Posted by: Montola | September 23, 2009

Rock ‘n’ Troll: Neonhämärä Debrief

Jado Halava

Jado Halava in the mike, Kriki Kuurna in the bass

The rock’n’troll band Sysikuu had their first major gig in Helsinki last Saturday, as a part of Neonhämärä (“Neon Twilight”) pervasive larp campaign. As Jaakko wrote earlier, the band was created specifically for the game, and some of the players had never really made music before.

Kuusysi Vuolle

Kuusysi Vuolle

As the photos show, the gig was a blast. Or, to be honest, I don’t really know.

The band guys pretended to be the greatest rockstars ever, and the audience — myself included, and I don’t play in this larp — pretended that the band was the best band ever, and unsurprisingly the recipe actually works. The band and the audience managed to totally convince that the thing was the best thing ever, and hence it was.

As Martin Ericsson says about larp: “What you give is what you get” — the game repays your emotional, mental and physical investment in kind. The occasional backrow rock police trying to spot mistakes probably enjoyed Sysikuu much less. Obviously, this goes for any gig.

One fun thing was, hm, my aware unparticipation in most of the game interactions. I know half of the players outside the game, but do not play in the game. So when I met them in the club before the game, Gregory Bateson’s metacommunication showed up in an interesting form: All the players, being in character, greeted me with a gaze lasting for a second or so, very intentionally not winking or nodding in recognition. After all, we did not know each other — but we perhaps needed the second to realize that they were in character and I was not.

Jaakko, who plays the manager of the band, tells me that every non-playing acquaintance he met on the gig greeted him with a proper, almost formal non-wink as well.

Crowd went wild

Crowd went wild, including rock critic Bluusi Uusimaa

The band members probably had the best experience, though, at least they have been basking in afterglow since then. I haven’t asked, but I doubt they were that much engaged in character-play during the gig. In a situation like that, it is possible, but difficult, to hide behind your character.

Photos by Tuomas Puikkonen (CC).


  1. “The rock’n’troll band Sysikuu had their first major gig in Helsinki last Saturday, as a part of Neonhämärä (”Neon Twilight”) pervasive larp campaign.”

    Well, no. This was the first major gig for the players. The diegetic band has been performing for a long while. A German tour is planned to take place in the winter.

  2. Markus: If you “pretended that the band was the best band ever”, how can you still argue “I don’t play in this larp”?

    Are you saying that playing a character is a prerequisite to play in a larp? Seemingly you had, at least, a minimal role, you played that role, you were aware of the rules of the play, you took in the diegetic world as if it was real, and you seemingly even enjoyed the gameplay.
    And still you deny that you played in a larp. What game/play did you play if not the larp the band was a part of?

    Anyway, I like to the term “aware unparticipation” even if it might be a misnomer in this case.


    For me Sysikuu is a clear evidence for that playing a role can generate and can be something (1) fiction-like and, surely, (2) fiction-based but (3) non-diegetic. Music as such had no truth-value. Thus, since ‘diegesis’ is defined as ‘what is true in the game-world’, music is non-diegetic even if its context is purely diegetic.

    Of course, this is true if and only if making music was actually played at some degree – instead of being only inspired by a game. Then again, does it make sense ‘to role-play a creative act like making music’?

    If you are only pretending a character… it makes no sense to only pretend being a creative character and suddenly also be creative while playing it. Thus, if it is possible to play making music (or, more generally, being creative strictly as a character), playing a role must be something significantly more than just make-believe. If it is not, then creativeness is always a property of a player, not a character. You cannot ever play ‘creativeness’ as such.


    In the gig, I was a bit annoyed, since there was no sign to tell “I accept the premise of the game but I’m not a character”. A white band was used to signify that the person is a character. Omission of the white band signified that the person was – at least, by default – unaware participant and thus not accepting the premise of the game. The borderline of the game and non-game, were quite clear.

    Yet, you could actively enter the game by talking of ingame things with characters (marked by white band) and it was possible to be invited in game in the similar way. E.g. Jaakko/Isto(?) invited me in the game by chatting ingame events with a worker next to me.

    (Thanks for the invitation, Jaakko/Isto: It granted me an opportunity to maintain the fact I had never listened the band until few days before the gig. I was there only because I was invited by a friend in FB. “Why everyone knows that band so well except me? Well, I don’t listen radio, I don’t watch MTV, I don’t read music magazines… It makes sense.”)

    However, an invitation made you a part of the game only temporarily and partially. It was very hard, for me at least, to start playing with another non-character player (i.e. person who hadn’t a white band) without explicitly agreeing that we are now playing. Thus, the gameplay of a non-character player was highly fragmentary.

    This all, as whole, provoked an odd sensation of ‘denying familiarity’: I actively ignored that I just saw a person I know, because I should not know him/her. I had to repeat myself “I don’t know him/her”. Creepy. I would have to reintroduce myself (as me, not as character) to a person I already know as if we never met. Nice, I like that idea. Unfortunately, this time I was bit too tired to play with that sensation as much I would like to. Maybe next time.

    If I read correctly, Markus, you got a similar, weird ‘denying familiarity’ sensation during the gig.


    Anyway, I urged gamemasters to arrange more that kind of “semi-diegetic situations”. I’d like to participate in a ‘get into troll-life’ anti-racism workshop, where real persons have an opportunity to eat, drink and sauna in a “real” troll home with a real troll family.

    Seemingly, I really need that kind of rehabilitation as found myself asking Jaakko/Isto, “how does it differ to manage a troll band from being a manager of a _real_ band?” O dear, I’m a racist in the world of Neonhämärä, even if I’d like to deny it.


    Sorry, for failing to comment only shortly. I’m trying to condense my writing style but it’s rather difficult…

  3. A-P,

    Aware unparticipation of course was more of a pun than an academic coinage.

    The question is when pretend play turns into a larp is a delicate one. I definitely engage in some paidia on the gig, but did I role-play? In the light of the Invisible Rules approach, my character was very minimalist, my adherence to the power structure of the game was loose at best, and I was unable to fully participate in the diegesis construction activity due to my lack of information. If I engaged in role-play, at least it was a different role-play than the one where the others was.

    Also, in terms of Fine/Goffman frames, I don’t think I saw my own activity in terms of the diegetic frame, but arguably that’s a subjective point of view.

    So it’s a shade of gray — painting it black or white might be wrong.

    Music may not have truth value, but its existence does.

    My experiences of denied familiarity were all connected to wearing a white band, marking our positions with an explicit in-game signifier or lack of it. Certainly, being a parasite of sorts in this kind of a game is an interesting idea — I did consider getting friendly with some of the characters as myself, and calling them up during the next larp, without telling the game masters.

    – M

  4. AP, I loved it when you said to me (well, to Isku Lauronen, look him up on FB): “how does it differ to manage a troll band from being a manager of a _real_ band?” Casual racism at its best.

    What I find intereting about Neonhämärä is that in theory there is a very clear line between game and everyday life. There are ludic markers and the game masters discourage pulling non-players into the game. Yet it seems that there is an increasing amount of play instances where it is easy to blur that line in every game — probably because it is so much fun.

    For exmaple there were two pieces of art in a joint exhibition at Gallery G18 that were part of the game. On any other day that exhibition would be outside the game, but on this day two of the pieces were done by a controversial lesbian troll artist — who was present, wearing her troll teeth and would talk about the pieces with visitors.

    The gig and the gallery bring to mind two scenes from Momentum: the art gallery and the party on a boat. Neonhämärä is treading increasingly similar ground…

  5. Of being on stage:

    For me (the lead singer) at least the experience was a mixture of in- and off-game.

    The feeling just before the gig was almost pure out-of-character panic. Jado (my character) has done this dozens of times and should be quite use to it, but the player (that would be me. *gasp*) was doing the waiting first time in his life. When it was time to actually get on stage I tried and partially managed to get myself back to character. It worked as a kind of panic shield: I knew that the fans love my character so for Jado there was no reason to be worried about anything.

    On stage the feelings and charater came and went. When my feet started to shake and my back was trying to cramp I was very much *me*. But after a while the flow took it’s hold and I become something totally different. Jado on stage, the rockstar-god of rock’n’troll. In that ultimate high I was very much in character. I sang the songs written by him, so it was easy to relate to the feeling and the familiar faces of Sysikuu fans and other trolls from Helsinki where there to support the illusion. Some song where specially meant to point at certain event and people in the game and during those the immersion was close to perfect. At some point Pekka’s thoughts came through, like “I could do this more often *big grin*”. After the gig I dropped totally out of character for a while, but when guys and gals started to rush in to the backstage I went back to some sort of ingame, a state of being where I was half the character and half me, both tripping with the afterglow. A state where it didn’t matter that much who “I” was.


    PS. As an after-though: It’s really hard to define the limits of character and yourself in a kick-ass trip like the one being on stage. Both persons love it and both are flying so high in it that it blurs everything else.

  6. That’s exactly the gaze I get as a game master during the game when meeting characters, knowing not greeting.

    Jaakko, we do not discourage pulling non-players into the game, we don’t encourage it either – to be exact, on purpose we haven’t said pretty much anything on the subject. Blurring of the lines was one of themes of this concert event and it seemed to produce interesting and probably confusing results.

    And I wholeheartedly agree with Martin’s notion, during this campaign I’ve been amazed how much more you can get out of players if you just dare to ask for it.

  7. Pekka,

    when I started giving conference presentations, and was super-nervous about them, I occasionally used characters as a mental exercise to get to the confidence mood. Particularly, in one vampire larp I made a lot of semi-public speeches and loud rants with a Lasombra pack leader character. It seriously did help me to get started.

    I remember Juhana Pettersson commenting the larp Ground Zero once upon the time. He said that if you are in a larp about weathering a nuclear holocaust in a bomb shelter, the feelings created by physical and emotional environment — news being read on radio, nuclear missile sound effects, lights going out — were so strong that in some point the role-playing character started to become an obstacle to the experience.

    When you feel that -you- are in the extreme situation, on stage or in a shelter, playing a character may become a strain or a disturbance to the experience. Even when the character is the thing that got you into that mental state in the first place.

    – M

  8. I’ve sometimes tried to emphasize the meaning of “playing other player’s characters”, by which I mean that no one can play their characters properly without the support from others. Pekka couldn’t have made Jado into a god of rock’n’troll by himself only, other players (as well as the non-player audiences) willingness to believe that Sysikuu is the coolest thing was what made it happen. Naturally the band gave a such performance that it was easy enough to believe in it, and that cannot be overlooked either. But if the audience would’ve been full of sceptics who’d rather seen the event crash and burn, that’s what would’ve happened.

    What would happen if such an attitude towards other characters and events of the game was more common? A shared willingness to believe in the character concepts the players are trying to create instead of some sort of rivalry between players?

  9. Pekka, I had a somewhat similar experience in the musical larp Åbo by Night! I was the vampire prince in a court that communicated by singing karaoke, and (despite my lack of musical talent) my performances were treated much like a rock star’s.

    I’d venture that when one really gets that high of people chanting your lines and worshipping you on stage, one is not oneself nor a character, but becomes a sort of archetypical rock god. I’d guess this feeling is also what occasionally transforms the high school band geek into a rock star. (HIM, Tehosekoitin, Marilyn Manson…)

    I had a similar experience once in a demonstration yelling selfmade slogans into a megaphone, and the whole demonstration repeating them back. So maybe Hitler got that same rush, as well?

  10. Hitler mentioned, conversation ends here.

  11. I recall that once upon the time Mike tried to coin inter-immersion, in Panclou or some other equally respectable medium. It’s not a totally bad idea, in the light of experiences like this one.

  12. Simo’s observation “no one can play their characters properly without the support from others” is to the point.

    The classic larp blunder occurs when the game masters neglect to inform other players of one character’s special traits or qualities:

    “Conan is the most feared of all barbarian assassins! Villagers will run for cover from the first sight of him!” Too bad nobody told the villagers.

    “Conan’s” act only works if other players let her be fearsome.

  13. I love it how panclou remains relevant…

  14. Inter-immersion remains very much a relevant concept, and this stage-play is an excellent example of how it works.

    Andreas and I use the concept in our papers, to explain how shared, supportive role-playing creates a Communitas effect. And everything I hear from this gig seems to support our theory quite nicely.

  15. Yes, this is exactly the phenomenon of inter-immersion at work!

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