Larp Larp Larp: The History Of The Epic Nordic LARP
There are these two psychological studies which always seem to pop up together in conversation, probably because of their cynical repercussions. They’ve been immortalized in the pop psych history, and you’ve probably heard of them. They’re the Yale Milgram Study, which examined the power of instruction making students believe they were electrically shocking fellow students by pushing a button, and the Stanford Prison Experiment, which had undergrads play the roles of prisoner and prison guard, and watched them quickly fall into mutual loathing and even physical abuse – despite the fact that everyone knew it was a game.
In a way, System Danmarc, a 350-person socio-political Nordic LARP experiment, could be compared to studies like these. It could also be compared to Burning Man and other social reconstruction experiments which, through the realignment of expectations, situations and freedoms, put the creation of a certain kind of society into the hands of that society’s inhabitants.
System Danmarc was an experiment in which the dystopian, future-world “C Sector” was built out of windowless containers – like storage units – in a penned-off Copenhagen city square. Supported by a fabricated, unbalanced, undemocratic economy, players lived in the sector for 52 hours, sleeping eight to 16 per cramped container, but also going out and partying or working.
At a pre-LARP workshop, players chose roles within the incredibly impoverished but still stratified sector. They could be wealthy butchers/craftsmen, boxers attempting to become famous and escape, the metropolitan rulers, punks, or even “hyperslummers,” an extreme role for which players were coached by ex-junkies in how to live in the streets.
Drugs, beer, live concerts, and partying made it fun, but it also gave reigns to the more brutal, lawless sides of the players, and resulted in fights. The hyperslummers were abused, even urinated upon while they slept. The project ended with all players being brought together to watch a documentary about the lives of homeless people in contemporary Copenhagen.
The end goal was to allow players a fun situation straddling two disparate worlds and then later to bring to their attention the brutality of worlds which already exist, like this, parallel to their own.
In this situation, we see the wider impact Nordic LARP can create, truly tackling the exploratory aspects of theater, social experiment, and even social activism.