Nicole and I got back from Finland this afternoon after 21 hours of traveling. I was a guest of honor at Ropecon, the largest game con in Finland, so we got to spend the past week in the Helsinki area. We had been looking forward to this trip all year and I’m happy to say that it did not disappoint. We had an absolute blast and would go back in a heartbeat. I hope to write more about this trip when I have the time, but since we’re flying out again tomorrow for GenCon I wanted to post something before we left.
We arrived Tuesday in the late afternoon and then we had a couple of days to do some sightseeing and explore Helsinki’s cuisine and nightlife. Our companions on these adventures were Jukka and Katri. Jukka started us out right by taking us to an excellent Russian restaurant called Saslik, where I had my first tastes of bear and reindeer and discovered that pickles smothered in honey and sour cream is way better than it sounds. The next couple of days Katri, a photographer and LARP organizer, was our tour guide as we explored the city and a bit beyond. We went to Suomenlinna, an impressive sea fortress built by the Swedes in the 18th century. The next day we toured the National Museum and the ladies hit the art museum while I enjoyed the Military Museum and the nearby Army Museum. Both of those museums were empty late in the day, so I had them all to myself. Their English signage wasn’t as good as the other museums but luckily I knew enough about the subject to figure things out.
We discovered that the Finns love their karaoke, and it doesn’t seem uncommon to see older folks singing traditional songs and younger people singing metal in the same bar. I was looking for a song I liked and knew the words to and likely took my life into my own hands by singing “Back in the USSR” first. We saw many metal songs done, but almost always the power ballads. I guess the dudes are sensitive under that long hair. Thursday night we went to a club for the supposed National Finnish Air Guitar Championships, though in the end only four people competed. Katri was one of them and she was great but got voted out first. One of the judges, from a terrible cover band whose singer didn’t know the lyrics to stuff like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Smoke on the Water”, said that women weren’t made for rocking out. Cue Nicole to go give the judges what for and fight for grrrrl power. It was a classic Nicole moment that I believe Greg Stolze (also a guest) snapped pictures of. Later that night a metal band called Waltari played. Not exactly my scene but it was fun to rock out with the Finns.
The con itself started Friday. I gave two lectures over the weekend (RPG Publishing in the New Millennium and then World Building for RPGs) and participated in a panel about designing licensed games (by way of Star Trek and the Finnish parody Star Wreck) and the off the wall game design challenge. Nicole and I also did a What’s New with Green Ronin seminar on Sunday. My only real complaint about the con was that I was so busy I didn’t get to see enough of it or play any games. We did get to watch a silent adventure film that Katri and some of her friends had made and that was quite fun.
Oh, and did I mention the drinking? Good lord, the Finns can drink. I held my own but I haven’t drank so much in one week since college. Each night we were out later than the last, culminating with the legendary after party that kept us up until we left for the airport this morning. I discovered the long drink, a gin and grapefruit concoction that was invented for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, and enjoyed many of those. I felt it my duty to also try salmiakkikossu, a vodka drink flavored with local salty licorice. Did not care much for that, though the Estonian variant with a more menthol taste that we drank at the after party was pretty good.
As you can see we packed a lot into a week but that isn’t what made this a truly great experience. The reason we had so much damn fun was the hospitality and friendliness of our hosts. I have never been so well treated at a convention. And the people we met were tremendous. There were so many hours of good conversation that I was hoarse by Saturday. We also enjoyed getting to know Peter Andreasen, a Danish LARP organizer who was another of the guests of honor. His room hosted more than one late night debauch by the end of the con. I learned a lot from Peter and various Finnish gamers about the very interesting LARP scene in the Nordic countries too, and I may write a bit about that when I have some time.
Last night was the after party for all the volunteers. As Ropecon is an all volunteer run show and it hosts 3-4,000 people every year, that means it was a big party. We had the entire top floor of a building, with food, a ton of booze (of course), karaoke, and a sauna in the back. I suspect the Finns get a certain enjoyment from taking Americans to a co-ed naked sauna but we were not fazed. Nicole, as a Finnish American who grew up on Minnesota, knew a thing or two about sauna culture already. There were up to 30 people crammed into a sauna made for far less, but that fit the spirit of the event. Nicole and I both had slowly been succumbing to con crud and I hoped the sauna might help sweat it out of us. I did feel a lot better after, though we will be rolling into GenCon a bit under the weather.
At the end of the night I volunteered to do some karaoke. They didn’t have much in English but I smiled when I saw A Hard Day’s Night. It was too perfect. So I belted that out and everyone drank and sang along. It was a raucous end to an awesome week. I can’t thank my new friends enough for such a great introduction to Finland and the gaming scene there. Kippis!