DIGITAL INDUSTRIES AND COMPUTER GAME DEVELOPMENT
Nordsken - the revenge of the nerds
They get a bit sidelined. Is it sports? Is it culture? Hardly in the traditional sense. 30 million people watch e-sports every day, but we never read a mention of tournaments in it in the paper. A Division 4 football match, on the other hand. And can you recall reading a review of a LARP game? Yet it engages tens of thousands of Swedes and is rather like a very elaborate improvisational theatre. It would be easy to conclude that phenomena like cosplay, role-playing and fan fiction are virtually non-existent, not in northern Sweden anyway. But if you look a little closer, you'll find a vibrant movement. On 10-12 May, their big annual manifesto takes place in Skellefteå: Nordsken, northern Scandinavia's biggest gaming event.
Last year, Nordsken attracted 8500 unique visitors to Skellefteå Kraft arena. It was a record attendance, but it will not stand this year when the event area is doubled. Nearly 10,000 square metres packed with impressions that tickle the imagination and the desire to totally indulge in creating, playing and expressing oneself in completely new ways. How about 40 pinball and arcade games, cartoon school, 200 square metres of Lego, 680 people in lan, lajv and a qualifier for Eurocosplay, to name but a few. Since its inception in 2012, Nordsken has steadily outgrown its costume and if you ask the organisers, we've only seen the beginning.
- We said we would do this for ten years, that it would be tough for the first five years as we are just setting the name but that it would be big for real after that. That plan is sticking," says Johan Linder, with obvious emphasis in his voice.
Games, culture and creativity
He is the project manager for Nordsken and also represents the analogue gaming association Gimlis Galningar, which joined forces with Lan I Staan and the Shimbukan budo club to organise the first event.
- There was a sum of money to organise an event in Skellefteå in the wake of the lan festival Dreamhack. So we joined forces with the vision of creating a different and inclusive festival for games and culture. There were very few expressions of this culture in northern Sweden at the time.
Four months later, the first event was held in Scandic's conference facilities.
- It was an insanely hard time, but fun and educational. We took inspiration from other interesting events and laid a foundation based on the idea that it would be part digital, part analogue and part "other" that could be changed from year to year. We've refined that idea ever since into games, culture and creativity. That pretty much sums up what it's all about. What is fantasy is the Northern Lights, it should preferably not be so reality-based but something that makes you fantasize and think ahead without being so locked in the present, says Johan Linder.
10-metre-long kite a matter of course
The steering group consists of enthusiasts from several different fields. Subcultures is one word for it, geeks is a more common epithet. Their fields are often radically different from each other - someone is passionate about e-sports, someone about Lego, others live for dressing up as Link in the Nintendo game Zelda or playing a role in a LARP. So what is it that unites?
- There is a common understanding of each other, because not all parts of society really understand. But we can find strength in each other and I think that our common breadth is an important factor in Nordskens success with the audience - the public, says Jennie Larsson who works in the crew and is involved in Sverok - Sweden's largest youth association in "nerd culture".
Jennie is one of several active members of the Nordskens squad who come from Umeå. Isa Blomberg is another. Her "thing" is juggernaut - a sport that originated in the American movie "Blood of Heroes" (1989) and can be described as a very advanced form of ghost ball with intense and physical activity. For both of them, getting involved in a games festival 13 miles north of their hometown seems like a natural fit.
- Because it's a three-day adrenaline rush and there's no ceiling - if you can think of something you want to do, you can do it. How many places can you bring in a ten-metre kite and no one thinks it's weird - just cool," says Isa Blomberg.
"This is showbiz."
The aforementioned dragon, a full-scale model from Game of Thrones, is actually a real feature of this year's edition of Nordsken. One of several spectacular features that will compete with some 40 exhibitors and nearly 150 activities spread across five stages for visitors' attention. It's all about maximising the experience.
- This is showbiz, it's got to be cool. A visit to Nordsken shouldn't mean traipsing around an exhibition hall with dull white walls - it should be illuminated and preferably have lasers and smoke. With 10,000 square metres, it's a challenge, but we're succeeding," says Johan Linder.
He's more concerned about having enough power and network capacity during the event.
- We're pulling three kilometres of network cable and another few kilometres of power cords. There are a lot of machines to go and it's very stressful for the network.
But everything usually works out. Overall, Nordsken is a very tidy, if eventful, and family-friendly event.
- It's a fairly quiet event. We have a few flankings and occasionally someone sleepwalks. The tennis hall is filled with people who sleep there during the weekend, it holds a few hundred people, says Fanny Lindström, security manager.
Big in Japan?
As northern Scandinavia's largest games festival, Nordsken has made a name for itself far beyond the borders of Skellefteå municipality.
- It's an attractive proposition. Gaming is big in society today. All of us who work with this come from that culture and we know that there is a huge interest in it. The bigger and more established we become as the Nordic region's major games festival, the more people will come to us. I think we will become really big and manage to attract visitors from outside Sweden in the future. England, Germany and Japan are particularly important to us. There is a good image of Sweden, says Johan Linder.
But what attracts us most is probably people's need to be fully themselves for a while.
- For us who belong to these cultures, that's what it is. Nordsken is a meeting place where we get to be seen and a wider public gets the opportunity to see for themselves and try out new things," says Linn-Marie Edlund, a busy marketing manager, explaining that much of what is at Nordsken are great hobbies, but that they are quite invisible in society and in the media.
- It's hard for politicians and journalists to understand that this is culture that engages a lot of people. But we can see how much impact Nordsken has on society. It's very inspiring to work with something that has such a big impact.
Nordsken is an annual event in Skellefteå.
You can find everything about Nordsken at www.nordsken.se External link, opens in new window.