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May
12

Eyes & Games & Morals . . .

You’ll never see your eyes; unaided.

I thought that when my girl looked into mine and told me that she liked them. I thought, I’ll never look at these I’m looking through.

Not in the way that I could say I saw them and believed them.

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Been alot of thinking today. Lots of reading and watching and thought. Before I closed my eyes for sleep last night I knew I had queued up a thought maelstrom.

So when my head left the pillow, and before my feet hit the floor, I’d had a thought about some games. About games and morals.

They stem from an interest I have in the world of ARG’s (Alternate Reality Games) and interactive theatre (interactive theatre). I’ve been looking to create these types of experiences for sometime, but anyone I mentioned them to didn’t really seem to understand why they might be exciting or interesting. Or weren’t the joint concepts weren’t interactive enough in form for me to experiment with them properly. To be honest ARG’s, on explanation, do sound a little like an exercise in LARPing (Live Action Role Playing) and I don’t know many that appeals to. Not me. It’s just that explanation hasn’t quite caught up with the ARG form. (Rare that.)

I’ve found someone now with a similar interest, but more about that some other time.

The thing that has always tickled me most about them is their relation, or lack there of, to the audiences active role in decision-making. In particular to their morals. This was probably most recently stirred because a couple of days ago I attended Playgrounds at the V & A in association with Hide and Seek. Which is best described in their own words, and I quote . . .

“We’re delighted to announce that on Friday 26 March Hide&Seek will be at the V&A for our biggest event yet. All Friday night, we’re going to transform the museum into a place for play. We’ve put together a roster of some of the UK’s finest design talent to create social games and playful experiences: there’ll be running, sneaking, strange hats, and enormous pieces of paper; quiet games, raucous games, games for fifty people and games for one.”

It was a genuinely wonderful night where I played one game obsessively, stumbled across another and spoke at length with friends about the game mechanics. Each presented a different opportunity for interaction, a different approach and reward scheme for the player. Each was one hell of an experience in its own way, but they left me wondering.

It's a horse . . . of course

A picture to break up the text

Examples perhaps . . .

An expedition with Mr Mirrors – Failbetter Games & A Whole in a Door

This was a wonderful game where you search the length and breath of the V&A looking for clues to unlock your lost memories. You are given some cards which correspond to people placed in rooms on a map. You travel to these rooms and solve a task hidden else where in the museum; then return to receive a fragment of your lost memory. Once five of these are collected then you can head back to where you started and finally unlock your full identity.

What was awesome about this game was the level of invention in the puzzles. The way each of the task dispensers that you worked with seemed genuinely pleased to take part, but also didn’t pretend they weren’t playing; just like you. The background setting that was given as to why you should run around and complete these tasks was really fun and all these elements had me running round the V&A for a good 2 hrs.

Wedlock – Tin Horse Theatre Company

This was a game I caught in the last throes, or last two scenes if I’m being specific. The first was a moment where a group of game players were led by in-game characters to complete the task of filling a jug of water which was protected by a creature that could only hear. It was tip toeing and bell ringing for monster distraction etc. Great fun for all involved. The second was a climax involving a full choir plus actors and game players. A wonder to behold and genuinely affecting.

I’m not a reviewer so I’m not going to say what I didn’t like about these different experiences (the developers / companies are welcome to get in touch and I’ll discuss if they like) but I will say that for me they missed a fundamental opportunity. Namely the question of why. Why should I as a player should continue to play beyond unravelling the storyline?

With Mr Mirrors I was asked to complete a task in order to get back a memory for my fictious character. With Wedlock it seemed to be (remember I didn’t play, just witnessed part of it) an active question of what would happen to these characters. In both cases, the only reason to play is the act of being involved in the game itself. To see how the game ends. The feeling you are left with is the pride of having completed the task; the game. Of having helped the characters (or yourself) get from point A to point B. In my opinion this is missing a major trick. Morals.

When I have finished watching a well constructed piece of theatre I can be left with any number of questions, but the main one is essential.

Would the actions of that character have been mine? And so . . .

Where am I in relation to those characters?

What do I make of their moral choices?

What are my morals in relation to their actions?

In the types of games I played at the Hide and Seek night I was not left with these thoughts. Instead I was left with the feeling of accomplishment at having finished a game or been part of a story that unfolded. That seems a shame. So if the games we create are to be truly interesting then a better question to begin designing from is . . .

How can I make a player evaluate their actions long after a game has finished?

The simple one word answer is morals. A player must be pushed and questioned, challenged more effectively than when they sit as a passive viewer. That’s the beauty of the form. It’s time to break the rails.

When I taught the principle of storytelling and Shakespeare to some children at a school in Bermondsey I did the following. I filled two envelopes with money. One contained 50p, the other £5.50. These were shuffled and given at random to two children. All that I told them was that there was a large amount of money in one envelope, and a smaller amount in another. Over the course of my talk I asked each child to give the envelope to someone else and so on. This spawned behaviour where the children would only give to their friends, hoping to keep the cash in their immediate circle. It was then I introduced ‘stealing’. A child was chosen at random and allowed to steal the envelope of their choosing, though of course someone might steal it from them. This had the envelope going at some speed. When one of the envelopes was later opened the speed of the game picked up further. Even though the £5.50 had been revealed it couldn’t be calculated if this was the small amount. Stealing became rife, and the children vocal . . . When the anti climax was revealed everyone was enraged. It took some calming them down, and only then was I able to reveal my lesson points.

Now I know that child bribery can be a questionable act but what was really interesting about this exercise was the fact that only when stealing was introduced and the players could really affect one another did the game move beyond its one dimension. Without this element the only reason to play was the prospect of getting money, but with this added dynamic each steal was a moral decision. The best games work this way. Monopoly is a great example. But a distinction can be drawn between the example of player to player competitive play, and the use of morals. The audience should be able to affect the game, the characters, the storyline and in doing so explore their own moral code, or that of the world around them.  They should want to play the game and make decisions but two months later still wonder if what they did was right. Drama does this indirectly, imagine all its force when used directly.

This isn’t just considering. It’s going to be practise. I’m devising an ARG myself which will be played in a few short months. I think this first one will look at this dark and murky world of morals.

Watch this space . . .

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