Fri. Feb 3rd, 2023
Block Stop: The theater company brings live-action video games to the stage

There’s nothing more British than the theater (except maybe for scones, scampis and football). Go anywhere in a major city and you will invariably see an advertisement for a new production or play. Whether it’s as old as Shakespeare or as radical as a computer-generated musical, there’s always something waiting in the wings. That’s why it makes sense to find a company like Block Stop in London, which specializes in what they call “live-action video games.”

“When Block Stop started, we were just a bunch of bushy-eyed theater students interested in video games and experimenting with interactive forms of theater,” says co-director David Thompson via email.

Their first attempt—Who killed FionaFarenheit?-was a university graduation project with an unusual slant: jump into one Second Life avatar and take on the role of a murder suspect. Players were encouraged to make use of their online anonymity and to be “tactical, mischievous and a little sassy”. Unfortunately, Who killed Fiona Farenheit? proved not particularly durable and required the use of at least 11 decent laptops.

“Begging and borrowing no longer felt like an option and we simply didn’t have the finances to pull it off,” writes Thompson.

So the team parked the show. But Who killed Fiona Farenheit? was just the beginning. Death awaits came next and ushered in a new fascination with live streaming. Their projects quickly grew in size, scaled upwards, and evolved from thrilling single-player experiences to multi-level extravaganzas, as in their latest show, At the end of us.

Here, audience members watch a game of cat and mouse through various live feeds as an assassin named Mia Culper pursues her target. For a little extra, one lucky participant can take on the role of liaison and liaise directly with Mia, broadcasting instructions. Meanwhile, the remaining spectators deliberate among themselves. Unlike the Contact, their interactions with the show are limited. Every decision is crowdsourced, a product of consensus.

Critics had a mixed reaction to the production, praising the idea but not the implementation. Many commented that the pace was a little too dependent on the Contact’s enthusiasm. But Thompson didn’t seem deterred by the reviews. If anything, he seemed eager to implement what they had learned from the experience.

“We knew this would be a big step forward for us and we weren’t quite sure how these changes would affect our work. It has been a huge learning curve for us, and certainly not seamless, but the response has been encouraging,” he says.

The ideas on which At the end of us being built are not necessarily new, but are nevertheless new enough that they cannot be easily categorized. “At the moment there are a lot of terms going around,” says Thompson. “Street games, physical games, penetrating games, role-playing games, interactive theatre, immersive theatre, even our own coined term ‘live action games/video games’. The distinction between these terms seems to be increasingly blurred and in some cases is essentially the same with slightly different skin.”

Which makes sense, actually. These productions have a maker-like vibe, be it games Johann Sebastian Joust, simulations like the LHS Bikeshed, or even Punchdrunk’s collection of immersive productions. Only one commonality unites them: a sense of physicality, so unusual in this age of increasing digitization.

This is perhaps why things like escape room games are quickly gaining popularity. Humans crave touch, crave the tactility of physical interaction, of actually inhabiting a space rather than passively consuming someone else’s story. But while contestants may be willing to step outside of their comfort zones, Thompson emphasizes that the team had learned not to ask too much of their audience to begin with, and instead allow them to adapt and calm down. get used to the experience.

“We find that about halfway through a game, most players have relaxed and become engrossed in the experience, even to the point where some forget it’s a game at all,” he says.

Getting there, however, requires careful thought. An important element, Thompson explains, is framing: “Very subtle differences in things like the user interface or how you formulate rules or objectives seem to have a huge effect on the psychology of the player. Even something as small as changing a goal from ‘stop the killer’ to ‘stop the killer’ can have huge consequences.”

To some extent, the approach reflects Punchdrunk’s philosophy. In an interview with The protectorartistic director Felix Barrett spoke about minimizing spoon feeding, allowing spectators to experience The drowned man– a large-scale production centered around a tragic love story – on their own terms.

“There are two ways to look The drowned man. Either you can follow one character and treat it like a completely linear show, or you can follow your instincts, treat it like free-form exploration and let the beats of architectural detail guide you,” he said.

It’s all a bit of magic, whether you’re talking theater or video games. The role of the viewer is ultimately limited, possibly even unimportant. But as with stage illusions, the trick is to convince the audience to believe otherwise. Telltale games The living Dead therefore became the subject of much debate after the internet learned that the choice of the player in the series, at least from a mechanical point of view, was not very important at all.

Proponents of the game, however, argued that the illusion of choice can are important and that even if the story itself is predetermined, these small decisions increase player immersion.

But the choices in The Walking Dead aren’t really about changing the world, they’re about changing Lee. The player’s choices determine who Lee is, whose company he values, what principles he upholds. The world reacts to those decisions, in subtle ways that reinforce those decisions (for example, in the developing friendship with Kenny) or play them out (as in the case of Duck’s fate). The player’s choices are important because they provide a context for his emotional connection, through Lee, to the game world.

This is a challenge that creators like Block Stop will eventually face as they try to strike a balance between what is feasible and what is desirable. Given their similarities, Thompson regrets that the worlds of interactive theater and gaming rarely converge.

“Essentially, both mediums focus on interactivity. They are both playful, they are both performative and often both are concerned with telling stories and/or communicating an idea. The creative process for both is also remarkably similar, much of the advice on making games and making theater often boils down to using different words to describe the same ideas,” he explains.

According to Thompson, Block Stop is already researching his next work. He teased a new direction for the company, announcing plans to “host live games online so players can log in at a specified time and enjoy them from the comfort of their own homes.”

By akfire1

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