26. The most significant cultural event in Helsinki

At the end of July 2016, I visited the Finnish convention Ropecon as one of the two Guests of Honour (GoH). I’d been there in 2005 as a GoH, and was generously allowed to return, putting me in the august company of Steve Jackson, who is the only other GoH to have had that privilege.

Held annually for over 20 years, and run entirely by volunteers, Ropecon is an amazing event. It gathers larpers, MtG players, cosplayers, and more. It’s a gathering of gamers of all stripes, and of nerddom in general. It lasts for a weekend and had no less than 4200 participants this time.

After having been held at a conference center in Dipoli (outside central Helsinki in the suburb of Espoo) for many years, Ropecon has now moved closer to the city, and took place at the Messukeskus convention center – ironically enough also a place where it been before, back in 1995.

It’s a crazy event. Participants of all ages, sizes and temperaments exist in a shared bubble of hobby enthusiasm, and you can find both board game tournaments, book releases and workshops on historical accuracy in roleplaying games. Ropecon might not have it all, but it sure has a lot!

Ropecon is important. Perhaps a lot more important than most think. At least that’s my view. The reason for this is that participatory culture matters. Co-creation matters. And one of the things most of the Ropecon participants have in common is that they’re co-creators of culture instead of just consumers of it.

They tweak, twist and transform reality. Even if it’s on a very small scale most of the time, it still matters. That’s why journalist, TV producer and longtime roleplayer Juhana Pettersson calls it “the most significant cultural event in Helsinki” and I agree.

Not the most important in terms of influence. Not by a long shot. But the most important in that this is a place where people co-create and keep the spirit of play alive. And they are so passionate about it, that it runs on free labour. That’s empowering and impressive, and I was very grateful to be a part of it once more.

One of the nicest things about being a Guest of Honour was that I didn’t have to plan. Others did it for me, and it was wonderful.

“Can you be at the Harry Potter meetup on Saturday evening?”

“Joonas and Ville, can you check my schedule and arrange it with them?”

“We’ve put it on your agenda.”

It was fantastic. I can’t wait for the day when I get a personal assistant. Having two for an event was pure bliss. And it meant I got to do a ton of stuff.

  • I did two one-hour interviews for national Finnish media.
  • I ran my freeform larp “Crossing Borders” twice in two 2-hour sessions.
  • I held three solo lectures, and two shared ones.
  • I participated in a game design workshop held by the American GoH, Ross Watson
  • I got to see a really cool 2-hour panel about money in the video game industry.
  • I was at two meetups; one for CoW players and one for Harry Potter fans.
  • I was at a special organiser dinner and at a fantastic afterparty for the volunteers
  • I even got to speak twice from the central Ropecon stage (at both opening and closing ceremony).
  • And on top of that, I got to hang out with friends, meet new amazing people and hold two room parties in my hotel room – the last of which featured more than 30 people in a space really not meant for it.

And that was just at the convention and its immediate aftermath. I also had time to go yachting with a friend (Helsinki is beautiful from the water), beer tasting at a brewery, partying with friends both old and new (the stalwart Mikko Pervila providing an air mattress one night too), and in general having a great time.

I’ve already promised to come back in 2027 if they’ll have me again.

Ropecon was amazing, but what I take with me is memories of people. People I knew beforehand, and got to spend time with again. People I’d never met, who made a lasting impression on me one way or the other. And people, who I knew a little and now know a lot. All helped make my experience what it was, and who knows where some of those meetings will lead?

Some of the memories will definitely become grey and faded over time, but others are going to stay fresh for many, many years. For that I am both grateful, humbled and very, very happy.

And if you get a chance to go there… take it.

Just remember to bring a questionable shirt that’s at least partly black, so you can fit in! ;)

Director at The College of Extraordinary Experiences, Coach at McKinsey & Founding Partner at The Global Institute For Thought Leadership. Author of 31 books.

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