Hudøy is a small island in the Oslo Fjord, about eighty kilometres south of Oslo itself. A five-minute boat-trip from the shore, it lies on the western side of the channel: a low rocky jigsaw-piece measuring about one kilometre by two, covered in light woodland and a collection of wooden buildings of various sizes: meeting-rooms, eating-halls, dormitories. It is owned by the City of Oslo, and for most of the summer it is used as a holiday camp for disadvantaged children from the capital.
For the last two years Hyperion, the federation of Norwegian gamers, has rented the island for a week in the summer to create Hyper Camp, an—actually I can’t think of a single word that covers what Hyper Camp is. A getaway for around a hundred games players, thinkers and designers aged 14–24, a training ground, a summer camp, a peer-bonding session, an away-week for the future loci and Lokis of the games world. Whatever it is, there should be more like it.
Hyperion arranges for experts and tutors to visit the camp: where they can’t source them locally they fly them in. Flying in for Hyper Camp 2013 were me and Dr Simon McCallum; we’d met at a DiGRA conference a couple of years before and had bonded over cricket. Cricket was about the only thing that Hyper Camp didn’t offer, though I’m sure if we’d proposed it we’d have got volunteers for a couple of teams.
I was there to run workshops on board-game design and RPG design. Other activities included larps and larp workshops ranging from equipment-making to prosthetic make-up, e-sports, plus miniature gaming, roleplay, and even how to run organisations like Hyperion. Simon had brought an Oculus Rift dev-kit which his students had rigged with a Kinect, a Wii balance board and a Wiimote to create a proper sense of embodiment in the virtual world: being able to move your arms and see them move in an immersive VR world brings a whole new dimension of being-there to the experience. In the evening there were larps.
The students I had for my game-design workshops were excellent. Norway doesn’t have much of a home-grown tabletop games industry, and the people at the RPG workshop were only able to name three Norwegian-produced RPGs, at least one of them out of print, and most of the play seems to be big-name US games like D&D, Pathfinder, Shadowrun and Warhammer FRP (more second-edition than third, interestingly). But there were intelligent questions about crowd-funding and self-publishing. This is not an inward-looking scene. The questions I get most often in the UK and USA, about getting material published for existing games, didn’t come up.
The board-game workshop was particularly strong. Each of the three groups produced a game that was intelligent, tactical and not obviously based on anything I’d seen before. Admittedly my understanding of the design and play were compromised by the fact I don’t speak or read Norwegian (everyone at Hyper Camp spoke English to a remarkably high degree so I could lecture in my mother tongue—this is an incredible privilege for native English speakers visiting Scandinavia, and an indictment of the standard of foreign-language teaching in the UK) but people seemed to be having fun, and the critiques were positive and useful. I dont know if I’d have recommended any of them to a publisher, but if I spoke better Norwegian who knows?
I am thoroughly impressed with Norwegian gamers. In my earlier post I described how Hyperion is able to exist, but what I didn’t talk about is the effect this has on Nordic gaming culture. There’s a cohesion there, a community and a sense of communication that I’ve only found in a few other places—Ireland comes to mind, but in Ireland it’s been brute-forced through an extraordinary collection of conventions and local clubs and societies. In Norway the state seems to have gone out of its way to make this kind of networking arise organically from the needs of the group. I’m not sure if it’s cultural or political, but it’s wonderful.
Hudøy isn’t plush. The beds were small and a little spartan: the loos were earth-closets, the food was basic. Norway may have the third-largest sovereign wealth fund in the world but that doesn’t mean its inhabitants live like royalty. But it all adds to the sense that Hyper Camp is a removal from the ordinary world and from regular constraints: this is a place where new ideas can be thought, new projects can be planted, and new worlds can be shaped into existence.
I had a fanboy moment: I met Anita Myhre Andersen, the creator of the legendary larps 1942 and 1943—the last of which caused her to be banned from entering Belarus for life. 1942 is featured in the book Nordic Larp: it was a week-long recreation of a Norwegian village under the Nazi occupation, heavy not only on realism but also on resonance: some of the participants played their own parents and grandparents. Just reading about it is extraordinary; playing in it must have been life-changing. It’s the kind of experience I’d love to bring to the UK, and I have a few ideas about how. Fingers crossed.
tl;dr More of this sort of thing everywhere, please.
Thanks to the organisers and volunteers of Hyper Camp for inviting me, Felix Vaager of Hyperion for being an excellent host, and particular thanks to amazing Hyperion volunteer Thomas for driving me at great speed to Oslo after I missed my train.