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Game-Theater: Put Your Body Where Your Mouth Is

Games have rules and rules have structure. Games are amazing for elaborate world building and they often afford players the time and autonomy to become immersed in a fictional world on their own terms, allowing them to explore it deeply and personally. Theater, on the other hand, opens a world to an audience for a set period of time and in theater there is a very real chance that the real world can butt in at any moment. Actors get sick, audience members yell out in the middle of a scene, the fire alarm goes off midway through the second act, or the show is built on the foundation of audience interaction. In these instances, actors and audiences have to improvise. So how does improvisation fit into games? As a performer and game-maker, I have been exploring this question for quite some time, most recently in a one-woman game-theater show called CHAOS THEORY that transforms five elements of chaos theory (deterministic chaos, fractals, repetition, the butterfly effect, and self-organization) into social games. For instance, audiences members team up early on to demonstrate the principles of deterministic chaos by attempting to simultaneously accomplish two goals in direct opposition to one another. The world around these games possesses a fully realized narrative arc, the structure of the game is set, the rules are clear, but, unlike many immersive performances, the outcome is never the same. What remains consistent is the feeling audience members are left with- a sense of physical and social agency that comes with putting one’s own literal skin the game. This talk will walk through each of the five games, the audience’s actions, responses, and improvisations within the framework of those games, and how the gaming industry can use physical theater and improvisations to expand the repertoire of game mechanics available to us as designers.

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