di Jaako Stenros
Keynote: Nordic Larp, NPCs, and the Future
Knutepunkt was help last week in Oslo, Norway. Over the two decades since the first Knutepunkt in 1997, the event has become an institution of Nordic and international larp. To mark the anniversary, a series of keynotes was commissioned. I was one of the six speakers. In the talk I revisited the definition of Nordic larp I offered four years ago, before moving on to claim that non-player characters are inherently dehumanizing (if you are here just for the dehumanizing bit, you can skip forward halfway down the text). Here is the script.
Knutepunkt 2017 Keynote: Future
Four years ago, the last time Knutepunkt was in Norway, I gave a talk on the definition of Nordic larp. At the time, I argued that Nordic Larp cannot be defined by geography or form, but it is more useful to approach it as an art tradition and a movement comprised of larps that are created in relation to earlier larps in the tradition – and the discussion around these larps.
The definition I put forward has been criticised, but I do still stand by it. I still think that approaching Nordic larp as a movement is the best way to attempt to grasp it. Not all larp is art, nor does it need to be. Yet thinking about larp through that lens, as movements, is useful. However, as I stated in the talk in 2013, the definition was not a universal one, but reflected that moment in time. The definition had an explicit best before date – and it has passed.
The organizers of this Knutepunkt asked me to revisit that definition in this keynote. I’m not going to do that. As with all interesting movements, things change, the discourse shifts, and meaning moves. The label “Nordic larp” is not as useful as it was four years ago. Perhaps some of us thought that Nordic larp was finished, the final form. But of course that is not true. Just as cubism stopped being the thing to do in painting, Nordic larp is no longer a useful label. We have all kinds of interesting movements happening here in the Nordics and around the world.
Larp is a form of expression, and just as painting has had impressionism, cubism, and pointillism, larp has had things like boffer larp, Mind’s Eye Theatre, and Nordic larp. However, if an art movement lasts for more than a decade, then it very likely dead on its feet, or, you know, popular entertainment. Indeed, Nordic larp is not very exciting. Instead, we talk about blackbox larps, and even more specifically Ninaform. A few years ago castle larps appeared, and even that traditions has crossed oceans and evolved to the point that castles are not strictly necessary anymore. There are things like the Southern Way, the New Italian Larp.
Just as there is New Vampire larp, or as it is pronounced in original Swedish, Ny Vampyr. Indeed, we seem to have a lot of new going around. I’m not ready to declare Nordic larp dead. But as a label it is not particularly useful when thinking about the present, and certainly not when designing the future. However, as a term referring to a historical moment, one that has all but passed, it is practical. I will not try to make sense of all of these new movements. It strikes me as too early to do that yet. We are in flux right now. Trying to find one umbrella under which we all fit comfortably seem even more futile at this moment. Even the umbrella of larp seems limiting. There is a renaissance of larp going on. Interesting things are happening in relation to form and content, and especially community.
I feel that we are embarking on the second boom of manifestos. The first one started 18 years ago in the Nordics, when were just starting to realize that not everyone larped the same way – and that clearly our way was best. Now, again, people are issuing demands as to what larps should be like, although the demands are more related to community, such as calls for a better better consent culture in game mechanics, accessibility in larps, addressing broken stairs in the community, and so on. Due to the professionalization of larp we are also talking about labour and the various currencies of cred and pep as well as the cultural capitals used to pay for such things. Then there are the traditional manifesto manifestos, like the one Chaos League issued last April.