James Wallis levels with you

Death and life in Scandinavia

It is a church of modern design, its interior bright and wooden. About thirty people are listening from the pews as a man in his late sixties talks about death. Outside, nearby, there is a conference. Inside there is a magic circle, a temporary autonomous zone, a place with its own rules.

He talks about death: he talks about his own death. Cancer of the liver has come close to destroying him, you can see it in his face, and he speaks of that. Before that, some years earlier a catastrophic almost-accident with a lorry on a busy motorway. And in the sixties, not long after he became the person who introduced LSD to Sweden, around the time he was put on trial for high treason, a terrifying acid trip in which he was forced to confront the embodiment of his mortality and the destruction of all things.

Somewhere behind us music begins softly, ambient and transcendental. It is only later that we realise it is a perfect coincidence bleeding through from a dance workshop next door.

And then effortlessly he brings us around to his real subject: the portrayal and experience of death in art. Our art. Which is not like other arts.

This was absolutely the best session I have ever attended at a games event. I’ve been going to games events for more than thirty years, across three continents. I’ve created some, chaired others, run sessions and talks and workshops at many. This was not like any of them. This was something else.

This is Knutpunkt, the annual Nordic Larp conference, held this year in Sweden. I’ve been saying for a while that if you’re interested in the field of interactive story then Nordic Larp is where the really interesting stuff is happening, but that opinion was mostly based on a second-hand understanding of the scene, received from conversations and books and blogs and PhD theses. I thought it was time I actually experienced it for myself.

I can’t describe Knutpunkt. Not in detail. It’s like diving into a hot-tub crowded with three hundred of the most interesting people you’ve never met before. There is so much going on in this arena that’s barely touched anywhere else, from descriptions of epic Russian larps with thousands of attendees, to scholarly work and hour-long presentations defining a new term in the critical vocabulary of the field, to transgressive, gender-queer and straight-out sexual games, and ones that deal with sexual issues and death in a mature and moving way. Quite a lot of parties, dressing up and dancing. Dancing larps are a thing, there was a whole tango larp recently. I missed the Drag King Fight Club, but apparently there was actual pugilism, though I believe I’m supposed to not talk about it. And a talk in a church about death.

It’s a very Scandinavian event but there were more people from England and Ireland at Knutpunkt this year than ever before. Not all of them were gamers: there were theatre people, film-makers, choreographers and artists. Word is spreading that something really fresh and very cool is happening here. Next year the conference is in Denmark, and by then I hope a few more of you will have had a chance to play a Nordic larp or at least had a chance to read more about it—the award-winning Nordic Larp book by Jaako Stenros and Markus Montola is now available as a free PDF. If you do, and if you feel even the slightest interest, then even if Elge isn’t speaking about death or if there isn’t a church for him to speak in next time, four days at Knutpunkt may (with apologies to Gen Con) be the best four days of gaming you’ve ever experienced.

A Knutebook Larp Design Reader

A slide from a splendid Knutepunkt 2014 presentation by Eirik Fatland

Categorised as: conference | nordic larp


  1. Rafu says:

    It was so good! Even if I missed Elge’s talk, actually. Thank you for this (appropriately subjective and emotional) account of it.

  2. Nice words, James. And I’m even more glad than I was at first that I talked Elge into doing that lecture. :) (of course, others may also have poked him, so I’m not sure I can claim sole poke-credit) ;)

    As an old-timer, it’s always invigorating to hear words like yours. Thanks for sharing them.

    • Fang says:

      Hey James!

      Remember the pretzel we didn’t share at Gen Con when I pitched my art for your Post Bros / Bugtown game? Small world. I was also responsible for many of the ‘arguments’ mentioned in Stenros’ and Montola’s Meilahti book (uh…”La scuola di Meilahti”, I think)..

  3. Nathan says:

    Thanks for this, specifically that next years will be in Denmark.

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