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No Good

Con-hate, part 2 of 2

by Juhana Pettersson
Nov 05,2002

 

Con-hate, part 2 of 2

- Juhana Pettersson

Here in Finland, roleplaying conventions are tribal gatherings. Stuff like traditional roleplaying games, larps, card games are secondary to the general socializing and festival-like atmosphere. Of course, this manifests mostly in the way people feel comfortable to flaunt their dorkiness in public (see part I of this column).

In this column, I'll talk a little about the highlight of Ropecon, the Academic Friday, make a detour into Nordic co-operation and finish with an overview of Nordic rpg theory, which consists mostly of manifestoes. Ropecon is the biggest rpg-related happening in Finland and thus somewhat responsible for the hobby/art's public image.

Diegesis

Arguably the most important part of Ropecon was the Academic Friday, organized by Petri Lankoski of the Media Lab of the University of Tampere. The seminar attempted to collect all the academic thinking on rpgs in Finland into one series of presentations. There is not all that much real academic research on the subject of roleplaying games, and the idea behind the Academic Friday was, in part, raise consciousness of this area of study.

It had the side effect of enhancing the respectability of Ropecon and the hobby/art in general in the Finnish media. It almost feels like you've succeeded in something criminal when a friend, a student and a roleplayer, delivers a long speech on the uses of organizational chaos theory in game design and gets to be called a "young expert" in the next day's newspaper. Like you'd succeeded in fooling them into believing you're legit.

The day started off with the most important part, Jaakko Stenros and Henri Hakkarainen's definition of what is roleplaying. In short:

"A role-playing game is what is created in the interaction between players or between player(s) and game master(s) within a specified diegetic framework."

Diegesis is what is true within the game, and the function of the game master is the definition and maintenance of this diegetic frame.

Obviously, all academic discussion requires functional definitions of the terms used, and to this end the Hakkarainen & Stenros definiton tries to create some basis for future work.

The Two-Week Rule

Most roleplaying game theory in Scandinavia and Finland focuses on larps. The main forum here for the presentation and development of game theory is the Knutepunkt pan-Nordic larp happening which is organized yearly and rotates between Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark, where it will be held next year.

This year's Knutepunkt was in Stockholm, Sweden. Although I, for the most part, experienced the event through the haze of alcohol and sleep deprivation, I can share some of the insights presented there.

In a discussion about the equality of the sexes in larps, the Norwegians told us about a unique device used in many Norwegian larps to fight the perceived inequality between the sexes. Apparently they post important game information on the inside of the stall doors in the ladies' toilet, so you can sit on the john and be educated.

The Swedes have a "two-week rule". It refers to the maximum acceptable time injuries sustained in a larp should have take to heal. Thus, if my character is banging your character's head onto a concrete wall, it is polite to refrain from using so much force that it results in a severe concussion. Minor scrapes and wounds are okay, of course. Similarly, I can sprain your ankle, but shouldn't break your legs. You can catch a flu in a larp, due to exposure, for example, but not veneral disease.

Just so you know if you're ever going to go to a Swedish game.

In Sweden, the state supports larping with 200,000 crowns a year. This translates into roughly $20,000. The average Swedish larp runs from a weekend to full seven days, and their game fees are rather high. Their games are big in terms of players; a hundred players is no big deal. All this together means that their games have big budgets. Big enough to have a real submarine as the venue for a space opera game called Carolus Rex, and a real destroyer as the venue for part II.

Finally, I had always thought that in Finland, we had this roleplayer elitism thing down with our invitation only games and rampant favoritism. Turns out we're in the kiddie class next to our Swedish brothers.

Alcohol was forbidden in the Knutepunkt area, because of the Swedish law. A couple of Swedish scene veterans managed to get around this through some legal chicanery. They set up a "Helsingr Lounge", which they separated with tape from the general Knutepunkt area. You could get into the Helsingr Lounge only by having your name on the list. This meant that the general masses could only watch from behind the tape as the insider people partied dressed in real antique clothes, in the middle of luxurious antique furnishings (courtesy of the larp Hamlet), drunk free champagne, lapped liquor from each other's PVC skirts and broke glasses with abandon while the movie Freaks played in the background.

In Finland, we have a long way to go. But hey, that's the whole idea behind Knutepunkt. A place where we can exchange ideas and learn from each other.

Manifest'o'rama

As the millenium drew into close, a rolepaying game manifesto craze washed over Scandinavia and Finland. These manifestoes form the basis, or at least the prehistory, of the current discourse.

The two most important manifestoes are the Turku manifesto, by Mike Pohjola, and the Dogme '99 manifesto, by Eirik Fatland and Lars Wingard. They are also responsible for sparking off the manifesto boom.

- Turku Manifesto

The Turku manifesto, is perhaps the most internationally famous of the manifestoes, and caused something of a furor here at rpg.net as well. It's possibly the most influential of all the manifestoes, having an especially devoted following in Denmark.

The essential points of the Turku manifesto center on stressing the all- importance of the creative tyranny of the auteur- game master, the essential nature of the player's immersion in the character and the absolute surrender of the player at the altar of the game master's vision.

Mike Pohjola is also responsible for introducing the term diegesis, also used above in the Stenros & Hakkarainen definition of a roleplaying game. It has since entreched itself in the Finnish roleplaying game discourse.

- Dogme '99

The Dogme 99 manifesto was orginally made as a protest over the way live action games were usually made in Norway at that time. Co-author Eirik Fatland said in a speech he gave in Ropecon that most of the essential goals of the manifesto have been accomplished and that it thus has been made out of date, at least in Norway. With this in mind, it is one of the most influential manifestoes in terms of impact on game culture. The most famous Dogme 99 game was Europa, about which I wrote in my first column.

At the core of the Dogme 99 manifesto is its Vow of Chastity. Here are a couple of samples:

"2. There shall be no "main plot". (The story of the event must be made for each players character, not the whole).
4. All secrecy is forbidden. (Any participant who so desires shall in advance be shown all documents that pertain to the event).
7. LARPs inspired by table-top role-playing games are not accepted.
9. Game mechanics are forbidden. (rules to simulate for instance the use of violence or supernatural abilities are not permitted)"

Little manifestoes:

- The Post-Pori manifesto, which states that every larp should contain a demon. The idea behind this pronouncement is that the organizers of a larp should focus on the immediate player/character experience, possibly at the cost of game world logic. Thus, if the game has a demon, every creative decision may be explained through it and the organizers are free to direct their attention to the immediate questions concerning the experience itself.

- The Roihuvuori manifesto. It's central innovation is the emphasis on looking good, and the stress on the need for female players in fantasy larps to wear push-ups.

- The nipple manifesto, which states rather simply that in a larp, anything goes but no one is allowed to touch my nipples.

- The Key manifesto, which is basically a how-to guide to the making of a Swedish larp.

Next month we'll get back to lighter issues. Stay tuned.

Stenros & Hakkarainen: http://personal.inet.fi/koti/henri.hakkarainen/meilahti/
The Media Lab of the University of Tampere: http://www.mlab.uiah.fi/
The Turku Manifesto: http://live.roolipeli.net/turku/school/
Dogme 99: http://fate.laiv.org/dogme99/en/index.htm
The Key Manifesto: http://www.fabula.no/manifest.html

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