All photos: Marianne Gunderson.
(Rød oktober. Larp, southeastern Norway 21-23. October 2011.
Organizers: Even Tømte, Erlend Eidsem Hansen, Solveig Rydland, Martin Knutsen.)
The moment I realized I didn’t belong in a communist party was, for some reason, as a 17-year old, at the conference «Socialism from Below» in Oslo. Standing shoulder to shoulder with other comrades, my left arm raised with clenched fist in a 45 degree at the leaders and the red flags on the scene, singing the Internationale.
This weekend, I stood exactly like that again.
Red October was a semi-historical Norwegian larp, with lots of fictional license. The game’s fiction was set to the Norwegian maoist(!) group AKP(ml)’s autumn camp in 1975.
«The Workers’ Communist Party (Norwegian: Arbeidernes Kommunistparti, AKP) was a Norwegian communist party (1973–2007). AKP was a maoist party and one of two communist parties in Norway (…).
AKP was founded in 1973, as Arbeidernes Kommunistparti (marxist-leninistene). It did not participate directly in elections, but members had «activity duty», meaning that they were to work for the party’s goals – passive members were not accepted. The precise number of its members is unknown.» (Wikipedia)
«Arbeidernes kommunistparti (AKP) is a revolutionary party working for a fundamental change (a revolution) of the way that Norway and the world is governed. Our goal is communism, a society without suppression and class distinctions, where a majority of the people – with the working class as the most important power – will govern.» (The now defunct party’s website, in English)
My character was comrade Børre (an alias), self-proletarianized academic, currently working at a nursing home. Self-proletarianization was a concept this group had, whereby students or members with a middle-class background would start working in factories or other working-class occupations as a strategy for «raising consciousness» both among themselves and the true proletariat. There was some (deliberate) tension in the larp whether being a nursing assistant was «truly working class», in a marxist understanding of the term.
Meetings and activities
Political meetings and discussions were central to the larp, and opinions among the players post-game were a bit divided. I thought it worked quite well. I found release for my inner heckler, but I’m also genuinely interested in several of the topics we discussed, even the more historical ones.
In the debrief session after the larp, several players who were less active in these discussions said they liked them, as they felt the debates strengthened the larp’s illusion. But some thought it was a bit dull in the long run, which I can fully empathize with. Maybe some more practically oriented workshops would have been good for the balance. The female players had a «women’s culture workshop», for instance, where they produced models of vaginas that were baked in an oven and used for decorations. That sounded fun, but my character was not allowed to attend (because he didn’t have a vagina).
There was also a workshop on «reconnaissance» out in the woods around the cabin that felt kind of ridiculous, but which some of the characters took suitably seriously. There was also a cultural evening with political songs, some theatre and poem recitals.
Some of the topics discussed seem equally relevant today, like certain feminist issues or the Palestinian cause. These also, naturally I guess, produced the liveliest debates. Many players had prepared thoroughly, reading up on the historical period, statistics and the official party standpoints in the 70s.
The Meta Cabin
To explore relationships between various characters, the organizers provided us with a smaller cabin away from the central play area, which functioned sort of like a Black Box. It was used for dream sequences, scenes from the character’s past, inner monologues and similar techniques. I went there only once, with two female colleagues my character had a crush on. We played out the thoughts the characters had during the meeting about women’s lib that had been held just before we visited the cabin. These gradually turned into inner monologues-riffing-on-each-other about the relationships between these three people. It was a nice sequence, and provided interesting backdrop for the rest of the larp, even though we didn’t interact that much after the cabin visit.
Many players were well-prepared for the larp, with studies, costumes and props (like an authentic typewriter, books and mint condition magazines from the era). Play felt very «real» to me. Some groups stood out especially, like the Palestine Committee (there were three Palestinian players present at the larp, and a thorough historical lecture with slides) and the women’s band Furia (who organized the cultural evening and had written several songs especially for the larp).
At Norwegian larps, there has been a tradition of providing the players with a prewritten document detailing the rules and the setting. I really liked the one we received prior to Red October. It had a clear vision for the larp, brief and relevant information about the larp’s «universe» (Norway 1975, and especially this particular political group) including a timeline, a clear summary of safewords and other rules, practical matters, a brief introduction to the characters and their relationships and more.
In the last few years prior to this larp, I’ve mostly attended one-evening chamberlarps. Usually humorous or lighter games. It felt good to once again have a few days to get properly into character. Red October felt kind of personal. A realistic play style, my youthful background from certain political scenes, thorough preparations and skillful players all contributed. I got a taste of what made me get such a huge kick out of larp when I started out eleven years earlier; deep immersion, shadows of real emotions («bleed»), being someone else, elsewhere, in another time.
[Note: this is a more or less direct, somewhat abbreviated, translation of my post-larp blogpost from 2011. Two of the organizers have on occasion linked to it, and asked me to make it available in English. It’s a simple, subjective blog post, but hopefully it will be of interest to some of you. I’ve added some context and explanations for the benefit of non-Norwegian readers, but not delved much deeper than that.]