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.
Hello Dear Reader,
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.