Love, Incest and Cannibalism – A Fastaval 2010 Report

April 7, 2010

Reality

I spent the Wed. – Mon. around and including Easter weekend this year in Aarhus, Denmark for Fastaval 2010 as part of Julia Bond Ellingboe’s American entourage.  This was my first time in Denmark and the first time at a gaming convention quite like this one, and turned out to be life-changing in some ways.  Let me explain.

For the uninitiated: I am what is known as a gamer, a multivalent term also used to describe A) those who play video games and B) those who squirrel away their precious savings in casinos.  Gamers of my kind play tabletop role-playing games, as well as board games, live-action role-playing (LARP), card games, miniatures games and others I haven’t mentioned.  Gamers play such games locally with their friends, but then also tend to gather at assorted conventions – at GenCon and Origins in the U.S., for example – to play games and discuss their hobbies with like-minded individuals.  With the advent of the Internet, our ranks have swelled, though the hobbies gamers follow remain at the fringes of public attention.

For the (newly) initiated:  Most U.S. conventions running role-playing games use the following model of organizing game masters (GM), or those who arbitrate the rules and (sometimes) the fantasy world of experience:

1. A GM submits a game proposal to the convention in question containing vital statistics such as rules system, a quick plot summary, and number of players required.

2. The convention schedules the game, sight unseen.

3. The GM shows up, runs the game once or twice based on whatever notes they have at hand, and leaves the players with whatever impressions they might have.

4. The convention has the players evaluate the GM and scenario, largely to determine if the event actually ran and if the GM is an a$$hole or something.

Fastaval 2010, a 25-year Danish convention tradition held in a school allocated by the Danish government itself, runs VERY differently:

1. Scenario writers come up with a fully shaped, literary LARP scenario and submit it to Fastaval for approval.  Many of these games are increasingly written in the “jeep” form, a serious mode of boundary-pushing (and emotionally manipulative) role-play.

2. Fastaval approves the best scenarios, and then assigns GMs who are possibly not the scenario writers to run the game at least several times over the course of the convention.

3. The GMs run the scenario based on the precise scenario they were given.  The players micro-critique both the scenario and its game-mastering afterwards, providing quite possibly the best feedback in the world.

4. Fastaval has the players evaluate the GM and the scenario, largely to award the latter with Oscar-style prizes at the end of the convention.

So Fastaval is a gaming convention that takes its gaming as serious as a literary/performative art form, and thus evaluates it as such.  It deemphasizes the GM in favor of scenario writing.  And such attention to detail quite literally made me feel as if our hobby was the most special, future-oriented, utopian creation in the History of Humankind.  Seriously.

Other highly amusing cultural encounters included:

* The Dirtbusters, a LARP group whose real job was to clean up the messes we gamers made throughout the con (“fighting chaos”) while posting up pornography and occasionally taking over the Information Desk.  I got a CD of them singing by chance – no comment.

* A bar/café open for most of the convention, and not having to pay for drinks as a poor international guest.  This meant I spent a lot of time as a U.S. ambassador of the first rank.  I told the Danes we ought to pay higher taxes and adopt more social democratic features to survive – pretty representative, really.

* Being given a warning at the beginning that the Danes might be shy in introducing themselves to us, and then having the opposite problem:  some Danes wouldn’t leave us alone!  (Though we never met a single Dane we didn’t like).

* Rampant bisexuality. Yes.

* John TV and Fastamorgen, a TV program and newsletter respectively that covered the daily events of the convention for all to see.  People were very interested in getting this humorous overview, in fact.

* Living in a Danish house on the beautiful central Jutland coastline, but 2.7 km from the convention school and sans heat until the very last day.  But we couldn’t complain, for most of the Fastaval attendees simply slept on the floor of the gymnasium.

* Exploring the old city of Aarhus with Chris, Olle, Matt and Frederik, in which we painted Easter eggs and generally goofed around.

* A closing banquet with awards handed out for the best scenario in which we were all served by waiters named James (LARPers!).  Unfortunately, they followed this with fairly lackluster dance music.  If I ever return, I will volunteer to DJ this event.

The highly positive Fastaval experience, of course, would’ve been completely impossible without the support of so many generous and highly interesting people involved, including Matt Beisler, Julia Bond Ellingboe, Chris Ellingboe, Markus Montola, Olle Jonsson, Nathan Hook, Anna Westerling, Janne Petersen, Lars Konzack, Frederik Jensen, Frederik Berg Oestergaard, Frederik Axelzon, Troels Bording, Søren Hjorth, Tobias Wrigstad, Jonny, Jens, and many others whose names slip from my mind at the moment.  And Kat, of course, for whose mutual interest in gaming I thank every day of my life. 😉

Individual game reports can be found under Fantasy, where I usually list books read and movies viewed.  These games were good enough to list as works of art, I’d say.

(Dear Regular Readers of My Blog – Several momentous occasions within the last month have indeed not been chronicled in this space, including but not limited to:  our wonderful trip to London, Kat’s parents visiting, the Fulbright Berlin seminar and recent developments in my scholarly career.  I’ll get to them in good time, perhaps upon request.)

Fantasy

Now to the promised love, incest and cannibalism, which were themes of Kat’s role-playing experiences at Fastaval, if not mine as well.

The Journey (Frederik Axelzon)

A post-apocalyptic tale in jeep form resembling Cormac McCarthy’s The Road in its bleak atmosphere and intense, survivalist driven narrative logic.  Several disturbing moments (including casual cannibalism) drove at least one player from the room.  The game later won the Audience Award, which made me proud to have run it.

What to Do About Tam Lin? (Emily Care Boss / Julia Bond Ellingboe)

A combination of Judge Judy with old Scottish folk ballads.  Incest, infidelity and murder spice up the whole affair.  This faerie LARP was intensely popular among the Danes and Americans alike, and featured an innovative card mechanic that allowed the players to easily solve disputes amongst themselves (though it became a hassle in the court scenes – this came out in the Danes’ reviews).

Previous Occupants (Frederik Berg Oestergaard / Tobias Wrigstad)

A simple premise:  a young couple gets engaged and has sex for the first time in the same hotel room where an old man killed his wife 20 years earlier.  Will the past play out in the bodies of the present?  A jeep form game of love and murder designed to appeal to the American market.  It worked.

Behind Your Back (Cicely Balling, et al.)

Seven short stories of, among other themes, infidelity and cannibalism play out in a Sin City-style setting.  Kat played it and said it was intense.

Heartburn (Frikard Elleman)

A three-Act scenario, of which two Acts were played, involving couples dealing with incest and infidelity (you can see I’m making a point here).  Obsession and forbidden love drive yet another emotionally intense scenario.  Kat played in this one as well.

Epifani (Michael Sonne-Jørgensen)

A sci-fi thriller set on the SF Hitomi, loosely based on the design aspects of Ridley Scott’s Alien movie.  The author not only wrote the game, but designed the spaceship lighting and wrote the soundtrack.  An immersive experience in which Matt took part.

Passion Fruit (Nathan Hook)

A short jeep-style game about infidelity which involves the peeling and eating of a piece of fruit.  We tried it out and managed to tell a story of an entirely chaste-yet-powerful love, making it a memorable 1.5 hours.

Tales of the Fisherman’s Wife (Julia Bond Ellingboe)

A tabletop indie game classic that isn’t even officially released yet.  Players simulate a Japanese spirit story that divides a fisherman and his wife in infidelity with demons.  Our players quite literally said it was the most fun they’d had at Fastaval, to which I credit the system.  We hope to see the game in print (with my Filmography, to boot) shortly.

Sense and Sensibility (Anna Westerling)

We basically played out the plot of Jane Austen’s novel, scene by fateful scene.  I was so enamored with this game (I got to play Colonel Brandon, among other parts) that I felt like I’d read the book and gone through the ordeals of the characters in the same stroke.  Kudos to Anna and Janne for this engrossing scenario!

High Rise: A Long Way Down

Four people from different walks of life coincidentally meet on a rooftop to kill themselves.  An absurdist comedy that wound up killing off nary a character.  It seems that suicide is, indeed, a silly act.

Any of the above descriptions can be fleshed out upon request.  I love comments!

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13 Responses to “Love, Incest and Cannibalism – A Fastaval 2010 Report”

  1. Tore V. said

    Well, the cannibalism in The Journey was hardly casual. It was bloody horrible and a very moving scene, and in Burning Hearts, they’re lovers who just have the problem that they’re brother and sister.

    Otherwise, good review, and I second the part about sense and sensibility

  2. guyintheblackhat said

    Hi Tore,

    Wry misrepresentation of just about everything I experience is part of my idiom, I suppose. Yes, the cannibalism in The Journey was not casual in the slightest. And yet it wasn’t particularly “moving” for me nonetheless.

    I have only positive things to say about the convention as a whole, but a few sarcastic remarks are what make me who I am…

  3. Thanks for sharing, Evan. Your observations on what we Danes more or less take for granted are very interesting and useful.

  4. Grand. Words mark the passing of time, and living on Spaceship Fastaval can make one blind to the poverty of the rest of one’s gaming life.

    I renewed friendships at this year’s con, and will have a richer gaming life at home, if everything pans out.

  5. frikardellemand said

    …and it’s not Burning Hearts but Heartburn. Available soon in English somewhere on the net near you…

    Thanks for playing and hyping it.

    FrikardEllemand

  6. Tore V. said

    I played the mother. Trust me, in that role it’s moving.

    Considering what she’d just done, her ending monologue was unintendedly gross in our playthrough. “Children are playing everywhere, and there’s plenty to eat…”

  7. Anne VR said

    Hi Evan,

    Very interesting to read your impressions. I enjoyed meeting “Julia’s entourage”, and hopefully, you will come back to visit a Fastaval again. But I have to ask: Where did you find the “rampant bisexuality”?! I must have signed up for the wrong activities 🙂

    /Anne (who played Mairi in What to do about Tam Lin)

  8. guyintheblackhat said

    @Anne:

    “Rampant bisexuality” was found in the café. The “yes” says I approve. 😉

    @Frederik and Olle: Much obliged.

    @Frikard: Sorry for the misprint – it was how it was reported to me.

  9. Max Møller said

    Just a clarifying note:

    4. Fastaval has the players evaluate the GM and the scenario, largely to award the latter with Oscar-style prizes at the end of the convention.

    Actually, most of the prizes (called Ottos), are decided by a jury who also write detailed feedback for all scenarios after Fastaval. All player comments are also handed to the writers.

  10. guyintheblackhat said

    Sure, Max. I was there at the Otto Award Ceremony as well.

    What is interesting again is the emphasis on the scenario itself over the GM’s role in running it. In the U.S., it’s the reverse: the man/woman on the spot is far more heavily scrutinized than the thing that they happen to be running.

  11. Julia said

    In addition to the games, the generosity and friendliness was inspiring.

    Entourage? <>. My inner dialog for that week was, “How did I get such a blessing to be here?”

    As the Stranger in the Journey, I also found the cannibalism deeply moving, and a little disturbing. I played it as being the right thing to do for everyone.

    I look forward to your and Kat’s homecoming!

  12. fredrik axelzon said

    A great summary of a great Fastaval! /Fredrik

  13. […] Technical Innovation at the Danish role-playing convention Fastaval. Fastaval, which I reviewed here and Lizzie reviewed here, is one of the best forums for role-playing in the world and an extremely […]

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