Interview conducted by Joseph S. Hopkins over the course of August 2016.
Our eighth Six Questions subject is Audun Refsahl, Norwegian video game developer and Viking Age re-enactor. Refsahl serves as co-writer and history consultant for Grimnir, a small independent studio based in Drammen, Norway and published via Snow Cannon Games.
Grimnir's approach is unique among studios. According to the studio's press release, Grimnir was founded in 2013 "out of a common passion and interest for the Viking age" and is dedicated to "bringing the stories from the Viking age to a wider audience". Additionally, Grimnir "believes that focus on authenticity in environments, people and objects helps with immersion, and enhances storytelling. Our games are inspired by the myths and folklore of the Norse people".
Insight into Refsahl's approach can be seen on a recent post regarding historical accuracy Refshal authored for the studio's blog, for example. Grimnir's current project is The Frostrune, a point-and-click adventure game set during the Viking Age and expected to be launched later this year.
1. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a small town called Kongsberg, about a one hour drive south and west from Oslo, Norway. It is sort of where the mountains start, and the area is loaded with historical sites going back to over 10,000 years ago, including lots from the Iron and Viking Age.
2. Can you remember when you first encountered Norse mythology or, more generally, Germanic mythology? And what was the context?
No, I really can't. It has always been there. I remember we complained in second grade that there was too much Christianity and not enough vikings when we learned about religion. I was sure I knew more than the teacher. I probably didn't, but that was my reality then.
3. How would you describe your religious beliefs (or lack thereof)?
I am in no way religious. At least not in a recognizeable way. I sincerely hope there is no deity that can take responsibility for this mess.
I admit that I sometimes internally verbalise my wishes for a situation, and I might hope that this would help somehow, but I don't really believe it. So, atheist, I guess.
4. How would you describe your political beliefs (or lack thereof)?
I'm a left wing liberal. I believe in freedom, but I do not believe that capitalism is helpful in achieving this. Power should be elected by the people, not bought with money. I am also a feminist and an environmentalist.
5. Do you have a formal academic background in Germanic studies? If not, where do you do your research on the topic?
I only have the basic education really, so no academic background. I started from scratch and learned by doing. But I have been doing viking reenactment for eleven years now, and the reenactment scene in Norway is packed with historians, archaeologists and other academics, so the bar is rather high if you want to participate in discussions. And I like to win discussions. So I have had to read a lot.
6. How does Norse mythology and/or general Germanic mythology influence your creative output?
The game is supposed to be as historically correct as possible. This seems like extra effort to a lot of people, but it really isn't. Having Voluspaa [Old Norse Vǫluspá], Havamaal [Old Norse Hávamál], and the other sagas really helped, because as long as we followed them everything was logical. We didn't have to look for flaws in the story, or illogical things. So deciding on these limitations was a stroke of genius really. This has also helped a lot in our communication with the player, as we are trying to use the same poetic model as they did back then. I'm not saying it is easy, but it eliminates a lot of hard decisions.
Joseph S. Hopkins would like to thank Audun Refsahl for his participation.