A Charming Lot - Marjo Sutinen

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This is part of a series of interviews with the team behind Critical Charm and those who helped us getting our game together. Here’s Marjo Sutinen, our CEO!

Boffering is not a term everyone is familiar with, so what is it and how is it different from say historical reenactment or larping?

In Finland, boffering is rather a sport than larping, though it has elements of larp and a dash of history reenactment too. The larp comes in play in the the team themes, which are mostly history-based: mine is a hoplite team called Sparta, and there are several teams based on Middle-Age European armies, a Conquistador team and so on. The biggest annual Finnish boffering event, Sotahuuto, also has a frame story each time, and some theater bits in between the battles, to take the story forward. Still, the bulk of the hobby is about physical and tactical skills: learning to hit fast and accurately, move well, dodge and feint your opponent, as well as perform moves together with your team. Most teams have weekly trainings where you just practice to get better at the sport, without decorations let alone story.

One element where larp, history reenactment and sports all come to play is the use of armor. The player can add hit points by wearing different kinds of protections, which must be made of historical materials: steel or very thick leather. Armor adds historical feeling, protects from hits, and makes the sport physically more challenging, as it’s heavy.

The weapons are light and padded, which makes is possible to play it in big teams without threat of serious injury. Sotahuuto has 600+ participants per year, all in the game at the same time, 300 versus 300.

What of those elements - sport, larp, or historical reenactment - first attracted you to boffering? And what do you get from it that you don’t in other hobbies?

It’s a combination of the sport and the larp - in a specific sense. The larp aspect for me is not about the frame stories and so on - it’s about larping a soldier, and it’s the same role every time we play. It’s a huge part of the experience! I’ll explain. In our team we focus on team play and group maneuvers - we practice doing our moves together as a single organ, according to commands from one of us who often keeps to the back, and sees the bigger picture.  Our playing style is very gender neutral and non-personal - we all have the same gear, and we basically all do the same kind of things. In a boffering event, it’s usually two days of game, from morning till late afternoon, in as much armor as we can muster, operating a big wooden shield and an almost three-meter boffering spear - it’s a lot to carry around, let alone run and fight in.

After the first day I’m usually exhausted - and in the next morning, after a night in a tent and often little sleep, I’ll wake up and be like… My god, I don’t want to go on the field anymore, I’ll lie down on the grass and take a nap! But then we start putting our gear on together, and get into columns and march to the starting positions, and by the time it starts I’m ready again. And we play the whole day again, smashing and bashing and running on the fields and in the forests, and it’s great fun. By the end of the day I just thinking that I can’t believe I did this again. So what I love about all of this is simply that, by playing this role of a soldier in a team, I end up doing awesome things I wouldn’t otherwise bring myself to do.

Team work is inevitably satisfying, especially when it leads to success or at least fun. What have you learned about leading a team from being part of the phalanx?

Probably the most important lesson is that the team is more than a sum of its parts. Individual skills matter to some extent, but ultimately your team's performance depends greatly on how you're able to energize each other. Then, the role of the leader is not just about recruiting talented people and making strategic decisions - it is about cultivating a spirit of transcending yourself, and doing something together that's way more amazing than anything you could do by yourself.

So other than walking around the office carrying a big foam sword to motivate people, how do you cultivate that spirit?

By bringing the spear in every Friday! Haha. Well, at least, giving positive feedback in front of the team, whenever there's a chance. Never making a decision which concerns a given area of development without discussing it with people working on that area. Giving people responsibility in their own fields - and suggesting them to turn to each other, when someone else in the team might have the answers. Giving people freedom to decide on their schedules and ways of working - but not allowing it to get too lax, because ultimately we need a framework we can trust to be able to get the best out of ourselves, and to be able to work together smoothly. And, even in times of hectic development and deadlines, starting our weekly meeting by a round of how-is-life - because we're people working together, not just code or art producing machines.

Ultimately, I think a lot more can be done. Leading a team is a journey of learning for me, every day.