The story of Jón Gnarr, who in 2010 was elected mayor of Iceland's capital and largest city, Reykjavík, could be mistaken for a story from EVE Online, the sandbox MMO created by Icelandic developer CCP. In EVE, players form corporations and take part in fascinating, often-bizarre political and military shenanigans. In Iceland, Jón ran for office as founder of "The Best Party," which he says wasn't, and still isn't, a real political party.
"It was supposed to be a complete nonsense party," said Jón during a Q&A after last week's EVE Online Fanfest in Reykjavík. "We promised whatever people wanted us to promise, but also promised to break all of our promises."
Icelanders apparently appreciated Jón's honesty, and he earned international fame after becoming one of the world's most fascinating and whimsical mayors. Though he claims he didn't even know what he was running for, he wasn't surprised when he was elected. "I could sense that people appreciated The Best Party," said Jón. "I mean, it's the best party."
Jón Gnarr, CCP, and Hættuspil
With a population of only 320,000, stories about Jón and stories about CCP are really stories about Iceland, all intertwined as part of the country's recent history. And here's where they intersect:
Before becoming a politician, Jón was already well-known as a comedian in Iceland, and appeared in one of Iceland's most popular board games, Hættuspil, which translates to "Danger Game." The man on the cover, dressed as a perturbed woman, is Jón Gnarr, and the company behind it was CCP.
Hættuspil's success funded the initial development of EVE Online, which was the plan all along, so Jón—the mayor of Iceland's capital—deserves some small credit for EVE Online and CCP's success.
An obsession with "building armies"
Jón says the people of Iceland are proud of CCP and what it's done for the country and Reykjavík, but he doesn't play EVE himself. "I suspect that EVE Online could be an obsession," he told us.
"I've been, yeah, I was obsessed with Warcraft and...uh, yeah," he continued, the crowd laughing in acknowledgement. "And Half-Life, and I just had to erase it and get rid of it."
After the Q&A, Tom Senior and I caught up with Jón for a few more questions about his gaming career and obsessions. His favorite game is Heroes of Might and Magic, followed by Elite.
"I played Elite on an Acorn Electron, and I was fascinated by it," he said. "It was quite time-consuming, it took a lot of time...and then of course, Warcraft came about. I dropped out after StarCraft, because it has become way too complicated for me. And the same happened with Might & Magic, it just became too complicated."
What did he enjoy so much about the original Might and Magic? "Building armies," Jón said laughing. "Building an army was my goal and pleasure. But I easily get addicted to games. I couldn't quit."
Danger Game returns
"One more turn" syndrome is the reason Jón now forgoes gaming in favor of taking walks and listening to podcasts, but his relationship with CCP isn't over. To celebrate EVE Online's 10 year anniversary, Jón is reprising his role in an English version of Hættuspil to be bundled with a new Collector's Edition.
Pre-orders are now open to get the box of EVE memorabilia, along with the first chance for us to play CCP's debut game, which set off a decade-long cascade of incredible stories from in and out of the EVE universe. If you don't play EVE, 149.99€ is real steep for just the board game, but perhaps CCP will decide to sell it on its own. Of around ten Icelanders I asked during Fanfest last week, only one hadn't played Hættuspil, and the rest gave glowing reviews.