Theatre and Games

Convener(s): Tom Mansfield

Participants: Ben Eaton, Victoria Pratt, Annette Mees, Emma Forster, Kylie Lloyd, Lucy Atkinson, Louise Platt, Anna Barrett, Jacqueline Coombs, Chelsea Walker, Dan Copeland, Jenny Toksvig

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Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations: 

This started with a discussion of what to call things and ended with a decision to reject labels (at least, as much as that’s possible!) 

We had a wide-ranging discussion of different models. We began with a conversation about a project Tom’s working on which might be more of an interactive theatre piece than a game. Led to a discussion of the difference between these two things, on which we didn’t really reach much of a consensus. I think we all have a sense that the terminologies for what this kind of work is / can be are still being worked out. Annette said that at Coney they prefer to avoid using the word “game” while Invisible Flock think much more from a “gaming” model.

We had a long discussion about different gaming models. Jenny talked about her experience as a DM (dungeon master) in Dungeons and Dragons – a model in which the players create characters, the DM creates the “room” those characters come into. It’s a form of live, spontaneous improvisation in which the DM tries to ensure that the players are co-creators of the story – a phrase which recurred during our conversation. This led us onto a discussion of Live Action Role Playing (LARP), especially Nordic Larp which is much more reliant on character generation than on “action”, combat etc. Is this a way of allowing players to get involved in creating a story? Coney’s work for example is much more strongly authored, guiding players down paths while still offering them choices. But there’s a general sense through this conversation that we can and should offer players the opportunity to be co-creators – whether that’s of the story, characters or world – and explore ways to be honest in making our contract with them. 

We talked a lot about the game-participatory-theatre-thingy (my technical term) creating a particular kind of contract with an audience: how do we set up this contract as part of the game or separately. Equivalent of the “tutorial level” with computer games. Ben suggested that the computer game model can be tricky in creating a live event – we talked about how non player characters in a computer game can only ever do a limited number of things, while actors can of course be much more reactive. 

As Annette said, this means that we need different things from actors in this kind of work than in traditional models: they need to be much more responsive and empathetic. What’s a really “interesting” choice for an actor on stage in front of 700 people might end up being really banal if done in front of one person. 

There was a discussion of rewards. Is playing the game its own reward? In traditional theatre the reward of sitting through the play is getting the emotional payoff at the end of the story. We discussed how giving tokens or points may create winners and losers. This can be good or it can be counterproductive. How to create a sense of “epic win” even if you “lose the game”. For Coney, the group is the hero. In tom’s show, there’s the possibility that the players must make a group moral choice in which some people can disagree. One major issue with this therefore becomes how to allow and/or channel dissent. 

We talked about exclusivity in this kind of work – especially in alternative reality gaming, is there a problem with the creation of cliques? How can we get beyond this and encourage different levels of participation?

Some tips:

  • map out the emotional arc of the players
  • try it out early – otherwise it’s like rehearsing without your leading actor
  • think about getting the audience from A to B in anything that’s promenade-esque 

some reference points:

  • Nordic LARP
  • ARG
  • Pervasive games –
  • Door in the Wall
  • Coney –
  • Hide and Seek