Knutepunkt 2009 Report

         Knutepunkt 2009 is the fourth nodal point conference I'd been to, held back in Norway four years after my first convention in 2005. This year there were 3 Americans, along with 1 Brazilian, 1 Italian, 6 Israelis, 2 Latvians, 2 Belarusians, 2 Slovaks, 2 Bulgars, 7 Czechs, 15 Germans, and 1 Brit. Compared to the previous year, we had fewer Italians and no Russians, Estonians, or Croats. Still, the Eastern European representation was strong. I was glad to be joined by two other Americans: Emily Care-Boss (who talked about the trip some in a post on Structured Freedom and on her blog) and Bill White (who gave a detailed report on Story Games). You can find more discussion and reports from various people on the laivforum.net "Knutepunkt" sub-forum. Also, I have a set of pictures as a Flickr set, "Knutepunkt 2009".


Overview

         The most notable difference for this year was that there were many more actual larps run -- and also in more styles. There was growing recognition of different styles, especially Jeepform games and American Forge-influenced games (as represented by authors Emily Care-Boss and Bill White in attendance).

         Prior to the convention, I played in one larp ("The Last Supper") and three jeepform games ("Otto and the Lady," "Drunk," and "The Mothers"), plus the interactive theater event "Night of the Serpents." During the con itself, I did six more games: "The Class Trip," "Under My Skin," "Salem 1906," "Anger Management," "Walkabout," and "Irgendwie Kunst." That is twice as many as I played in any previous convention. However, I had correspondingly less time to discuss issues and theory with people. I think I will balance this by more discussion next time.


13 at the Table

         This was a largely freeform larp created by Britta Bergersen. Players had the option to sign up and choose characters in advance via email (using her home page for the "Easter Special" event, that has pictures from the game as well). However, as it turned out most of the players showed up and found out about the event without prior knowledge. The concept, based on a similar scenario from Dogma 99 (see also the ChamberGames writeup), was playing Jesus and his disciples in modern-day Oslo, having the Last Supper. There were no mechanics, and little background other than a review of the biblical accounts and a variety of artists' takes on the Last Supper image. A key part was that we were initially arranged at the table according to the image, and appropriate Mediterranean food was served (with fish and bread).

         I signed up in advance, choosing Judas Iscariot. From left to right at the table, the players were Wagner (as John), Andreas (as Peter), Sofia (as Andrew/"Andrea"), Nathan (as Jesus), followed by Anna (as Levi), Emily (as James/"Jane" the cousin of Jesus), Lars (as Thomas), and Håken (as James brother of John).

         So this was an talky, exploratory sort of larp where we bounced around ideas -- with nothing too serious happening and no major confrontations. We talked about John's blog, and how our message was getting out (via Twitter and Facebook and such), what our mission was, about our funding Thomas and Thaddeus' agricultural import business, and so on. As Judas, I was the darkest voice, saying that the governments weren't going to stand for Jesus. However, the others didn't take that part seriously, until later in the game I said that I had been given 30 thousand euros just to say where Jesus was. This erupted into controversy, but although people disagreed with my decision, they accepted that I had taken the money to use in a good cause (heh). Shortly after that, Jesus suggested we all go for a walk in the garden, and we filed out and then broke out of game.

         Prior to this, I had some pretty major doubts about role-playing Jesus. I am mildly religious, and though not offended by the concept, my concern was more that it seemed likely to be a trite statement. Here, the players were in complete control and so it was more of a poll of players' random thoughts on the topic -- so it avoided those issues. One major limitation of the game was that we mostly stuck to our seating arrangement, so there was limited communication especially between the left and right sides of the table. Another was that there was some assumption clash over what the background was. This would have been more easily smoothed over if all the players could hear each other easily and ran with each others' statements, but due to the long table there were statements missed that I suspect contributed to more uncertainly over what would fit. In retrospect, I think that we should have started out standing around, and sat down later in the game only for the main course.


Jeepform Games

         I'll bring up the three jeepform games I played together: two on Tuesday night and one on Wednesday afternoon. These were organized by Tobias Wrigstad, Frederik Berg Østergaard, and Thorbiörn Fritzon. In the first session, we played "Lady and Otto" (by Frederik) followed by "Drunk" (by Tobias); and in the second session, I played "The Mothers" (by Frederik). All of these and many more are available free on the Jeepform homepage.

         I felt a little frustrated at "Lady and Otto," though Frederik did note that this was in part by design. I felt like I didn't have a chance to make points, and it felt instead like a lesson. On the good side, it did make me stretch to think of new scene ideas -- as such, it seemed more like an improv exercise than role-playing. "Drunk" was also challenging -- it is a series of flashback scenes as a father drinks himself to death, relating problems with his wife and daughter. A key was that all three players played all three roles, rotating and giving each character different a different specified focus.

         My favorite, though, was "The Mothers" the next day -- with players Wagner, Anna, Matthijs, Monica, Aram, and myself. I played Louise the painter, and I forget the others except for Wagner as Nadia the art dealer (and annoyingly perfect mother). This had longer scenes without metagame interruptions compared to the two the prior day -- played out as a series of visits to a mother's support group in the weeks following birth. Thus, it was a little closer to character immersion. My character Louise turned out quiet and surly for most of this run. Particularly for short games, I sometimes have trouble with quiet characters -- but in this case I think she worked well as a supporting character.


The Class Trip

         This was the official opening game of the convention -- where everyone were teamed with others by their favorite color, thus making it work as an icebreaker as well as a topic for conversation. It was created by Martin Svahn and Johan Nilsson to be a part of Knutepunkt 2009. The scenario (in English) is available on the Swedish website of the creators, Frispel.

         The setting is a 15th year reunion of a ninth grade (Swedish school) class, organized by their physics teacher Yngve. The focus is on a school trip that they all participated in as children, where a traumatic incident took place after the kids stole a bottle of whiskey and then goaded two of the unpopular ones into having sex in public. The scenario plot as written gives the adults a chance to go back in time and change what happened on the trip.

         As the official opening game, this was run for nearly everyone by many different game-masters, each of whom had a different take on the written scenario. My group (yellow) was run by Eirik Fatland, and went more-or-less straight except that it had an abbreviated ending. Our players were myself (as Glen the clown), Tomas K (as Klas the snob), Ine R (as Bettan the tomboy), Anita K (as Stoffe the bully), Asen S. (as Anders the shy kid), Monica H (as Mia the sport freak), Marie D (as Annika the bookworm), and Kristina M (as Linda the bimbo). We were missing one and thus left out Kristina the bore as a character; and we had one cross-gender casting - Anita's.

         I thought the larp worked reasonably well as an ice-breaker, but there were two key flaws from my point of view. The main one was that although there was the traumatic event in the background, none of the adults had any motivation to relive it or even confront it. Among those going back in time, the main motivation is simply to do nothing and thus avoid the traumatic incident. The plot would have been much stronger if the characters were motivated to actively do something rather than just not have something happen. Also, as written the larp has a randomized card mechanic, which luckily we didn't use as I think it would drains the point out of going back into the past.

         In our run, my character Glen was rather loud and showy. This fit his character as the former class clown and now a successful businessman, but it made me worry that I was hogging spotlight time. However, talking to other players afterwards I was reassured that this was more of a motivator than obstacle for others.


How to Get Laid at Knutepunkt

         This was a hilarious PowerPoint presentation by international man of mystery Claus Raasted, who gave it wearing only a towel. Among other things, he was sending up many activities of Knutepunkers as pretensions in an effort to, well, get laid. It was the only event in that time slot, and it was well-attended by several dozen people including a reasonable mix of men and women.

         As a side note, someone did hold was an informal anonymous poll on the bus I was on going back from Knutepunkt, concerned with debunking the reputation of Knutepunkt as a pick-up scene. He found that 7 out of 50 people had had sex while there. This set an upper limit on the reputation of Knutepunkt as a pick-up scene -- but since it didn't exclude sex sith established partners, it didn't establish very closely.


Physical Rituals

         This was an early morning warm-up based on six theater exercises that started at 8AM. It was lead by Johanna McDonald, based on South American theater director Nicolas Nunez's original. It was 10 minutes each of a particular activity, with a corresponding focus to meditate on. First was laying still and meditating on what was mineral within us. Second was sitting and meditating on what was vegetable within us. It then progressed through standing, walking, running, and spinning. There was no particular correspondence to larp, but it made a nice warm-up.


Under My Skin

         This was a new structured freeform scenario by American author Emily Care-Boss, influenced both by her earlier independent tabletop RPGs and by jeepform scenarios. In the three hour slot, about half was in creating the characters and situation, while the latter half was playing out various scenes. The character creation worked well, but it clearly does stretch out the length of the game.

         We had seven players: myself, Morten, Magnus, Henri, Sofia, Aarni, and Anders. We were to become three couples and one single friend. We all played our own gender, so most of these were homosexual partners -- making the game content reminiscent of the television show "Queer as Folk" to me, with the one token female. Morten and I were paired up as partners because we were the only two interested in a polyamorous relationship. We then determined the other partners by consensus, with Aarni being the single friend of the group. We then fleshed out our characters more, before randomly determining who the "new flame" for each character was. In the end, the players and their characters were:

         We played out about ten or so short scenes during play -- some between couples, and one of the whole group at a sports game, I think soccer or hockey. (Kristoff was completely tuned out of the game.) I think they all worked quite well. I think the setup of the couples' issues and areas worked well, with the areas being a mine for ideas rather than elements that necessarily appeared. The final choice scenes were a little tricky. With four players playing metagame "angel" and "demon" voices in the heads of the two players, it was a little chaotic and difficult to focus, but it also meant there were a lot of ideas in the air. This is a scenario I'll probably run with my own friends.


Salem 1906

         This is a larp scenario written by Yair Dicky Samban and Osher El-Netanany, about a fictional witch hunt in the town of Danvers, Massachusetts in 1906. Notes, history, and the full scenario are available on the homepage. It had been run previously at Solmukohta 2008, and was being run again by co-author Osher. The players for this run were myself, Iris S-D, and Aram D as the Bishop family; Mikael G, Martina R, and J. Tuomas H as the Raynolds family; and Yuval G and Sofia as the Cory family. This was a small number of players, since the scenario allows up to 36.

         It is a game played in a number of short scenes -- two per in-game day -- with the magistrate coming in at each scene. What happened in our game was apparently rather atypical, in that the witch won in the end. My impression was that we were less gamist than most sets of players. At first, we made no accusations at all, until Aram D improvised a terrible dream he had of another family, intended to help along the plot. Mikael and I were the elder men of our respective families, and in proper New England fashion we took on leadership roles. I remember my character, Edward Bishop Sr., particularly for his tragic faith in the system -- thinking that it was reasonable to accuse someone if there was a doubt, and that the system would exonerate them.

         In debriefing, the main comment from players was a desire for there to be more of moral/ethical focus on it -- i.e. myself and a few others felt like it ought to be wrong to accuse and execute your neighbors, or at least have that be an option. For us, the scenario might well have played out much the same if there was no witch, and instead characters were simply getting sick as directed by the game master. Osher felt that would be cheating in a sense, but that we could try running it that way ourselves using the material online.

 


Anger Management

         This is a short jeepform scenario by American game designer Ryan Macklin that focuses on an abusive man named James. It was slotted for an hour slot but took a little over and hour and a half for our session. There are three characters: the abuser James, his therapist, and his demon -- though in our case we had two demons. After going through the rules, we play three scenes where each player rotated through what role they played. Each scene is nearly pure dialogue of James talking to the therapist, while the demons urge him to acts of anger. The rules were a bit involved to explain, but essentially by holding back his anger too much, James would be required to describe going home and abusing his family as his outlet. The therapist could potentially redirect this anger to be self-destructive rather than abusive, but couldn't cancel it.

         The organizers were Frederik Berg Østergaard and Thorbiörn Fritzon. The players were myself, Tobias H, Iris S-D, and Kjetil A-D. We were a bit of a quiet group, and explaining the rules took some time. For me, it was an interesting experiment and I enjoyed trying out, but it wasn't one I would particularly recommend.


Acting Techniques in LARP

         This was a workshop lead by Jannick Raunow, where we went through seven acting exercises intended to benefit larping. Talking to Jannick afterwards, he explained a bit of his selection process. He went through the acting exercises that he knew well as a professional actor, and looked for ones with no lines or scenes or focus on character construction. I found the latter interesting, and made this workshop distinct in that it wasn't about building character, but rather about really using one's body as a tool for communication.

         I had done other body-usage exercises at previous Knutepunkts, but this was a generally good one.


Teaching Physics & History thru Roleplay

         This was a lecture on a particular project in Denmark being developed by Jesper Bruun and Valdemar Kølle. The project, called "Dreams of the Universe," is an interdisciplinary teaching session under development at the Danish National Museum. They want to write a larp to be played at the museum by 15 to 30 high school students that teaches both history and physics, trying to convey some of the factors of scientific change, informed by Thomas Kuhn. There are some important restrictions in format: namely that it is limited to 1 hour of prep and 3 hours of play time, and it must involve computers.

         The lecture began first with a demonstration of evidence for heliocentrism, where we all went outside and a ring of people simulated the surface of the Earth while others took up positions as the Sun and other planets. We looked at solar parallax (due to shift of position on the Earth) and about precession of the planets. Their approach was to get the kids to form arguments in a structured manner, with a specific CLAIM being supported by DATA interpreted through a WARRANT. The kids were to be given the characters of Jesuit priests in the Renaissance, reporting on the state of various models. So the data might include lines from the Bible, given a warrant that the Bible accurate describes astronomy. To try out such argument construction, the attendees split into three groups, each given the task of supporting a claim that one of the Threefold Model styles (Gamist, Immersionist, or Dramatist) is best for a murder mystery larp.

         (NOTE: At this point, I was personally struck by the convergence of my various geekeries in the same lecture -- given that I am a former physicist, training to teach high school, and am known for writing up the Threefold Model. Though the speaker did also mention another model of play that he considered -- the split of play into Agon, Alia, Mimicry, and Elix -- but the Threefold Model was central.)

         So after ten minutes, each of the three teams presented their structured argument to support their corner of the Threefold Model. This lead into their current plans for the larp:

There were several points of feedback. The speaker first suggested that for simplicity, the kids would not get individualized characters, but only a type of character from their team. The audience mostly spoke against this, suggesting that for any given players, having a specific character is no more complicated than having a type. The speaker also had concerns that the approach was more male-oriented, and took a number of suggested alternatives to make the game work better for both sexes. Several people also expressed concern that it was very time-pressured.


A Feministic Dialogue About Sex, Drugs, and Rock-and-Roll at KP

         This was an informally organized discussion put on the schedule by people to address concerns, after some incidents at the parties on Friday night. There were a little over a dozen there, with a slight majority women but at least five men who stayed through (and one who came in briefly to air some critical thoughts). The concern was brainstorming ideas to make Knutepunkt feel like a safer space for people. There was a lot of ideas from a variety of people there, and we soon switched to using a talking stick to make sure everyone got their say without being interrupted.

         On the negative side, there were incidents where people felt harrassed, along with an incident of someone bringing a camera into the sauna. However, there were concerns about side-effects. The featured entertainment of the Friday night party had been a burlesque show with two women that most people raved about. Also, most were positive about Claus' talk earlier. However, there were some concerns that these contributed to a negative atmosphere of Knutepunkt being a place to pick up people, and of people trying too hard to hit on others.

         The conclusions were about what to do after incidents happen, and also about how to create a safer space that would head off uncomfortable incidents. There was consensus we should push for official recognition and processing of any complaints by convention organizers. As it turned out, there was a KP 2010 organizer present who was positive about this. Consensus was that there should be designated person or two among the organizers (perhaps one male and one female) who would be on the lookout for problems among the attendees -- which could be harrassment, but could range over many other issues. These designated people could have help, but there were concerns that a large set of appointees could lead to inconsistent answers or give the feel of being policed. My suggestion came from rave or rave-like events that I'd been to, where sometimes in a ceremony at the start the organizers explicitly brought everyone together as a community, and declared that everyone should watch out for one another and keep the event a safe space. (This as opposed to declaring a harrassment policy as a negative message.)

         Something I did not bring up in the discussion was parallels within U.S. conventions -- which would take too much explanation for the crowd and might not be relevant. However, there are related problems of harrassment that people I know have dealt with at U.S. conventions, and I should at least reference efforts to deal with them. One example would be the "The Open Source Women Back Each Other Up Project."


Walkabout

         This was an overnight larp of sorts run by Aarni Korpela, Johanna McDonald, and Teatteri Naamio ja Höhen (with two others helping). I actually wouldn't call it a larp per se, because the players did not have distinct characters. It was a theatrical ritual. I had come in hoping for more of a larp, really. Coming from America, I had never played in a larp that went for multiple days, so I was intrigued by going to sleep and waking up in character. In this, I was disappointed -- which was in part that I had been looking for something different.

         The game began without introductions, as each player first went on individual tasks outside, then we gathered in the lavvo (a very large traditional tent like a teepee with a campfire inside). We each picked a tarot card from the face-up deck, and then we went around describing interesting dreams that we had had. When someone felt that their card fit someone else based on the dream, they would assign a card to that. For example, I assigned Matthijs my card, "The Star," while I was assigned "The World" by I think Britta. We then left the larp and reconvene in the Color Room over the next hour or two -- bringing our mattresses and other necessities with us to sleep there. The Color Room was a special room set up for Knutepunkt with white sheets over the walls and computer-controlled color lighting behind them.

         Here is where I think that the game fell rather flat for me. Other than telling our dreams, there was little way for us to participate in the ritual. In particular, we were instructed not to interact in the process of going to bed. So our ability to interact with each other as part of the game was very limited. During the night, the colors of the room shifted about, and in the middle of the night there was a procession of the organizers in fantastical costumes. When we woke up in the morning, we went through a process of laying out a spread of the tarot cards. Based on this spread, five of the current players were set out as the successors to the five organizers.

         The ritual parts of the game worked reasonably enough for me. However, I felt that there was a big part lacking in the participation of the players, in particular our interactions with each other. As it turns out, I was one of the five who were picked as the successors in this game. The five of us are now discussing about running a Walkabout at next year's Knutpunkt, with some continuity but many changes.


Irgendwie Kunst

         This was a German larp (title meaning "Somehow Art") billed as being "as Finnish as German larps get." It was played in the Color Room, a special room set up for Knutepunkt with white sheets over the walls and computer-controlled color lighting behind them. For this, the organizers had further set up a sheet with a wall-sized painting of a house, along with a few other painted props and paint. The background for all the characters was as follows:

All participants of this Larp are visitors of an exhibition where paintings of the artist Artemis are displayed. The exhibition's name is "Around the World in 80 strokes." Five visitors have just gathered in front of one of those paintings. These are:
The artist Artemis
The mute child Jessie
The critic Mr./Mrs. Simmons
The Diva Roxy/Rocky
The social worker Haley

All five persons know each other, for longer or shorter periods of time. Suddenly, all gets dark around them and the five of them awake in the middle of the painting they were just gathered in front. Now they are trapped inside it. As if from very far away, they can dimly see other visitors, but they can in no way communicate with them.

This is more about the present and the relation between the characters amongst each other than about the past. Thus, it is not important to know who had what for breakfast yesterday or who is how old exactly.

         The players were myself (as Artemis), Alex B. (as Artemis' brother Jessie), Peter M. (as Mr. Simmons), Maya E. (as Roxy), and Michal Z. (as Haley). There were secrets in the individual character backgrounds that I won't reveal. An interesting twist, though, was that each character had an metagame trigger -- that when the room was a particular color, a side of the character should be emphasized and the player should try to take a dominant role in the game. So by changing the lighting of the room, the organizers would influence which character was dominant. We only knew what our own color was, so the change of dominance was subtle.

         I thought this worked quite well as a short form larp. The subtle shifts of dominance worked very smoothly and created an interesting dynamic to the progress. Also, having the mute character was an interesting choice that worked in the circumstances. The character Jessie was important, and Alex said that he felt he was able to express well without being frustrated.


Conclusions

         This was four years after the first Knutepunkt I had attended, and so was back in the same country, Norway. The original had a stronger Knutepunkt 2005 Report theme of an insane asylum, compared to the color theme of this one. However, in general, this year was much better organized with more content on many levels.

         On the bus ride back, someone quipped to the newcomers from America and Brazil, "Knutepunkt is addictive... right John?" -- and I added "Not really. I could stop any time I wanted." The conventions definitely seem to be improving on some objective levels, plus I am getting to know the people there better. One concern that was brought up was that we were not as successful in recruiting younger people to come to the convention than in some previous years. It is important to connect across generations, and in fact there was a funding grant for the convention for enrichment of young people (meaning under 26). On the other hand, this year and in past years, there has been a lot more visible effort of educators using larps and role-playing -- so I think the next generation will be there.


John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Tue Apr 28 16:44:45 2009