Wednesday 26 November 2008

Meme-game: Page 56

Page 56 Rules:
* Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
* Turn to page 56.
* Find the fifth sentence.
* Post that sentence [in a comment here*and*wherever else along with the rules]

Here's mine:

'The manufacturers say it should take twenty seconds,' she explained, standing up and dusting off her knees, 'but I can halve it.'

The Game

I just lost it.

Sunday 16 November 2008

Space Station Dana

An event of Coney's, at the Dana Centre on Thursday night. I had little to do with its construction beyond an insight into the teams but pleased to attend it as an observer. It did well to support the indisputable main attraction of the evening - a panel of experts including a real-life astronaut, the animating Jean-Francois Clervoy.

And a startlingly good game presented by space psychologist Iya Whiteley. This is really part of the ESA recruitment programme for astronauts, based on the fact that normal conversation between Earth and astronaut is tricky because of the lag in transmission, 22 minutes if we ever get to Mars. As played on Thursday... three teams of strangers each gather round a table on which are post-its and paperclips. The winning team will have built the highest freestanding tower from those materials in 10 minutes. With a catch. For the first 5 minutes, teams can talk but not touch the materials. For the second 5 minutes, they can start building but must work in complete silence. It's probably already in corporate training programmes all over the shop but I loved it.

Saturday 15 November 2008

Stuff seen and played recently

Once And For All We're Gonna Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up And Listen
Scintillating performance from Ontoroed Goed staging a line-up of live-wire teens in what appears simply to be them at play but reveals itself gradually in repetition as not only *just that* but also an exquisite formal sculpture of youth. It is as the title says. What happens in Ghent to make this so good?

On Emotion
Another theatre essay by Mick Gordon, this time collaborating amongst others with my mate Mark from Blind Summit to examine how we are 'puppets of our emotions', I was won over by Mick's previous On Ego and On Religion, but I found this dire - a simplistic equation of dialectics, with unmoving narrative and quite rank comment on abortion.

The Tragedy Of Thomas Hobbes
My mate Adriano writes for the RSC, an epic in blank verse about the birth of experimental science and the English revolution. A curate's egg perhaps, somewhat stifled by an as yet too polite production that needs to find higher gears, but an engaging story, some fine performances and grand flashes of A's rhetoric brilliance. And you have to love any piece with two commenting characters *actually* called Waldorf and Statler. I'll be back to see this again when it's oiled and write more then.

Mesmeric dance and mask miniature by Yael Karavan at the Shunt Lounge.

Hey Mathew
Startlingly intimate performance from mates Chris and Jonny, with Jamie and Cis supporting. It's a reverie on Paul Goodman, a work-out of the thoughts surrounding An Apparently Closed Room, with the ever-watchable Jonny as if in rehearsal for all the roles an 'unruly youth' can take. I'm not sure I agree with Chris on the absence of boundary (and you have to know what I mean to understand this) but the work had heart-felt integrity on its own terms and was fun to spend time with. For the blog... Chris was inspired by Dennis Cooper's personal arts centre of a blog with an extraordinary comments section as social space but inevitably the HM blog was itself more like a rehearsal room, and therefore much harder to comment in.

Last Will
Prototype game/theatre by Alex Fleetwood and Felix Barrett. Two players enter the same room - one a real-world installation, one online - to solve the last will of an eccentric recluse in Crystal Maze puzzle form. I was a real-world player with no online equivalent, but I gather real-world can hear the online, online can see the real-world. I solved it and had much fun doing so. It's impressively executed, with a sumptuous final image that's stayed with me. But I wonder if it's still fun if you get stumped? The narrative is paper-thin - penitence in motion - and there's no sense of why this old man needs you to hear his story, or even what actually happened. Less why this story demands this form and what the relationship between real and online players means to become more than a gimmick. But... early days here and if they get it right, it'll be fantastic...

Invent the future and help save humanity by dreaming stories from 2019. I really want to like this - a truly serious game with serious aims - but I'm sceptical. I think the What-If-Can-Do format - building on that of the successful World Without Oil - is very difficult to keep playable beyond the first response for all but the most committed. The forest of possibilities that other players open up in their responses is incredibly exciting but rapidly becomes bewildering. I'm also not keen on the terminology - SEHI, Emergensight... all a bit Ayn Rand - and it feels over-gamed for the casual player, but well aware that this is my taste.

ARG criticism

ARG. It's a dirty word and one of these days I'll write #2 in that series about it, if it's not pipped to the post by Interactive. I'm going to overextend it in this post just the way I hate it, to mean any online/crossplatform interactive.

There isn't any forum or space, to my knowledge, where ARGs are criticised seriously and robustly. This isn't healthy. No art-form has the chance to grow tall without criticism nourishing the good and weeding out the poor. Works and artists define themselves and develop by failure as much as success, by discussion as much as promotion. Not only that but the fog of secrecy that tends to drop over most 'traditional' ARGs means that - without the critic as documenter - there is no record even of what actually happened. Other than by the two types of documenter least likely to remain disinterested, makers and fans.

Any player who stays the course will likely be a fan. The traditional ARG tends to last for months, has its narrative broken into little pieces scattered and hidden across platforms and media, and discovered and played by its audience. If you're going to experience anything approximating a reasonable chunk of it, you're going to spend a lot more time and effort than the 90 minutes spent sitting watching the 'traditional' event of contemporary new theatre.

Adrian Hon and Jane McGonigal are two high-profile (and most excellent) game-designers who have started a trend for blogging about their own game. These posts are invaluable as documents and often insightful, but invariably and inevitably they deliver a positive spin on the game. Why should they do otherwise? It's not in their own interest to highlight relative failings. But I worry that these well-meant pieces are contributing to a certain public puffery and hyperbole whenever we talk about ARGs and their ilk. 'Yeah, they're amazing!' Because the audience to this hyperbole are the commissioners of the next work. So everyone is afraid to break the magic circle.

It's still such early days for the medium that any new work is talked up as ground-breaking, where the discussion about the work becomes itself the best PR for the work and the brand backing it - viz We Tell Stories, a neat portfolio of beautifully-rendered digitally-told short tales that attracted amazing column inches in print and the blogosphere, hundreds of thousands of first hits but a big tail off towards tens of players for the ARG beneath (according to one of them).
I am reminded of a commission my brilliant friend Chris had from Pizza Express to make a theatre miniature version of The Godfather to play in restaurants for diners. Chris has made hugely acclaimed work that plays in the houses of the audience - I had the quite perfect We Must Perform A Quirkafleeg! in my living room - and so it was natural for Pizza Express to commission him for this and then equally natural for the press to write about this as a phenomenon, how you as a diner might be surprised by innovative theatre at your table, or in-tertainment in brutal PR coinage. The first performances played to tables of only press all over the country. And then PR job accomplished, you can perhaps guess how many performances for the public actually happened.

Is the quality of an ARG reflected in its metrics, the numbers of playing audience that engage? If it is, the problem is that no one is telling just how many players they get. Again this is partly so as not to discourage the commissioners, and because simple numbers don't yet tell the full story. Received wisdom in the industry quotes Jimmy Wales' 10% power law or 90-9-1 as the ratios of players in levels of activity termed casual, immersed and hardcore (although yet to know how and if the numbers from this particular power law extend across all interactive participation or just Wikipedia)

So an interactive Emmy-winning TV ARG - The Truth About Marika - quoted figures of 300,000 viewers but only 3,000 online players. The Lost Ring had 500,000 viewers for its first (well-marketed) trailer on Youtube (comparing very well to 850k for the latest Bond trailer) but only 60-odd players worldwide running the Lost Sport in its finale (from a guessed head-count in the broadcast video which had itself 1200 views in Youtube). In comparison, The Gold-Bug that I worked on had 4,000 site visitors and the two finales had attendances of 60 and 80-odd.

It isn't just about the numbers, of course. But it'd be nice to know more of them so we could see. And an understanding of what players would have to do to be counted at a particular level.

Plus... I wonder if we need to lay a time axis for the length of event along the power-law figures too. The longer an event goes on, the harder it is for players to enter, not least because if it's using the player forum of the traditional ARG, the sheer volume of player posts generated is itself a barrier.

Monday 10 November 2008

While I've been away...

I've done a Crossover Lab Docs, run a pilot game at Sheffield Doc/Fest, a pilot game at London Games Fringe, finished a massive Arts Council application and almost been in touch with astronauts.

And then some.