Pop Up Playground

Thu 19 Apr ,

Pop Up Playground launch their first adventure in pervasive game playing with a massive game of the parlour classic, Werewolf

First published on 25 Feb 2012. Updated on 20 Apr 2012.

According to Robert Reid, it started almost a year ago, last April, when Tassos Stevens from UK-based company Coney quietly slipped into Melbourne for a week of workshops, described at the time by Stevens as “challenges towards how to be a playful secret agent”.

“He basically introduced us to the kind of work Coney does – a form of pervasive games,” explains Reid.

Pervasive games are social games that have escaped the traditional confines of the living room or the parlour and expanded into the public realm. It’s a broad genre, encompassing many forms of playful experience that have a performative outcome, everything from audio tours to immersive theatre games to variations on flash-mobbing.

After the initial week of training was over, Stevens continued working with a smaller group of trainee secret agents via email as they developed their performance ideas in an ongoing series of “play days”, dissecting a variety of games and discussing ways of realising them in an expanded play space.

It was during these play days that Robert Reid, Paul Callaghan, Sayraphim Lothian and Ben McKenzie began work as Pop Up Playground. Their first official adventure, launched as part of the Comedy Festival, will be a massive game of Werewolf.

Reid, a theatremaker whose play The Joy of Text was a critical hit at the MTC last year, describes Werewolf as a conversational parlour game of subterfuge and accusation.

How do you play? Well, basically, two players are nominated as werewolves and the rest are villagers. At night all but the werewolves close their eyes, the wolves then silently choose a villager to kill. During the day everyone opens their eyes, the murder is announced and after a debate the group nominates a suspect for execution. The goal is to survive.

“It’s usually for about seven to ten players,” says Reid, “but we’ve modified it to work with a larger group, up to maybe 50 or 60 potentially.”

Werewolf is a fascinating convergence of invented stories and real psychological experiences. According to Reid, an environment is created in which individuals are licensed to generate events, events which in the retelling become invested with meaning. “In short,” he says, “narrative emerges out of play and the player is always at the centre of it.”

What is interesting for Reid about such parlour games is the way in which each player’s performance is shape by the rules, meaning the game can be designed to investigate certain kinds of experience. “In Werewolf, for example, suspicion and paranoia.”

Even when played in a parlour, Werewolf, or Mafia as it is traditionally known, makes for an engrossing social experiment. While the process and rules are relatively clear, players have a lot of freedom in how they go about deciding who to execute or murder or potentially save. Like all games, it’s a case of partial free will within a partially determined universe, but with the free will turned up dangerously high. This resulting tension between freedom and process finds a mirror in the strategies that people bring to the game, inevitably an unsettled mix of logic and irrationality — the perfect environment in which to breed personal mistrust and mass hysteria. Sound like fun?

The key is what Tassos Stevens and other pervasive-game enthusiasts call “agency”. That is, what is important is the kind of activity that the game enables individuals to undertake, and the way in which the game facilitates this activity. It is this question of agency that fascinates Reid and for him distinguishes pervasive games from theatre.

“While they’re both performative and share very similar territory – theatre and games are both kinds of play, for instance – a game differs from theatre in that theatre is a closed system and games are open.”

In theatre the role of the audience is separate to the performance, whereas in games everybody gets to play. Instead of a rigid division between audience and performer, there is only one class of participant: players.

As part of the Comedy Festival, the first Pop Up Playground event will also feature performances from a range of guest comedians, with their performances integrated into the game play. To find out more, head to Pop Up Playground. In July this year, Pop Up Playground will also be producing This is a Door, a three-day festival of games at Theatre Works.

article from here: http://www.au.timeout.com/melbourne/comedy/events/2837/pop-up-playground