Posted by: Stenros | April 10, 2009

Game Design for Theatre

The Factory

The Factory by Badac Theatre.

I’m quite interested in the parallels between what has been produced as games and what as art. During the last century theatre has been toying with division between the performers and the audience. Yet it seems that few in theatre have recognized that the logical conclusion of this is for a play to become more gamelike: When creating interactive theatre it would make sense to draw on the experinece of game desginers. This is rarely done. Indeed, one reason why so many people roll their eyes when games are discussed as art is that so many of the ludic artworks that have been staged in galleries have been such bad games.

Let’s take The Factory, a show about the holocaust as an example. Critic Chris Wilkinson got into trouble by not doing what was expected of him as a member of the audience:

The audience is coerced into playing the role of victim as we are repeatedly screamed at, shunted from room to room and assaulted with loud noise. Meanwhile, the performers shout at each other: “We must resist! We must resist!”

Resist is what I did. On two occasions in the show, after being screamed at to “fucking move!”, I refused. This is unusual for me: normally in the theatre I am as passive as the next person. But in this context, I had an instinctive and visceral reaction to being shouted at in this way. The performers clearly weren’t prepared for my response and were unable to incorporate it into the show.

Later Wilkinson was repeatedly harassed by the creator of the show for having “disrupted” the show.

All of this happened back in last August, but I have been unable to stop thinking about it. It just seems like artists who want to engage the audience directly, to immerse the audience in the action, to give the audience a role, should read through a game design manual or two. The moment you give audience an active role,  or even a simple choice, you must be prepared for all possible contingencies. The audience will start playing the play.

That said, the door swings both ways. Most experimental game designers would benefit from firmer grasp of art history.


  1. Hey. I felt I had to respond as an artist who is developing a gaming theatre piece. (incidentally, keri smith’s book saved me) It seems the creator was an amateur who didn’t respect his audience, any theatre/live art piece that includes audience participation/provocation has the responsibility to allow the audience to be themselves, that’s the whole reason for having them! This guy was really inexperienced, egotistical and not an artist but a control freak. I hope you have other positive experiences of art/gaming. here’s to great collaborations between artists and gamers/game deisgners.

  2. Based on what I’ve read, I totally agree Hilary. Personally I’ve never seen any gamelike theater, just some interactive or immersive pieces. But I think it would be interesting.

    Every year in Knutepunkt we wonder why there are so few theater people in there. After all, I suppose there could be loads and loads of things larpers and theater people could teach each other. And usually those few theater people are larpers who have taken their larp knowledge on stage, not actors and directors who’d want to add larplike interaction and immersion to their work.

    But to be honest, I wonder whether stage theater will find a place in the bigger picture of 21st century interactive performances.

  3. […] by Pervasive Games: Theory and Design (10 April 2009 blog […]

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