A provocation: worlds of play
Still in draft in my head, composed for an @agencyofconey workshop on Making Interactive Theatre.
When making play like interactive theatre, there might be a temptation to chase the story or the game. But it’s perhaps better to start with the world of the fiction, to choose which of its systems interest you the most. Then to map those systems for their interplay between people and other things of interest. Then to place the playing audience inside those systems, and understand not just the interactions possible to them, but their play: to make believe that they are themselves now part of this fiction.
When audiences watch others play a fiction, then their capacity to make belief (or suspend disbelief, if you must) in the fiction is largely contingent on the conviction with which the actors play the fiction, and the care with which the world has been made.
The challenge for a playing audience is that they are themselves playing the fiction, which means there must be a set of playful actions they can do to perform their make belief. And their own investment in the fiction is contingent on the conviction, confidence and ease with which they can play the fiction for themselves, but also for other playing audience around them. So these playful actions better be simple, fun, even have scope for their own creativity.
Now the audience have their place in the play of the world, now we can understand the different kinds of narrative that might happen. There might be a narrative where a character or characters make things happen for themselves and others. But this isn’t the only kind. There are also narratives which are a journey through the world, where its systems gradually reveal themselves, their interplay and their consequence. And there are narratives where the whole world is shaken, where the stakes suddenly change.
And games are temporary bubbles of play that might pop up. A game needs to have clear objective, interesting challenge, and continual feedback. The world isn’t always like that. A game needs to be balanced. Systems rarely are.