We Don’t Abide to the Law of Jante

We Don’t Abide to the Law of Jante

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Nordiclarp.org or any larp community at large.

Editors note: This is a reply to the opinion piece by Sanne Harder titled “The Law of Jante in Nordic Role-playing” that ran on Nordiclarp.org on 11 July 2014.

I read Sanne Harders text about “good role-playing” with great interest. Harder pinpoints some very important issues within the Nordic larp scene. Status and nepotism are indeed present, though we perceive ourselves as open minded and egalitarian. We are absolutely lacking a discussion about “what makes a good role-player” and how to improve ourselves. I will however argue that discussion must have different premises than the ones Harder suggests.

How can the good larpers help the Nordic larp scene as a whole?
There are problems within the Nordic larp arena concerning the perceived equality. Questions about accessibility, equality and everyone’s right to feel welcome and getting the support one needs (regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, ableness etc, not to forget previous experience or lack there of). This of course overlaps questions such as “what makes a good larper”. A non willingness to address questions about what makes “a good larper” can conceal underlying structural problems concerning status. Status among larpers and status concerning different genres. Believe me, as a player and producer of Vampire larps, somewhat perceived as the larping equivalent of Harlequin novels, I have some experience in the matter. But let’s focus on the text itself. What problems are determined, what is the solution and – of course – what is a good larper? And how can the good larpers help the Nordic larp scene as a whole?

“The Law of Jante”, I would say, is one of the most misleading descriptions of scandinavian collectivistic culture.
To pinpoint the essence of the problem Harder exemplifies with “The Law of Jante”. “The Law of Jante” (established by danish-norwegian author Aksel Sandemose), I would say, is one of the most misleading descriptions of scandinavian collectivistic culture. The premise is highly individualistic – the collective holds back and shames any individual that outshines, or threatens to do so, any other member in the collective. For instance the 6th law of Jante is – “You’re not to think you are more important than we are”. Well, guess what – I couldn’t agree more. Nobody is more important than anyone else. I do believe this sentence should pervade every larp. Even if you are an outstanding larper (I will address this question later on) your experience and your presence is not more important than anyone else. An “anti-Jante-approach” to larping would be somewhat dangerous or at least counterproductive. Do we want larpers to strive after outshining each other? To teach them that talent makes you more important than others?

Harder also exemplifies with a stereotypical (and yes, I absolutely agree, highly recognizable) character; the Gamemaster of Doom. A big problem seems to be letting newbies have their first experience lead by such a person, risking scaring them off. But what about the Gamemaster her/himself? Who should she/he play with? How should she/he become a better player/gamemaster? I don’t see how “rescuing” newbies from this horrible first experience benefits the larp scene as a whole. Simply because the larp scene is a collective. Simply because elitism and focus on individuals will always be somewhat excluding.

Let me be crystal clear. Opposing elitism does not mean avoiding boosting each other or acknowledging talent. It means that a talented person (in one particular area) is not more important than a non-talented person. It does not mean not acknowledging people’s safety concerning questions about gender, ethnicity, sexuality or ableness. What it means is that no person is more important than another because of talent.

A good experience starts long before the larp itself – making props, building the group, making people feel welcome and safe, taking care of possible conflicts, communicating and inspiring people.
So what makes a good larper? I will address two issues here. The authors focus is individual talent, acting especially. It seems like the author means that a good larper enters a group and inspires them with formidable acting. But first of all; larping is not about acting, not only.  A good experience starts long before the larp itself – making props, building the group, making people feel welcome and safe, taking care of possible conflicts, communicating and inspiring people. Not by outshining them, but by making the experience interesting and of course somewhat challenging on a personal level. This demands a whole set of different talents – logistics, a bit of leadership, communication, craftsmanship, writing, composing, creativity, social skills and – this is important – the ability to step back and let other people into the limelight. Not everyone can possess all qualities, but everyone can possess one or a few, which are equally important and – of course – should be boosted and verified.

A focus on the acting part of larping also makes a rather narrow path to walk on the way of improving. A path demanding talents that not all players have to begin with. Hence arguing good acting makes a good larper is somewhat excluding. But once again, there are so many other qualities that benefits the group, should we choose to change our focus. And I believe we should. Because, second:

Larping is namely not individualistic, it´s collectivistic. Larping is not a tabletop RPG; the “good larper” being the equivalent of the hero/PC and the “not so good larpers” the NPCs. Every players experience is equally important, some needing more boost and guiding, others quite self sufficient, and some very experienced and/or talented can help and push their fellow players.

The good role-player’s focus is one the group, not on her/himself.
The players I have encountered that I would describe as good role-players are the ones that makes the inexperienced player feel more confident, the ones that easily can take over an entire scene but takes a step back and boosts the quite wallflower to take the lead, the ones that make people solve problems, challenge themselves and step out of their comfort zones. I would argue a good larper builds the group, facilitating other players, plays in a giving, generous and not self centered manner. The good role-player’s focus is one the group, not on her/himself.

I do agree that “leading by example” is not a bad thing. I do agree this is a discussion we should have to improve ourselves as players and producers. I do agree that recruiting “good larpers” can lift an arrangement or a group, but not by making it a “one man show”. It`s all about the group. Discussions about what makes a good larper and how to use the good larpers to inspire and challenge other players are more than welcome. But if so I do believe the premises must be larp as a group effort where nobody is more important than anyone else, where nobody is excluded due to lack of talent. Not even the Gamemaster of Doom.

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Mia Sand is a Swedish larper and former producer of the swedish Vampire chronicle Stockholm By Night. Has a past in the Swedish navy, a present as a free lance writer and hopes for a different, more solidaric future for Sweden after the election in september.