I've now finished the second part of my Churchill Fellowship project on drama and game design at the University of Miami and I'm a bit embarrassed that its been over a year since I've written anything on this sporadically updated blog about what I've been doing. So here goes: I'll write a few new posts to talk about what has happened since the first visit to Miami in the Autumn of 2013 up until now.
After I got back from Miami in December 2013, I started looking for opportunities that would allow me to use or disseminate what I had learned during the first part of the Fellowship project. The first thing that popped up was a call out from Theatre Delicatessen for proposals for projects for their SPACED 2014 Festival. Essentially, SPACED was a Festival geared towards the making of 'Immersive' theatre projects and in spite of my aversion to the term 'Immersive', I made an application with the plan of designing and running a functioning game/drama for the first time. Hobo's very first production, 'Roundabout' at the Bush Theatre was made for Theatre Delicatessen and, given T-Deli's prior knowledge of Hobo, I thought this Festival would be a perfect place to try out a game idea.
Unfortunately, the application got turned down! Disaster! But - Roland Smith, who runs T-Deli, invited me to come in and run a workshop on applying game design principles in theatre/drama. So I planned the session and it went really well. We started by playing a game, then I talked about the game design process of system analysis, identifying goals for players and providing core mechanics. The most interesting bit, though, was splitting the group up and inviting them to develop an idea for a game based on a real world system. One group had the idea of a game about an A&E Department in which a Doctor has to balance patient welfare alongside waiting time targets and financial limitations. Another group had an idea about Evolution and another group had an idea about a game set in a laundrette! What was interesting to see was that a group of artists from a range of disciplines were able to understand the wordy terminology of game design and apply these terms in thinking about a real world scenario that they'd like to make a game from. Essentially, game speak felt accessible and relevant to the work of theatre makers. Good stuff! Some very nice comments came through on the Twitter after the workshop:
Touchpaper Theatre @TouchpaperT Feb 27
Thanks for a great masterclass @hobotheatre last night @theatredeli - lots of thinking about rules, systems at play today!
Still reflecting on yesterday's Theatre&Gaming masterclass from @hobotheatre. Very inspirational! Asking ourselves lots more questions!
We love games and we love theatre, who knew they had some much in common! Amazing masterclass with Jamie Harper. @hobotheatre @theatredeli
Playing with wires and plugs at @theatredeli and feeling part inspired part daunted by @hobotheatre
Another excellent masterclass @theatredeli today! Interesting and fun insight into gaming/theatre. Thanks Jamie Harper! @hobotheatre
Anyway, that's enough smug self-congratulation from me. A few weeks after the workshop I was at an art gallery seeing the work of a designer friend of mine (you know, visting a gallery, as all ARTISTS do) and I got a tap on the shoulder from a girl called Alex Crampton who had heard about the workshop at Theatre Delicatessen. We talked a lot about games and our frustrations with current interactive or 'immersive' theatre practice and discovered that we had a lot in common. Consequently, we decided to find some time later in the year to do some game design / drama workshops to see if there was any scope for us to work together. More on that later....
In March, Lien emailed to say that she would be in London for a conference and we decided that since she would be in town we might as well do a little series of drama workshops in support of one of her ongoing projects: the Immigrant Youth games we worked on briefly during my first visit to Miami. These workshops involved testing a couple of very simple games and doing improvisation scenarios that might be useful for creating a more narrative focused game on issues pertinent to undocumented minors in the United Sates. Lien told me that one of the big things they're trying to do is get immigrant kids to use their interpreter when they're in court. Often they try to speak directly to court officials and end up not expressing themselves clearly or failing to understand what's being said to them. So - I invented a really basic game called 'What Did He Say?' This game involves standing in a circle with a facilitator in the middle. The facilitator asks someone a random question like 'What's your favourite colour?' The person who is asked the question must turn to the person on their left and ask 'What did he say?' The person on their left with then repeat the question. Then, the player must turn to their right and give their answer. The person on the right then gives the answer to the facilitator. If anyone makes a mistake they get knocked out. Stressful but fun! Its a basic game, but people's natural tendency is to answer the person who asks them a question and it was often hard to let go of this impulse and follow the rules. Lien liked the game as a very simple tool to get kids used to the notion of answering questions through the interpreter process and it has been used successfully by ICAN (Immigrant Children Affirmative Network). I'm still waiting for my royalty cheque. It's probably in the post.
After testing this game, we did two days of creating improvisations on scenarios that are common to the experience of immigrant kids. Things like their desire to go to school versus a feeling of obligation to work for their surrogate family etc. On the second day, we weaved a series of scenarios into a 'twine' narrative in which a single player navigated her way through the story - trying to get to college while negotiating lots of other social and economic pressures. It was good to show Lien how narrative creation work could supplement the design of a game but, sadly, I couldn't go back to Miami again to help carry this work further. Nonetheless, it was good to have done one or two things in the opening months of the year to carry forward the momentum of my first trip to Miami.