Play Journal: Knutpunkt 2014 and AWiG
by Thom Kiraly
This is seriously late, I know. But shit happens. Good shit and bad. It’s shit all the same. And it has a tendency to happen… I already lost myself here. Aaaanyway…
My second Knutpunkt kicked off with some A Week in Gothenburg (AWiG) activities and games, as well as tests of A Drift. Having made it through the week in Gothenburg, it was time for Knutpunkt. I found myself getting more and more involved in the event as it went on, but I hope I managed to stay out of people’s way when I needed to. I also had a lot of fun. This is an account of the play-related stuff I got into there, not so much on the conference as such.
Bitter Coffee – A short game about saying goodbye. In some ways, I feel that there really was too little to go on and that it was closer to an exercise or larp workshop than a complete game, but I would play it again (with actual coffee and not tea).
Frogslap – A somewhat chaotic larp that ultimately tried to do too many things at the same time and sorta worked against its own goals. I did, however, play in the last playtest before Knutpunkt, so maybe the game was changed, but the above is true for the specific game I was in.
The Commune – EDU-larp about the EU and sitting on a council. Probably works in an actual educational setting, but for 1337 14RP3R5 it became a rush to conflict, which was needless since the game had plenty of conflict written into the characters already. I’ve sat in on one of the Gothenburg Pedagogical Centre’s games before, but it was interesting to be inside one as well.
A Drift playtests – Me and two actual, living human beings got together to form the group Applied Living and also design something for w00t and A Drift is what came out of it. We did this while AWiG was going on, but it wasn’t really part of it. I just don’t know where else to put it.
We wanted to go for minimal rules and thin interaction and I think we did a good job. During AWiG, we tested the game twice, once as part of the AWiG schedule and once outside of it. It was still at the experimental stage, but some of the most memorable play I’ve been part of as a result of A Drift happened during those sessions. Here’s a track we tested for use, but that didn’t make it in the end: Weird space ambience (not actual title). Since then, the game has been once in Gothenburg (May), twice in Malmö (May and August), twice in Copenhagen (June) and twice in Kraków (October). “Driftin’ around the wooorld“.
Rain – In the car on my way from Halmstad to Knutpunkt, one of the organizers asked if I had some game I could play as part of the opening ceremony. Do I have a game? Of course I have a game! I ran the Rain Game from the second New Games book and I think I made the right choice. All in all, about 350 people participated and together we went from sounding like a light drizzle to a full rainstorm and back again. This game really works with as few as ten and as many as 350 people. Good to know.
Playing with Methods – This was a very freeform workshop where we played around with all kinds of ideas and impulses. The focus was doing, rather than talking and as far as I can recall (6 months later), it was a success. Some of the things were really silly, some were profound, and others were just strange. In some ways it reminded me of a Malmö Play Club session, which I would consider a good thing.
Power Games – Another workshop, but with a refreshingly non-larpy aim. It built a lot on exercises developed by Augusto Boal, if I’m not mistaken (which is a very real possibility). The bulk of the workshop was a exercise wherein we took turns rearranging objects (5 chairs, a table, an empty water bottle) and making judgements about which one was the most powerful. This started out pretty exciting, turned interesting, went on to a long period of complete and utter boredom only to finally end up (in retrospect) as a very valuable experience. We discussed power from a whole host of angles and, moving away from the purely intellectual exercise it could have been, the objects actually did a lot to help us on our way.
Physical Game Design Challenge – I liked how many program items there were on body and physicality at this year’s conference. The “Physical Game Design Challenge” was an intense workshop that actually spawned some interesting and useful exercises. It boils down to people forming groups and each group being asked to develop a game or workshop method that focuses on one particular sense. We then teamed up with other group to test each other’s stuff.
One of the best methods that came out of it was one I think can be used as a pre-game exercise. Everyone but one person huddles up and put their faces close together, facing the person who is the current focus. That person then uses the others as a talking mirror. This can be used to explore the internal struggles of a character, spotlight a conflict or simply to play around with characters and getting to know them. We had the focus character stand in front of the mirror practicing to meet the parents of the person they were dating. All of our reactions were incredibly nasty, but I think we managed to keep it from being personal.
Service – The one larp I did play at Knutpunkt was one written by my buddy Shoshana Kessock. I didn’t really know what to expect other than a larp about the call to military service, because that’s how much was in the blurb (there’s rarely more than that). [SPOILERS AHEAD, SPOILERS AHEAD, SPOILERS AHEAD, SPOILERS AHEAD!] The larp turned out to be a moral dilemma game, rather than some sort of military simulation. However, contrary to many other wicked problems, the one person who was to be singled out among the new recruits was going to be spared (at least for now). Oftentimes, the situation is the opposite and the group has to decide who dies/sacrifices themselves for the benefit of all others, so I think it was a fresh take on an old recipe.
Working through the moral dilemma made up the bulk of the game, and I found it satisfying and was surprisingly emotional by the end. There were a couple of other things I want to mention: the character sheet and the ending sequence. The character sheet was nice because it worked both as an in-game prop and a way to flesh out who you were playing. It was also part of starting the game. Everyone lined up and then, in turn, read their names out loud to proceed to the briefing room (where the rest of the game took place). The ending sequence, then, also involved a slip of paper. Every player was handed one, lined up and, in turn, read their name and what the slip of paper said. They then exited the room and thus also the game. My slip of paper is the one you see below. This is what happened to my character in the the war. Medal of honor. Congrats.
A strange situation took place right after the game. I had been pretty affected by the game and wasn’t really done with it when I stepped out of the room. Other, however, were super excited and immediately started shouting and laughing once they were out of the game. For some reason, this threw me off big time. There was a sort of dissonance where I was still internally processing what I had been through while others did it with each other.
All in all, I appreciated the experience, was surprised by how moved I was by the play of some of the others in the game, and would recommend anyone who has the chance to check it out.
Danceoke (Me and Petter did a full 30-minute set) – I teamed up with Petter and made a nice danceoke for the Knutpunkt party. Danceoke really is the best. I got to wear a gas mask and dance to Robyn. Nuff said.
Masquerade party – Normally, I would probably not put a party in the Play Journal, but this was special in that people brought old larp gear and clothes for people to swap during the party. The outfits I went through probably managed to include every individual piece of clothing I was capable of wearing (I was a bit to big for some of the prettier outfits). A highlight of the evening was charging up on stage when the DJ (for some reason) decided to finish his set by playing Killing in the Name. This song used to be a staple part of my act back when I brought my ukulele to poetry gigs, so I was happy to act out some sort of rockstar fantasy to that particular tune.