A curiosity about Nordic LARP

OR: SHOULD YOUR MOTHER HAVE TOLD YOU THAT YOU CAN BE ANYTHING YOU WANT TO BE?

So after photographing a grand total of nine events, the fighting in the woods which was once terribly exciting is becoming less exciting. That’s not to say I don’t want to photograph it anymore, quite the contrary as I’ve still not managed my perfect shot, however I’m curious about what other options are out there.

The opportunity recently came up to photograph a fantastic sounding fantasy LRP in a secret nuclear bunker. However in possibly one of the biggest taunts I’ve had in LRP so far, it clashes with Odyssey. You may have got the impression before that Odyssey is my first love and it may be my last. So I’m afraid, no chance.

So I said on my Facebook feed that it would be cool to hire it for the evening and go make some cool photographs. I’ve photographed there before, many years ago, and it’s a great place to make images. Then someone said, why don’t you run a game there instead that you can photograph?

Oh such things said in innocence.

I’ve mulled it over in my brain and started to do some research. I’ve had a curiosity recently about the deaths of characters and what that means for a photograph of them. Photography academia focusses an awful lot on death and the photograph for various reasons and it’s a kind of fascination for me. The idea that you can have an image of someone who is dead, that you can look into their eyes as they look at the camera, that you can capture a moment from the past. And I’m now interested in how those things can apply to characters in LRP.

But I’m also curious about the idea that there seems to be in Nordic LARP of what I believe is termed hard skills. There is no way to buy sword fighting skills, or extra endurance, or lock picking skills. If you can do those things, then you can do them. If you can’t, a bit of paper isn’t going to help you. In other words, you can’t be anything you want to be. If zombies suddenly flood the tunnels in the secret nuclear bunker and you’re not fit enough to outrun them, well sorry, you can’t just buy that skill. This isn’t fantasy in a way, this seems to be more of a reality based thang.

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I also watched After the Dark recently. The film itself wasn’t that great, but the characters in it were all ridiculously hot and there was certainly a plot that made me think. I’ll try not to spoiler it, but it was about selecting who would be allowed to enter a nuclear bunker in the event of a catastrophe. How do you decide who goes in and who is left out? What do you do with the people you leave out? How do you decide how to repopulate the world?

They were given cards on it with their jobs listed and a ‘skill’ if you like, and those were what they had to make the decisions based on. Except additionally (spoiler alert) they were allowed to also carry over their ‘real life’ traits into the bunker. It was genuinely fascinating stuff, in fact I think I might watch it again today. Some of it was a little horrifying too, in a serious thinking kind of way (a bit like the serious thinking I did when 28 Days Later came out. In 2002 on the release of 28 Days Later I was 17 years old and it was the first thing that really made me think. I liked the way that the transmission of a blood-born rage disease could theoretically be possible. I’ll be honest the way that they approached the film – basing it in reality rather than the usual fantasy zombie apocalypse – terrified me for many years. I used to have nightmares about zombies climbing my fence, climbing up the side of my house and breaking into my bedroom. Seriously, I didn’t sleep well for many years afterwards and even 12 years later occasionally those nightmares reoccurred. Imagine if a LRP could do that to you?

Peter Mountain: 28 Days LaterPeter Mountain is the photographer of the above shot. He is a specialist stills photographer for the movie industry and I remember that one of the documentaries on the 28 Days Later DVD had something about him (I’d have to retrieve the DVD from my Dads to find out what, but I might do that at some point). However this is possible one of the images that has had the most impact on both my photography work in general and also my work with Empire and Odyssey. Believe it or not.

I remember him talking about how it was just a grab shot of Cillian Murphy between scenes while he was psyching himself up and getting into role for the next scene. A chance encounter that bred this incredible photograph. It’s certainly worth looking at the rest of his 28 Days Later shots as well as the rest of his movies. They’re incredible and they show you the level of what I’m hoping to achieve with LRP. I don’t think it’s unachievable either.

My frustrations with LRP is that I’m not a LRPer. I’m not conditioned to look past lammies and ribbons, or pretend that a badly made ‘thing’ is in fact a really special and beautiful ‘thing’, or that a foam sword is actually na metal sword. And nor do other people who don’t LRP. I enjoy the challenges of working around these problems and I always find that my favourite shots are the ones where they simply make minimal impact on the shot. The staged shots I did in the tavern at the first Empire of this year are a good example of that. I just simply tried to exclude as much as possible that wasn’t ‘real’. Here’s a gratuitous shot of Johnny because I know he loves his face being everywhere.

_MG_5732I suppose what I like about this shot, is the fact that had I turned up in the tavern later and photographed him again, it would have looked exactly the same without the nice lighting. To me it’s a great example of taking a character up to the next level, there’s nothing that is out of place within the world. Anyway, I digress. What does this have to do with Secret Nuclear Bunkers?

Everything.

I’d love to photograph a LRP with no lammies, no phys-reps that aren’t the actual thing (or close enough to be virtually indistinguishable), no ribbons and no gribblies that are fantasy based. And then I’d love to push myself to take my photography to the next level and photograph something that is in keeping with what we’re doing. Hell, I might even get the confidence to shoot on an 80s camera if we ran an 80s game… or… maybe not. I don’t think I’m that good a photographer. But anyway.

I like the concept of Nordic LRP (as far as I can gather from it) that ‘it is what it is’. If you can open this door, then you can open this door. If you can find a prop that looks like a gun, then you just found yourself a gun. And also importantly, personal skills mean everything. Good orators are good orators and are likely to pull in positions of power. So I’m wondering about the idea of a political game, which obviously a cold war bunker, still intact, would lend itself to very nicely. Perhaps these 20 people have been shut inside, but key members of the government have been left outside (there is even quarters for the Prime Minister in this bunker). How do you select who will take up those roles? Do you work cooperatively or does someone need to take the helm? The idea from After the Dark of giving someone a card with their former professional on it is interesting. Does the office secretary find herself taking on those duties in the bunker too? Or does she have hidden talents that were previously¬†unseen in the male dominated world of Westminster? Will men make the major decisions? Will bold women be seen as bitches? Will people use sex to get things they want? How do issues of sexism and racism manifest themselves in an 80s setting? How are they intertwined with the power plays?

I reckon it’s pretty fascinating. I have no idea how many of my friends would be interested though.

  • TomG

    Even if you don’t shoot an 80’s camera (not a great plan, really. You’d be forced to use on-camera flash an awful lot, and pictures would suffer – ISO 400 just doesn’t go very far in an underground bunker, and using something like 3200 B&W is going to evoke the wrong era), consider restricting yourself to a fixed focal length. I’ve had a lot of milage out of using nothing but 35mm, at indoor events where I was an NPC with a camera, not an invisible floating eye in a field.

    (50mm would be even more archetypal, but if you’re going to the trouble of absolute visual authenticity, you maybe want some background).