LARPs can change the world

This article was originally posted to  27th of March 2012.

LARPs can change the world

At least according to Norway’s new Minister of International Development, Heikki Holmås.


– I started playing with Ian Livingstone’s The Forest of Doom when I was 15, the minister from western Norway says.
From the series of Fighting Fantasy books, the leap wasn’t long to Dungeons & Dragons.

With his cousin and a group of English speaking players, the new minister from the Norwegian party Sosialistisk Venstreparti (“Socialist Left”) started playing the Red Box. Soon, they moved on to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
Holmås was a founding member of the RPG convention RegnCon in the Norwegian city of Bergen, which he led from 1992-1993.

In 1989, he won the Norwegian Championship in D&D. The prize was a trip to GenCon in Milwaukee.

– This was a period in time when several large conventions were held in Norway, with up towards a thousand participants on ArCon in Oslo, he says.

– I’ve forgotten to congratulate you with the new job.

– Thanks.

– Have you leveled up?

– Hahaha. Yes, that’s a nice way of putting it. Gain one level, become minister. You can say that. Hehe.

Holmås played regularly with a group for several years.

– Every Friday night, he says.

– The two longest campaigns lasted several years. I played a monk and a cavalier.

– In another campaign I had a funny twist, playing a were-rat, that is; a shape-shifter. I played that up until about the time I became a Member of Parliament.

– What’s your alignment? You want to be Chaotic Good, but you’re truly…?

– Hahaha. I guess I’m Neutral Good. I mean that. But every person deviates from their alignment from time to time.
Holmås has also participated in several LARPs.

– Once I played a eunuch in a Harem. He was captured as a child, and desperately wanted to escape captivity. He also wanted to, how I should put it; regain his manhood by the use of magic.

The minister also participated in the historical LARP 1942, set in a village in the western part of Norway during the Second World War.

– It was great. It was insane… I played a member of the Farmer’s Party who’d gone over to the National Socialist party of Norway. He was a carpenter and a collaborator, building an airport for the Germans, Holmås recalls.
He was very impressed by the effort of the organizers.

– It was an incredible staging of 1942. We had people dressed like German soldiers, driving around in amphibious vehicles. It was totally… it was an amazing LARP. I’ve never before or since felt such a total feeling of isolation in society. Isolation, and the despair that grabs you when you realized that your German masters didn’t give a shit.

The minister also sees a political potential in role playing games.

– RPGs can be extremely relevant in putting people in situations they’re unfamiliar with. Save the Children have their refugee games. I have friends in Bergen who’ve run human rights-RPGs. But you have to be professional. You create real emotions when you play role playing games, real emotions that stick, he says.

– That’s kind of the slightly scary aspect of role playing games, which has to be considered. At the same time, it’s what makes it possible for RPGs to change the world. LARP can change the world, because it lets people understand that humans under pressure may act differently than in the normal life, when you’re safe.

The minister of Development has taken note of a Norwegian LARP-project in Palestine later this year.

– I don’t know all the details, but there’s no doubt that you can put Israelis into the situation of the Palestinians and vice versa in a way that fosters understanding and builds bridges. Those things are an important aspect of role playing games which makes it possible to use them politically to create change.

– It’s not coincidental that RPGs are used in organizations. To develop the organizations, and to make people become acquainted and more safe with each other. You lower your guard and let out parts of yourself that may not be so present in your regular life. At the same time, you’re always partially yourself when you play. You’re never a 100 percent in character or a 100 percent out.

– I’ve also been part of LARPs where we put on the brakes by using the “cut” and “brake”-rules. It was completely necessary and right. That LARP has developed the possibility to do this gives a degree of safety which is essential, Holmås says.

It’s four days since he became minister when he welcomes Imagonem to his office for half an hour.

– I started role playing long before I became politically active, he says.

[Abbreviated version. The full interview in the Norwegian may be read here.]

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