Posts tagged "gaming"

New project at Theatre Delicatessen

I’m working on a new piece of gaming theatre (or gambling theatre in this case) for Spaced 2014, a new Theatre Souk event at Theatre Delicatessen, which has an extraordinary temporary home in the former BBC building on Marylebone High Street.  You can buy tickets from the link below.

The work’s in development right now.  Further exciting details to follow…

Summer update

I realise that I’ve been remiss in updating this.  It’s been summer though so I was probably out frolicking in the meadows or something.  If you’re interested in my writing, I’ve written things recently for Unwinnable about Wifred Bagshaw’s Time Emporium, which I also worked on, various things for Exeunt including a piece of Punchdrunk's Aldeburgh Festival audio-adventure and an interview with my mate Jack McNamara about his Edinburgh show The Boss of It All.

I haven’t been in Edinburgh this month and always find it hard to shake the feeling that I’m missing out during an August spent in London.  I’ve been hard at work though, on a very exciting new project with Coney, which will be part of Futurefest at Shoreditch Town Hall on 28th and 29th Sept.  There are loads of fascinating people speaking there as well as the playful performance that we’re cooking up.  There’s going to be a playtest on 7th September at Toynbee Studios too, so come along to that if you want to see where we’ve got to so far.  I promise it’ll be fun and we’ll go for a beer after so you can tell us all the things that were wrong with it.  Get your (free) tickets for that here.

Also, I’m going to Athens from 12th to 15th August for the Athens Plaython.  I’ll be giving a talk on the 14th and running a brand new live game on the 15th.

Apologies for the prosaic nature of this update.  I will be posting up something a little more exciting soon, investigating the issue of competition in games and sports that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently in connection to a Killscreen article I was researching.  More on that soon…  In the meantime, please come along on the 7th Sept and get your ticket to Futurefest too.



Ping Pong Plus at the Barbican was a great success. Here are some photos (taken by Susan Sanroman). Players wore wireless headphones which would play them the sound of the shot they had just played as well as all the other shots they had played in that rally layered on top. The longer a rally went on, the move overwhelming the noise became. 

Bientot l’été

This isn’t the first time Belgian indie studio Tale of Tales have asked probing questions about what games can be. They appear to adopt a similar approach to thatgamecompany in wanting their games to provoke particular moods in players, rather than giving them something they can beat or complete. Bientôt l’été may be their most radical (non)game yet and, while you’ve got to admire and value their tireless experimentation, I didn’t feel that bientôt l’été finds enough to replace everything it takes away…

Read full review on Beefjack.

Infinite Play

We can say with some certainty that 2012 will end after 31st December 2012 and that it’s unlikely the world will end on 21st December 2012 (the end of the Mayan calendar). The inevitability of the end of the year and the unlikelihood of the world ending before Christmas has reminded me that I’ve been meaning to gather together a few thoughts about endings, particularly endings in games and how they relate to our experience of them as separate from everyday life – or not.

I started playing Skyrim on Xbox 360 sometime in September and I decided to stop playing about a month ago and it was the point when I stopped playing it that got me thinking about endings. For those who don’t know it, Skyrim is the latest instalment in the Elder Scrolls series. While previous games have been defined by the richness of the world and the extensive and detailed back stories they sit upon, Skyrim took this to a whole new level. From the beginning you are plunged into a world under threat by the return of dragons (actual dragons), thought to be long dead, a threat that only you, as the Dragonborn (meaning you have the power to use dragon “shouts” and absorb dragon souls), have the power to overcome. The world is also in the middle of a civil war between the Imperials (those loyal to the Empire of Tamriel) and the Stormcloaks who are fighting for an independent Skyrim. The Stormcloaks are Nords, the dominant ethnic group in the country, but not, it emerges, the area’s original inhabitants.

So the “main” mission is to save the world from destruction by the dragon Alduin, the World Eater, and the dragons who follow him. It would be extremely difficult to complete the main quest straight away though because your character won’t be powerful enough. The game is specifically designed to encourage the player to get to a higher level by doing other quests. This is standard for a RPG (Role Playing Game), you need to level up to progress. What distinguishes Skyrim is quite how many quests there are and how many story-lines. Some quests are self-contained while others are entire story-lines of their own, with one quest generating another and so on until the whole storyline has been completed. Notably, you can choose sides in the Civil War and this is where the game provides with a complex political decision. Do you support the status-quo even though it is corrupt and disturbingly controlled by outside interests or do you side with the rebels despite the fact that their fierce nationalism extends to institutionalised racism towards immigrant communities within the country? There are also story-lines that relate to your decision over which category of player you want to become: so you can train as a Mage or become a member of the Thieves Guild.

This is, of course, only a very brief description of the enormous world of Skyrim and the many, many possibility that are at your disposal to create your own narrative within that world. I think I played it for around 80 hours altogether. I thought alongside the Strormcloaks in the Civil War, defeating the Imperial Forces. I became the Arch-Mage at the College of Winterhold. I became a Thane of various Holds, bought houses and had a gay marriage (Skyrim is surprisingly liberal in certain ways). I trapped and befriended a dragon whose back I rode on to the Land of the Dead where I enlisted the help of my ancestors the ancient Nords to finally defeat Alduin, the World Eater, thereby saving the entire world. The game still wasn’t over though. There were still quests that I could do. I had to make the personal decision to stop playing the game on the grounds that the quests that were still on my to-do list were now going to be anticlimactic. How could I go from saving the world to fetching packages and delivering letters for people? As the narrative and the character’s behaviour had been placed in my hands, I had to follow what I felt to be the logic of my character’s journey. So I decided to end it.

I checked some online discussion boards to see if other players had experienced a similar kind of confusion about when, if ever, the game was over. I’m not exaggerating when I say that there’s a more information online about Skyrim than there is about several nation states. There was quite a bit of debate over when someone could say that they had “finished” Skyrim, with some people suggesting that you had to have played the main quest through with every different class of character, become a Thane of every Ward, bought houses in every major town, etc. before you could say that you had “finished” the game.

Bethesda, the studio who make Skyrim, actually brought out a DLC (Downloadabe Content) for the game called Hearthfire. This allows the player to buy, customise and maintain their own homestead. It gives you the option to hire your own stewards, your own bard and there is even the possibility of adopting children (Dragonborn can’t reproduce though, it would seem). After all your heroism, you have the option of becoming a member of the land-owning bourgeoisie. One of the comments that stayed with me most from the Skyrim online forums was someone complaining about domestic life in Skyrim after you’d completed all your major heroic endeavours: “the trouble is that you can’t play Skyrim in Skyrim.”

Having started as a piece of escapism with dragons, trolls, elves, swords and sorcery, the game in some ways becomes the victim of its own immersive enterprise. The world becomes so immersive that it can’t possibly remain exciting. It starts to resemble the domestic mundane existence you wanted to escape from in the first place. This is what happens when the narrative ends and all that is left is the world. It then comes up against the problem that we already have a world to live in and that world has more possibilities than any game that we can imagine existing and always will do.

Can a game be never ending? And if it doesn’t end, is it still a game or does it become something else? And if does become something else, what is that thing? It is part of the principle behind MMORPGS (Massive Multilayer Online Role Playing Games) like World of Warcraft that they are ongoing. While I haven’t played these games myself, I understand that they are based on the structure of RPGs like Skyrim where you have missions to complete within a world. The “games” themselves are not so much games as platforms for game missions and worlds in which those missions or games can exist.

This brings me back to the idea that, for all the delights of escaping into a detailed online fictional world, we do have a real world around us and we are physical bodies within that. What if an MMORPG wasn’t online (an MMRPG)? I’m not talking about a bunch of people trying to replicate World of Warcraft in a field somewhere in the countryside dressing up as massive cows and elves or shooting each other with bows and arrows. That isn’t existing within the real world but taking a closed off controlled environment that is as close as possible to an online world. A real-world MMRPG would have to sit on top of our everyday lives. It would have to use elements of the real world but make us see these elements in different ways. In this sense, it might have more in common with our dream-lives than with any fictional world: it would take the pieces of our own lives, mix them up and turn them around, creating new systems and rule-sets. Our avatars would look a lot like us and only other people who were playing the game would know our secret identities as players of the game, inhabitants of this other world. This world would always be there for this if we wanted to step into it. The game won’t last forever, of course, but then neither will we.

The Austerity Games

On Friday and Saturday night (4th and 5th May), I was a referee at The Austerity Games in an old World War II bunker in a car park behind McDonald’s onKingsland Road.  I realise that I should have maybe blogged about this beforehand but I didn’t get round to it so here it is now.

The Austerity Games were a kind of experience/installation based on the last timeLondonhosted the Olympic Games, which was 1948, the first since the 1936Berlingames.  This was an age of genuine austerity.  There was still rationing on food, so athletes were allowed an increased ration in line with dock workers and miners.  No new facilities were built and there was no Olympic village for the athletes so male athletes were housed in RAF bases and female athletes in local colleges.  Though we are constantly being told that we are in new age of austerity, the current administration feels no need to save money on the 2012 games clearly when it could be privatising the National Health Service (created by the Attlee administration that had just come into power after World War II) and cutting benefits to society’s most vulnerable.

The connections between these games and the 1948 ones evoke a particular political provocation in themselves but the installation itself was essentially a bit of fun with people dressing up in grotesque outfits and putting on mock East London circa 1950 accents.  The bunker was quite dark and damp, which helped to create a sense of atmosphere straight off.  There was a bar and five games had been set up in various rooms: Boxing Clever, Slipper Discuss, Bow andHarrow, Gymnasties and Hate Lifting. There was also a Winner’s Enclosure.

With the market for casual video gaming growing so fast, it was introducing to test out physical games in a more casual environment.  Basically anyone who had aLandofKingsarmband could come in to the Games so, though there were other arts events going on as part of festival, most people were realistically there to see bands and drink.  It was actually surprising therefore that as many people came along as did.  We had nearly 400 people there throughout the evening on Friday night.

For the most part, people weren’t gamers and the games that were there benefitted from being very simple and easy to explain.  Though I didn’t referee all the games, I noticed that the most successful ones were those that were easiest to quantify and the least successful were those that seemed to contain any elements of randomness. The principle motivator to play in this kind of social environment was not necessarily to beat the game (people weren’t really allowed to have more than one go) but to do better than your mates. 

What worked surprisingly well was the most difficult game of the lot: Boxing Clever. This was simply a wire buzzer game (i.e. you move a hook along a wire and if you make contact with the wire the buzzer goes off) except that you had to wear boxing gloves.  The boxing gloves significantly reduce your flexibility so your wrist cannot turn in the way it normally would.  This meant it was almost impossible to get past a certain point but people were determined to try.  Watching other people failing miserably made them all the more determined to have a go themselves, convinced that they would be the one to succeed.  They would almost say: “it’s much harder than it looks” and “it’s not touching the metal”.  It was always touching the metal.

Thanks to everyone who came down and played.  It was fun.


Accent theme by Handsome Code

Venice as a Dolphin is William Drew. I am a writer and game designer. Here you will find information about my latest projects in the field of live games and interactive theatre, a blog about theatre, performance and gaming. I will also post links whenever possible to other sites that I write for.

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