When Theatre and Gaming Meet – Part 2
It’s a little later than I’d hoped but, as promised, here’s the second part of my previous blogpost on ‘when theatre and gaming meet’. But before I dive straight in, like an eager seagull, I thought I’d just quickly clarify something. It may have sounded in part 1 that Block Stop is literally the only company out there who would ever think to combine theatre and gaming and have exciting and interesting thoughts on this; I am neither ignorant nor arrogant enough to believe that. There are a number of amazing individuals and groups who (although very different to us) are also treading this line and are experimenting with stuff like technology, interactivity and play. Some really interesting companies that spring to mind include groups like Blast Theory, Coney and differencEngine; you should definitely check them out. The reason, however, I have chosen to address this issue through the lens of our project Dead Wait is, quite simply, because it’s the project that I’m able to talk about with the most confidence and experience. I’m hoping that at some point in the future I’ll get a chance to write a blog article that talks about some of these ‘external’ examples in more depth.
So now that that slight disclaimer is done with let’s crack on with it good and proper. In part 1 I talked about how bringing the ‘live space’ of theatre into gaming can add a really intense kind of intimacy to a gaming experience. In this next part I want to focus more on the gaming side of things and what elements of it we have tried to combine with theatre to make our current project. There’s lots we could talk about here but the one element in particular that I want to key in on is decision-making.
I reckon that decision-making is a fundamental aspect of games. Perhaps I’m wrong but if you can think of a game that doesn’t involve making choices in any way then I’d be very interested to hear about it. Be it the very obvious and structured choice making process in games like Mass Effect or Fallout or the more subtle, but equally intrinsic, choices we make in so many games, such as: which enemy should I shoot first, or, how should I approach this boss? Sometimes we’ll be given time to deliberate over what choice we want to make, other times we’ll be forced into making split-second decisions. Ultimately though, it is choices that make winning and losing: a. possible and b. fun.
Really great games will take advantage of this and use decision-making in interesting ways. That could be in terms of key choices that affect the story or it could be in terms of the choices that affect your success in the game, e.g. whether you live or die. Games that do this well can make dying feel ok or even fun as you try to figure out what it is you need to do differently next time in order to survive.
Further to this I actually believe that decision-making is a huge part of what makes gaming feel so engaging and involving as, to one level or another, it makes you invest in the narrative and the experience of the game in ways that other mediums just can’t do. It is you who has the power to make choices that could impact the success or failure of the mission or goal of the game. It is you who has the power to affect how the game plays out and, in some cases, how the story ends. As a result you have a connectedness to the narrative that is unique from other mediums. I think this is awesome! The potential power that games have to impact us psychologically, emotionally and intellectually is something that fills me with so much excitement.
So how has this idea of ‘decision-making’ influenced our attempt to create a gaming-theatre hybrid experience? The short answer would simply be – hugely!
What would happen to theatre if you were given the power to make key decisions throughout the narrative? What would happen to theatre if you had the ability to drastically influence how it all plays out? What events take place, who lives and who dies, how the story ends – these are all affected by the choices that you make. Think about that for a second, think about the power and control, but also the deep personal investment that experience could invoke. In this scenario you are more than just an audience member, you are also a key component in the story. You are part audience, part actor, part director. Or you could of course say that you are ‘the player’.
One other aspect of this that I find so intriguing is the self-reflection that it produces. Let me explain. In theatre, I at least, find that I like to reflect upon my judgements of the characters, their choices and the issues and ideas that the play raises. This is something that I love about theatre. What happens, however, when you essentially become one of the main characters in the performance? Surely you end up thinking and questioning your own choices and decisions. I think that this is fascinating! This is a mechanic that we really aim to encourage and take advantage of in Dead Wait so, in many ways, it is a performance that is more about you than any of the other characters.
I realise that, at this point, some of you may be thinking… ‘well what about interactive theatre? Surely that involves decision-making too! How is that different to a live game?’ If you are thinking that then I would say, well yes, that’s a very intriguing question. Unfortunately I don’t think I have time to address that question here in the fullness it deserves but perhaps that’s another one I should dedicate an entire blogpost to at a later date.
So, that brings me more or less to the end of this two parter blogpost: I hope you’ve found it interesting. Hopefully I’ve managed to explain that when the connectedness and agency of decision making in games meets with the intimacy and liveness of theatre what is created is an experience that can be deeply intense and deeply involving. It is probably worth saying that the elements of theatre and gaming that I’ve talked about are of course not the only elements of the two mediums that we are using in Dead Wait, they just happen to be the two things that I was most interested in talking about as we continue to experiment and think about what we’re doing and why. I also want to close by reiterating a point that I made in part 1 that none of this is to bang on about how great we think we are but rather it is all to say that we think that theatre is great, we think that games are great and that by bringing the two together we hope to find something that celebrates and exploits the greatness of them both.
Post by Dan Thompson