My scene is dead.

Four years ago we published the “Nørwegian Style” book. It was an anthology of Norwegian games translated into English. We wanted to show the world what we were doing, and how cool it was; how vibrant and fresh our scene was, how much fun we had in designing games and trying them on each other.

Today it seems that scene is dead.

How is it dead? Let me count the ways.

1. We’re not writing games and putting them online anymore. Most of the activity on this blog is about our games being translated, re-released or hacked; the games are alive, but we’re not making new ones.

2. The R.I.S.K. competition, which was a major source of new ideas and material, has had less and less activity. This year nobody bothered to run it.

3. Other attempts at game design competitions have failed. Most get no submissions at all. I won one nearly two years ago, with A Thousand Years Under the Sun. I was the only participant. When a few of us talked about maybe setting up a Norwegian Game Chef 2013, it… just didn’t happen.

4. The roleplaying forums at n4f.no (rollespill.net) have almost zero activity. New forums at rollespill.info have about five participants. The Facebook group for Norwegian roleplayers never had much buzz. There’s hardly anything on G+ or Twitter, either.

5. HolmCon, the tiny con at my house where people would come to try out new and strange stuff, had no newcomers this year (and was almost entirely made up of guys over 30).

6. The Arcon festival is struggling to get new roleplaying scenarios, and people to run them.

7. Playground Magazine came and went (although an international effort, it was based in Norway).

8. We’re not publishing game books anymore. (Itras By is a translation of a book published several years ago).

Why is it dead?

1. We’re not recruiting new people. As people grow older and get families and jobs or just grow plain bored with their hobby, there aren’t new people ready to take over. We’ve known about this problem for a decade, and never managed to muster a collective effort to fight it. There’s one light in the darkness: Tomas Mørkrid, who targets young players specifically with his workshops and campaigns.

2. As a result, all our potential designers, theorists, players are picked up by other scenes with more initiative. Through Fantasiforbundet, Laivfabrikken, Grenselandet etc etc etc, the Nordic larp scene is thriving and growing and getting all the fresh young minds. They’re doing amazing work. I just wish we did the same.

3. A few of us have been conspicuously absent the last years. Some have been sick for prolonged periods. I have been making hard priorities in order to get some major projects up and running (Playground, my novel), and am no longer trying to join in on everything. (I miss being part of everything).

4. Although we tried as hard as we could, some of us in the “hard core” of the scene were never able to shake off a reputation as elitists, snobs etc. This alienated people.

What would it take to build it up again?

I’m not sure we can, by now. I think it might just be too late. However, if we want to, we need to look at what the larpers are doing: We need to recruit, recruit, recruit. Teach. Reach new people. Not just go to the same old cons and hope some new faces show up, but do things like:

  • Grab young people who are interested and fan their flames. It’s easy to think that “this is just one obnoxious person with zits”, but that person might be running their own con in five or ten years, IF you just get them up and running and welcome them into your crowd. (I’ve done it, and seen it happen). No matter if it’s just one person you manage to recruit – that’s a billion times better than none, and this person might recruit a dozen more in a short time.
  • Devote your time at cons to playing with young new people, and get them excited. Make them love the game.
  • Go to new places. New cities and new cons and even non-gaming places. Play with strangers, talk to strangers about gaming and game design.
  • Take care how you use visibility! Keep some discussions for smaller circles – like your most theory-heavy or meta-advanced or weird and provocative stuff. Try to be welcoming and open, not authoritative and proselytizing.
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20 thoughts on “My scene is dead.

  1. Across the border things look different. Very different.

    There’s a flood of new games coming out, at such a rate that it is easy to drown in the flow. And there are some interesting initiatives for recruiting new gamers into the hobby – http://aventyrrollspel.blogspot.se/2013/05/aventyr-pa-nordsken-iii-9-112013.html

    I don’t know why things are so different, maybe the scene was larger in the first place, leaving momentum to continue even in this day and age.

    As for GameChef, there was talk about a Swedish version as well, but nothing came of it. Next year perhaps a “Nordic GameChef” with participants from Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Swedish speaking Finns could gather enough interest to take off?

    • Wilhelm: Working more together across borders is something we haven’t managed to do well enough. I’ve had a game run at Fastaval, and talked about Danish design some years ago; and there have been a few Swedish games run at HolmCon. We’ve lost some opportunities, but not permanently. Why don’t we have a Knutepunkt/Solmukohta for tabletop RPGs?

      • Well, it’s pretty much the Danes’ fault*. ;-)

        GothCon would be a natural point of convergence for Danish, (south) Norwegian and (south) Swedish gamers. But Fastaval takes place on the same weekend, and thus we remain apart. Both events are too awesome to simply cancel one in order to focus resources on the other.

    • While I agree that there are tons of games being created in Sweden, I’m a little less optimistic about the general health of the swedish scene. I do think that be bring the creativity part – sharing ideas and input – but it seems to me we have as much trouble as anybody else inviting new people in.

      I don’t know if it’s something we do wrong, if it’s inevitable or even a good thing, but from my perspective there’s been a distinct shift from “playing games” to “making products”. And while I would like it to be different, the truth is that many of us (and I for one) are much better at playing games than making things.

      Maybe it’s age: it’s much easier to find time when you only have to schedule an appointment with yourself. Maybe it’s just a phase. Or maybe I’m mistaken. But to me the call for recruitment, visibility, going new places and meeting people rings equally true for the swedish side of the border. Which is quite a pickle, if all you wanted to do was to play games with your friends.

  2. This is a very good post. I have been thinking the same for a while. Moving to UK for a while as been cool. I have hanged out at RPG stores, talked RPG theory with costumers, and those who work there. I have pitch Norwegian Style, told them about Itras By, ran a few scenarios for them, letting them have a taste.
    Will they pick it up, will they play it when I’m not there to feed them with impulses?

    The scene has been silent for a while. I know I haven’t been as active as I used to be, I got swallowed by the MMO world. I haven’t been on Holmcon for 2 years, and got nothing to show to. No projects, no book, or anything.
    It’s about time we get back in the game.

  3. Hi,

    Here in brazil (são paulo) we are planing to start a group that will promote monthly encounters about roleplay. The first one will be happen at jun 05 and the theme will be roleplay poems. Our objective is to make roleplay games more popular and introduce new people to our universe. Seems that we have a similar ideia about recruit new people to expand what we doand revitalize it.

    We are doing our part =o]

  4. Things do periodically go quiet; I think that’s part of the lifecycle of these kinds of things, whatever these kinds of things are.

    But I don’t think I’ll let the metaphor fool me into thinking things will naturally cycle back to noisy again without some effort being expended somewhere. Deciding not to burn out, and keeping a commitment in local politics means I’ve been doing a lot less game stuff than I would have liked. But I’ve been having my gaming fun quietly on the side, having grown a bit weary of the stuff the Internet Neckbeards of Serious Gaming wants me to know about – maybe I could be more noisy about it all…

    There haven’t been any game salons since HolmCon. Let’s meet up someday and just drink beer and make offensive D&D dungeons or something?

  5. Rollespill.net and the forum (hosted by Hyperion, a youth organization with at least 10.000 members (!)) was an important hub of activity from 2003-2007, more or less. The forum might be said to have been the key to the scene you’re talking about, and it has fragmented for sure.

    I think Facebook is the chief reason why the forum is so dead these days. I know that I, for one, get a lot of the same social needs covered by Facebook (which incidentally took off in Norway in 2007) as I once did by the forum. Promoting your blog post just now, I posted to the old rollespill.net-forum, but also to the Facebook group rollespill.net and the new rollespill.info forum. The old hub has become fragmented. Maybe the new rollespill.info initiative will help alleviate that. Maybe new stuff will spawn in other corners of the web.
    But another comment on Facebook is also illustrating, from Kristian Bjørkelo: “There was a scene?!”
    We’re talking about maybe a dozen people, with a few more hangarounds. Does that a scene make?

    I think it’s interesting that our “scene” is becoming part of and forming bonds with the larger scene of indie roleplayers worldwide. Through the translations, this blog, meeting face to face at Knutepunkt, through Google +, Twitter, Facebook, different blogs and English speaking forums. Archipelago seems to have been a huge success, relatively speaking. Itras By has been translated into Finnish and English, and will come out in German later this year. A French edition might be in the works. There are a lot of other examples of translated games on this blog. I think that may generate some interesting cross-pollination, somewhat akin to what the “Nordic Style” of larp is currently experiencing (with games being re-run in other countries, documented, written down and translated, and their methods and philosophies being disseminated worldwide), albeit on a smaller scale.

    I also believe that the scenes that are actual scenes (as opposed to “There was a scene?!”) like Fantasiforbundet, Hyperion, Grenselandet and Knutepunkt have many benefits to offer the Norwegian indie game “community”. People have been traveling to Fastaval in Denmark, and will pick up inspiration from their traditions (I’m, as you know, going to try to pitch a Fastaval scenario for next year’s convention). Fantasiforbundet might be starting an impro workshop in the fall, which might help bring together the impro scene and the larp/role playing scene (which I find to be a very good idea). In addition to bringing together larpers, Knutepunkt also helps table topers from all over the world form bonds and get them talking. I promoted Itras By there this year, for instance.

    Rollespill.net and the community that spawned around it might be fragmented and dead, but the larger role playing community of Norway seems to still be around. The Facebook group “For oss som spiller rollespill” has 262 members, “Rollespill.net” has 237 members, the all-female JenteCon (GirlCon) was started last fall, and was run again this spring (at the same date as HolmCon, maybe explaining why there were no women there this year). This might help recruit more women to the hobby/scene, writing scenarios and maybe games. Arcon, RegnCon and HexCon continue running. Rollespill.info has been established to try to generate a new hub for Norwegian table top role players. Imagonem, the fanzine you once established, continues to exist as a blog (and recently had its 40th paper edition released).

    And you and I have a certain project coming out in September which might also generate some new recruitment to the hobby.

    I might envy the Danish role players their Fastaval or the larpers their Knutepunkt, but I prefer to look on the bright side and look at the potential for “bonds across the ponds”.

    Also, table top role players might have less of a need for a scene than for instance larpers. You can easily just play with the same four or five dudes forever, whereas to make a larp, you need about 30-140 people. Instascene!

    Other than that, I think many of your suggestions for building and maintaining community seem sound.

    • Scenes go in waves, especially when we old farts stop playing or just never invite new blood. Recruitment is an ongoing project that never ends. Replace yourself and learn other people to do the same. I really look forward to see Matthijs and Ole Peders project. There is a huge potential in Norway to introduce roleplay and larp to kids that still has playfulness in their blood. But I an optimistic as well, inspired by the cool kids I met at last Eventyrspill at Ekeberg. And guess what? Us thirty-forty something has a lot to learn from younger people and their playfulness. One of my coolest RPG/ freeformish- sessions ever was with a six year old GM that created an instant world with heavy weapon rules and at the same time he was willing to break down his powerful NPCs and turn the game in a total different direction based on player initiative. So go play a bit with the real pro’s ;)

  6. Pingback: Den Norske Stilen – Imagonem

  7. An interesting post, and you have valid points. However, I think the observation made by Ole Peder that the scene in and of itself was very narrow is a valid one, too.

    I see myself as one of the hangers-on that Ole Peder referred to, and have enjoyed, and continue to enjoy coming together at Holmcon to play games, and hope to continue doing so for years to come, even if those years to come will “only” hold regulars.

    That said, my life is at a point where I simply don’t have the time for a regular face-to-face group. I can’t remember the last time I went to Ares to actually play ANYTHING, rather than hang out for an hour or so. I get my face-to-face gaming done at Holmcon, Arcon and whatever other cons I manage to attend.

    As for the forums, well, I found them a very inhospitable place, bordering on the hostile. I made a more or less active choice to avoid them, and so I have.

    The attraction, to me, of Norwegian Style, has been the level of immersion. Less rules, more quality play and less quantity for the sake of quantity.

    The Norwegian Style scene has, as far as I have understood it, always been part of what is traditionally known as the indie scene. However, the indie/trad schism is changing. It used to be that trad was rulesheavy, D&D, hack and slash, while indie was all about freeform, ruleslight and being different from trad. Now, the thing that really sets the two apart, is not style, but mode of distribution.

    Our hobby is a young one. I, for one, think we are overdue for an existential crisis. What comes of it depends on how we deal with it.

    Recruitment is always a challenge. However, recruitment is not necessarily connected to innovation, or even publishing. Recruitment is connected to engagement, to being open and sharing of ones hobbies.

    The prognosis for this year’s Arcon indicates that it will be the largest one I have ever attended. I’ll use that as a springboard to throw a torch at your scene, to see what comes out of the embers: Do now, or in the future, what we’ve been asking you to: Come to Arcon, play your games. Who knows? You may win converts.

    • I highly agere with Ole Peders post. I have to add that mye disapearing from the common community was a combination of me moving from oslo, that seemed to be the main center for rollespill.net activities ( like salongs ), a feeling of stagnation of the forum, and a kind of tiredness of throwing out ideas that didn’t stick. The final I think might give an important clue to why the sudden boom at the middle of the 2000 decade seekingly died out so abrupt. There are probably a limited number of persons out there with a limited number of ideas they burn for. I think the Rollespill.net community was partly too succefull in getting too many of these give away their main ideas at once, thus both overtasking the limited resource of ideas, and drowning the ideas in information overload noise. I myself consider storyboard the pinaccle of what I want with story based gaming, so I have little incentive of persuing other ideas. I also am aware that it in it’s current state is considered deeply flawed by some reason (Even though I have had a lot of fun actually playing it) But I am at a stage where further development would require competent cooperation from someone else that also burns for the core idea. At least at the time I last visited “the scene” there was so many great ideas with obviously a much broader and/or instant appeal than my concept that hoping for someone else to pick up my ugly duckling would be next to zero.

      I also did experience a shift in focus from some of the main “players” to go from shooting out new ideas to refining what we already had. However while the community was succefull in showing interest in new ideas it seemed to be the standard that everyone tried to pick the ideas they liked in order to improve *their own* project, and the “refining phase” did for me feel like it hhad more of an atmosphere of competition and comercalisation rather than cooperation and innovation. And for me myself, that was probably the main reason I lost faith in “the scene”

      So I am not very surprised of this blog post. The narrow rollespill.net creative boom is dead, and couldn’t possibly have sustained itself. That tabletop RPGs is in a decline has been a topik even during the 90s, so no surprise there.

      I am currently living in Gjøvik, and here we have a game programming education. At the college I am pleased to say that there are a group that the start of each year have a meeting where RPG groups are established for the rest of the year. After this meeting we have hardly any communication between the groups, and I have heard that quite a few of them has died quite early. But I know that this project has given something in the order of 20-30 persons that had never played before an opportunity to try tabletop rpgs the past 2years. and not only reqruited from the game programming community. I myself has witnessed either as gm or as co player 5 new players I believe will continue in the hobby, while only 2 have left after trying. So perhaps this might serve as a possible inspiration for a way to reqruit?

      • I’m really glad to see you post here, Rune! Your voice has been missed, and it’s interesting to hear your perspective on the scene.

      • Rune; nice to hear from you again! Gjøvik ain’t far from Oslo. ;-)
        Your experience with the rig-groups in the school is interesting. My thought is that rpgs has a lot to offer, so getting people to play them is the small challenge we have to overcome, to make rpgs stay alive as a cultural phenomenon. I have no doubts about us making that happen. We will!

      • Setting up game groups based on the scholarly year actually sounds like a cool idea. (If you avoid the “Welcome to University. We are your friends now. You will be assimilated.” vibe :) Something for the Oslo gaming clubs this autumn?

  8. A comment from a bystander that’s been close to the mentioned scene for a few years but never been active:

    The recruitment hasn’t really stopped – just fragmented now that the web has grown . But your scene is too specialized. You’ve done this for so long and evolved your hobby into something so very YOU that it’s hard for new people to even figure out what you’re doing. The young pimply kids, they want to kick ass in Pathfinder or Warhammer Fantasy. They don’t want to play a rape game or a scenario about losing a child. Even Itras By, one of the more accessable ‘scene’ products have had trouble finding an audience.

    Playground Magazine is another prime example. It was a fantastic project but it only interested a very small amount of people. I really admire you for trying, though, but what fresh faced stranger is gonna buy something with “russian sex techniques!” on the front cover?

    It’s the same with larp, really. The more… basic larps (Vampire! Harry Potter!) has done more for recruitment than Laivfabrikken or Grenselandet ever did.

    If you really want the youngsters, you better start doing some of the following:
    -Find some magazine that reach a lot of youngsters. Spirit, Pegasus, whatever, and talk them into giving you a few pages each number. Fill those pages with basic, well written stuff that’s tailor made for the demographic group you want.
    -Start recruiting at cons. Be nice and welcoming and form a new group of people in the same spirit of the group that formed the originial scene.
    -Find crossovers. Front Warhammer Fantasy RPG to the miniature playing youngsters at GW. Play weird japanese RPGs at Desucon. Ask the fantasy larpers
    -Make your own, official con akin to Grenselandet and be great ambassadors.
    -Try to make ONE spot to hang out at the web. Maybe rollespill.info is they key – I dunno. Forums are old and old fashioned. But you really don’t want each RPG group to have their own, private group on Facebook. Give them a reason to gather up at YOUR page. Make it for them and not for yourself.

    Etcetc. I really have to run now. :D

  9. Could it also be the lack of outreach in shops? I recently visited Stockholm, and this was the conversation I had in the SF roleplaying/science fiction bookshop there:

    Me: Do you have the roleplaying game Society of Dreamers?
    Staff member: I don’t know.
    Staff member:
    Staff member: No.

    Maybe it’s a cultural difference, but In the UK I would have expected suggestions about where I might look next, a conversation about what the game might be about, and an invitation to look at similar material the shop might have in stock. It’s those sort of conversations that have introduced me to new things in the past.

    • looks like a formatting problem where it has removed the middle part of the conversation due to angle brackets . It was meant to be:
      Me: Do you have the roleplaying game Society of Dreamers?
      Staff member: I don’t know.
      Staff member: Taps on computer
      Staff member: No.

  10. Hello Matthijs, and all others!
    “The scene is dead”? Ok. :-/
    I do my stuff.
    —> I play with youngsters. Have done so for years. They love it. Tuesday a boy of 13 told me (and the group): “This is FAAAR better than computer games!” (group nodding around the table). Of course it is! We are 30 ears ahead of net-gaming, and with something they will never get; face-to-face human interaction.
    —> I made the new format “role-playing poetry” a couple of years ago. A lot of people has taken up on it. Only a couple of days ago a man from Brazil wrote a piece on RPP on the net, tagging me, saying that they were picking up this new format. Great!
    —> I attended Knutepunkt this spring, giving a workshop on another new format, the “Live Action Pocket-Play” (LAPP), and arranging a test-run of the very first LAPP ever; Autumn of Life. Curiosity and enthusiasm abounded! And players moved by the depths of a deceptively simple game-design. I had great joy in seeing 20 experienced designers picking up on the format, turning it into their own games! And such a variety of games!
    —> I’ve written 100+ little and large role-playing games!
    —> I want to make more games! :-)
    I believe in what I am doing. Being a game-smith is all about using your medium to influence and engage people. I see that I do, with both youngsters and grown ups. They get really fired up, playing my games. It’s an exhilarating experience for a lot of them, something that MAKES THEM TRANSFORM THEMSELVES INTO BETTER HUMAN BEINGS!
    They do it both by using my methods, and by exploring the content of my games. Whooopie!
    You and me and all others designing role-playing games; that is a great gift to humankind.
    Giving such gifts to people is great!
    No need to grow despondent of such a praxis.
    We have gold in our hands and heads!
    Let us dig into it!
    Have a nice day!

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