Yes, and? What improv theater has taught me about video games. (part 2)

As I was discussing previously, in improv theater the performers have to play together to create a scene, they have a responsibility to each other, to listen and to contribute. One might look at games in a similar way, where we enter into what Huizinga called “the magic circle“, a relationship established this time between the player and the system.

The important thing is that this is a relationship is, like so many relationships in our lives, a co-dependent relationship. We enter into an agreement with a game system that in order to have fun we will follow it’s rules. This is why so many games are successful, they make clear what we can and can’t do, or even better, they allow us to discover what we can and can’t do.

This is where I run into my first hiccup. I am a game designer, a gamer, a person well versed in how games work and in the evolution of game design. Does this grant me a privileged position in my relationship with an individual game system? Probably. I recall the first film course I took in university, and how I have never watched movies in the same way since taking that course. But I am digressing and certainly could make a decent post of this in the future so allow me to get back to improv theater.

As I was saying, if improv players do not cultivate this relationship between themselves, they will not be able to play properly. If we as video game players do not respect this relationship between ourselves and the system, then we will have an inferior playing experience.

I took an improv class with a guy who wasn’t all that good. He’s a professional actor, he did look like a soap opera star, but he was a real dead-end when it came to improvisation. I’m no expert either, but it was clear that when I was in scenes with this guy I was going to have to deal with his limitations. Once me and some other players embraced his limitations we were set, and a few really funny bits came out of it. For example this actor fellow could not resist making dumb double-entendres at the ladies in our group, he did this anytime he had the chance… *groan* However, knowing his limitations made us able to have fun in scenes with him. A great example was when one of the ladies suggested he was a malfunctioning gigolo robot, all of a sudden his wooden pick-up lines were perfect character choices! He hadn’t changed, but the way we ‘used’ him did.

To enjoy a game we have to embrace it’s limitations. This is a tricky thing though, where do the acceptable limitations of a system end and the breaking points of a poorly designed system begin? Look forward to the next piece in this series where I intend to look at some games where the limitations have improved the game, and other games where the limitations cascade into experiences that ruin the fun of playing.


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