Earlier this week, we got Matt Crowley’s take on a performance called Grand Theft Ovid, a show that combined footage from live video game play with the poems of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. This collision of game and theater got some commenters thinking about the performance aspects of role-playing games. ItsTheShadsy recalled a trend from The Matrix Online:
Back when The Matrix Online was in its prime, there was a huge focus on role playing. Oftentimes when an official or player-run event went down, characters would get in a heated conversation or speech, and the crowd would part to let them verbally spar. Inevitably, someone from the masses would join in too, leading to a sort of loosely scripted dramatic improv session. (Of course, this was always immediately followed by a karate fight.) It was extremely effective, and it felt like a new form of storytelling that smartly used the spatial and technological constraints of a online role-playing game. It slowly dawned on me: It was essentially digital black box theater. The characters performed scenes in front of an audience that, based on the intimate staging and narrative context, were part of the setting.
I find it very exciting that someone is finding new ways to use and to legitimize this type of dramatic presentation. Restaging plays inside a game—especially in one that allows direct audience spectating—is a really interesting way to reinvigorate an older text and build audience investment. (I’ve recently seen a lot of neat ways that educators are using Minecraft in schools, but I never even thought of theater as a possible application.) The most exciting step will be when someone creates and stages an original work that uses the semi-participatory aspects of a game to the fullest possible advantage.
I used to play text-based MUDs back in the day, and role-playing was the core of the experience along with world-building. “World building” is literal in this case, because most of the time high-level characters could build new areas, script scenes, and generally bend the world to their will. Often you’d be sitting around the tavern, shooting the breeze, when a character would spontaneously run in asking for help, and who knows where you’d end up. Maybe you’d be riding a griffon in a civil war or taking a submarine to the ocean floor for a wedding.
While a particular MUD’s entertainment value was largely a function of the improv ability of its curators and inhabitants, overall I quite enjoyed them. But then, when they became graphical, the flexibility was lost, the stories became standardized to fit, and the focus turned more to the game aspects—quests, loot, abilities, and so on.
I guess Second Life has picked up that baton, but that seems more like an “anything goes” aesthetic than a flexible story based around characters in a particular setting.
And of course, everybody ran with the Grand Theft Ovid pun formula to some great results. S2 Staggering S2 Bum (or just Staggering Stew Bum, for you purists out there) kicked things off:
Grand Theft Ovid is okay, but these days I prefer the wackiness of Saints Poe in that genre. My overall favorite, of course, is Dante Alighieri’s Of War or maybe Coleridge Of Duty or maybe even good ol’ ByronShock. Asura’s Plath, though, was too depressing for my liking.
Seriously, go read the rest.
Apparently, Sonia Saraiya’s enjoyment and endorsement of the Kim Kardashian iPhone game as her favorite of the year in our mid-year Q&A miffed a couple of people. jynxed stepped up to defend the surprise mega-hit:
At the risk of sounding like a shill, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood isn’t a terrible game. I tried it this weekend researching how social media is presented in games. It’s easy to hate on it because of the branding with Kim Kardashian, but it’s not an affront to games the same way Keeping Up With The Kardashians is an affront to television. It’s not very creative and is certainly vapid, but criticisms like those can be levied against many role-playing games, and KKH is a simple one of those. It’s sort of fun if you fall in the right demographics.
If you look at it through the game design lens of Leblanc et al.’s concept of “eight kinds of fun,” it’s reasonably successful. Sensation is fulfilled by appealing and bright graphics. Fellowship is fulfilled by the usual free-to-play business of connecting with your friends and sending them gifts. Discovery, like most RPGs, is met by slowly exploring the map/world, and then Challenge is found in climbing up the Hollywood rankings. You certainly fulfill Submission, since playing the game is mindless. You just turn your brain off and tap the screen.
The remaining types of fun are where the game excels for its target audience. The fantasy of living as a Hollywood model/celebrity may not be your cup of tea, but not everybody enjoys pretending to be a warrior like in most games. Expression in KKH is found in the dress-up game aspect of it or which dates you pursue. (Unlike Tomodachi Life, in KKH you can pursue whomever you want, regardless of gender.) Narrative is where the game pleasantly surprised me. The writing is surprisingly sharp and biting; the game often mocks the Hollywood lifestyle you’re pursuing. I laughed out loud when it made fun of Bitcoin.
That’s it for this week, folks. Thanks for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all again next week!