Halat hisar – A larp about modern-day occupied ‘Finland’

From the larp Hilat hisar. The pacifists and more militant foreign activists are having a physical disagreement about throwing rocks at the enemy soldiers. Ingame. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen (CC-BY 2.0)

From the larp Halat hisar. The pacifists and more militant foreign activists are having a physical disagreement about throwing rocks at the enemy soldiers. Ingame. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen (CC-BY 2.0)

How is life under occupation? A team of Finnish and Palestinian organizers created the larp Halat hisar, which took place in a modern day Finland under a fictional occupation. The project was well documented with photos by Tuomas Puikkonen and in this post your will also find some thoughts about the larp by players and organizers.

Halat hisar (State of Siege in English, Piiritystila in Finnish) was held near Parkano, a small town in southern Finland, the 15th – 17th of November 2013. About 70 people participated, coming from Finland, Palestine, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Germany and the U.K.

The story took place in at the university of Helsinki, in a Finland occupied by the fictional nation of Uralia. At the university there was student council elections and preparations for the Great Literature and Humanities Conference. This as well as other events caused sparks among the students.

I did not participate myself in this larp, but I have been following it since I first heard about it and I hope that this post gives at least a small insight to the project. Several of the Palestinian and Finnish organizers were involved in production of the fantastic larp Till Death Do us Part, that I participated in, last year in Palestine.

Photo gallery

During the larp Tuomas Puikkonen took several great photos. Here is just a selection and you can find all on Flickr.

State of Siege is a larp about occupied Finland and everyday life under a military regime. The game is set at the University of Helsinki where students and researches are trying to hold a seminar in the midst of checkpoints, random searches, curfew and other facets of life under occupation.
Halat hisar website

Organizer thoughts

Halat hisar was organized by Fatima AbdulKarim, Faris Arouri, Kaisa Kangas, Riad Mustafa, Juhana Pettersson, Maria Pettersson & Mohamad Rabah together with several helpers.

Juhana Pettersson
Organizer working with concept, design, production games mastering and media as well as playing supporting characters.

Juhana Pettersson. Photo: Johannes Axner

Juhana Pettersson. Photo: Johannes Axner

A key moment in the game for me personally was early in the game, then the characters organized a protest against the military presence on campus. It’s spontaneous moments like that which tell you that the game is coming to life. Sometimes as an organizer those moments are hard to see if you’re not in the game, but a demonstration is impossible to miss.

I was amazed at so many of the things I saw during the game, and how the players really threw themselves into it. Late night scenes when the characters linked arms and sang together as soldiers tried to wrest people away to be taken to interrogations were immensely moving.

For many Finnish players, the role of nationalism in a struggle against an occupation came as a surprise, since most national symbols in Finland have been appropriated by the political right. It felt surprising to have a connection to those symbols, created through the fictional setup of the game. It created a distinction between the nationalism of the rich and comfortable and the nationalism of the oppressed.

Mohamad Rabah
Organizer working with concept and design and resposible for the black box during the larp. Also playing Shafeeq Ahmad A-Najati, the visiting Jordanian Minister of Culture.

Mohamad Rabah playing Shafeeq Ahmad A-Najati, the visiting Jordanian Minister of Culture. Ingame. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen (CC-BY 2.0)

Mohamad Rabah playing Shafeeq Ahmad A-Najati, the visiting Jordanian Minister of Culture. Ingame. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen (CC-BY 2.0)

Halat hisar went very well from organizer point of view, with the main goal of raising the awareness about how life under occupation is as well as the the feeling of nationalism, feeling proud of your country and your culture were all achieved.

For one year we were working on this larp, and for me it was a historical. We are thinking to run it again in different countries, and the Swedes have shown very big interest about that. Maybe we need to adjust some plots and stuff in the game, especially for the international players who played as an outsider. Otherwise the game was perfect.

As a Palestinian I never seen something that reflect the life under occupation as this larp did. You can watch a documentary, you can feel solidarity with the people, But it is a different feeling when your country is occupied.

Player thoughts

Maija Korhonen
Played Senni Railo, student and an election candidate of the Pan Nordic Liberation Front

Maija Korhonen playing Senni Railo a student connected to the Pan Nordic Liberation Front. Ingame. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen (CC-BY 2.0)

Maija Korhonen playing Senni Railo, a student connected to the Pan Nordic Liberation Front. Ingame. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen (CC-BY 2.0)

One thing I’ve been thinking  of is that the threat of violence in Halat Hisar felt for me very real – more real than in any other larp I’ve played. Of course this was partly because the totally unarmed university people were harassed by armed troops, but also maybe because the violence was used to maintain a status quo and not to resolve a conflict. Which probably reflects somehow the situation in Palestine.

The larp was really stressfull and intense. I haven’t really thought about the game on purpose for a week or so, to distance myself a bit. Now I’m starting to read up the backround material of the Palestinian conflict.

Mike Pohjola
Playing Tuomas Kallo, a student, and one of the two Social Democrat candidates for Student Council Chairman.

Mike Pohjola playing Tuomas Kallo, a student connected to the Social Democrats. Ingame. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen (CC-BY 2.0)

Mike Pohjola playing Tuomas Kallo, a student connected to the Social Democrats. Ingame. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen (CC-BY 2.0)

I went to the game expecting to experience life in occupied Palestine, but set in Finland. The game delivered beautifully the complexity and harshness of life under occupation,  was a very strong experience. Surprisingly the larp also offered another theme, equally strong. It created a sort of positive contemporary Finnish nationalism, something most of us players were completely unfamiliar with.

Finland has been occupied first by Sweden and then by Russia. The idea of a Finnish nation was born under Russian rule, and most of our national symbols hail from this era. Since then they’ve been completely taken over my the conservatives and the extreme right, so it was very interesting to experience them as sources of strength. Halat hisar was a very good larp.

Further reading

Halat hisar at the Nordic larp Wiki

Halat hisar – Main website for the larp

Loki: Piiritystila – Palestiinalianen Larppi Suomessa – (Finnish) (English with Google translate)

Libero: Viikonloppu miehitetyssä Suomessa – (Finnish) (English with Google translate)

Nordiclarp.org : State of Siege – A Palestinian-Finnish larp project – Article with organizer interviews prior to the larp

Johannes Axner: Halat Hisar – Larp report from a player perspective

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