Seeds of Hope: How to Intertwine Larp and Ecological Activism

Seeds of Hope: How to Intertwine Larp and Ecological Activism

What could we bring into larp from the climate crisis and what can we take home that could have an actual influence on how we act to mitigate the disaster we are living in?

I awoke late to ecological conscience, relatively speaking. Despite all the available information about climate change, I felt pushed to action only after the scorching summers from 2017 onward. At that point I became interested in ecoactivist groups and started speaking out about the climate catastrophe as well as including it in my poetry. Contemporaneously ecological themes were taking root in the Finnish larping scene. The first ecologically themed larp I played in was Ennen vedenpaisumusta (Finland 2019, Eng. Before the Deluge). The larp designed by Minna and Mikko Heimola was a story about a Christian ecotheological present-day community; the members were seeking a way to live in balance with the ecosystem and exploring what it would be like to extricate themselves from modern society and modern ways of thinking. Many characters had plot lines that placed them in contrast to the society they had left behind, and everyone had to make their peace with the separation of their past lives from the new way of life they had chosen to be a part of.

The general aim of the community was to decrease individual value and egoistic ideals and consequently to strengthen the ties between community members and the ties that connect humans to other beings. My character Halma had already gone to great lengths to change her mindset and aimed toward a kind of dissolving of her sense of self as an individual human being, up to and including rejecting the use of words “I” and “mine”. The community we brought into being was vibrant and the location of the game, a remote country villa with expansive woods, fields and seashore in the vicinity supported the themes seamlessly. We as players were responsible for the care of a small herd of sheep for the duration of the larp, and there were beehives in the yard for honey. The characters had no particular antagonism toward the wider society, but nevertheless set themselves clearly apart from it. They were planning sustainable and self-sufficient ways of energy and food production. The group had an independent set of rules for self-government that relied on altruistic ethics based on religious beliefs.

Ennen vedenpaisumusta (2021): caring for sheep. Photo by Mikko Heimola.

Ennen vedenpaisumusta (2021): caring for sheep. Photo by Mikko Heimola.

What made the experience so particular to me was the implicit, calm acceptance that the characters would not be able to make a huge difference in the world as a whole; but that by resolutely living differently they could make our shared home a little bit healthier, despite not turning the global tide of destruction. That not having the final key to everything was no reason to stop doing what good they could.

This is essential.

A year later I started in the larp campaign Kaski (Finland 2021 –, Eng. Swidden). Kaski is a three-part series, in which two larps have been played and one remains in the future. In the co-creative larp, facilitated by the creator of the campaign Maiju Tarpila, the players have significantly built and influenced the fiction, milieu and characters in discussions, workshops and short ingame scenes preceding the larps. The end result reflects the ecological attitudes, thoughts and values of the players in a major way. The stated aim of Kaski is to explore the eco crisis and find methods to manage the manifold emotions that arise from the darkening times we are living in; and also, importantly, to ask what kind of action could result from the possible conclusions the participants arrive at.

The first part, Roihu (Torch) centered around a group of eco activists preparing for an action against a forest industry company. For three days we planned the action, discussed its moral and ethical legitimacy, disagreed, argued, came to agreement and grieved the necessity of having to take direct action at all. The personal histories and interrelationships of the activists heavily affected the process and provided the backdrop for the community. Compared to Ennen vedenpaisumusta, where I felt the direction of change was inward, toward the community itself, in Roihu the aim of the characters was very much to incite the world surrounding them to change. This also affected the lessons I took home from each larp.

In Roihu, real-life activist methods were brought into the planning by characters experienced in the field. What to consider if you want to climb up a high building, how to plan a subvertising campaign. Where to put your phone while you are planning an illegal action so that it can’t be used to tap you. Based on the pre-game workshops in which we had pooled all our player knowledge on these subjects, my older character Sini was able to instruct the overeager youngsters in the dangers of being underprepared. As a player I was not at all familiar with the topic. The youngsters’ questions were sobering: What to do if you are taken by the police, how to treat facial burns from tear gas, what to look out for when blocking a street? Using this real world information in-game felt serious and grim, while at the same time world-weary Sini had gone through these things innumerable times already.

During the preparations for the first Kaski game, members of the Finnish Extinction Rebellion got attacked by the police during a nonviolent street block. We all read about it in the news. A person in the Kaski co-creation group was involved and injured. Due to our prolonged focus on activist themes we players were shocked and devastated to see the fiction play out in front of us, as it were. For me it brought home the realism of the situation: the themes we would be covering in the larp were harsh.

Climate change is here, it’s happening, and we can’t escape from it. Our society isn’t taking the necessary action to mitigate the effects of the change, and those who try to raise awareness are persecuted. From then on it would be increasingly difficult to close my eyes or look away from these things.

After a lengthy preparation phase in which we had planned and fleshed out our community in several workshops, the larp was played, late in August of 2021 (coincidentally in the same location as Ennen vedenpaisumusta). It was very good. Coming out from it I felt changed, as can happen after any particularly poignant experience. As a larp, Roihu was excellent, with devoted, skilled players who paid particular attention to the cohesion of the community. This time however, the warm but transient glow of post-high feelings gave rise to something different and more permanent. Immediately after the larp we were contextualizing our experience as a group, when in a polite and casual side note some players extended everyone an invitation to come join Extinction Rebellion, which they already were a part of. I usually make a point of not making far-reaching decisions right after a larp, when my head is still full of fumes from the game, but this time I overruled my habit and decided to accept the invitation.

Since then I’ve participated in a number of road blocks, demonstrations, flash mobs and other types of protests. Stepping from the curb into a blocked street for the first time was electrifying. It felt like my hair stood on end. At the same time I felt strong echoes from what Sini had been doing her whole adult life. I was such a newcomer to the scene, while she had seen and done so much. In a very concrete way I was following where she’d already been and finding courage from having portrayed her. The threshold had been lowered by my imaginary experiences.

While this is undeniably larper naivetë, imagining you have an actual grasp of real world situations after merely having played them, at the same time it’s still taking action for something I believe in, action which may have effects in the real world, spurred by the ingame fiction.

Ecological larps, as well as other larps that deal with the current ills of the world, are exceptional in that they can be so tightly enmeshed with the prevailing reality as to have actual, concrete influence for good, by how players are changed during them. Whether the players purposely use their participation to accelerate their existing sympathies or whether they arrive at new convictions unbidden as a consequence of their experience, the changes can be real and long-lasting.

The second part of the Kaski campaign, Tuhka (Finland, 2021, Eng. Ash) was situated in a near future when ecological destruction had rendered large parts of Finland uninhabitable. The characters were a different group from those in Roihu, but thematically part of the same chain of events. In the fiction, cities were struggling, infrastructure had collapsed and small rebel communities called Beacons were hanging on by their fingertips in remote areas, trying to incite action against the system, which even while collapsing was still perpetrating crimes against its citizens as well as the ecosystem. We portrayed inhabitants of the Seventh Beacon, a ragtag company of survivors ranging from radio technicians and soldiers to sea captains and students. My character Sarka was a Buddhist mystic trying to find universal connections in a world that was changed beyond recognition and was in the process of shaking humans off its back.

Kaski: Tuhka (2022): Sarka didn’t wear shoes. Photo by the author.

Kaski: Tuhka (2022): Sarka didn’t wear shoes. Photo by the author.

The Seventh was an impossible home, a temporary haven in a darkening landscape. We practiced living differently, making conscious choices that would take us on a new course, away from the society that had driven itself off the cliff. We argued vehemently over what kind of roles would be needed in the new world we hoped would come in time. We came to agree that not everyone had to be a fighter; some could focus on gardening, some on building solace and maintaining connections. We found that to share a touch, a song, a breath, could be enough to fan a fluttering hope. Even though we were not able to stop the catastrophic change, we could survive and adapt. After the larp, this felt like an enduring truth.

Because larp is embodied, the insights that are reached can be personally real to players. They can carry over as something more than what we usually call bleed.

Taking part in ecological activism after having played it is exciting. It feels like entering the fictional glamour our characters were in the middle of. Going back to playing ecological activism after having engaged in it for real is eerie. The larps can take you to dystopic vistas that lie at the end of the road our society is currently traveling, and the experiences of character and player mingle until they seem somehow parts of a single continuum. The interweaving of character and player mindsets can produce odd feelings, particularly concerning hope. Only hindsight will show whether the real-life road blocks, mass demonstrations and other actions will have changed anything; whether I’ll have been a part of something historic.

Working toward change, as a player as well as in-character, feels gratifying, feels like accomplishing something. In the fiction of the Kaski campaign what the characters did wasn’t enough, they failed in reversing the direction of the change. The Tuhka characters were living in the middle of the devastation the earlier generation had left them. The only option they had remaining, besides giving up, was adaptation. Any hope that the previous activists may have fostered had evaporated, it was a luxury the people of the Seventh Beacon could not afford, so they continued onward without it.

My experiences in these games have been tangible enough to produce a glimmer of a vision of what it would be like to strive towards these communities in real life. Immersing into these mind-scapes, I’ve felt such sorrow for the atrocities we as a species have committed, but also joy: if a small group of players can imagine ways of living differently profoundly enough to make them come alive for the space of a few days, it will not be impossible for us as a society to find our way there when we finally must.

(I say when).

I think there’s going to be a crash.

In the work of trying to mitigate it we need goals that are both realistic and reassuring. We need to believe that there are good times ahead, and that despite, or even because of, all the comforts we will have to give up, there are lovely things awaiting us. But they might look very different from our current idea of comfort and loveliness.

Some things I’ve come to realize and accept as a result of participating in ecological larps and concurrent ecological activism: There are no easy solutions. If there were, the problems would have been solved already. I’ve learned that activists are not some other people somewhere else, with a complete dislike and disregard for the way people around them are living. Activism can begin in the middle of everyday life, with small choices, small acts of daring. It can stem from deep love and deep sorrow, a thorn in your side, a persistent discomfort that can only be alleviated through acting for what you love.

I’ve realized that authority need not always be obeyed. That by engaging in civil disobedience I did not suddenly become a hardened criminal, an immoral person. That sometimes the most moral thing you can do is disobey.

There is no consensus of the best way to go forward, of the scale of the changes that need to be made. The crises are an interlinked web of vicious problems which may not be resolved in our lifetime, or ever. The downhill may continue until the landscape is unrecognizable. There might not be any hope that we can salvage our present way of life.

But there will still be beauty and joy. After letting go of hope, the work still continues. Making food, fixing radios. Sowing seeds, picking berries. If there are ruins, we will live in ruins and make our gardens there.


Ennen vedenpaisumusta (2019): Finland. Minna Heimola, Mikko Heimola.

Kaski: Roihu (2021): Finland. Maiju Tarpila.

Kaski: Tuhka (2022): Finland. Maiju Tarpila.

This article has been reprinted with permission from the Solmukohta 2024 book. Please cite as:

Leppä, Elli. 2024. “Seeds of Hope: How to Intertwine Larp and Ecological Activism.” In Liminal Encounters: Evolving Discourse in Nordic and Nordic Inspired Larp, edited by Kaisa Kangas, Jonne Arjoranta, and Ruska Kevätkoski. Helsinki, Finland: Ropecon ry.

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Elli Leppä (b. 1980) is a Finnish larper and poet with a particular interest in transformative larping and playing emotionally close to home.