The following are a few different takes from a small round table of respected individuals within the industry.
(Mat Burt, creative producer, Heritage Arts Company)
The future of games culture: I can see a time where we sell tickets to stories, ones that are told through the written word, film, games and theatre to various degrees. I would love to be in a violent shipwreck as part of an immersive experience and then go home and play a survival horror game continuing that story. It’s a terribly bland example – the fusion of the mediums should be so much stronger – but it’s a hint at where I think we’re going.
Prices and pay: The amount of volunteer work that still goes on (unquestionably inventive and delightful) in shows like You Me Bum Bum Train is staggering. As someone who works on both the production and creative side of theatre however, I don’t know what the answer is – people are expensive, and deserve to get paid, but punters won’t pay £50 to come and see stuff.
Focus on the narrative: We decided a few years ago that we always have to start with the narrative. When you love games, and have the opportunity to deliver something immersive, it’s incredibly tempting to spend all day designing rooms, creating links from A to B, and working out how fun it would be to carry objects around or meet certain people in a certain order and so on. What we’ve found with so many immersive experiences, however – ones that are otherwise fantastic and well-produced – there is a real lack of storytelling.
Of course, this is totally fine, if that is the goal – but we like stories; that’s why we got interested in theatre in the first place. It’s important to us that we use gaming, rewards and immersive tricks to get people closer to the narrative, not distract them from it. It’s so easy to lose your story with mechanics. If you put a gamer in a room with a locked box in it and tell them they are in a game, there’s a good chance they’ll try to open it. Theatre goers aren’t always the same; they might just stand there – you need a constant interplay of story prompts and fun things to do if the show is going to work.
(Alex Fleetwood, founding director, Hide&Seek)
New cultural organisations are great vehicles for interactivity and gaming: What’s amazing about National Theatre Wales is how interdisciplinarity and openness are there in the absolute fundamentals of the organisation. It was there in the way Hide&Seek was invited to come and share ideas before there was even a programme. We came to a shop in a lovely arcade in Cardiff and we ended up making a show together on the beach in Prestatyn. As a result, little bits of our game-thinking are in the way NTW now operates – we have to push past that defensiveness, and my instinct is that new cultural organisations are the only way to do it.
Some tips for organisations thinking about experimenting with gaming: First and foremost, hire actual game designers. You also need to understand that making games is hard, and takes time, and that you should find a way of supporting that, ideally financially. Another tip is to get off paper and into a game prototype as soon as possible – commit to having people from across your organisation playtest and develop the game.
What other advice have I got? Launch the game with at least half your budget not yet spent, and iterate and add features in dialogue with your community of players. Finally, make sure your game idea addresses a niche of player interest that exists in the world.
(Jessica Curry, co-director and composer, thechineseroom)
Blur the boundaries of what is real: I think that the wonderful thing about any medium – be it a novel, film, music or a game – is that if it’s any good then the creator makes you feel like you actually ARE there and that those lines of reality are already blurred. I love that feeling when you come out of the cinema and it’s the real world that suddenly feels strange and alien. All great art can transport you to the most wonderful and visceral of places without the need for any physical intervention – I think that’s the greatest feeling on earth.
(Matt Adams, artist and director, Blast Theory)
Swot up: Read Rules of Play by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman. It’s the best primer there is for designing games. Then, employ top quality games designers or interaction designers; it’s a skill that is honed over long periods of time – also think about behaviours: what do you want encourage and nurture in the experiences that you are going to make?
(Tom Higham, senior producer, FutureEverything)
Let the subject guide the process: TriggerShift was designed and developed by a group of 13 to 21 year olds over a year. It’s not a game, nor a straight theatre show – it’s a narrative they developed, using technology they’re familiar with to tell their own story, not paid for and navigated by someone else’s. For me the subject matter is most important here; the interactivity is just a tool, an enabling part of the process.
(Alan Hook, course director of interactive media arts University of Ulster)
Think about the behavioural outcomes of what you want to do: As a process, I start with behaviours as an outcome and then work backwards. I always ask myself: what behaviours do I want the performance to encourage in the participants? Then I look at how an interactive piece can encourage this as an outcome, and what mechanics I can use in performing it.
(content courtesy of www.guardian.co.uk; image courtesy of xgameroom.com)