From midwest U.S. fandom, it's on to Sweden for more fannish folklore. Ahrvid
Engholm, the writer of the following, has previously written for Mimosa
about Swedish fan publications, fan feuds, and fan hoaxes. He has been active in
fandom since the 1970s, when most of the games he describes originated.
For some reason, people don't think that fandom is silly enough as it is, with grown-up people walking around in propeller beanies. At least where I come from, the fans have tended to make fannish life even more silly by introducing Silly Games.
The term 'silly games' often refers to quiz shows, word games, and similar games at conventions. In Swedish fandom such things have occurred, like the 'Fantasy Jeopardy' done at this year's big fantasy con. It so happens that the referee as well as the people writing the questions to Swedish TV's version of Jeopardy are fans, so we had a 'Fan Jeopardy' with parts of the original staff.
But more often the Silly Games are social things, done on club meetings, fan gatherings or parties. Here are some of the Silly Games of Swedish and Scandinavian Fandom:
Yngve Is A Louse
Or rather, Yngve Holmberg was the leader of the Swedish conservative party for some years during the 70's -- to some that is equivalent of being a louse. Anyway, 'Yngve Holmberg' was the name of a rather strange dialogue game popular around 1978.
The game consisted of saying the names of famous Swedish politicians. A certain name triggered a certain response, but the rules were rather obscure -- so obscure that I'm in fact not sure that I ever understood the game. The rules were presented in a dialogue in the fanzine Torkade Människor ('Dried People'), published by the fan couple KG Johansson & Gunilla Dahlblom. (KG & Gunilla live quite far north. Some years ago a fan planned a fan gathering on a train, to have a party while on the train and then to visit KG & Gunilla. The plan moved along fine for some time until the organizer got a letter from them: "It sounds swell! We're all for it! But there is a problem. There's no train service to our town...")
I'm certain that this game later led to the popularity of the dialogue game 'Stora Mossen' (which I have mentioned in other articles), since the rules of both games were obscure. You say things, pretend it has a meaning, and get a response that also pretends to have a meaning. Thinking of it, it sounds like fanzine publishing!
'Stora Mossen' was inspired by the game 'Finchley Central' of British fandom, but with one subtle difference: the London underground has no station called 'Finchley Central', but there is a station called 'Stora Mossen' in the Stockholm underground.
The game only has one rule: You take turns saying metro stations in Stockholm, and the person who first says the name 'Stora Mossen' wins. This nonsense game at times managed to engage Stockholm fans for hours and hours at fan gatherings in late 1979 and 1980.
In those days, we had lots of fan gatherings, especially in Stockholm fandom. There were one-evening parties, fan weeks, and fannish weekends. A 'fan week' was an open house for a week (when the parents of the hosting fan unsuspectingly went for a vacation), when all fans could come anytime, day or night, drink beer, write one-shots, listen to music at high volume, sleep over -- and play silly games. The fannish weekends where similar, but only for two days.
I remember a fannish weekend once, when I woke up rolled into a carpet. I stood up, looked around and saw the editor of the review fanzine Fanzine Press, famous for being late. "When will next issue of Fanzine Press come?" I asked, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to say the day after the Mother of All Parties.
Games were also popular at meetings of the Scandinavian SF Association. Most popular in those days was 'Sjörövarön' (or 'Pirate Island'). This was a board game where you let small metal figures move over a pirate island in search of treasure. You moved by throwing dice, and you could also shoot on opponents if they were in the line of fire.
The figures had names, like 'Fatty' or 'The Rat from Marseille', and you always had 'your' figure that you kept from game to game. After a time, we began to develop special phrases that we said in certain situations in the game, things like "The Rat from Marseille is always fearless!"
Pirate Island was played with such intensity that the board of the Scandinavian SF Association complained about us screaming and running around. The question was brought up to a board meeting and the players were asked to try to stay more calm. We eventually quit playing it after the fan who owned the game set, Leif Euren, gafiated and took the game with him. An attempt was made to revive the game in fandom around 1981, but failed after we began to get on to other, more exciting games.
Two popular games were invented at the regional Stockholm convention Nasacon, that was held ten times between 1980 and 1989.
'Meteorball' started at the 1981 Nasacon. This game is a version of softball. It is identical to Swedish softball, except for one thing: instead of shouting "Out!" you have to shout "Disintegrated!"
As you can see, shouting "dis-in-te-gra-ted" gives the running player a definite advantage, since he has a much longer word during which he can run and reach a base.
Nonetheless, Meteorball became a regular event at every Nasacon, and occasionally it was tried outside the convention. There was always one team from the club arranging Nasacon, Sigma Terra Corps, and a team of 'The Rest'. Sigma TC won most of the matches, but it didn't matter -- everybody had great fun.
Around 1989, I invented a variation of Meteorball called 'Meteoriteball'. This was a game for few players, where everybody took individual points and took turns hitting the ball. Meteoriteball actually worked fine!
The Great Peanut Race
Another invention of Nasacon was 'The Great Peanut Race'. At Seacon, the 1979 Worldcon, I had witnessed The Great Pork Pie Race, popular in British fandom for a few years because of the pork pies that Brian Burgess (I think his name is) frequently would offer fans at parties.
The aim of that game was to transport a pork pie approximately 20 meters. We didn't have 20 meters of indoor space, so we changed it to 2 meters. And we used a peanut instead, an unpiled peanut of the type that was popular on the meetings of the Scandinavian SF Association in the 60's when Lars Olov Strandberg hosted them.
I think The Great Peanut Race started at the 1982 Nasacon. A variety of methods was used for peanut transportation: slingshots, frisbees, trained animals, water pipes, mechanical cars, fireworks, gravitational force, and even mimeographs, to name just a few. (The mimeograph transportation was simply a string attached to the rolls of an electrical mimeograph. On the other end of the string was the peanut, and you just turned on the machine.)
But around 1986, a superb team of peanut fans calling themselves the Peanut Defence Initiative (from Reagan's Strategic Defence Initiative), emerged on the scene and took all the first prizes.
The first year, with PDI/1, they presented the 'Electroshock Red Button Peanut'. A mad scientist appeared on the stage and presented the set up that involved computers, a console, wires back and forth, and an electric device. The process was computer driven. You entered the correct codes, as when firing nuclear weapons, and a red warning light began to flash. Then you pressed the big red button, and:
"At this point," as the scientist explained with a heavy German accent, "the process is irreversible. The peanut will be fired, whatever you do. Retaliation is on its way and can't be stopped."
After the ten second countdown, the electric machine went "poff!" and flipped the peanut about two meters.
The construction work in The Peanut Defence Initiative was usually made by Thord Nilson, sometimes with assistance by Nils Segerdahl, and Jorgen Städje stood for the Mad Scientist presentations. (Thord is the kind of tech wiz that, if you leave him alone on a deserted island with a paper clip and chewing gum, will have built a radio transmitter before you come back.)
The second year, PDI/2 presented a microprocessor-controlled precision motor, which directed a metal spoon that flipped the peanut. This was, in fact, a rather sophisticated device. With detailed assembler programming of the small microprocessor connected to the device, it could do almost anything possible with a peanut and a spoon, including juggling the peanut. The machine could also flip the peanut with the backside of the spoon, which of course was called 'a backhand'.
The third and last year for PDI, we saw the most complex machinery in the series, the PDI/3 Maglev Peanut Train. They had actually built a short magnetic levitation train track, on which a small cargo holder floated on a magnetic field. This was also the year when Swedish TV came to Nasacon and made a story from the convention -- a full minute on the national news program Rapport, seen by close to half the Swedish population. And of course, they choose to focus the story on The Great Peanut Race. PDI/3 was shown on TV, together with other entries like the Gunpowder Peanut invented by Engineer Lindberg.
The success of PDI and the level of technical complexity they reached was probably what killed The Great Peanut Race. It became harder and harder to invent more spectacular transportation methods than the year before.
Some games were short-lived in popularity and flourished at particular conventions. Fia med knuff (which means 'Fia with a bump'; Fia is a female surname) is a simple boardgame, where you move markers over a square board by throwing dice. When you come to the same spot as an opponent, you can try to 'bump' his marker back to the start. There were several tournaments of Fia med knuff at conventions in Gothenburg in the mid 80s. The game was also played at fan gatherings in Gothenburg.
Poker has always been a popular game in Swedish fandom, since it can be played on long train rides to conventions. It can also be played for long, long nights when the program is over and you can't sleep. But it is always played in a friendly way, and people don't lose too much money. I remember a Göcon night in Gothenburg, where I and half a dozen people played poker for five hours and I lost heavily. I think I lost around two dollars... Stakes were never higher than a few cents per game.
In Norwegian fandom, playing cards without rules was quite popular a few years ago. I think it was invented by either Johan Schimanski or Egil Stenseth, and I've seen the game being played a few times. The idea is to confuse bystanders. The game works exactly the way it sounds. You shuffle cards, deal, play out cards, etc. -- but without rules. You must make it seem important and structured, and anyone watching will no doubt try to figure out what you are playing -- and how.
Naturally, bheer hewing has also been very popular. This is not a fannish game, but since fans like bheer it has become popular in fannish circles.
The tradition comes from the students of higher education, especially those at the technical institutes. Bheer hewing is very popular at student parties.
Usually you follow the Chalmers Rules, i.e., the rules of the Chalmers Institute of Technology in Gothenburg. They are:
1. You drink directly from 33 centiliter bottles.
2. Hands on your back when you start. The bottle on a table.
3. The referee says "Drink!" and you start drinking as fast as you can (a good bheer hewer can do a bottle in 4-5 seconds!)
4. The clock is stopped when you bang the bottle to the table when it is empty.
5. There is always foam left in the bottle. This foam is collected in a measuring tube, and gives you plus time on a certain scale, depending on the amount of foam left.
At some conventions, they have even started to take bets on who will win the bheer hewing competition. At one con, contestants met each other two and two, like in a tennis tournament, and it all ended in a final. (I think I reached the semi final of that tournament.)
The best thing is that the bheer is usually paid for by the con!
Frozen Methane Hockey
And naturally, we shouldn't forget 'Frozen Methane Hockey'. In Sweden you can get a special sort of tabletop ice hockey game, which is quite popular. Ice hockey itself is also quite popular here.
In tabletop hockey you control five players plus a goal keeper with metal bars that run under the 'ice'. It's a very fast and entertaining game, once you get the hang of it. Tabletop hockey is played both in Stockholm and Gothenburg fandom. In Stockholm we had a tournament, called the Interplanetary Hockey League, where half a dozen members of the club Sigma TC participated with their own teams. Each participant invented a name for his team and names for the players, and even painted the figures of the table top set. The founder of the Sigma TC, Wolf von Witting, was so enthusiastic about it that he even published a few issues of a newsletter for the tournament, The Interplanetary Hockey News.
We called it 'Frozen Methane Hockey', since the idea was that it took place on the moons around Jupiter -- and not on water ice. My team was called the Ganymede Heinleiners (from Robert Heinlein and the novel Farmer in the Sky that took place on Ganymede) and the players were all famous fans. I, for instance, had Walt Willis as center forward and Bob Tucker as defensive player -- he was called Bob "Tough" Tucker and was a really tough player that could shoot very hard and do 'smooth' goals. He would often score with shots from his own defence zone. The Ganymede Heinleiners had bronze shirts and dark blue trousers, and played rather well -- I think it ended second in the league.
Of course, there have been more games. I remember I once invented a card game called 'Harry Warner's Fanzine Collection'. We tried it, but the rules were so complicated that the game never took off. I no longer remember the rules, in fact. It had something to do with collecting different suits of cards to get a complete fanzine collection.
At a Tolkien gathering I go to every year (that's about the only Tolkien thing I go to, though) they have several games, of which 'Eat the Banana' is among the most popular late at nights. It involves people trying to eat a banana in the most sexy way.
In the secret apa Cucumber (which I have written about previously) we had a short lived play-by-mail game, 'The Battle of the Milky Way'. Also, the fans in the city of Jönköping some years ago declared their intention to develop a fandom role playing game, but I didn't hear more of it after a while.
I haven't heard of any computer game that has reached certain status in fandom. I once did a map of The Great Fannish War of the early `60s for Broderbund's 'The Ancient Art of War', however, and I suppose other games could be adapted to fannish circumstances.
Despite all these games in fandom, Swedish fans usually don't take part in the mainstream game movement that has become extremely popular. The National Board and Role-Playing Game Association of Sweden now has 22,000 members, and many of their games are of sf or fantasy nature. But the fans aren't interested.
There is a difference, I believe, between inventing your own game and buying a commercial game. Inventing your own game and having fun with it is creative, and fans like to be creative. Commercial games are incredibly complex, expensive, and boring -- that's only for suckers, and fans don't like being suckers.
All illustrations by Charlie Williams