|Image from PopMatters|
I'm a regular listener of the Freakonomics podcast. A recent episode dedicated to exploring the way our social environments dictate our behavior introduced me to an experimental theater project called Sleep No More. In this production, audience members are given masks and then asked to explore a multi-room warehouse in which actors play out various storylines. As you might expect, the combination of anonymity and unfamiliar circumstances causes people to act a little...weird.
Anyway, I couldn't help but feel a little irked while listening: the show is undoubtedly bold, but conceptually it's very similar to what video games do. Yet, despite all the references to interactive storytelling, presenting people with challenging rules, and allowing them to create a temporary avatar in a new environment, video games were never mentioned. Again, I know this probably had more to do with making sure the podcasts segments and run time remained snappy (it's something I struggle with every week!). Even so, I wanted to draw attention to the close relationship between theater and games.
Thanks to their visual spectacle, games are often compared to movies, but I've always argued that they are closer in spirit to theater. After all, every time you play a game you're taking part in a performance. Even the most tightly scripted games vary slightly from player to player and from session to session, just as staged performances do. Every time you pick up a controller to participate in some mixture of directorial and role-playing creation that has the potential for spontaneity. No two audience members will experience Sleep No More the same way, just as no two players will have exactly the same experience in Red Dead Redemption, or Geometry Wars, or The Walking Dead.
I'd definitely be interested in seeing Sleep No More if I had the chance. It sounds extremely ambitious and artfully executed. It's just that the concept of taking on another identity and piecing together a story by interacting with a strange environment doesn't strike me as that "far out." I've been doing the same thing in a digital form for years now.