In the spring this year, another thing happened. I randomly came in touch with an artist/designer called Bern Roche Farrelly who was planning to make a game-like piece of theatre at The Yard. I spoke to Bern and told him about the game design stuff I was doing and he asked if I would help out with his show as a sort of dramaturg. I readily agreed.
His show was called 'Determine' and essentially offered the audience a chance to explore the inside of a character's head and control her actions by 'determining' which of her memories would be played out on stage. It certainly wasn't a game and the extent of meaningful interaction between performers and the audience was limited, but I liked Bern and we agreed that it would be good to work together again at some stage. More on that later...
In the summer, Alex Crampton and I ran a number of workshops over a period of about three weeks - looking at making some game/dramas from scratch. Alex, like me, is a theatre director and, having spoken to her at some length, it seemed that, like me, her previous experiments in interactive drama had often prioritised the story-telling over the 'play' experience of audience/participants. So - when we agreed to do some workshops together I was firmly of the opinion that we should come at it from a game design perspective first and only think about narrative and any sense of 'performance' secondarily. We started by picking a theme, more or less at random: the UK immigration system. We then did a system analysis of UK immigration, looking at the various agents within this system, their attributes and their internal relationships with each other. We then set ourselves the task of independently inventing a series of games based on our preparatory system analysis. The first game was to be a card game, the second was to be a board game, the third was to be a physical game and the fourth was to be a social game involving behavioural interaction. The plan was to play-test these games and give each other feedback on our inventions.
Our card games and board games went well, despite the initial puzzlement of the actor friends who were helping us test them - but they didn't really break any new ground beyond what I'd done in Miami. Things got interesting, though, when we got into the physical and social games. I invented a game called 'Workin Hard to Be Hardly Workin'. This game cast players in the role of immigrants who had to work to earn money, pay for accommodation and take night classes while also keeping the authorities at bay. The basic set up of the game was metrical, with sums of money changing hands to enable characters to pursue their goals but what was interesting were the social dynamics that developed. People formed alliances and built their trust in each other, pooling resources for mutual benefit. It was the first time that I had seen a metrical game system (that I had designed) produce dramatic social behaviour. That felt like an important breakthrough. The other breakthrough was the idea that 'Performers' in a game/drama should not just be there to help the designer/director to tell a story and steer the audience - they should be players themselves. So often in immersive theatre events, the actors are just there to shepherd people around - but I felt that if my actors are to have meaningful interactions with player/participants, they have to be playing the game too. If everyone is playing the game, their interactions will be inherently truthful since they are interacting to facilitate the pursuit of their respective goals. So - two good discoveries: Metrical systems can create social systems + actors should be players alongside the audience/participants.
Meanwhile, I got offered the chance to do some game design work in a corporate context. Create Network, a creative consultancy, asked me to design a game for a group of Network Rail Executives and also to lead a workshop on systems thinking. I designed a game for them which went okay and led them through a system analysis of their area work (the Rail Construction industry). Similar to the workshop with at Theatre Deli at the start of the year, it was great to see that people with no game design knowledge could apply system analysis tools to find a new way of looking at a real world system. The Creative Network guys then asked me to set the participants the task of inventing their own games. I counselled against this but they insisted! As you'd expect, their games didn't really work that well but it was interesting to see them try! More importantly though, I was pleased that I'd been able to get the execs playing as a way of opening their thought process and using game design ideas to think rigorously about the structures and relationships within their industry. So - by the middle of the year I'd done a little big of game design (art) and a little bit of game design (corporate). A decent effort, overall.