This is the final struggle!
The Practical Stuff
I’ve already mentioned that Solmukohta isn’t the best convention for practical, hands-on stuff, but here are the most down to earth program items I attended.
The overview of the larp Cost of Living (Russia, 2011) by Alexey Fedoseev, feat. Slava and Diana. My one documentation talk attendance for the convention. I was shocked in all kinds of ways by Russian larp videos last year, am a sucker for near-future dystopian larps and for Venice, had not really taken the time this year to talk to the russian larpers I met last year, so all good reasons to attend the Cost of Living recap. It seems Russians are getting better and better at making badass tent cities in the middle of the forest to create any larp settings. This time the fully power-generated city featured, among others, a printed facade of the Doge palace, a local intranet, a camera crew to film its citizens 24/7 and various bars and stripclubs. I love the concept that, in the game world, online popularity conditioned everything else, from money to death : the best way to be popular was to upload pictures of oneself having sex (represented by clasping hands) or killing people onto the local intranet. If your rating went too far down, that made you a criminal, hence a candidate for a Running Man style execution TV game. Great stuff ! One of the innovations of the game for the russian larp scene was the presence of a gay neighborhood and gay characters, portrayed in a pretty flamboyant style. My question on how Russian gay larpers perceived this representation of gay people, was first answered with two priceless seconds of silence, then a cautious group explanation that sounded to me a bit like this one. Of course I had seen images of gay bashings by conservatives in Russia, but for some reason I had succumbed to the geek fallacy that the larp community would provide a safer environment to enable people to come out. I was wrong and should probably educate myself a bit more on the topic. Therefore this talk was a true Solmukohta double-whammy : badass larp stuff to recycle, and badass real life international stuff to take home and think about.
All the Things I’ve Learned from All the Mistakes I’ve Done – part 2 Rasmus Høgdall invites a few larp organizers to present some of their worst mistakes. Some talks were great, others could have been a bit more polished, but it was fun overall. I have attended about the same event at the GNiales, and in the French version the audience had to share their own mistakes as organizers. Such events are always good because not only do they enable others to -hopefully- avoid making the same mistakes again, but they have that « group therapy » effect that it’s OK to share mistakes, have a good laugh, and realize it’s OK to screw up. A few key things I’ll remember : don’t hesitate to cancel if circumstances are really conspiring against you, don’t try to « realize your vision » by constantly throwing stuff at the players, keep their needs/expectations in mind and don’t assume people will change their playing styles to fit that damn vision.
The Aesthetics of Technology or / Can Gadgets Enhance the Story – the Design of All Things Geek, by Heiko Romu. A good, high-level reflection on the place of technology and props in larp in general, with some cool examples. The speaker was less lively but more interactive than the ones above : people were asked to contribute technology failures in larp and some discussion centered on how it affected the game. Heiko provided possible backup plans/ advice for the future. Basically common sense, but we don’t always do it: always test for full length of the effect at actual location, buy pro stuff or hire pro people. Always assume the tech may fail, i.e. have a non-tech way of doing the exact same thing. Also, technology works best with psychology, whether it’s surprising players with shocking effects or just hinting at something. Heiko and his French equivalent, Tonton Copt should really meet, both share this vision on « suggestion is more powerful than showing everything » and at the same time both seem to enjoy blowing shit up underground to freak people out with the resulting vibrations. Heiko also managed to destroy all the efforts of the « Finnish larpers are actually not that hardcore » panel that ran in the morning by one comment : it seems that actual-but-”mild” biological viruses were used in the lab of a sci-fi larp. Excuse my French, but WTF ?
Location and Scenography Toolbox, by Mads Havshøj, Oliver Nøglebæk.More high-level, apparently common-sense
type of advice, with some great examples, this time on set design/area planning for larp. The speakers, an engineer and an architect, really worked well as a duo. All kinds of interesting tidbits, like how being many people cramped in a small, standing-room only meeting makes people feel the meeting (and hence themselves) are more important. Avoid locked rooms that exclude people form play. As a person who’s been in the locked room as a bigshot (sometimes), outside the closed room as a nobody trying to get some game on (more often) and even acted as the bouncer at said door (once), I fully support the « have the big diplomatic debate in a large, open space ». Overall, the strongest idea was « do the opposite of « good » architecture and urbanism » : in villages,obstruct lines of sight so that people have to walk around the obstacle to see whether the person they are looking for is actually there, make narrow corridors or crossing paths so that people are forced to meet and interact, build nooks and crannies to encourage surprises, hiding etc. I love the « bad architecture brings great games » idea.
Phantasmagoria! Designing Supernatural Terror, by Johanna Koljonen. « I don’t have time to organize a horror larp with ghosts, so here are all the things I thought on how it could work, now you go and organize it ! », all delivered in Johanna’s fast and lively style. In true Solmukohta scoping style, she included a lot of big picture thinking, artistic references and sprinkled a few cool practical suggestions. Like a French colleague said « I didn’t see anything I wouldn’t have figured out myself by thinking hard about the topic, but she did save me that thinking time ». Throughout this stay in Finland, I really liked seeing Johanna on stage, both a show host, panel facilitator and speaker. She keeps your attention in various ways, and while she sometimes gives the girl scout leader vibe (e.g. when adressing a bus full of people), it was nice to also see her as a hyperexcited geek like the rest of us during her talk. In general, I like listening to gamers that have done radio journalism (ah, Michael Croitoriu…) because they manage to speak both fast and clearly, whereas I just eat up words. As an added bonus, Johanna does a really funky accent switch in the middle of English sentences to pronounce Finnish names, a trick us French peeps still need to master.
How to Communicate About Larp to a Mainstream Audience? Panel by Jonas Trier-Knudsen with Lizzie Stark, Elge Larsson, Karsten Dumbrowski, Frida Sofie S. Jansen. A very diverse panel with a particularly vocal audience, sharing, among other things, larpers’ views of journalists and vice versa, with the journalist larpers having their « ass between two chairs » as we say in French. My 2 cents during the audience comments were that a 1h deep embedding may be enough if your journalist can’t stay for the whole week-end, and if your larp is kid-friendly, tell the journalist to bring their kids and make sure they have fun. Happy kids make happy parents that write happy articles. As I write this, a multi-page piece in a very mainstream Swiss magazine should prove this works, I’m keeping my fingers crossed. As a side comment, before this panel I was usually gathering mainstream respect for larp by showing pretty pictures of amazing costumes and locations. After Solmukohta, it seems that saying “I was at an international meeting where artists, educators, activists, journalists and gamers meet to share ideas and cool techniques and to party” also works for the mainstream
Into the Mainstream – Spreading the Revolution, by Claus Raasted. I missed the beginning of this discussion about a very similar topic as the above panel, but the ensuing international group discussion was very entertaining, if a bit rambling. We went from the dead horse of larp as art to the need for a definition of larp to the need for a larper census, to the need for a common international calendar for larps. This is when I saw Claus Raasted as Jesus Christ. I had the first hint last year with the whole « Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them in their larping » thing. This year, after gathering his disciples and leading an inspiring discussion, he gave the floor to the crowd and transferred his moderating role to the St. Peter du jour. When the topic of the worldwide online larp calendar came up, you could see Claus thinking « Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done » . Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him, and he publicly accepted his fate. I’m telling you guys, accepting this calendar was the official start of the Passion of Claus. We already lost the Holy Taisia Kann in martyrdom to the Worldwide Larp Census, and Claus is next.
How to Organize Larps Like a Rockstar, by Claus Raasted. While still vastly entertaining like last year, his talk/rant/performance also took on a special point this year as this was definitely a Station in the Passion of Jesus Claus. The famous towel, started to look like old JC’s loincloth as you could feel the fatigue and the sense of leaving this Earth soon. Then he looked at the Solmukohta crowd, introduced his female successor and his sad, loving eyes went all « Dear woman, here are your children » and to the Solmukhota audience « here is your mother ». You could really tell from the tone of his voice that he knew his time had come and wanted us to « do this in remembrance of me ». Some say he died on Sunday from the Solmukohta plague and ascended to heaven three days later. But I’m getting carried away. As a side comment, it seems nordic larpers are just as bad as us at organizing sequels or re-runs of their games.
Making kick-ass larp videos, by Petter Karlsson. An impromptu, last minute talk on Sunday, full of excellent basic advice for free streaming of live videos, stressing that good sound is actually more important than good image, and a few technical gadgets to make smartphone cameras even more useful. This was the most practical of all talks and will definitely try some of these tricks this year as I need more damn larp videos.
Enough with the seriousness, we want par-tays !
Playground party: didn’t fully attend as I was chatting with attendees of the Franco-Swiss Sensory Overload, but I did dive in for a quick chat, drink and subscription to the reborn Playground. Another christic power of Jesus Claus : he raised Playground from the dead ! I really like Playground. It’s a bit like having a piece of Solmukohta delivered to your mailbox throughout the year. Like SK, some of the content is really fluff and artsy-fartsy, but like SK, some of it is very approachable. Also, the layout looks good and the advertising rates are insanely cheap, so you should definitely promote your stuff in there, whether by writing actual articles or buying full pages of that pretty, so nice-to-the-touch paper.
Don’t mention ze war ! the German party had a really funny invitation, interesting house rules (as the French mostly avoid Majorca I didn’t get the towel jokes at first), a guy politely asking us to have a bit less fun, and the nice idea to rename people with German names. One free beer would have made it perfect, but hearing Germans blaming the Greek liberated us French crew to fully embrace our national stereotype at the…
…Design lounge party: everything from lounge dresses to drag. Mads Havshøj freaked the hell out of me by wearing a suit reminiscent of French disco idol Claude François. We went as dubious stereotypes wearing the epitome of French design : the béret. At some point it degenerated into a roman photo and a mad mime run to kidnap the DJ. There will be pics. I wish I had spoken more with the nordic guys who talked about “T-shirt ninjas” and 360° medieval war larps, maybe next time?
But there were also random discussions in the hallways, the cafeteria line, all occasions for clarifications or WTF moments (by the way, apologies to all the people mentioned in this post series if I didn’t catch/drunkenly forgot your name)
- the Belarussian larper who was playing a pervase spy game and was mistaken for a NKVD agent by her neighbor, and received unrequested denunciations
- Donald Duck comics are so revered that only the elite of Finnish translators are allowed to work on them
- Finnish pine liqueur tastes much better than Czech rhum
- talking to the larper that cried whenever she head «My body is a cage» in the Delirium video. This sequence had prompted a «WTF ? Nordic larpers are sick» discussion when I played it in Switzerland last year. So hearing more context about her experience was great and comforting
- talking to Johanna MacDonald whose pissed off performance in the Mad about the boy video prompted a «WTF? A larp video where people can actually act? Nordic larpers are awesome!» discussion when I played it at GN’Idée this year, so hearing about her performing arts background and how this was her first larp was also comforting, but in a different kind of way.
So next year :
- I will fully read the book before the event to get more chances to ask questions to its authors
- I will document more stuff in English between now and the next con. Writing in French online enables me to go reach 60+ million potential readers, but English is the way to go if we want to give true global visibility to the French and Swiss larp scene.
- I’ll try and talk more to people and self-implement the extra chair rule if not already in place
Mad thanks to the organizers, and let’s hope dates work out like they did this year, as I would love to come back !
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