A Nerd’s Guide To Iceland

Staff at CCP Headquarters

What has Iceland contributed to the world’s favourite media franchises? Will nerds and fans recognise locations from their most beloved shows and films? Read on to discover just why Iceland is the perfect travel destination for geeks and freaks! 

Remember the days when people were derided as “nerds?” It might seem like a relic of the past, but large swathes of the population have been named as such simply for enjoying interests and hobbies outside of the mainstream. 

Thankfully, these days are long behind us. In the age of the internet, nerds, geeks, and dorks rule the world. Not only have they founded huge fan communities around countless IP’s and franchises, but they have contributed strange and unfathomable leaps in technology, media, and art.

CCP
Photo: Golli. Headquarters of CCP Games in Iceland

Why might nerds travel to Iceland? 


If ever a criticism was thrown at nerds, it was that they were unable – or unwilling – to live in reality. This might explain their affinity for fantastical settings like Middle Earth, Westeros, or far planets like
Star Wars’ Naboo or Dune’s Arrakis. 

Well, good news, geeks! 

If there was any country that could be easily construed as having leapt from a creative imagination, it would be Iceland. With its smooth table-top mountains, blackened coastlines, and quaint settlements, it’s easy to imagine yourself travelling through a place of pure fantasy.  

Iceland was discovered by the Vikings

Reykjavík statue
Photo: Golli. A statue in Reykjavík

Excluding the few Irish monks who once lived on Papey Island, it was the Vikings who discovered Iceland. Having braved cold and tempestuous seas in longships, Norwegian settlers were responsible for the founding of Icelandic society. 

Anyone familiar with the Berserker archetype in fantasy – commonly appearing in universes like Warhammer, Dungeons & Dragons, and Final Fantasy – might be interested to know that it was the Vikings who first inspired it. 

 

 

In Old Norse, the term berserkr described warriors renowned for their sheer brutality and lack of fear. Fighting while entrenched in a hallucinatory daze, these terrifying barbarians instilled horror in all that faced them in battle. By all accounts, such warriors seemed unkillable.

It is commonly believed that these trances might have been the result of them having ingested the psychedelic strain of mushrooms that grow freely around Iceland. While it may sound like a powerful trip, nerds in Iceland may want to avoid this for the sake of their sanity… 

Visit the Viking Festival in Iceland

Viking Festival Hafnarfjörður

For nerds in Iceland seeking out cosplay opportunities, the Viking Festival is held every June in the town of Hafnarfjörður. 

Visitors will see firsthand how Iceland’s earliest settlers dressed, lived, and spent their time. Expect interesting dining options, colourful outfits, and a spot of sword fighting or wrestling. 

J.R.R Tolkien’s Interest in Iceland

Portrait of Tolkien
Photo: J.R.R Tolkien. Public Domain. CC.

J.R.R Tolkien is famously known as the author of The Hobbit, The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and The Silmarillion. These are sprawling works of genius that define fantasy to its very roots. Some may know that the writer found much inspiration in the Icelandic Sagas.

But not so many realise that he actually heard many stories of hidden elves and trolls from his Icelandic au-pair, Arndís Þorbjarnardóttir, who lived alongside the Tolkien family in 1929. 

J.R.R Tolkien never had the pleasure of travelling to Iceland himself. But he strongly believed that a knowledge of the Icelandic Sagas was crucial to understanding the foundation of mediaeval writing. In fact, he taught the subject as a Professor of English Language and Literature.

 

 

Actually, it might surprise readers to know that Tolkien did not put much importance on actually visiting the places that inspired him, opting instead to learn about them by deeply immersing himself in written works. In a 1943 letter to his son, Christopher, Tolkien writes:

“The bigger things get the smaller and duller or flatter the globe gets. It is getting to be all one blasted little provincial suburb. At any rate it ought to cut down on travel. There will be nowhere to go. So people will (I opine) go all the faster.”

Nerds in Iceland – know that you’re taking part in an adventure that Tolkien never had the joy of discovering. You can read more about ancient Icelandic beliefs in our article; Icelandic Folklore | Myths & Creatures

The creators largely filmed Game of Thrones in Iceland.

 

 

Winter is coming… 

This iconic phrase – the ominous words of the northern House Stark – is uttered by almost everyone come September in Iceland. 

It is not just for the novelty and truth behind these words. 

In fact, many locations from HBO’s hit series, Game of Thrones, were filmed in Iceland. Given that fact, this island is forever linked with George R.R Martin’s spectacular fantasy franchise. 

Primarily, Iceland’s snowy winter landscapes stood in for anywhere “north of the wall.” This describes that mysterious and unruly region inhabited by wildling tribes, packs of direwolves, and the White Walkers’ terrifying army of the dead. 

When you watch our hero, Jon Snow, traipsing across a plateau of snow, blackened volcanic rock, and expansive sheet ice, there is an excellent chance you’re looking at the Icelandic countryside.

 

Where was Game of Thrones filmed in Iceland? 

File:Joseph gatt game of thrones iceland set.jpeg
Photo: Actor, Joseph Gatt, at Thingvellir National Park in Iceland. Wikimedia. CC.

Some of the most famous Game of Thrones shooting locations that nerds in Iceland will want to explore include:

  • Þingvellir National Park 
  • Svínafellsjökull glacier
  • Mýrdalsjökull glacier
  • Lake Mývatn
  • Grótagjá cave
  • Hverir geothermal area
  • Kirkjufell mountain 
  • Dyrhólaey rock arch
  • Skógafoss waterfall 
  • Stakkholtsgjá canyon
  • Þórufoss waterfall 
  • Þjórsárdalur Valley
  • Reynisfjara black sand beach
  • Dimmuborgir 

Filming Locations in Iceland for Star Wars… and other Sci-Fi

 

 

If there is one beloved science-fiction franchise that dominates all others, it is Star Wars. 

Lightsabers. Jedi knights. Death Stars. Luke Skywalker. Darth Vader. Even those who have not seen the films know all too well what such terms point to. 

In fact, George Lucas’ fantastical world has made such a dent on global culture that it’s impossible to imagine a world without it. Well, wouldn’t you know that two Star Wars films have actually used Iceland as a shooting location?

Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader
Photo: Mirko Toller. Wikimedia. CC.

If you remember the opening scenes of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), you may recall how an imperial spacecraft lands on terrain defined by its black pebbles. From the ship steps out an officer of the Galactic Empire. Stormtroopers adorned in black-shell suits guard him on either side, demonstrating their superior rank compared to the more typical, easily-killed white-dressed soldiers.

You might not have realised on watching it, but that’s actually Mýrdalssandur desert, an outwash plain of Mýrdalsjökull ice cap. You can visit this site and others while on a sightseeing trip along Iceland’s picturesque South Coast. 

Iceland was also used in Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015). The volcano, Krafla, stood in for the infamous ice planet, Starkiller Base. 

What other science-fiction movies were filmed in Iceland? 

 

 

There are numerous other examples of Icelandic landscapes standing in for the glorious settings found in science-fiction. Nerds in Iceland will want to catch up on their movies before travelling here.

Most people know that Ridley Scott’s follow-up to the Alien films, Prometheus (2012), famously used Dettifoss waterfall in its opening scene. Then there was Christopher Nolan’s 2014 epic, Interstellar, that used the mighty ice cap, Svínafellsjökull, for trailers and marketing materials. 

Only a year before, Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) picked out Reynisfjara beach, marking the first time a film in the franchise was shot outside of the US. Another film that year – Oblivion starring Tom Cruise – used Hrossaborg volcanic crater, Jarlhettur ridge, and Drekavatn lake as shooting locations.  

What Superheroes movies were filmed in Iceland? 

 

 

Superhero movies have become a genre in and of themselves. And with so many action-packed blockbusters released every year, it’s little wonder that some of them used Iceland as a primary filming location. 

One of the first superhero movies to shoot in Iceland was Batman Begins (2005). Christian Bale is seen training in front of the glaciers,  Svínafellsjökull and Vatnajökull, standing in for the heavenly mountains of the Himalayas.

Other superhero films that have since been shot in Iceland include Captain America: Civil War (2016), Justice League (2017), Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014), and Thor: The Dark World (2013). 

Are there any other movies that were filmed in Iceland? 

Ben Stiller in Iceland
Photo: Ben Stiller on set in Iceland. Wikimedia. CC.

Wouldn’t you know it… there are! 

One film that puts Iceland firmly in the spotlight is Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020). Starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams, the story follows two Icelandic musicians as they take part in the Eurovision Song Contest – a long held dream of the Icelandic people. 

Another famous movie shot in Iceland is The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), starring Ben Stiller. Many people often cite this uplifting dramatic comedy as their first introduction to Iceland.

Not only does much of the story take place here, but the director places great emphasis on sweeping landscape shots, unveiling this island’s beauty in true cinematic form.  

Ultimately, Hollywood has used Iceland as a production stage for so many features that it’s tricky to give them all due credit. Among other big titles include Flags of Our Fathers (2006), Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008), Jupiter Ascending (2015), and The Fate of the Furious (2017). 

Iceland developed EVE Online.

CCP headquarterrs interior
Photo: Golli. CCP Games in Iceland

As mentioned, Icelanders are well adept when it comes to technology. Our young island boasts very fast internet speeds thanks to being between Europe and North America. Thus, it has more-than-capable data centres and servers, making it one of the best places in the world to develop video games. 

The best known video game to come out of Iceland is the epic and complex EVE Online. For those unaccustomed to the game, CCP’s major ongoing project is an enormous living universe where ship captains – or capsuleers, as they are known – take on various missions as part of their chosen faction. 

 

 

Whether that be dominating a nearby star system, or trading in expensive minerals to earn a profit, EVE Online offers its players plenty to do. Though, be warned: EVE Online has been out for over a decade now. With the difficult mechanics and ever changing in-game economy to take into consideration, it will likely take time to truly maximise your time in space.

For those nerds in Iceland interested, CCP commissioned the EVE Online Monument in tribute to their player base. Located at Reykjavik’s scenic Old Harbour, visitors will discover the usernames of thousands inscribed onto the dual domes of the sculpture. It is an interesting and fitting dedication to how users have helped develop and grow the world of EVE Online. 

The Nexus Store – Where Icelandic Nerds Unite!

No photo description available.
Photo: Nexus Facebook.

Nerds in Iceland – are you looking for merchandise from your favourite movie and literature franchises while exploring the country? If so, the famous Nexus Store has you covered. 

Figurines, board games, costumes, and comics are all found at Nexus. While many belong to globally beloved franchises, a devoted selection is dedicated solely to local creations. After all, you may not speak or read Icelandic, but a comic book written and published in this island’s mother tongue still makes for a brilliant souvenir or gift! 

However, be aware that no Nexus stores are located in downtown Reykjavik, so you may need to make a special trip in order to browse their wares. 

Nexus also boasts a great online shop. Even if you can’t make it in-person, it’s worth stopping by its website to see the wide selection of items on offer. 

Oscar-Winner Hildur Guðnadóttir Composes for Video Game

Hildur Guðnadóttir Oscar

Composer and cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir is composing the music for the video game Battlefield 2042, RÚV reports. Hildur, who won both an Oscar and a Grammy for her score for the film Joker, is writing the soundtrack in collaboration with her husband, the English composer and sound artist Sam Slater. This is the first time she’s composed for a video game.

Battlefield 2042 is a massively multiplayer first-person shooter game and the seventeenth installment in Swedish developer Dice’s popular Battlefield series. It is published by Electronic Arts.

“We are thrilled to be writing our first video game score for Battlefield 2042 and teaming with Electronic Arts,” Hildur and Sam wrote in a prepared statement. “It was such a deeply creative experience to dive into this world and create a truly unique and disruptive musical environment for the game.”

Battlefield 2042 comes out on October 22 on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox. The game score will be released on the same day on both vinyl and via leading streaming services.

Icelandic Trivia App Off to Winning Start

Teatime Games, a startup based in Reykjavík, has won over trivia nerds around the world with Trivia Royale, its new “social gaming” app, Mbl.is reports. Teatime Games is the newest endeavor of CEO Þorsteinn B. Friðriksson, who cofounded the wildly popular QuizUp seven years ago. Trivia Royale builds on the success and basic format of QuizUp, but gives it a new, interactive twist.

Per the Teatime website, “Trivia Royale pits players from across the globe against 1000 opponents in thrilling tests of knowledge to become a ‘Royale’ and earn a coveted spot in the exclusive ‘Royale Lounge.’” Players do so by winning a series of five-question ‘duels’ against individual opponents in their bracket until they are ‘the last man standing.’ (If you lose a duel, you’re out.) This ‘royale’ structure is key to some of the most popular games in the world, says Þorsteinn, pointing to massively multiplayer games such as Call of Duty and Fortnite.

Personalised avatars are also one of the app’s big selling points – the app’s “augmented reality face filter” technology (called Gamesfaces) protects players identities while simultaneously using their camera phones to pick up their actual facial expressions. Paired with chat features, the Gamesfaces technology is intended to make the app more social and personal, or, as it says on the website, “Watching your opponent’s reaction when you deal the winning blow can be priceless.”

Screenshot, Teatime Games.

Teatime was founded in 2017, about a year after QuizUp was sold to a company in the United States. It currently employs about 20 people in its downtown Reykjavík office, not counting the question authors, most of whom are contractors based in the US, and the programmers, who are based all around the world.

Since its founding, the startup has launched several games “with mixed results,” says Þorsteinn. But each one has been a learning experience. “You’re always going up and down in this business,” he remarked. “It’s definitely always a roller coaster.” For now, however, Trivia Royale is riding high. The app was launched on Wednesday, and by Saturday, was already ranked the 17th most popular game in the US and was enjoying even more popularity in Europe. (Indeed, by Saturday, it was the #2 most popular trivia game in the US.)

But Þorsteinn isn’t resting on his laurels and is wary of “declaring victory right away. We’ll let a few days pass,” he remarked cautiously. “These are definitely good indicators and the game’s popularity is promising.”

New Game Design Degree Program Unveiled

The Ministry of Education has approved a new BSc degree program in video game design, RÚV reports.

The three-year distance learning program will be offered by the Keilir Institute of Technology in collaboration with the Norway’s Noroff University College’s School of Technology and Digital Media. Face-to-face meetings will be held at Keilir’s Ásbrú campus on the Reykjanes peninsula.

Program director Nanna Traustadóttir says that the game design program has been in development for several years and is meant to compete with similar programs abroad.Initially, the program will enroll around 40 students. Nanna says that the gaming sector is massive and that there will continue to be a great need for people who are proficient in game design in the future.

Nanna is also emphasizes that a lot more goes into game design than many people think. “Creating a video game is, in all reality, creating a whole new world. We’re talking about a story, dramatization, characters—not to mention the enormous amount of work that goes into each individual character. We’re talking about all kinds of computer processing—not just programming, but obviously programming as well.”

Game Designers Convene for Countryside “Isolation Jam”

Every year for the last five years, video game designer Jóhannes G. Þorsteinsson has opened his home in Vesturádalur in Northeast Iceland to designers from around the world for an “isolation jam,” where they spend a weekend enjoying each other’s company and the lack of distractions in the countryside while designing new games to try out with one another. This year’s jam, which was visited by the RÚVtelevision program Landinn saw designers from Iceland, Serbia, Romania, and The Netherlands gather over a weekend, at least two of whose games were directly inspired by their rural environment.

“It’s very nice when you can go to a place and be inspired by the landscape and say, ‘oh, I want to make a game about exactly this,” said participant Ivan Noraros from Serbia. “I would never think of making a sheep farming game, but then I came here. It’s great inspiration.”

“The idea is that you’re trying to defend your field of crops from your opponent and you’re trying to prevent them from growing their crops,” Hein-Peter van Braam from The Netherlands explained about his game-in-progress. “And you do that by shooting tiny sheep into their field which will grow up and then eat the other person’s crop. It’s just pure silliness, really, I’m not making a statement with this game, other than it’s fun to do something non-violent with a gun, I guess?”

Jóhannes was raised in the area, but lived for a while in Reykjavík and Sweden before moving back out to the country a few years ago. “When I came back, I was so lonely,” he explained. “I like being alone, but I was missing people who were into the same thing as me. Naturally, I have a lot of friends here, but it’s maybe difficult to talk about computer games with sheep farmers…So I became a bit isolated. So I came up with this plan to trick people to come to my place, to play with me.”

“It’s so similar to musicians “jamming” together,” Jóhannes continued. “…You get to try out ideas that you haven’t before, something new.” Sometimes, the experiments come to nothing, of course, but other times, they develop into bigger games.

Although, his “isolation jam” has been successful, Jóhannes is not looking to expand it into a larger event, however. “If I invited more people, in a bigger house, it wouldn’t be as cozy any more.”