once over the phone when it was imminent. It was pretty much the worst suicide prevention pep talk I could imagine. Thankfully Mikael connected with Lasse’s cousin after ve came back from being arrested and he got some purpose again.

The student council decided to make a guard schedule to make sure there were always international visitors or media awake and present in the main area to make sure that soldiers minimised abuse of the students. Lasse would be part of the shift from 04:00 to 05:00 but never had a chance to partake.

Sometime during the evening the collaborator Veikko Havu was abducted and Niels Pedersen, another pan-nordic fighter, thought he saw him pass his phone to his sister Eeva Havu. So Lasse went straight to her and told her that she would never see her brother again if she did what she had been told to do. Later she was also abducted and during the interrogation the soldiers broke both her arms. When she returned the other students put her on a couch to splinter her arms. Lasse went straight to her and asked what she had said. That felt quite shitty to me as a player, but the reasonable thing for Lasse to do. She wouldn’t respond and other students pulled Lasse away. The reality was that Veikko had never slipped his the phone and she never gave anything up but was quite the trooper through the whole interrogation, provoking the soldiers by singing songs instead of answering until they broke her arms.

At some point Lasses cousin IM was grabbed too. Lasse was trying to keep his distance from hir for several reasons. IM was a non-violence activist and did not approve of Lasses militant actions. Lasse also felt that it would endanger IM to be to close to him. He tried to get others to keep an eye on hir and keep hir safe. After she was grabbed and came back their bond got a bit stronger.

Some students tried to distract themselves by putting on music and dancing in the main hall of the university, this became cosier after a while and the lights were turned down and people were sitting around trying to comfort each other. I went there and lay down on the floor resting to regain some energy. This was around 23:00 and after about an hour, Senni fetched Lasse and they both went to go to sleep in their proper beds.

As I was falling asleep, I was lying on my side, watching Senni Railo on the other side of the room in her bed. Going in and out of consciousness I was dreaming in character, which was a first for me. I would close my eyes, drift away and see a glimmering sunny Finnish lake before me, Lasse and Senni driving around the countryside of a Finland without occupation and checkpoints, then I’d wake up a bit and see Senni in her bed. It went back and forth a few times before I went to sleep. It was an extremely powerful experience.

After about an hour of sleep, I reconstructed events afterwords, I was woken up by soldiers barging into our room, shinning a flashlight in my face and screaming for me to get up. I was in character from the second I woke up which was both nice for me as a player and a bit hard emotionally. The soldiers didn’t scare Lasse much, he was jaded, but the first thing he saw when the flashlight moved was that the bed of Senni Railo was empty. I felt a chill go through my body wondering where she was and what they had done to her. They let me put some clothes on and I was pushed out the door and got my hands cuffed behind my back. Next to me by the wall was a preacher from the Party of Christ and we were soon joined by my fellow pan-nordic fighter Sven Björklund. Senni was nowhere to be seen and Lasse was getting really agitated.

Just before they made us walk to their base of operations, I heard the voice of Senni behind me and managed to run to her and hug her as well as I could with our arms behind our backs. We tried to stay close while walking but the soldiers pulled us apart. I was starting to feel really emotional by this point.

They led us to a shed where we were locked in. After just a minute or so, they fetched Senni to be interrogated. Then after a few minutes they took out Sven Björklund and let hir go. This was done to seed doubt and suspicion in our group and was a great mindfuck. That left me and the pastor, and ve was fetched pretty soon too. The shed had quite big gaps between the logs in was built on so it was easy to watch was happening outside. Lasse felt he might have to do something drastic to make sure Senni made it back. Besides his personal feelings for her, she was the visible political leader of the PNLF and as far as Lasse was concerned, the only hope for the stundents of the university. He was more than ready to kill and/or die to make sure she made it. I started trying to see who and how many soldiers there were, their patterns and such. Of course it was futile, but it gave Lasse something to focus on instead of thinking about what they were doing to Senni.

After about 20 minutes, Senni was pulled out from the interrogation building and beaten up by soldiers in front of my eyes. They threatened to rape her and that was one of the few moments I got pulled out of the larp. I don’t think it’s appropriate to use sexual violence in a game without a trigger warning before the game and clear rules on how it should be played out in game. I’ll try to write a different blog post with more of a review or critique of the game, focusing this text on my player experience.

After the beating they let Senni go and for the first time since being locked in I spoke. Lasse shouted and asked if she was okay and then shouted his goodbyes, being sure the soldiers would kill him if they found out who he was. That was one of the hardest goodbyes I’ve had, but it would later be overshadowed by an even worse than that later in the game.

The soldiers then fetched me, took me to a room and started the interrogation. They asked Lasse questions that he didn’t really answer, at first he just stated his name, rank and ID number, but after getting his hair pulled and face slapped a few times, he at least started answering their questions. He played stupid and said he was in Finland to see nature and meet girls, something the interrogating soldier didn’t buy. Lasse was severely beaten and got a hood over his head and his arms strongly secured together by his back. Then the officer asked the soldiers to execute him. The first thought that went through my mind was the image of Senni Railo’s face, then the thought to not give in, even in the end.

They walked me out in the woods while verbally abusing me and after a while pushed me down on my knees and then down on my face. They beat me, pulled me up by my arms, pushed me down and beat me some more until I heard a gun get cocked next to my head. They fired the gun besides me. It was a mock execution. They pulled me up, hit me in face with a rifle and let me go. The facial abuse was unintentional, one of the soldiers accidentally pulled me into hir rifle, but the hard hit was great for me as a player.

I went back to university as fast as I could with my hurting body and pushed away those who tried to help Lasse, trying to find Senni. She was sitting in a couch, beat up with her arm broken. Lasse sat down with her, tried to comfort her and shared an intimate moment. Then Lasse and Senni’s friend ON helped Senni to bed and Lasse also went to bed. It was around 02:30 and it had been a very long and hard day. Lasse asked the others to be relieved of guard duty during the night and then went to sleep fast.

Sunday

I woke up at around 06:30 with an aching body and sad mindset. I went up to the main hall and there were a handful of people up. Lasse asked around what had happened during the night but apparently it had been pretty calm. They had come to arrest only one person after my group was grabbed.

The kitchen hadn’t opened yet so I took up a position at a door to keep watch. I couldn’t get the image of Senni Railo being hurt out of my head and started crying when I let my thoughts trail to the notion of her possibly being killed. I don’t cry a lot in real life and I’ve never genuinely cried in character before. It was an overwhelming experience. I put on some music in my headphones to focus.

Knowing Senni was a smoker Lasse got some cigarettes from another smoker so he could at least give her some comfort when she got up. I felt really powerless and really wanted to help her.

After the rest of the university started to wake up we had breakfast and starting talking more about the upcoming student council election, that more and more took the shape of a vote on how to organise resistance amongst the students. Senni Railo again took a leader role and asked all the students to meet after breakfast to let the new candidate for the SRF who had replaced Marie Isola after her death give hir election platform speech.

During breakfast Lasse had a great passive agressive conversation with Tuomas Kallo, the SDLP leader he had tried to discredit. Great use of the monologue box technique and while Tuomas was getting coffee, Lasse put a note on his food that just said “rat”. Not a loving relationship.

A big topic of discussion among students was the threat of shutting down the university. Funding was a problem and the violent clashes had made it even more uncertain. Lasse made the case within the PNLF that could use the premises to gather, organise and train resistance fighters.

At 11:00 the student council elections started. The winning candidate would lead the student council and also be the student representative in the faculty board. We had tried to manipulate the census to be able to get us international pan-nordic fighters to vote but it fell through so we mostly spent the election hour keeping our eyes open and watching out for soldiers.

At some point before or during the election the curfew was lifted and the soldiers left the campus area. I can’t remember when exactly, but it was around this time. MAR, a friend of Lasse saw the soldiers leaving and ran out to throw rocks at them and Tuomas Kallo tried to stop hir. This made Lasse snap and I ran out and got in physical fight with Tuomas. It ended when Senni Railo came and told Lasse to stop it. At this point Lasse trusted Senni completely and would do pretty much anything she asked of him.

At 12:00 the election results were presented. Of the 30 votes, the SLDP candidate AH got 9 votes and thus got the council leader seat. Senni Railo got 8 votes and was clearly one of the most popular candidates. Both candidates from the Party of Christ got less than that together. This put PNLF in a great political position since they could act as opposition and shift any blame of bad things onto the ruling party while still have a wide support. Tuomas Kallo got only one vote and Lasse felt confident his hard work to undermine him had payed off.

After this the student council had a short open meeting where Senni Railo again asserted herself as a natural leader and Lasse grew in his admiration.

Right after this the PNLF had a strategy meeting. It was decided that Lasse should focus on the ideological side of affairs and Sven Björklund on the operational side with Niels Pedersen acting as go-between. This meant that Lasse would pretty much be at Senni’s side all the time and her girlfriend Martina Lindström would have to keep her distance. It also meant that we created a really good group dynamic that created a lot of play between characters and I felt we should have thought of it earlier. Kudos to Olle Nyman, who played Sven Björklund, who figured it out.

During the meeting it was decided that a list of sanctioned targets for armed resistance would be drafted and signed by all militant groups and published for all to see. Also some other political things before the meeting took a more operational shift and Senni Railo and Lasse left to join the other student council politicians preparing for a protest.

It was also decided that Sari Laakso, the PNLF wannabe was to be given some tasks on the political side to prove her loyalty. Lasse was tasked by Senni to find and inform her, but sadly I didn’t find her before the game ended. While running around I ran into Tor Ekman, a member of the SDLP who suspected that Tuomas Kallo was a collaborator. He and Lasse decided to keep in touch and exchange information about Tuomas during the day. Tor did not really suspect Tuomas, but was a political rival within the party and the reach out to Lasse was a power play.

At the same time as we held our meeting with the PNLF, Tuomas Kallo played a black box scene about how to handle losing the election due to Lasses spreading of rumours. With the help of the game masters he played the reflection leading up to him deciding to kill Lasse Blom. Not wanting blod on his hands he went on to give a call to his contacts at the Finnish Authority and found out that Lasse Blom had entered the country on a passport from Monaco and most certainly was in the Finland illegally. Just the information he needed to make sure Lasse went away from his life permanently.

Around this time Lasse wrote a blog post, trying to urge on a pan-nordic uprising. I used some parts of the poem “Åkallan och löfte” (Invocation and Promise), part of the collection “Ett folk” (One People) by Swedish national romantic writer Werner von Heidenstam. I can’t remember my exact translation and wording, but I’ll be sure to post it when I can find it.

At 12:45 lunch was served and Lasse made sure that Senni got her lunch to keep her energy up. There was some talk with other lunch eaters about how to handle collaborators.

After lunch I played a black box scene together with Sven Björklund (my Swedish resistance comrade), Amalia Salo (leader of the PNLF armed wing) and Veikko Havu the collaborator. We played a two part scene, both taking place a few days after the events of the game. The first one was Amalia beating up Veikko with Lasse and Sven Björklund keeping watch. Lasse tried to kill Veikko at the end of the scene but was stopped by Björklund. The next scene was a while later, when Björklund was killing Veikko in a way that wasn’t traceable to us. He forced him to dig his own grave and shot him in the back of the head. It was two short and very intense scenes facilitated by a game master.

In the middle of a conversation with Amalia Salo and Senni Railo, Lasse got the news that he had been reported to the Finnish Authority and that someone, Tuomas Kallo it turned out later, had informed the faculty who he was and that the authorities was coming to get him. All of the sudden he had just a few minutes to get ready and leave. Amalia went to get his bag and gave him a chance to say good bye to Senni.

It was a very dramatic and movie like scene. The collected faculty was standing right next to Senni Railo and Lasse Blom who embraced and exchanged words of affection. Senni had Lasse promise to not take unnecessary risk and Lasse agreed. Lasse couldn’t say it, but I used a monologue box to tell Maija that Lasse indeed loved Senni. What we didn’t know at the time was that Martina, Senni’s girlfriend, was watching us through a window. Tia who played her later said that there was a small whirlwind of leaves around us as we embraced. I would love to see footage of this but I don’t think there were any cameras around.

AS showed up with Lasse’s bag and they started walking towards the university gates, followed by the agitated faculty. Senni stayed behind at first but ran up to the gate before Lasse disappeared into the woods. I turned around, saw her and gave a salute before going into the woods.

This was the in-game end of Lasse Blom.

Me and Jenni Sahramaa, the player of Amalia Salo, went to the off-game area that had been the soldiers interrogation room during the game but now was a place for the organizers to plan the last moments of the day. Me and some other players started debriefing right away and after about an hour we made our way back to the game area to be there for the ending.

The organizers ended the game by playing Sibelius Finlandia in the loudspeakers. After this it was time for the post-larp process and debrief.

After the Game

We started with a ritual to leave our characters behind. We stood in a circle and in turn everyone walk to the middle of the circle, left an item connected to their character and then said one word about how they felt there and then. I left my fake passport and a piece of Finnish crafts worn as a symbol of solidarity akin to the Palestinian Keffiyeh. My word was “Lonely”, since that’s how I felt. I had become more and more distant from everyone except Senni Railo and in the end Lasse had to leave her too.

After this we gathered for a short sort of gathering where we got the practical details of the day and some thanks from organizers to volunteers.

We did a warm-up called “The Carwash” where everyone stood in two lines and people moved down the line between them and got touched by everyone in a safe and non-intimate way. Great for defusing the seriousness and building trust.

Then we created to circles, one inner facing outward and an outer facing inward. Then we moved around the circles taking the hand of everyone and asking their name. Sadly it was broken off before I had the chance to greet everyone, but it was good.

Then we broke off in smaller groups for a one hour group debrief with a facilitator. We were 8 people in our group and took rounds giving short answers to different talking points. Since it’s important to respect the confidentiality and trust of the debrief I won’t go into any detail about what was discussed.

After this we had half an hour for a small debrief with the players who had been interrogating or been interrogated. It was led by a psychologist and while short I think it was good. I wasn’t that hard hit by the interrogation personally, but it was surely helpful to many players there.

This concluded the official program and we gathered for dinner and then cleaned the venue up. By 18:00 we mounted the bus that took us back to Helsinki.

By now I had a pretty big need for touching, talking and being me. I wanted to hang out with the other players as me and not Lasse Blom and to get to know them. The bus ride was a few hours and I got a chance to hang out with Maija (who played Senni Railo), Tia (who played Martina Lindström) and the player of my in-game cousin IM. It was great to goof around, discuss larp politics and other fun things.

In the middle of the trip we had a pit stop at a supermarket. There was a bunch of soldiers on leave in the store and it felt kind of strange seeing them. I mostly just shut the thought of them out but others really seemed to be affected.

When the bus arrived at Helsinki we went to a bar for the after-party. It was mostly an extended debrief with drinks and I spent most of it with Hans Christian who played Niels Pedersen, and Maija who played Senni Railo.

I was falling apart a bit here from really heavy bleed and sleep deprivation. I felt really attached to Maija who played Senni and I felt a strong need to be myself and not Lasse around her and see more of her instead of Senni Railo. In my head I was devising plans for staying in Finland somehow to spend more time with her and other players from the game.

At around 02 or 03, I can’t remember clearly, the bar closed and we split up in different groups. I joined some people staying at the same place and me and we took a taxi there. Now things started getting more weird for me. My last story part of the game was leaving the university to go into hiding in Helsinki with others wanting me to return to Sweden and Lasse himself wanting to stay as close to the fight and Senni Railo as possible. This theme continued when I slept on a thin mattress on the floor of a Helsinki apartment with some other people not from around there.

Monday

I got up after a few hours when everyone else was still sleeping, got on the clothes of Lasse Blom and sneaked out to go the airport. Not bringing normal clothes was a huge mistake, as wearing jeans and t-shirt is pretty irregular for me and I had a harder time getting out of character wearing those clothes.

At the airport I met Anna-Maria Heino who the played  Eeva Havu, the sister of the collaborator Veikko Havu, a person I had interacted with a little and in quite evil way. It was nice to talk to her while waiting for the plane. She also lives in Sweden so we were on the same plane. I fell asleep right away in the plane and woke up when we landed.

Here my day turned into a slapstick comedy.

The plane was a little bit late and I was so tired and confused that I went to the wrong bagage pick-up area and thus missed my first commuter train and had to wait a while. Back home I couldn’t find my keys, luckily I could enter the building with just the gate code. Then I got in the elevator and the door locked, but the elevator didn’t move. The door unlocked after a minute or so, but I wasn’t that amused at the time. So, I had to walk 5 floors of stairs with all my bags, an aching hip and almost no sleep for days.

I tried to reach my flatmates, but they were all asleep and I had to get to work, so I connected to my apartment wifi which reached the stairwell and logged in to work. Sitting there in Lasse Blom’s clothes, feeling a bit like I was in hiding was like putting my emotional turmoil on overdrive. What I wanted more than anything else in the world was a message Maija giving me some sort of affirmation, and next to that I wanted a shower and some sleep.

After an hour of working from the stairs, one of the people I live with woke up and let me in. I spent the rest of the day working, getting clean, reflecting and reading about the larp. I also started writing this report. But my larp trip wasn’t over yet.

Tuesday

I woke up to the news that Swedish police had done simultaneous raids on 13 apartments in the Stockholm area, arresting political activists. I got hit with some hard bleed by this, being an old activist. I knew intellectually that it was completely removed from me, but I couldn’t even begin to imagine the utter mindfuck it would have been to be woken up by a SWAT team pointing guns and flashlights in my face after this game.

Final Words

This text is mostly for me to gather my thoughts and feelings after the larp. It’s not much a report, review or critique. I get that. I hope that others who played the game and give me some input for me to get details straight.

When I’ve had some time to digest I’ll try to write a more structured report.

Grenselandet 2013

I went to the larp festival Grenselandet in Oslo, Norway. I arrived early Saturday due to previous engagements and only got to attend two games. I played Truth be told, a scenario about coming out as a gay person, and Next Stop Kymlinge, an urban fantasy game about death and hard choices. All in all pretty heavy stuff, but also great fun to meet old and new friends. I might return for a longer report later on, but for you should check out the reports by Petter Karlsson and Michael Hemmingsson.

Photos


http://www.flickr.com/photos/johannesaxner/sets/72157637532182906/

A Week in Palestine 2013

A few weeks ago I visited Palestine via Israel to attend the larp festival Beit Byout. These are the pictures I took. Sadly I ran out of battery power before the larp festival and had forgotten my charger at home.

I haven’t written a report or anything about this, but the photo captions tell the story pretty well.

Day 0

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3