Evan’s Epic Recap – Role-Playing in Games Seminar and Solmukohta, Finland 2012

This enormous blog post is dedicated to my entire trip to Finland via Stockholm from April 6-April 17, 2012. The post functions as a therapeutic information dump of the major threads from my journey. It interweaves academic, personal, theoretical and actual details of my trip. Don’t expect great truths, but do expect my impressions and subjective biases!

For the sake of reader convenience and sanity, I have at least organized it into several distinct sections:

Trip There

RPIG – Tampere

Nordic Larp Talks – Helsinki

Solmukohta – Kiljavanranta

Return Trip

Final Remarks

Note: Compare these with reports about the events by Rafael Bienia, Jukka Särkijärvi, Matthijs Holter, Annika Waern, and Lizzie Stark.


Trip There

On Easter Sunday, I ate my last homemade meal for a while and Kat then drove me to the Hartford airport so I could embark on my journey. Kissing her goodbye was hard. This whole trip had wound up a bittersweet plan to some degree, for Kat wanted to come with me and be a part of it all, but her presentation at another (very interesting) conference prevented her from doing so. I had a lot riding on this trip in terms of personal finance, time and energy investments, so my expectations remained high. This lengthy post gives evidence to the effect that those expectations were met.

The flight took me to Newark, also known as Hell on Earth for Vegetarians (where I ate a yogurt), and then to Stockholm, or Purgatory.

Hours of Sleep Caught on the Plane: 2

Stockholm Arlanda airport has, for reasons central to the Swedish tourist economy, consigned travelers to 8-12 hour layovers so one can convert one’s wealth into kroner and spend it on Swedish goods/services. The airport itself bears many architectural similarities to Düsseldorf Airport, my usual point of entry to Germany. Planes land on the tarmac, and passengers are whisked by bus over to the terminal, which is peppered with the usual overpriced cafés and duty free shops. The airport’s main feature is the SkyCity (see above), a mall that opens up like an IKEA beachfront over the tarmac. One can sit (or sleep) in the comfy chairs and enjoy the sun, or plug in one’s laptop and work on one’s dissertation. Due to the Swedish conspiracy to get tourists to spend money on their soil, I was given a 12-hour layover to Tampere. I chose to use this time to work off my jet lag in the airport’s plethora of non-spaces; after all, I did have to give a presentation on Tuesday morning, and my dissertation chapter is due at the end of this semester. The work done during this airport stay would be the last real work I would manage to complete for the next 6 days.

Finally, Stockholm relinquished me and I wound up on the snowy streets of Tampere, Finland with its imposing statues of men holding fish and the like. There, I met up with my first trip roommates – Nathan Hook and Sarah Lynne Bowman – at the Omena Hotel. “Omena” means “apple” in Finnish, but what it really ought to mean is “labyrinthine network of doors,” because that’s what the staffless hotel offers you. One enters a number on a keypad 4 times at different airlock style entrances in order to prevent anyone from having ready access to your room (including you) as well as anyone from being actually hired to serve you as a consumer. It was completely sci-fi, but in a weird, no-frills, retro sorta way. My arrival at the Omena delivered the wonderful news that Metropolis, a larp based on Fritz Lang’s eponymous 1927 film, had received a Nomination for Best Technical Innovation at the Danish role-playing convention Fastaval. Fastaval, the Danish convention which I reviewed here and Lizzie reviewed here, is one of the best forums for role-playing in the world and an extremely competitive environment for larp scenario writers. It was truly an honor to receive a plaque with the scenario’s achievement written out in full. Nathan and Sarah, as well as Aaron Vanek, Lizzie Stark, Emily Care Boss, and Epidiah Ravachol, had all taken part in its splendor this year, a fact that I thoroughly envied. Despite my total lack of sleep, we stayed up discussing Fastaval and rehearsing/critiquing our academic presentations for the morning. We knew that in Europe, especially in Finland, it would be a tough academic seminar. But no anxiety took hold: the moment my head eventually hit the pillow, I had gone into desperate sleep mode.

Hours of Sleep: 5.5

RPIG Tampere

The Role-playing in Games Seminar (RPIG) constituted the academic portion of my trip.

A group of far-flung scholars assembled in a room off Pinni A at the University of Tampere and game studies rock star Frans Mäyrä (Finland) gave us the opening welcome. Since the seminar was intended to thoroughly interrogate working papers on role-playing-related topics, it functioned under a unique presentation structure. Panelists submitted working papers to the entire group ahead of time for all to read. These 5,000 word-max. essays were then interpreted in light of a panelist’s 10-minute presentation to the gathered crowd of 50 people. Finally, the two commentators J. Tuomas Harviainen (Finland) and Torill Mortensen (Sweden / Denmark) provided feedback before turning the discussion over to the group for 20 minutes. This meant that no paper was spared a thorough critique, and panelists had to nevertheless pare their main point down to its base elements in order to remain on-time.

So as to keep track of these rolling arguments and the intense discussions afterward, I wound up Tweeting about the whole two days under the hashtag #rpig. It provided a secondary, sometimes humorous discussion to supplement the main discussion.

On to the first day of panels:

• Marjukka Lampo (Finland) – An Ecological Approach to Gaming Processes in Larps

A paper conducted as a kind of acting exercise, Lampo proposes a framework of micro-interactions that add up to an ecological picture of a larp. Phenomenology of human interaction in game studies is always good when done well, as here. Lampo also published with me in the Think Larp academic book last year, so I know her theatrical angle on larp performance well.

• Jaakko Stenros (Finland) – Between Game Facilitation & Performance: Interactive Actors and NPCs in Larps

Stenros essentially argues for a typology of NPCs (Prop, Interactor, Proactor, Gamemaster), as well as for the point that NPCs are also essentially players as well – his evidence are the games Conspiracy for Good and Sanningen om Marikka. Inter-immersion as a social practice becomes more important for the role-playing experience than donning a role. I posited an economic distinction in the case of the U.S.: NPCs don’t pay (or as much) as PCs do.

Me, presenting at RPIG – Photo by Rafael Bienia

• Evan Torner (USA) (me, in case you were wondering) – Empty Bodies and Time in Tabletop RPG Combat

A thought experiment and discourse analysis leveled against an old foe of mine – the procedural time thievery involved with rolling to hit and damage in fights. I received useful feedback on how to reduce my book-level argument to article length. Ambition is part of my game; also, animated PowerPoint slides.

• Nathan Hook (UK) – Social Psychology Ethnographic Study of “Immersion” among Larpers.

Hook found the annoying word that never goes away – “immersion” – turning up among participants of a study that did not use the term as an explicit variable, and wondered if there was some inductive definition of the term to be gleaned. Harviainen pointed out that his participants were too well-schooled in role-playing theory to begin with…

• Laura Flöter (Germany) – The Avatar’s Life of Its Own

Flöter used art and aesthetic theory to explore the “life” conferred onto an avatar or role after a player has made one (as in: the avatar can now make autonomous decisions). It may have contributed the nice German word “Eigenleben” to game studies discourse.

• Sarah Lynne Bowman (USA) – Social Conflict and Bleed in Role-playing Communities

Bowman constructed a typology of all the ways that diegetic politics among characters can affect out-of-game relations and vice versa. The resultant schisms from such “bleed” often have cascading, larger effects on larp cultures in the USA. Basically, we have to get over issues of emotional overinvestment in the hobby and in the characters.

• Angelina Ilieva (Bulgaria) – Cultural Labor, Memory and Concepts in Larp Discourses

Ilieva follows up on her previous socio-linguistic cultural studies work to analyze the role Bulgarian folk fantasy plays in constructing the fiction role-players work to produce. I’m interested to read more.

• Rafael Bienia (Germany / Netherlands) – Role-players Creating Networks

Another ambitious piece, Bienia’s project proposal seeks to apply actor-network theory to the spread of certain role-playing processes. Focusing on just larp, tabletop or MMORPG may strip this otherwise massive undertaking into an accessible dissertation.

• David Jara (Germany / Chile) – Framing Strategies in RPGs

The paratext piece. Jara brilliantly demonstrates how artwork, sidebars and other paratexts frame key expectations about RPG texts. We just have to place this research in dialog with Forge theory, which looks at the game rules and design against tests of systemic and stylistic coherence, and we’ve got an important argument here.

Following the seminar on Day One were two other events for me. One was an unintentionally intense discussion between Karl Bergström (Sweden) and Pekko Koskinen (Finland), Lauri Lukka (Finland), Michal Mochocki (Poland) and myself about neoliberal principles governing our economy. Bergström (who later apologized for “trolling me,” as well as generously gave me a copy of his dissertation) wondered why a merit-based, survival-of-the-fittest economy was problematic, whereas the rest of us likened finance to a broken game system gone wild that steals money from most people. Many of my out-of-seminar conversations, come to think of it, turned toward advanced political thought about hte U.S., Europe and the rest of the world. The second event was an Open House at the Game Research Lab in the University of Tampere. There, we saw all their console systems and collection of other video game paraphernelia. Meanwhile, I spent substantial effort proselytizing about the U.S. independent role-playing game scene to Josef (Czech Republic) and Richard (UK). We wound up in a bar afterward, where I got into two different discussions about the U.S. scene – one with Carl David Habbe, and another with Jiituomas, Anastasia Seregina, Nathan and many others. I seem to recall using lewd metaphors to describe certain aspects…

Hours of Sleep: 6.5

Day 2 of the panels:

• Alexey Fedoseev (Russia) – RPGs as Educational Technology

A look at activity theory in keeping students engaged with complex topics through larp. Fedoseev showed us some example history lessons played out in costume, and traced his tradition back to educational philsophers like Lev Vygotsky and his heirs.

• Michal Mochocki (Poland) – How Edu-Larps Work for Subject-Matter Knowledge

My summary: we need a larp textbook to teach with. I agree.

• Eliane Bettochi, Carlos Klimick, Rian Oliviera Rezende (Brazil) – Incorporeal Project

The presentation concerned a joint design project that let Brazilian students design their own role-playing game books. Absolutely in dialog with the indie publishing movement in the states. We should be getting project cooperations (I’m looking at you, Cary Collett).

• Lars Konzack (Denmark) – How RPGs Are Presented in Public Libraries

Konzack looked at collections of tabletop RPGs in Danish libraries, as well as his Wunderkammer-Gesamtkunstwerk model of interpreting RPG presentation. Still wandering what one had to do with the other…

• Ashley Brown (UK / US) – Threesomes, Waterfalls and Healing Spells

Brown’s interpretation of kinky MMORPG erotic play (which tends to happen near waterfalls and sometimes involves sadomasochistic play requiring healing potions) gave us many more insights into how today’s cybersex is conducted. This was by and large the most entertaining paper.

• Richard Gough (UK) – Information Acquisition for the RPG

Gough looked at information acquisition and knowledge management schemas in use during role-playing activities, with many charts and models showing how it works. Suddenly the medium seems more complicated than I could imagine.

• Petri Lankoski (Finland / Sweden) – Role-playing in Single Player Video Games

After a seminar that complicated concepts behind RPGs, we suddenly found Lankoski’s method to be somewhat reductive, with “role-playing” as just one experimental variable among many, causing doubt and controversy among the seminar participants about what data could be gleaned from the study.

Overall, there were several patterns that emerged. The professors were more heavily critiqued than the graduate students, and major questions about methodology, discipline and framework for looking at RPGs were raised. Yet the sheer quality and quantity of questions raised was promising. I feel as though we’re on the cusp of a rapidly expanding scholar base and interest on a global level in diverse role-playing scenes from around the world. Everyone talked of an experience akin to having their brain detonated by the seminar, so I can only say it was its own kind of success.

Nordic Larp Talks – Helsinki

Five of us – Nathan, Sarah, Carl David, Jiituomas and I – piled into Jiituomas’ admittedly smallish vehicle on a 2-hour road trip to Helsinki. This prompted the surreal experience of conversing about my Metropolis larp as well as new directions in role-playing scholarship while balancing my suitcase over my legs so that they would not be crushed by the weight of my clothes. Our motley crew pulled in next to Karl Ludvig Engel’s famous cathedral in downtown Helsinki and then walked down past the train station in Helsinki to PRKL, a bar named with 4 consonants that form a dirty Finnish word when the vowels are pronounced. The basement of this heavy-metal bar would be the site of the Nordic Larp Talks, TED-style talks delivered about concepts and trends in larp by smart people. Knowing full well I would view them later online, I used the opportunity to mingle with Jaakko and his psychologist partner, Carl David, and especially Anastasia, who is studying games in relation to her business degree. Once all the Americans had assembled in the basement of the bar – Sarah Bowman and Harrison Greene, Emily Care Boss and Epidiah Ravachol, Jason Morningstar and Autumn Winters, John H. Kim, Aaron Vanek, Lizzie Stark, Ashley Brown and myself – I suddenly got this tingly feeling, like we were part of this deep-rooted community that crossed oceans, ideologies, and national boundaries. In a basement surrounded by broken Jaegermeister bottles and death-metal logos, everyone could geek out knowledgeably about RPGs. Emily, Eppy, Lizzie and I were to room at Markus Montola’s place afterwards and we kept making as if we were going to leave (we were tired). But instead, we kept finding ourselves either meeting people or getting more drinks or… you get the idea. Rather than exhausted, we all felt giddy and as if we were at some kind of alumni sleepover.

Well, it certainly wasn’t all bells and roses at this point. The dark underbelly of the whole experience had become apparent by Wednesday: disease. See, Fastaval in Denmark the prior weekend was also a lot of late nights, people in tight sleeping quarters (i.e. a school gym floor), semi-bad food and worse hygiene. The so-called “Fasta-Flu” was born in this cozy environment and, with indifferent malice, ripped its way through the ranks of Danes, Finns and Americans alike. Then about 50 of them indelicately transported it through their coughing and sneezing over to Finland so as to spread it in similar conditions. That night in Helsinki, I sensed the rumbling thunderclouds of the storm of plague to come, which would directly affect the Solmukohta experience of many (Lizzie, Eppy, Jason and Harrison, to name a few).

Hours of Sleep: 9

Solmukohta – Kiljavanranta

There is a way to capture the spirit of Solmukohta in a single description. On Friday night, Emma Wieslander stands before a hall packed full of some of the greatest minds in game and larp design in the world. The topic of her lecture? “Gender for Dummies.” In cool, methodical fashion, Wieslander explained the sub-categories of sex, gender & sexuality, writing down key concepts such as “intersexed” with a big green marker. The rapt audience, a mixture of well-dressed and slovenly dressed European geeks, are not only taking notes, but they’re responding to the points she raises as they come up. And they’re doing this while knocking back glasses of beer and port wine in the lecture hall all the while.

Welcome to Solmukohta/Knutepunkt/Knudepunkt/Knutpunkt, an annual combination of global larp convention, drinking party, pop academic convocation, alumni reunion and adult sleepover. Like it or not, its ideas have technically shifted larp practices around the world, and its extensive transnational communities are so tightly knit that its members wager considerable time and money in order to find their way back to the convention’s (many) embraces.

So our journey as a group continued. Many from the RPIG seminar were also to take part in Solmukohta, and all the larpers bound for the convention boarded packed buses outside Kiasma, the Helsinki art museum. Story Gamers from our forum – including Raffaele Manzo (Italy) and Alex Fradera (UK) – all found the rest of us and we reached critical mass as we boarded the buses. Heck, I only stopped talking about indie tabletop games when Autumn Winters – bless her soul – asked me about East German cinema. 45 minutes of me jawing her ear off later, we found ourselves in the remote sport lodge/school of Kiljavanranta. Located on a semi-frozen lake out in the Finnish wilderness, the boarding school came with classrooms, auditorium, gymnasium, sauna, pool, cafeteria and bar. There was also free Wi-Fi “available” in the lobby, but I employ quotation marks due to the bandwidth required by the sheer load of iPads, smartphones and laptops that overwhelmed any chance of the Internet being a useful tool for some of us. This really would be a retreat! Hotel rooms were dorm style and held 3 souls apiece. Part of the suspense factor behind our arrival at the hotel meant finding out who were to be our roommates for the week. Fortunately, I was rooming with Jason and Autumn, whose awesomeness could be presupposed. Everyone geared up for the opening ceremonies in the middle of endless chatter and reunion hugs.

Day 1:

Opening ceremonies commenced, and they were short and sweet. There’s a panic number that the organizers might not answer after midnight. Condoms and painkillers are free at the info desk for those who would need them. And then suddenly they were over and we were all handed characters for the “Solmukohta Plague,” the first larp of the convention. One appreciates the irony of the horde zombie larp’s title. People began to run for the doors, the starting zombies stumbling after them. Our characters were simple, but at least persisted after we were inevitably turned into zombies – caring humans would become caring zombies, leader humans would become leader zombies and so forth. I was eaten by Oliver in the Bleed Lounge after we humans had ineffectively barricaded it with chairs and tables. Then I wandered around groaning until we were shot to death by the con organizers in a dramatic display of fiat. And so it began…

Note: When I say the word “chat” in the below descriptions, it means I remember it being a long discussion. There were many more short discussions than I can list here. I guess you’ll have to ask me about them.

• Nordic Larp 101 – Reps from each of the Nordic countries presented the state of the scene in their respective country. Fact: every larp scene is aging and coping with the avant-garde/mainstream divide. Sweden’s post-apocalyptic scene is on the rise, next to its long Vampire tradition. Norway has a lot of money for youth larp, but those usually have to be fantasy larps. Also nobody north of Trondheim does larp for any reason. Finland uses primarily pre-defined characters, and larp is a mostly female activity. They’re trying experiments with the “new weird” genre fiction (a la China Miéville). Denmark usualy sees people write their own character in pre-game workshops and has a very diverse scene otherwise. Somewhat informative overall, though nowhere near as informative as…

• The Hour of the Rant – Hosted by Claus Raasted, the Nordic larp rockstar. Here’s the gist of all the rants, which were delivered to a packed auditorium.

-J. Tuomas Harviainen – “Read more academic work and write more games based on it!”

-Andras Perna (sp?) – “Build your own damn national larp organizations!”

-Alex from Germany – “Nudity improves larps!”

-Jason Morningstar – “Play more damn games!”

-Johanna McDonald – “Players should be allowed to say ‘cut’ in an intense scene!”

-Osher El-Netanany – “Grow the fucking up, Knutepunkt!” (Note that Osher’s contribution lasted something like 5x longer than anyone else’s, and contained PowerPoints full of photos of poo)

-Annika Waern – “Larps have to question social norms, not reinforce them!”

-Jørn Slemdal –“5 best things about larp: drinking, fighting, burning, shouting, frightening people… and fucking, which falls under drinking!”

-Frederik Berg Østergaard – “Safe words won’t prevent damage that’s already been done!”

-Emma Wieslander – “Cultivate more trust so men can play women and homosexuals, etc.”

-Lizzie Stark – “Write a damn rule book already!”

• Playground Party – A celebration of the re-release of Playground magazine. Champagne and conversation with Karolina, a Mexican computer scientist who attended the Tampere seminar, about activism in gaming.

• Also…

… a long chat with Pixie, an organizer of Fastaval, about the future of the convention and potential scenarios to write for next year

… a long chat with Trine Lindahl and a Finnish larper whose name I’ve forgotten about the Larp Factory in Oslo and its larp-a-month design.

I was in bed by 3:30, up by 8:45.

Hours of Sleep: 5.25

Day 2

• Playing with Intent – Emily Care Boss and Matthijs Holter’s game draft provides a framework for using different freeform techniques to tell a collective story. Nine players larped a Nordic tragedy about a family that resorts to plundering the angsty family treasures to get an illegally donated heart for their dying daughter. Well, it doesn’t work out, so the daughter commits suicide in the family lake. An awe-inspiring and emotional run of the game with even skeptical players won over in the end.

• A Matter of Time – A silly parlor larp by Martina Ryssel about a time traveler convocation going horribly wrong. Martina’s scenario has so much German history that it may be worthy of a German Studies paper on my part….

• Gender for Dummies – See the intro of this section

• Kapo Documentary – Documentation of a prison-camp larp made in Denmark last year. Obviously the larp was more emotionally powerful than the documentation, which lacked focus beyond a few in-game shots and post-game interviews.

• Also…

… chat with Jaakko and Jiituomas about the quality of game scholarship at the Tampere seminar.

… chat with Charles from Fastaval who ran Metropolis twice on my behalf. He and I talked about the cultural translation problems of the game, especially the transposition of Nordic larp techniques into rules that then the Danes have to follow…

… several rounds of vodka with the Russians (without any side effects)

… chat with the Germans, especially Myriel, Carl David, Alex and Katherina about relationships and about German films.

In bed at 4:00, up at 8:45 — this night is what gave me a cold, btw.

Hours of Sleep: 4.75

Note: At this point, I should mention the few-holds-barred grabbing/touching/kissing among participants of Solmukohta, as the level of “comfort” here with each other surpasses both European as well as all gamer events I’ve ever been to. During the day, lots of hugging and grabbing. After midnight, rampant make-out sessions and people headed for dark corners. My objective as a married man sans spouse was always to not get caught in the crossfire…

Day 3:

• Beyond the GM – Emily Care Boss (presenting) and Jason Morningstar (present) gave an overview of GM-less tabletop systems, and then ran demos of Polaris, Microscope, and Fiasco, with which I helped. The article in the Solmukohta book is good enough that you should just read it.

• Trance Mask Workshop – Hoo boy. An exhausting workshop with Alex Fradera demonstrating the mask technique developed by the improv master Johnstone. Basically, you clear your mind of expectations, put on a mask with staring, creepy eyes and only the lower mouth showing, look in a mirror and then make a disturbing-yet-appropriate noise that then turns into the Urstoff of your character. I liked it so much that I did a demo for others later that evening and watched videos of other trance mask practitioners. My favorite was a slobbering rage mask that one of the workshop presenters (Juhanni) donned which made him essentially wreck the room.

• Trash – Anders Karls ran us through a 1-hour introspective larp in which we all played pieces of trash. The room was covered in trash bags, we had to put them on ourselves and then pretend we were things like banana peels and scratched CDs. My character was a piece of pocket fuzz, and I wound up sticking to the lonely glove. Not too serious, but not too silly either.

• Design Party – Everyone put on their fanciest get-up, and socialized like mad fiends. I talked with…

…Aaron about H.P. Lovecraft films.

…Raffaele about the Italian RPG publishing industry

…Erik Nesby and Alex Fradera about the state of the world

…Markus, Eibo and Emily about traditions at Solmukohta

…Bjarke Pedersen about Brody Condon and Level 5

…Eirik Fatland about his mid-level larp theory he’s developing

…and many more.

… plus dancing to much Daft Punk. Too much Daft Punk.

In bed: 3:45, up at 8:45

Hours of Sleep: 5

Day 4:

• Playing with Intent Redux: This time with Alex, Emily and Matthijs. We played out a scenario of sailors making bad deals with flying fish. Very productive discussions about what to do with the game poured out of us all. Heck, they could have a published game on their hands before they know it.
• … lunchtime chat with Annika Waern and John H. Kim, one on the use of fiction in video gameplay and the other about procedural deathspirals in combat.

And then most of us, sick and limping, said our inadequate goodbyes after such an amazing weekend and got on the buses to the airport or Helsinki respectively. I wound up going to Helsinki and lo! was suddenly staying at Markus’ place one more night with two charming Slovakians: Dominika Kovacova (who’s studying Scandinavian languages in Brno) and her mother Sava. Dominika took me on a substantial tour of downtown Helsinki before we then met up with the rest of the larpers in Cantina West for our final goodbyes. We then got back to the apartment so I could get some work done and call Kat.

Hours of Sleep: 9

Return Trip

Markus and his fiancée Sanna, my wonderful hosts, met me the next day at a hippie establishment called Zucchini and then had coffee with me before I took a train to Tampere and a plane to Stockholm. I spent the night in a comfy airport chair in Stockholm this time, deciding against a hotel room on account of the price ($180) for one night. Apparently, the rest of the airport agreed with this. When I woke at 4 a.m. to go to the bathroom, most of the chairs in the SkyCity had travelers’ bodies lying on them. I see no more fitting a portrait of today’s class divide than a half-empty hotel and hordes of tired travelers sleeping just outside its entrance.

Hours of Sleep: 4 (with many interruptions)

Before I reach my final remarks, the point about the sleep must be reiterated. Over the course of 9 days, I got about 51 hours of sleep, or about 5.66 hours per night. Though I survived the sleep deprivation quite well, the depressed immune systems were quite visible throughout the ranks of the Solmukohta attendees. Some of the Americans were taken out for days at a time. But the compelling intensity of every talk, every conversation, every game made many of us thirsty for more, regardless of our bodies’ feeble demands. It was a period of time no one wanted to see end, but which ended all the same, with a promise of Knutepunkt in Norway in 2013…

Final Remarks

My week in Finland proved, using Nietzsche’s formulations from The Birth of Tragedy, to be both Appolonian and Dionysian in character, an absolute indulgence that may have performed important work on both my academic and artistic souls. “Appolonian” in this context refers to the possession of robust, healthy, “rational” qualities, while “Dionysian” refers to the debauchery and art we engage in so as to provide fertilizing manure for the very introspection required to interrogate the society in which we live. Creative labor demands a cycle of feverish anxiety and even physical sickness in order for its practitioner to emerge once again into the ranks of the so-called “happy and healthy.” To forget this cycle is to slowly dismantle the apparatus of human creation. The twin conferences almost playfully churned through these creative cycles, spinning from high intellectual game theory debate to globalization ennui, from carefully conceived interdisciplinary lectures to vodka rounds with Russian role-players, from delicate cultural negotiations to in-game raw emotional manipulations. From theory to gameplay to drinking to camaraderie and back again, over and over again.

While in the alienating Stockholm Arlanda airport, I found in Nicolas Bourriaud’s The Radicant a deep longing for artistic nomadism and cultural translation to be the new guides for an emergent aesthetic of exodus. Specifically, he observes the torn shreds of universalist, progressive grand theories (i.e. modernism, postmodernism, Marxism, democracy) that given way to the construction of “archipelagos” (Bourriaud 185). These voluntary island groups – social networks, if you will – form the basis on which an altermodernity can develop. They create their own spheres of knowledge, customs and practices both in dialog with and against the grain of the sociocultural practices encouraged by globalizing megacorporations, the faceless tyrants of our era. As these corporations and their political lackeys lock away and proceed to otherwise waste the natural resources of the future, archipelagos of the coming generation such as Solmukohta may indeed prove at least the emotional and institutional proof that another world is possible, that resources could be allocated differently, that we could dream differently too. For there could be a place among the closely knit larp networks where new dreams can take shape.

Thank you to all you people who made my trip possible. There are too many.



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12 responses to “Evan’s Epic Recap – Role-Playing in Games Seminar and Solmukohta, Finland 2012”

  1. sebastiansvegaard Avatar

    Very nice to read your report. I also appreciate the write-ups of things I didn’t attend – not to mention the RPiG stuff.

    (And I should identify myself. I’m your imaginary younger self – aka Mr. Squirrel 😉 Who is currently down with the con plague too.)

  2. Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) Avatar

    Totally excellent – I just skimmed through the Solmukohta section for instant nostalgia and will have to return to check out the surrounding picture. Great to meet you there Evan, I really appreciated your generosity in introductions and inclusion, coming as kind of a lone wolf as I did. Loved our play and chats too.

  3. Olle Jonsson (@olleolleolle) Avatar

    Evan, thanks for an excellent Solmukohta recap.

    I took the low road this year (which includes me starting business for myself): “only” going to Fastaval.

    It’s easy to forget how huggy and grabby the Knudepunkt community is. (Makes it hard for non-huggers. But lovely for the rest of the world. I’ve come to realize I’m a two-arm hugger. Single-arm hugs do not count.)

    Keep sane. Explore your borders.

  4. guyintheblackhat Avatar

    Just made some edits of typos and other stylistic problems. Thanks for the feedback everyone!

    Sebastian: It was excellent to play with you and I hope you recover soon!

    Alex: I felt like I was sort of a bridge figure for many people at the convention, and I was only too happy to oblige. It made years of isolated reading of Knutepunkt scholarship next to play of indie RPGs suddenly click into a myriad of social connections. Thanks again for your trance mask workshop, which I won’t forget anytime soon.

    Olle: I’m a two-arm hugger myself, but apparently I just stop at hugs…
    I was jealous of you Fastaval-ers this year, since I was so close and yet so far… Well, I’ll keep writing scenarios in any case.

  5. Role-playing in games seminar & Solmukohta 2012 « Bienia on Games Avatar

    […] reports can be found here. If you are not lazy, read this accurate and entertaining blog entry by Evan Turner from the US. If you like, spread:Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  6. Tomas Avatar

    A great epic of inspired and inbibed Suominess!

  7. To the End of April « The Guy in the Black Hat Avatar

    […] to see so many people enjoyed my RPIG/Solmukohta report (at least relative to my usual […]

  8. […] party to grab my copy. For an exhaustive description of Solmukohta, I recommend Evan Torner’s blog post. It sounds awesome and kinda makes me regret I wasn’t there, but on the other hand, I am not […]

  9. […] B: part 1, and part 2 Evan Torner Annika Waern Rafael Bienia Mike Pohjola Oliver Story Games Forum (Got more links? Post them in the […]

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  11. Elin Nilsen Avatar
    Elin Nilsen

    I reread this for inspiration. It still makes me full of love. 🙂 (Oh, “Björn from Norway” is actually called Jørn Slemdal

    1. guyintheblackhat Avatar

      Thanks, Elin! The wonders of WordPress allow me to go back and change it months after the fact, which I have done.

      I really would like to go to Norway this year, but I have a competing conference that weekend… 😦

      And so we instead inhabit the capacious worlds of our nostalgia.

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