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American LARP vs. Nordic LARP

Tumbleweed

Supporting Cast!
Validated User
#1
Right off the bat, I'm gonna say that this isn't going to be a thread where we go and start ragging on one style vs. the other. Rather, I'm kind of curious as to how such huge differences in play came about.

See, a few days ago, a LARPier friend of mine mentioned some discussion around a big-budget LARP (which is in turn based on a smaller-scale scripted LARP) called "The House of Craving." Fast-food jokes aside, here's the blurb describing the small-scale version:

House of craving is about a family that moves into a beautiful art deco mansion, down by a lake. There is a sinister turn of events, when the house begins to use the family to live out its perverted fantasies.
The scenario combines classical Fastaval freeform, where the scenes are played out with the body, along with physical touch, that emphasizes the feelings and desires of the characters. One of the players will play the house, which cannot speak to the others, but only communicates physically.
To be fair, the larger-scale/big budget version has a somewhat different take on things, and they're pretty clear on what is & isn't acceptable, and my LARP friends who have gone to a bunch of these have mentioned the organizers know what they're doing ... still, just reflexively, the whole concept kiiiiiind of throws up some red flags for me, in that it could go really wrong, really quickly, in ... a whole bunch of ways. Which, again, if it can be done safely for all involved? More power to 'em, even if it's not my bag.

Still, I was curious, and I started poking through the PDF-- and I realized, between the abstraction, the character of The House, and the fact that everything's broken up into scenes ... this is theater. Just, uh, without an audience. Kind of an odd situation, to have folks pay to perform in a way, but that's the modern world for you. Which in turn got me thinking and actually using some of my College Theatre major-thinking that I haven't used in awhile ... at which point I realized that, if Nordic LARP is akin to, say, Abstract or Expressionist theater ... that means the typical American Vampire or Boffer LARP is some kind of incarnation of American Melodrama. (Crash Course History of Theater links provided 'cause they're entertaining).

But yeah. Just ... how did we get here? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I presume American-style LARP comes from a ... well, nerdier perspective, based in historical re-enactments and tabletop gaming. The 'standard' goal is to emulate some sort of adventure, as if one is 'in' the game. So ... uh, where did Nordic LARP take a turn? Is the more abstract/emotional direction a recent development, or has it been baked into the genre from the start? What are some good resources on the history & evolution of this different style of play?

Just some vague thoughts I've been kicking around, and thought I'd turn to you guys to see what's up.
 

Dalerik

Preaching Gaming Anarchy
Validated User
#2
It's late as f here, and I'm not the primary authority by far on the topic, but I can say this much.

The Nordic scene developed from a partial adaption of RPGs from the English speaking world, into local language back in the late-80ies. A lot of rules got lost in translation, ignored as seen fit and soon there was a certain appeal to make the convention games as rules light as possible, spilling into having free form scenarios overtaking the convention circuit in the 90ies, and mixing in with the LARP scene that had a aversion to rules restraining the action and immersion of play.
Around that time, the Nordic scene began cross-pollination between each other through Knutpunkt, a Nordic conference, where LARPers with an academic bent began examining the media, and talking about what could be learnt from gamedesign theory as well as theater effects and methods. There was also a large portion of the community who went into theatre, but decided to bring the two artforms closer together.
In these games, there's a deliberate focus on make the design influence the game, without placing restraints on the narrative and the flow. It's not theatre, cue the lack of actual script and focus on the individual experiences.

There's a Nordic LARP wiki, and a lot of written material on the topic by American authors and scholars, such as Lizzie Stark and Prof. Evan Torner.

And in regards to red flags on the LARP in question? The design team is some of the most well-versed and safety oriented people in the business. It's a very, very delicately crafted game, and the attendants are in the safest hands they could be.
It's just another experience. A lot of films are not for me either.

And, well, the same company did Inside Hamlet, where the lines between theatre and larp was blurred even further, when I had to play Claudius. I even wrote a blogpost about it.
 

Gussick

Registered User
Validated User
#3
Your description of the Euro LARP reminds me of the theater discussed in "My Dinner with Andre." Which Andre Gregory's character found both fascinating and terrifying. Potentially liberating but also on the verge of fascism.
 

NiTessine

Geek of the North
Validated User
#4
It's notable that the Nordic community developed at first separately in four different countries and then in the late 90s people started talking to each other and comparing notes across borders. The legend tells that it took them a couple of years before they figured out that when a Finn and a Dane were talking about player characters, they did not actually mean the same thing.

And yes, the tradition draws a lot from theatre. There's a concept called "first-person audience", where as you are performing your role for the benefit of the other players, you also engage with it emotionally, and your character's inner emotion is something only you are privy to.

In addition to the things Dalerik mentioned, there's also that Nordic culture in general is very different from American culture - less to no fear of litigation if something goes pear-shaped, fewer and weaker taboos around sexual themes, far more moderate political divisions, and so on. All this broadens the field of topics and themes you can safely explore in a larp.

There's a book that explores how Nordic Larp came to be. It's a few years old now, but it's gorgeous to look at and very informative. I highly recommend it. Tampere University hosts it as a free download over here: http://tampub.uta.fi/handle/10024/95123
 

Dalerik

Preaching Gaming Anarchy
Validated User
#5
Tumbleweed Tumbleweed To give some more examples of a less transgressive larp, this autumn I attended Brudpris, a LARP that dealt with patriarchy, honor-culture and oppression. And it really taught me a lot about it.
Link: My thoughts about the LARP and the thematic lessions.

These LARPs are not unique to the Nordic scene, but the French, Spanish and Italian scene has only recently been spreading out, and the Nordic scene is definitely more willing to tackle harsh topics, but as an Example, I just saw a ad for a French LARP dealing with the refugee crisis, in cooperation with Médecins sans Frontières.
 

Voros

Registered User
Validated User
#6
There are American freeform larps which are influenced by Nordic Larps and deal with a similarly wide range of topics and techniques. Jason Morningstar (Fiasco, Skeletons) has done a lot of translations of Nordic larps and the aforementioned Lizzie Stark and ever awesome Emily Care Boss (Romance Trilogy, Bubblegumshoe) have done some excellent freeform larpscripts as well. Boss points out on her site that Australia and New Zealand also have their own tradition of freeform or 'systemless' rpg play which sounds similarly experimental and adult as Nordic larps and has roots in CoC play in the 80s. So I'd say the differences are definitely blurring or more blurred than they may first appear. Eric Wujcik noted in one of his appendixes for Amber Diceless that some players were eliminating the GM role and even the 'rules' entirely by the mid-80s! So there's an entire tradition of experimental play in the US that seems under documented.

The Nordic Larp website, despite the name covers a wide range of 'arty' larps from the states, Europe and Russia. It also hosts a number of free pdfs of the Knutepunkt conference books that feature larp reports with photos of the larp events and quite rigorously academic essays on larps and rpgs. These books include coverage of VtM, Boffer and CoC larps so those are clearly still popular in Europe.

Some of the Russian larps, including a reimagining of the 1905 Russian Revolution (not the 1917 coup), sound fascinating.
 
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Casidhe

Social Justice Magus
Validated User
#7
These LARPs are not unique to the Nordic scene, but the French, Spanish and Italian scene has only recently been spreading out, and the Nordic scene is definitely more willing to tackle harsh topics, but as an Example, I just saw a ad for a French LARP dealing with the refugee crisis, in cooperation with Médecins sans Frontières.
The UK is having similar experiments, and I believe the French game is based on The Quota, which was run earlier this year. A collection of play reports is collated here if you are interested (I didn't take part, but I've been to a few games that Broken Dreams have run)
 

BrianDR

Registered User
Validated User
#8
While I won't dispute their are differences between American and Nordic strains of LARP design, I think the dichotomy that often gets presented where "American LARP" is a fantasy boffer campaign and LARP in the Nordic countries is all avant-garde experimental stuff, is a false one.

American LARP has a huge variety of styles. I LARPed for years in the US without directly encountering a fantasy boffer or vampire campaign. There's plenty of experimental, emotional and more theatrical LARP in my neck of the US at least.

Similarly, I understand that Nordic countries absolutely have their share of big fantasy campaigns, they just get less international press and attention.
 

Dalerik

Preaching Gaming Anarchy
Validated User
#9
While I won't dispute their are differences between American and Nordic strains of LARP design, I think the dichotomy that often gets presented where "American LARP" is a fantasy boffer campaign and LARP in the Nordic countries is all avant-garde experimental stuff, is a false one.

American LARP has a huge variety of styles. I LARPed for years in the US without directly encountering a fantasy boffer or vampire campaign. There's plenty of experimental, emotional and more theatrical LARP in my neck of the US at least.

Similarly, I understand that Nordic countries absolutely have their share of big fantasy campaigns, they just get less international press and attention.
You're right. Kinda.
I think the main issue is that we're talking about this concept of Nordic LARP contra American.
That's actually faulty. Nordic LARP is... A style. Like Nordic-style Drama. I think the reason it was coined as being "Nordic" is the development of said style in the Nordic countries, whereas a lot of the stuff there is done in Fantasy LARPing in these countries are often more of the same stylistic choices that can be found in Europe and America.
There's a lot of evolution on the topic, and as LARP-cultures are cross influencing each other, we might need to re brand a lot of things.

But. There's no one "American LARP" style. There's a *lot* of them.
There is a term recently coined by a lot of new, really talented people, calling their way of doing events as Bespoke LARP, where they've gotten a lot of good elements from the Nordic style.
 

BrianDR

Registered User
Validated User
#10
You're right. Kinda.
I think the main issue is that we're talking about this concept of Nordic LARP contra American.
That's actually faulty. Nordic LARP is... A style. Like Nordic-style Drama. I think the reason it was coined as being "Nordic" is the development of said style in the Nordic countries, whereas a lot of the stuff there is done in Fantasy LARPing in these countries are often more of the same stylistic choices that can be found in Europe and America.
There's a lot of evolution on the topic, and as LARP-cultures are cross influencing each other, we might need to re brand a lot of things.

But. There's no one "American LARP" style. There's a *lot* of them.
There is a term recently coined by a lot of new, really talented people, calling their way of doing events as Bespoke LARP, where they've gotten a lot of good elements from the Nordic style.

Yeah, I get that "Nordic LARP" is the name of a style that encompasses only a subset of LARPs run in the Nordic countries - that's part of my point. It's why I was very careful not to use the term in my post, why I said "LARP in the Nordic Countries" in the first paragraph. The fact that a lot of Americans think all LARP-in-Nordic-countries is Nordic LARP (the style) helps exxaegerate the differences between countries.

But the term is honestly confusing for Americans for that reason, it's not necessarily well known here that "Nordic LARP" and "LARP in the Nordic countries" aren't synonyms, and I empathize with that. It doesn't help that a lot of definitions of Nordic LARP put forward over the years have been less than helpful. I saw a definition once that was "A larp that is influenced by the Nordic Larp tradition or contributes to the ongoing Nordic larp discourse. " - which is probably the singularly most circular definition for anything that I've ever seen.

(Thanks for the Bespoke LARP info - interesting stuff)
 
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