We are currently restaging the game Interference in Kista, after staging it previously both in Kista and Düsseldorf. I find this exercise really interesting, giving new insights to the genre.
The first thing we learned was that the design decision to make a game restageable leads to compromises. Interference is only vaguely related to the location where it is staged; we have some general guidelines about the ‘feel’ of the game locations but there is no tight connection between e.g. the history of a location and the game events taking place at that location. Similarly, Interference is timed to the time of the day but can be staged any day of the week or the (winter half of) the year.
The problem is that when the game is not tangibly connected to reality, the game does not really expand outside its own magic circle. Instead, it tends to create its own invisible magic circle that moves around with the players as they move through physical space. The players in Interference tell us that they feel immersed in the game story line, but not really in the (magical game) world or the physical world.
Instead, the central resource for restageable pervasive games is to rely on meeting people. People are easy to move around in the world, and meetings between people can be staged at any time. This is what makes Killer so easy to stage: its only gameplay mechanism is the meeting between two persons who do not know each other in advance. There are many kinds of meetings that can be interesting. The meeting in Killer is one of conflict; but meetings can also be about handing over information or acting as a team. In Interference, there are two kinds of meetings going on: the players get phone calls and meet with actors, but they are also joined together with a gang of strangers to form a team. By restaging the game over and over again, we have come to understand how much it is about group dynamics. Although the game encourages a shallow role-taking play style, we are still surprised almost every time with how the groups behave. With each new group we see a new play style and attitude towards the game.
Last Friday we had a group that did not really ‘buy into’ the game. Instead of immersing themselves into the game story they developed a distanced and ‘testing’ attitude towards the game. They were still role-playing, but much more towards each other in the group and towards strangers than towards the actors. What is surprising is not that this happened, but that it was the first time it has happened! We have already staged the game seven times and this was the first group to react in this way. I think that it is the actors that make all the difference: if the game had been fully automatic players would have been much more prone to ‘toy around’ with it.