So I've been in Miami for 3 days and plenty has happened. I'm wearing flip-flops, my accent has taken a decidedly American tilt and I'm ending most sentances with - you know? right? Just kidding. I'm not turning into Paris Hilton. Joking aside there's been a good deal for me to chew on as I take my first steps into the world of interactive design. On Monday, I attended Clay's class which was looking at the design components of Pong! the classic arcade game. Clearly, I'm not a coder and never will be, but when looking at the basic 'objects' that Pong is made of (a ball, two paddles, two walls off which the ball can bounce and two walls which represent 'goals' for each player) I got a practical introduction to looking at games as 'systems'. Later in the class, after Pong had been built and played, Clay was talking about mini-projects the students could take for 'extra credit' and one of them was to describe a real world system (the Catholic Church, for example) and try to imagine how that system could become a game.
I thought this sounded interesting so decided to do the project myself. At first I thought about trying to describe school as a system (I have an idea for making a drama/game about school) but it seemed like this might be too complex to start with, so I opted for one of Clay's recommendations, a highway system. So I started to describe how a highway works. It contains 'objects' like cars, motorbikes, trucks and police vehicles and all these objects have internal relationships with each other. The cars want to get from A to B quickly but they have to be careful not to bump into each other and they have to avoid going too fast or the cops will pull them over. From this 'system analysis' the idea for a road game started to form. Basically, players choose a vehicle - either a car, motorbike or a truck and try to get from point A to point B faster than the other players. Motorbikes go fast and move easily through traffic but they're more susceptible to fatal crashes. On the other extreme, trucks are slow and clunky but they're solid and you're less likely to die when driving one. These variables combine to form a complex system of checks and balances that inhibit players from driving easily off into the sunset. They want to go into the fast lane but that puts them at risk of being stopped by police. They want to weave through traffic to avoid getting held up but that risks crashes. They might want to go slow to keep safe but that puts them at risk of falling behind. Essentially, this is structure is exactly the same as the balance in drama between a character's objective and the obstacles that hold them back from pursuing it.
Definitely a fun and challenging exercise to go through. I'm still waiting for Clay's feedback though so I'm in no position to congratulate myself! In addition to looking at systems, we looked at some 'twines' which are essentially 'choose your own adventure' style text games and in Lien's class the following day I gave a talk about the building blocks of drama. It was nice to offer something to the students as well as absorbing things from their work. I talked about the basic concepts of 'given circumstances' (the contextual details that are the foundation of dramatic scenarios). These are 'Where is the action happening?' 'When is it happening?' 'Who are the characters involved?' Beyond given circumstances i talked about OBJECTIVES and OBSTACLES (the things that we WANT and the things that hold us back). I then talked a bit about Augusto Boal's Forum Theatre. It amazed me that practitioners in Interactive Media had never heard of him and for those of you who don't know him either, he was a Brazilian theatre practitioner who enabled the audience to be active participants in dramatic scenarios rather than passive recipients. So I talked about Boal's work and his desire to democratise the process of making a theatrical moment and this seemed to generate a bit of spark in the students, opening up a consideration of why interactivity is important. There seemed to be a general agreement that interactive design can be useful as a way of enabling people to pursue the things they want rather than being told by someone else what they need.
Its probably time to bring this conflab back to DRAMA. Today we play-tested a board game designed by Lien called Vanity which is about actors trying to get lots of big parts on TV. The downside for the actors is that in order to get parts they have to have sexy tanned skin and in order to get tanned skin they run the risk of getting skin cancer. So this is a serious game about skin cancer. But in the playing of the game - your focus as a player isn't on cancer, its on being a star! I made the point that the focus of the game was too much on the OBSTACLE of health risk and not enough on the OBJECTIVE of being famous. This experience of playing Lien's game not only helped me understand the mechanics of how a game system is structured and how a narrative context gives flavour to the game, it also reconfirmed my understanding of how core dramaturgical principles of Objectives and Obstacles are fundamental to the design of games in the same way that they're fundamental to drama. Every time is see the connection between dramatic concepts and game concepts, I get more confident about what I can do to combine the best of both worlds.