Koikoi was a larp focused on rituals and rites of passage in the stone age (hunter-gatherer) inspired society of the Ankoi people. In the following text I have tried to give an impression of the larp in general, but particularly my own story. The text will be edited a couple of times in the near future as I correct the chronology, add pictures and expand on some of the points.
When Koikoi first was launched, the hype in Denmark was crazy. Loads of people were looking forward to an intense, ritualistic, stone-age experience. The hype lasted for quite a while, but went significantly down after the organizers sent out a questionnaire about how the potential players wanted the larp to be – i guess because it showed that the organizers did not have a clear cut vision for their project, something which is increasingly expected in the Danish (and maybe the Nordic?) larp scene. Later, when the answers from the questionnaire were interpreted the hype hit a low in Denmark as it seemed as if the organizers wanted to make a larp that was a little bit about everything, where everyone was welcome and could play what they wanted to (from consequence and conflict play based on vengeance and honor, over love and intimate relationships, to cozy camp play making food and such). Maybe we are just more used to being told what to do in the Danish larp culture, but for me it seemed that this vaguesness from the organizers ruined the hype about the larp.
For those of us who didn’t get scared away by the vagueness, the general impression of the larp was that it was going to be a sandbox (although a rarely well-designed one), where we had to bring our own fun to have a good experience. This impression lasted until (and to some extent through) the larp itself.
Even though I know most of the organizers pretty well I did not feel very clear on how to play the larp. I knew that some elements were important (such as the egalitarian culture and the “everyday magic” through rituals) but never really got the hang of what they wanted me to play. I felt that many answers given were ambiguous and that they wanted to include too much into one larp. All the material was beautifully written in ingame language (with explanations on the side) and there was plenty of stuff to read (mainly .pdf compendiums on the homepage). However I felt that the material was to indirect and that it seemed to be expected of me to interpret the material for myself, where i prefer more instruction from organizers. It felt more like reading a book on a different culture than instructions for performing myself in a different way (in a different culture).
Characters and Workshop
Based on another questionnaire the organizers wrote characters for all players consisting of a name, age category (child, young, adult, ald), gender (mann, kvinn or nuk), family relations (as almost all Danes were playing in the same family, this part wasn’t too interesting for us, but I can imagine that it has been exiting for others to be cast into the other families) and two central character traits written in lovely ingame prose (mine were: “people like to talk to you” and “you do what people tell you to do”). Later, after the workshops, we received the full character where some personal relations outside the family had been written and a story that the character liked to tell. In addition the organizers had also decided on which players who had formerly been in the different families.
Workshops for Koikoi were not mandatory, but I guess that more than half of the players participated in a workshop at some point. At the workshop with the organizers we spent most of the time rehearsing the techniques for ritual improvisation, but also rehearsed the simple language of the Ankoi, the sex technique and had some time to talk about our group and ask questions. The workshop helped me a lot in being able to visualize how the play was going to be – particularly because of the amount of time we spent on rehearsing ritual improvisation.
The day after we held our own workshop in the Danish group where we talked about the group concept, rehearsed the relations we wanted to play and generally tried to play a lot of scenes as we could imagine them happening in the larp.
Lastly a workshop was held on the day before the larp started. Here, all players rehearsed the ritual-improvisation, recieved important information and had some time to prepare with their families and other players.
Koikoi was played in Finnskogen in Norway. The play area was a beautiful landscape, broken by a gravel road connecting small, very ingame looking huts (one for each family – sort of) with each other and leading to “Koi” a large ritual hall. Generally the scenography worked out really well and the small things that didn’t fit in (we shouldn’t have metal pots in the stoneage and no matter what we use plastic containers for our water even though we hide them) didn’t really become a problem. The organizers had also prepared a few other settings, such as the ritual grounds which looked amazing.
The costumes at the larp were generally simple looking, but for me it seemed to be lacking a general visual style – even within many of the families. Mostly it looked fine and it definitely didn’t bother me, but a more streamlined look would probably have improved the (visual) experience for me. On the other hand ritual painting really did a lot for making people look tribal.
The larp experience
The Ankoi consisted of six families or clans, each taking its base in an animal spirit (eagle, boar, seal, beaver, owl, raven). The families would live separately, but every second year gather at the holy place of Koi for the celebration of “Koikoi” – a sort of ritualistic festival where the families would meet for three days of rites of passage (children becoming adults, adults finding lovers – most often in other families, adults deciding to become “ald” and stay at Koi, and Alds deciding to go through the death rite). At Koikoi it was common practice (particularly for the new adults) to have several lovers before choosing who to leave with and the finding of partners was a big part of the larp.
The raven family
The raven family was based on a sacred story of the sacrifice of the raven, inspired by an old native American tale which goes something like this:
“The raven was once a white bird with a beautiful singing voice until it made a selfless sacrifice for the benefit of mankind. It brought to man a flaming stick. In turn, the soot blackened its feathers, blistered its feet and in breathing the smoke, ruined its voice forever.”
We had added a bit to the tale about the raven being driven mad by the sacrifice, but the main point was that the raven family was a living sacrifice in the Ankoi culture, taking on itself the hardships, bad luck and sorrow of the other families.
The Raven family was closer to the “Kwath” (the Ankoi word for the spirits which were in everything) than other Ankoi and particularly close to Raven Kwath and the madness and sorrow that it stood for.
The Kwath would become stronger the more family members were together, so that meeting a single person from the Raven family (or just “ravens” as we called ourselves) would often mean rather serious conversations about emotions, hardships and so on while meeting a bunch of ravens would be chaotic, noisy and often unpleasant.
The hardships and strong Kwath in the family was not considered as a curse, but as a fact of the world to be dealt with. However it meant that it could be hard both to get in and out of the family. If the Raven Kwath was strong in a person it could be dangerous to go to another family as the bad luck and hardships would be transferred to them (we had a story about the only known Ankoi to ever commit a murder as the example of how bad it could go). On the other hand people coming into the family also needed to be strong (in the Kwath) or they wouldn’t be able to handle life as a raven (we had the story of a family member dying of sorrow after her partner died, because she was not originally a raven).
The raven family members
The family had 10 members when the larp began. Tidevand (Tide) and Lys (Light) was “Storman” and “Storkvin” which was the elected leaders of the family, but with no competence apart from deciding if it was alright for new people to join the family – in all other decisions all (adult) voices would count equally. Stråle (Beam) was a grown woman adopted into the family some years ago from the Beaver family with her daughter Bille, because she carried bad luck. Tang (Seaweed) and Ved (Firewood) were young adults, who had gone through the rite of passage at the last Koikoi.
Blæst (Wind) and Brise (Breeze) were the “Nuk” of the family. A third gender consisting of people who didn’t find themselves to fit within the Man or Kvin genders of different reasons – often because of a closer connection to the Kwath.
Bille (Beetle), Lus (Lice) and Pyt (puddle) were the children of the family (children had small names and was not counted as real people and were mainly supposed to be ignored by adults, who considered children to be uncontrollable), who was going though the rite of passage to adulthood at this years Koikoi.
Lastly Ebbe (ebb tide) was Aldman at Koi. And five Nuk, who had formerly been in the Raven family lived with other families.
Raven family dynamics
In the raven fam, the first person to get up would start silently to drum or make a rhythm and other people would join in until everyone was awake. Then the morning rite would start, consisting mainly of stretching and warming up the body. After the morning rite we would have an off-game break for around an hour after which we would go ingame to eat breakfast.
Generally everything would be a little bit ritualized in the family, meaning that someone would always be humming, drumming or making sound in some other way while others talked, thus adding effect to the conversation. It was central in the Ankoi culture to talk openly and honestly about everything. Often with quite a bit of humor or teasing involved. Conversations were generally kept simple and silent with the breaks between sentences being as important as what was being said. Personally I spent very large parts of my awake time at the larp drumming or doing percussion by beating bones together.
The family would also spend a lot of time on grooming, dressing people up, tying stuff in each other’s hair, redoing face paint and smearing each other in clay. Feathers were particularly important as they were a visual and symbolic way of showing the grief that was carried by each individual in the family. When someone left the family the others would strip the person of feathers so that the unhappiness would not be brought into their new family.
Before the larp we had decided that “the raven family flies and flocks” meaning that if one raven was sitting somewhere it was common practice to sit next to it. And if two ravens were sitting somewhere, more would join (we had planned to gather the whole flock in this way and let Raven Kwath go in us and go crazy, but the layout of the setting didn’t really allow us to find each other that easily).
However we did use the parallel idea, that we would never gather the whole family to take important decisions, as we would be unable to do anything reasonable together because of the strong Kwath. This was a very nice way to avoid larp meetings, which can often become immensely boring. Instead we would have intimate conversations with two to five people present at a time, which also served to enforce the strongly individualistic culture of the Ankoi.
I played Tang (”Seaweed”), a young man in the Raven family. Tang had grown up in the family and neither knew or wanted another life. Tang had barely been allowed to become a man at the last Koikoi and only with the help of his sibling Pyt had he managed to do it while Pyt had been flunked. In reality Tang was closer to the Nuk and had a close connection to the Kwath. He didn’t fit into the rather hard and silent world of men.
At the last Koikoi Tang had not managed to find himself a lover, mostly because he had been adviced against leaving the family by Lys who feared that he would bring bad luck because the raven was so strong in him. Tang had listened to the advice and arrived at Koikoi this year with the idea that he couldn’t leave the Raven family.
First day of the larp
The first day of the larp was centered around the welcome rite where the families met and the rite of passage from childhood to adulthood, which took place in the evening.
At the welcome rite Tang met several old acquaintances, but particularly a woman named “Ildtunge” (Blaze) and a young man named Tåre (Tear). Ildtunge was from the Boar family and had been Tangs lover at the last Koikoi and he had considered leaving the Raven family for her at the previous Koikoi, but had decided against it. Still it was exiting to meet and make love to Ildtunge again, a story which was played out as a flirty friendship throughout Koikoi.
Tåre was from the seal family and had become a man at the same time as Tang. During the manrit Tang had attempted to take the face of Tåre, but had lost his own face in the battle which emerged. He had gotten his face back in the opinion of his family, but had not dealt with Tåre at the last Koikoi. Tang was not a good fighter (accidentally neither was Tåre), but was more in tune with the Kwath and how to talk to and interpret them. After the welcome rite Tang went to the family of Tåre with two gifts, the smoked breast of a pheasant and the story of a dream he had had about Tåre – He told Tåre that if he would climb to the nest of the eagle family during the day it would bring him good luck in the following year. Tåre accepted the gifts, gave Tang his face back and they embraced as friends. Afterwards Tang spent some time with the Seal family, eating and flirting with a young woman named “Gran” (Spruce), who was very interested in him. They later had a sexual encounter.
A central story in the larp concerned the relationship between Tang and Bille. As children they had played around a lot and had developed a sexual relationship, which had become tabu when Tang became a man (adults and children could not engage in sexual activities, as children was not considered to be people). On the first day of Koikoi, the children of the families went to the rite of passage to become Man, Kvin or Nuk and Bille went to the kvinrit.
Tang had been guiding the child Lus though Manrit and returned with him, now named “Flodstrøm” (Current), and the other young men who had successfully gone through the rit. In front of the Koi ritual hall they met a large group of people who introduced themselves to the new men. His eye got cought by the young woman who had taken the place of Bille and for the first time he introduced himself to “Flamme” (Flame) and fell utterly in love. When they came back to the campsite of the Raven family Flamme asked Tang to go to the forest with her and have sex for the first time, and thus started a new intense relationship with many intimate meetings and conversations over the next days.
Second day of the larp
Tang spent a lot of time finding suitors for his sister Ved and encouraging both them and her to go into the forest and see how they felt about each other. Ved was adopted into the Ankoi people from the Blackbear people and did not speak the Ankoi language “Språk” too well and he thus considered that she needed some assistance for finding a man.
The big rite of the second day was the “Minnerit” (remembrance rite) where each family would tell the stories of family members who had ceased to be in the previous years and thus turn them into “Forkwath”, spirits of the forefathers. Two Raven family members had died since the last Koikoi. The former storman Å (Creek) who was killed by wolves and the adult woman Glød (Ember) who had died from sorrow after his death. These stories were important to the Raven family, particularly because the fate of Glød showed the dangers of entering the Raven family.
In the Ankoi culture, the way you became partners was most often initiated by women who would steal something from their lover, who could then choose to ask for the thing back (or even send a family member to ask for it back) or ask for the thing back, but trade themselves for it (meaning that they accepted to be permanent lovers and most usually would travel with the family of the woman). After the Minnerit, Flamme and Tang made love in the woods close to their camp. When they came back Flamme looked him in the eyes and said “if you give me your vest, I will steal it” which made his hearth skip a few beats. Then he gave his vest to her and she took it on, for everyone to see.
The next few hours everyone went about their daily business in the camp only interrupted by Tang and Flame asking smirky questions about what to do when someone had stolen from you or when you were waiting for someone to ask for their things back. When Tang finally asked for his vest back and gave himself to Flame as a trade, the world changed again. All of a sudden they were adults, lovers and knew that they had the responsibility for the future of the Raven family.
In the night the young and adults held separate parties and Tang went to the party of the young together with Flame, Current and River. The day before Tang had pressured Flodstrøm into trying to find lovers in both the Beaver family and the Eagle family, by threatening him with Kwath. During the youth party Flodstrøm became close with a woman from the Beaver family named Glød (Ember) and Tang and the other young ravens did their best to enforce the relationship – not least by helping Glød to steal all of Flodstrøms stuff.
In the evening a lot of people were telling stories in the Koi ritual hall, but Tang was too preoccupied with his new situation to go there. Instead he sat a campfire and talked to Ildtunge and some others until it got late.
The third day of the larp
In the morning of the third day of Koikoi the aldman of the Raven family, Ebbe, came to the camp of the family. He told them all that he would be going to the Death rite on the same evening, but had one last gift to give to the family. He then told the old story, that only he knew, of how the Raven had brought fire to the Ankoi.
Later each family had “Vaskerit” (washing rite). In the Raven family that meant the rare removal of our iconic black facial paint, marking them as parts of the family. In the washing rite the Raven Kwath would choose the ones who should be repainted as ravens. Two family members did not get chosen by Raven Kwath: Tidevand, the storman of the family and Flodstrøm were thus both marked with black spots around the eyes to show the world that they were not true ravens anymore.
Most of the raven family went to the Seal family to help drive the bad luck out of the family with a “Svartfisk” (Killer whale) rite. Four members of the Seal family had died the previous year after their canoe had been sunk by killer whales and the family had been pursued by bad luck ever since. The purpose of the ritual was to remove the unluck from the Seal family and move it to the Raven family, but the Kwath wanted otherwise. When called upon Svartfisk Kwath did not accept the offerings that the Seal family offered, but demanded an even bigger tribute – the family itself. Thus the seal family stopped being and the Svartfisk family emerged.
After the rite, Tidevand, the storman of the raven family, left for the Svartfisk family. We took his feathers and distributed them among us, laughed of him and shouted at him as he walked away from us. And then we left him there.
Then the family went to the camp of the Beaver family to participate in the famrit of Flodstrøm, who was leaving the Raven family to be with his lover Glød. We picked his feathers and threw him out of the family and left him with the Beavers. As a kind of exchange we performed a famrit of our own for “Vattenfal” (Waterfall), who was to become the lover of Stråle.
At the Koirit we all listened to the long stories of the Ankoi, danced, drummed and sang before eating a great feast together. Two people entered the Raven family after the Koirit. “Dråbe” (Drop) from the Bear family became the lover of Ved, Tangs sister. And “Sprukke” (Sound a fire makes) became the lover of River.
When performing the Raven famrit, the ravens would stand around the prospect in a tight circle and the storkvin would ask what he or she wanted. When they then answered something like “I want to travel with the Raven family” or something similar, everyone would laugh and scream at them and keep asking “what do you want here?” until they shouted at the top of their lungs. Then they would receive their facial markings, their feathers and everyone would welcome them to the family.
The last night of Koikoi consisted of dancing in the Koi ritual hall, where drums were whipping the dancers into a frenzy around the central fire. In these moments it seemed, everyone was feeling free and happy at Koikoi and everything was possible. For Tang this was a truly happy moment, closely connected to the Kwath. The situation topped when the woman Aske (Ash) started fighting him during the dance ending with them having sex on the dancefloor.
The dancing went on for several hours and even continued when half of the Ankoi went to the Dødrit (Death rite) at midnight to end the lives of two of the Ald and allow them to become forkwath. Tang and several other ravens went to send their Ald Ebbe into the spirit realm. In the death rite the whole tribe would watch while the two Ald were strangled by the Aldnuk of Koi. Standing there, the strength and security which had filled Tang during Koikoi so far drained away and he stood there, sad, scared and empty – not knowing what to do. Stråle was his and Flames comfort that night, embracing the two youngsters and leading them back to the camp.
The last day of the larp
The last day of Koikoi Lys, the storkvin of the raven family choose to stay at Koi and become ald. The whole family gathered for the ritual, received her feathers and felt that large burden that she had carried for the family for so many years. At that moment Tang had a premonition and told the family that ”one of us will never see Lys again”.
The last day also brought the conflict of River to the surface of the family. Even though River was born in a female body, he had gone through the manrit and was considered to be a man in the Ankoi culture. But he could not impregnate his lover and had had to make her mate with other men. Furthermore, in the ankoi culture it was believed that a child needed nourishment during the pregnancy and that this nourishment would only come through intercourse. River would not be able to provide this nourishment and it was discussed in the family when his lover Sprukke entered the Raven camp to be painted – because which man in the family would want to give her nourishment when she was going to travel with them? Tangs answer was no one and thus that she would not be able to bear a child for the Raven family. His last action towards Sprukke was to sit in front of her, look her in the eye and crush and empty eggshell before throwing it at her feet.
Before leaving Koi, the Raven family brought a sacred scull around to all the other families, asking them to blow their grief, unhappiness and bad luck into it, so that it could be carried by the Raven family until the next Koikoi. The longer they went, the heavier the burden felt and when it the ending rite was over the new Raven family left Koi with gloomy prospects of the future.
Koikoi was one of my longest larp experiences in some years and it was lovely to have time to enjoy the contact with nature and the low intensity gameplay. I generally had a really good time at the larp, had great play in my family and some really good scenes outside it.
The larp contained some very interesting design choices such as making the culture egalitarian, working with three genders and everyday magic (the “Kwath”) in addition to a very nice concept of ritual improvisations, which was very important for the feel of the game.
I found most of the large, planned rituals to be rather boring. In general they were too long, involved too few people and had too much uninteresting storytelling, which was only interesting for a few players. I don’t go to larps to see performances (if I want good performances there is many other scenes that I find much more interesting) but to interact and participate, thus one way communication in larps tends to annoy me.
Even though I generally didn’t like the large rituals I also had some good experiences with them. My general impression however is that they were too long and involved too few people and that my time could have been better spent sitting around a camp fire, drumming rhythmically.
The tendency for long talks were also evident in that a few players took a lot of space in large public gatherings, hugging the game through solo performances that I hope others found more interesting than me.
The “dating game” where people tried to find lovers in other families became very central for the game. I am not sure if this was intended, but it seemed to dominate and exclude other potentially interesting aspects of the culture, such as friendship, old grudges and such bordering the families. On the other hand I was impressed that the family changes were played out rather early in the game instead of all ending up on the last day.
The greatest drawback of Koikoi for me has been the communication from the organizers. I never felt that I had a clear feeling of what I was supposed to be playing and what the organizers wanted to do with the larp. There was a lot of material available, but it was made so that players should interpret how to use it in the game, where i would have preferred clear instructions. This might have something to do with different larp cultures or particular ambitions with Koikoi, but usually I would expect a cleaner cut vision from the organizers. This goes for both the experience, the setting (what can we expect), costumes (a compendium was made, but the style and feel of it was still very hard for me to figure out – basically I missed pictures of what the organizers imagined) and playstyle (we were told that it was rather low intensity play, but that was about it).
On the other hand and in all fairness. When re-reading the larp presentation on the webpage (and not the other communication around the larp) I would say that the larp was largely successful in allowing the players to experience and reflect upon different ways of being human (which I guess was the point of the experience), although it wasn’t clearly communicated beforehand. At least the sentence below dissapeared in the wealth of ingame information in .pdf compendiums and wasn’t central in the workshops.
Koikoi is about big changes in small lives: To grow up. To become old. To stop loving. To find new love. Grudges which are buried. Conflicts which arise. The severing of ties. The binding of new ones. To give life. To die. To loose one self in the dance and the rythm of drums. To find one self in the silence.
To be human.
For me, the larp did not live up to its full potential to explore this theme (if it really was the theme – I am unsure). I still consider this approach to be a bit to vague for my taste. I would have preferred some more meta-communication. What I would have liked to know was what the organizers wanted us to think about or explore in the larp? Or in other words, what was the purpose of the experience? Basically i think that too little effort was put into communicating the purpose and experience compared to how much effort was put into explaining the ingame culture.
We spent a lot of time rehearsing rituals and ritual improvisation. Maybe it would have made sense to rehearse egalitarian/individualistic/direct/open/honest culture. Maybe it would have made sense to work more with what it means to be human – in the written material as well as in the workshops. I would have liked the organizers to tell me that this was not just a larp about a stone age society but a larp made to make me reflect on human existence and modern society – and give me tools to do so.
On the other hand, it has dawned to me that I have seen Koikoi as an attempt to make a new design in the tradition of the intense and immersive larps from the Nordic scene I have played in the last years (such as Brudpris, Lindängens Riksinternat and Just a little lovin), but that this might not be true to the vision of the organizers. Rather it seems that the larp was an attempt to reimagine the fantasy or forest-larp genre (what in Denmark would be called “summer larps”) and to create something new for the players in that scene – at least this perspective would make me look at Koikoi in a more favorable light.
I had a really good time at Koikoi and I think that both organizers and players did a great job to make the experience memorable. If I sound harsh in any of the above it is only because I feel that the experience (at least for me) could have been so much better if the vision had been tighter or at least had been communicated more clearly.
Photo gallery by Li Xin