Norway's new Minister of International Development is a D&D champ who thinks LARPs can change the worlds

Here's an abridged translation of a Imagonem interview with Heikki Holmås, Norway's new minister of International Development. Holmås is a lifelong D&D player and LARPer who won the Norwegian D&D championships in 1989 and was sent to GenCon in Milwaukee. Holmås recounts his favorite campaigns and describes how he things RPGs and LARPs can be used for political ends, including settling longstanding, militarized disputes.

- RPGs can be extremely relevant in putting people in situations they’re unfamiliar with. Save the Children have their refugee games. I have friends in Bergen who’ve run human rights-RPGs. But you have to be professional. You create real emotions when you play role playing games, real emotions that stick, he says.

- That’s kind of the slightly scary aspect of role playing games, which has to be considered. At the same time, it’s what makes it possible for RPGs to change the world. LARP can change the world, because it lets people understand that humans under pressure may act differently than in the normal life, when you’re safe.

The minister of Development has taken note of a Norwegian LARP-project in Palestine later this year.

- I don’t know all the details, but there’s no doubt that you can put Israelis into the situation of the Palestinians and vice versa in a way that fosters understanding and builds bridges. Those things are an important aspect of role playing games which makes it possible to use them politically to create change.

At least according to Norway’s new Minister of International Development, Heikki Holmås. (Thanks, @apehaer!)

(Photo: Imagonem/Ole Peder Giæver)


      1. Norway gained a level…& decided to take another one in Biathlete.  Putting all their points in skiing & shooting– such a weird build, but hey, it works.

  1. The Scandinavian LARP scene is one of the most innovative in the world – google “jeepform” for an example. 
    Norway does sound more and more appealing with every passing month, especially with election season rolling in here in France. Time to take some Norsk classes…

  2. Btw, the book he is holding is the norwegian translation of the original non-advanced D&D rules, where being a elf or dwarf was a class. The blue book was also translated at the time. But since then the norwegian education system have turned most of us into passable english readers, so most that do not roll their own games (and there are some that do, and even manage to get a print run or two going) end up ordering from Amazon these days. Sometimes i find it easier to recall a word in english, and yes it worries me…

    1. Dumb question:  Are you sure that it’s not the re-issue by Wizards of the Coast?  Regardless, it’s interesting that it is “D&D” writ large and not “Dungeons & Dragons”.

          1. I’m not able to translate, but I have an original non-AD&D red boxed set and if that’s what he is holding then he has kept it in mint condition.  However the newly revised box set (which I also have) is exactly the same in Canada except that it says “4th Edition.”

    1. Technically, we were at war with Germany but that was because they rolled for initiative and we had a terrible defensive bonus. Actually, it’s a social-democratic welfare state which realizes that the best investment a government could possibly make is in the people.

      (Says the ardent social-democrat, of course ;))

      BTW, Jens Stoltenberg is a fairly nerdy guy. His dissertation, “Macroeconomic planning with uncertainty”, received very high marks, and before entering into politics he worked as a statistician. He had an email address in 1989 (I found him in an “email address book” (an intended parallel to the phone book) dated 1989), and is a big fan of the Command & Conquer games.

      1. You and I would say we are at war, but technically, we are not. We are in an armed conflict against the Taliban, but war is by definition a conflict between nations. Declaring we are at war with Taliban therefore means declaring the Taliban to be the legal government of Afghanistan. Also, it gives both parties quite significant mandates to set aside human rights.

        Check out this comment by the then-MoD, from 2010:

  3. I just hope that anybody with high hopes for games and transforming the world has observed griefers in their natural habitat…

    I’ve never yet met a set of rules tight enough that a creative rules-lawyer with an enthusiasm for human suffering couldn’t do some impressive things with them.

  4. Cool – and makes sense considering the use of roleplay in business already, and the use of immersive videogames to train soldiers.

    Although we should probably try and keep warring nations away from the likes of Warhammer, otherwise the U.S will be researching even more bizarre ideas for weapons.

  5. Too bad his party is corrupt, and he applauds said corruption. 

    This year Audun Lysbakken, a politician from the same party, was reviled to having given €20,500 of public funds from his ministry to a self defence group recently separated from the youth wing of his party without making the process public. Transparency International called this “political corruption” while Lysbakken called it “the usual way of doing things”.

    Holmås could have stood against Lysbakken as candidate to the position of leader in his party. He chose to support Lysbakken instead. That SV’s sitting minister of International Development was fired and Holmås given his position reviles why he refused to go against his corrupt leader.

    Forgive me for not applauding, but I hate it when a politician’s main priority is what’s good for him, not what’s good for the country, or even his own party.  Geek or no geek.

    1. This is a rather distortive account of the affair. Lysbakken called it “the usual way of doing things” before he reviewed what happened, then, after an internal investigation in his department as well as intense scrutiny from the media, he apologised, took full responsibility and resigned. After he resigned, it became clear that in fact, the problem lay in troublesome practices for funding allocations that had been entrenched in the department for at least a decade, under six different ministers. 

      The same practices, recent investigations have found, were also present in at least six other departments. While I normally respect the judgment of Transparency International — especially the person making the statement, whom I know to be a person of good judgment and a deep understanding of these issues — I do personally think they were being a bit hyperbolic in this case. There was the “appearance of impropriety” (to borrow a term from corruption researcher Lawrence Lessig), but not actual impropriety. The work to restore faith in the institutions is well under way. In this light, resigning was probably the right decision for Lysbakken, though some contest this. 

      Full disclosure: I am a member of the same party as the two politicians mentioned, and a supporter of them both.  However, I do believe that the above is a fairly impartial account of what happened. I also seem to remember playing half a game of Diplomacy against Heikki at a RegnCon once back somewhere in the dawn of time. 

      As chance would have it, I happened to meet Heikki Holmås about an hour ago. He seemed pumped about the impact the roleplaying interview was having. But he always seems pumped. He is an Energizer bunny. 

      1.  I guess that the telling thing about the affair is that the funds could likely have been distributed exactly the same way in accordance with the guidelines. There wasn’t any real motive for breaking them.

        It does seem that this administration has a tendency to play it a bit fast; in other news, the Prime Minister basically declared war on Libya three days before informing the Parliament. I mean, no one likes a rules lawyer, but that’s a bit much, isn’t it? :) But this seems to be part of a political culture which has formed over the course of several shifting administrations?

      2. If it hadn’t been for that intense scrutiny of the media, Lysbakken would have buried this case completely. His department hid emails and telephone messages from the internal investigation team. When Dagbladet, a national newspaper, proved they were doing so, an independent IT team had to be pulled in to find the rest of their messages because they had for some reason not been journalled. This does not make me believe they did everything in their power to be transparent.

        The fact that other departments are just as bad, doesn’t make this any better. Sure, it’s great that this case leads to a through clean up of what is obviously a rotten system, but it’s a shame you don’t seem to think this is a problem what your leader did, since everybody else were doing it as well.

        I refer what I have read in the media, and while my understanding of this case might not be as complete as someone who knows these people in person, this is the impression I as a voter am left with. Although I consider myself politically on the left, I will probably vote for a party on the right next election. Because honestly, it seems to me like your party doesn’t care about anyone not in your own party, and I already knew Ap were hopeless.

        1. I do understand that it can seem that way to you. There are good reasons for thinking so, and the media coverage has been partly good, partly wildly unfair. 

          For instance, my understanding of the missing emails is that what happened was not that they were found through diligent investigation by Dagbladet, the way it seemed in the article. Rather, what happened was that Tronsmoen, the SU leader, had voluntarily surrendered her entire email archive of communications with BLD, and a discrepancy showed up between the logs and her archive. So not exactly a lack of candour. The IT team (not independent, btw, they were from the departmental IT overview and support staff) was pulled in by the department in order to be sure nothing got left out. Indeed, most of what happened seems to me to be a matter of faulty routines and lack of oversight and judgment, rather than a matter of bad intentions and cover-up. This also seems the most satisfying explanation, given the circumstances. If it was a cover-up, it was really a phenomenally bad one. I’m not seeing it. I might have worded myself better re: responsibility. I *do* think the allocations to Jenteforsvaret were problematic (even though the money would probably have gone to them through the correct procedures as well). And while I waver back and forth about this, I do think that the proper course of action was resignation. I was very sorry that Lysbakken did these things, but I’m glad he took responsibility for them, and this has allowed me and many others in the party to accept the apology and move on. What I don’t think is that it is fair to say that Lysbakken is corrupt or that my party is careless. We just saw that this was a case where the responsibility being on Lysbakken didn’t mean that he is a permanently bad leader, just that he is a good leader who has made some bad decisions. We voted in the long-term interests of the party for the best candidate, which was him. I am very sorry that we are losing your vote. I do think that no matter what you think of Lysbakken’s conduct in this matter, it is rather unfair to tar us all with the same brush. If you vote for a party on the right, you will get bad policies. I hope you choose otherwise, and I hope you don’t let this in the grand scheme of things rather minor issue dampen your enthusiasm for the entire left wing of Norwegian politics in general, and my party in particular. 

          1. I got the impression from the articles I read that Trondsmoen was the one who gave Dagbladet the emails as well. Honour to her for doing so.

            Personally I doubt Jenteforsvaret’s application as it stood when the money was given would have led to them getting money. The money was given against the advice of the committee and other organizations that also work with self-defence for women were not given a chance to apply for the funds.

            I tar you all with the same brush because you were the ones to choose this man as your leader without any kind of protest or comment. Good policies don’t do any good when you don’t follow them.

    2. Norwegian Socialists should beware of falling in the trap that got the Social Democrats in Denmark in the early 00s. Fogh Rasmussen’s Left (which is actually a right wing Conservative party) is said to have won the election mainly on his promise to get rid of all the “Good Taste Commitees”. Versions of these exist in many countries, see Wikipedia for the British “quango”.

      This happens when a new wave of lefties share the old left’s dislike of business but also share the right’s dislike of government bureaucracy. They then channel their interests trough various NGOs, independent committees and so on. But this has two main caveats: One, NGOs are run in many different ways, sometimes by somewhat naive young people and often by people with unproven experience for the field they are in. This means things can turn into a big mess with the media watching. Second, the staff and board members of these NGOs and quangos are often from the same background and social circles as the left wing governments in question, such connections are even more apparent in small countries like Denmark and Norway. Accusations of dodgy dealings will undoubtly follow.

      A few more fuck ups like the one Lysbakken has had and the right wing will rule the Nordic countries for the next decade.

    3. LOL … “corrupt” parties in Norway.  Hehehehehehhe.  That is very funny.  Someone in the SAME PARTY, and it sounds like they simply directed funds in a shady fashion.  I’m sure that was a corrupt act, but if we used this standard in the US (or most other nations) you’d see REAL corruption.  You have a very clean political system if this is something the public is outraged over and you should be glad.  I wish it was that way in the USA, it is far, far, far worse … many orders of magnitude worse … :(

  6. As a larper, returned Peace Corps volunteer, and student of community development, I can definitely say that I find his views fascinating and wish to subscribe to his newsletter.

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