Friday, January 30, 2004

Choose Your Own Misadventure
I ran across this article and couldn't help but think or our discussion on interactive narratives earlier this week. If any of you have FX or follow the latest trends in reality tv, you may already know a bit about Todd TV, as described in an article in Slate magazine:

"The ostensible premise of ToddTV is that Todd has abandoned his free will—not to mention his privacy—and put his fate in the hands of the American viewing public, who direct his actions through e-mailed suggestions and weekly votes in an effort to help him reinvent his sorry life. (Todd is so hopelessly disorganized that he neglects to deposit three months' worth of paychecks despite being overdrawn at the bank.) But the show is really about a guy who gets his own reality show and then immediately realizes that maybe this wasn't such a good idea. Todd has been forced to quit his job in favor of a paper route, go out with a woman he used to date and doesn't like, and live with his television-appointed therapist. It's as if he's trapped in some warped Choose Your Own Adventure novel."

Find out more about the show and how to vote on what Todd should do here.

Is it more fun to watch a traditional tv drama or an interactive one? Do like like having the "power" to help decide characters' fate, or would you rather be told a good story by the show's writers?

Also, if you've read Schechner, you may have something to say more generally about PERFORMANCE and REALITY TV. Feel free to discuss any reality TV show and its relationship to drama and performance.

Finally, I have painfully come to realize that despite ratings of more than 20 million viewers per episode, apparently I am the ONLY PERSON WHO WATCHES SURVIVOR. Alas. If anyone is as excited about All-Star Survivor as I am, however. let's dish!

Congratulations to all of you who survived the harrowing ordeal (not to mention humiliation) of having your newly constructed masterpiece of architecture burned to the ground by a raging storm. And kudos to those who managed to keep one house intact (Sarah, Andy, Kat) and Super kudos to the only person to escape totally unscathed (Nick). Nick earns the title of United States Thunderstorm Champion 2004. (There aren't that many people playing it over here-- just Germans.) But don't worry, the rest of you can earn your own Championship titles in later games this semester.

In the comments, please share the most interesting thing you came up with from your minute paper, or anything new you may have thought of as a result of our discussions in class. I'm especially interested to hear retellings of the "most dramatic" moment and what Mamet, Meadows, Aristotle or Freytag might say about your experience with Thunderstorm.

Finally, you could also address the question: Why should we care whether games have narrative or are dramatic? What does answering that question accomplish, and who would be interested in our answers? (bonus points for ideas that include people outside the game design world)
Idea Parties!
Please RSVP if you are planning to take part in one of our informal idea parties next week, 5 - 6 PM (you're not obligated to stay the whole hour, of course-- just as long as you need to generate some good ideas!) on the patio of the Dwinelle Annex. (That's the little brown shed just west of Dwinelle, also where my office is in case you need to find me during office hours.) Also, preferences in terms of soda and/or juice and what kind of food helps you think better (pretzels, chocolate, jelly beans, cookies, chips...) Be sure to mention which day you want to come; you're welcome to both, of course. What will happen at the idea party? We'll just hang out and talk with each other about what you're interested in and how you might be able to generate research questions and strategies that can turn your interests into a kick-ass and feasible research project/paper. Sort of like office hours, except with more people to talk to besides myself!

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Superbowl Sunday!
We can't play in the game, but nearly 50% of all Americans will be "playing along" in some capacity this Sunday as New England takes on Carolina... what are your favorite traditions for vicarious Superbowl play? Goofy bets, rooting for the underdog, high stakes pools, Superbowl drinking games (21 and over please!), making fun of the half-time show... do you have strategies for adding drama or interactivity to Superbowl Sunday?

What are the "dramas" emerging from the matchup this year? Does it help to have a story to tell about the game if you're not really into NFL football?

Also, what do you make of the Superbowl traditional of the capitalist spectacle of the year: Superbowl commercials? What makes a Superbowl commerical a hit or a dud, and how might we use drama, performance, or spectacle to understand those differences?

And what about the spectacle of the media frenzy designed to promote the event itself? Here's one New York Times reporters' take: "Jaded colleagues have been warning me about this for years, but one must experience Super Bowl media day, sports journalism's most repellent day of the year, to really appreciate it." [free registration required to read NY Times article; everyone should have a registration to the NY Times! If for no other reason than I link there a lot...]

Thoughts and plans before the game are welcome, and reflections afterwards are also great!
When is art research?
You may have noticed from the syllabus that we're not holding class as usual on Friday February 6. Since you have "off" that day, consider attending one of the talks at UC Berkeley's "When is art research?" conference. It may help you conceive of your research project for this class in a way that is more exciting to you than a traditional term paper. A number of friends and colleagues of mine from the departments of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies and Art Practice are speaking at the conference; it should prove an interesting day, and if you'd like to do something a little unusual with your project for this class, attending a talk here might be really valuable. Times, schedules, and other details if you follow the link above...

Digital StoryEngines
As for why we're not having class in person on Friday February 6, the answer is here... I'll be giving a talk at Stanford. Anyone particularly interested in digital storytelling and digital games is welcome to join us at the conference, although it is a pain-in-the-ass to get over to Palo Alto. Other speakers include Will Wright (creator of all the Sims games) and Warren Spector (big bad Deus Ex designer). My talk is on "games in everyday spaces".... and I'll be livening up the conference with some stealth missions that attendees can choose to accept. Woo hoo!
Interactive drama, or just a really interesting blog?
Speaking of interactive narratives (Mark Stephen Meadows, if you've done the reading for Wednesday...):
Some of you may already be familiar with the very interesting "interactive drama"known as "She's a flight risk"... I say "drama" because that's what it is suspected by most readers to be (fiction, that is). The author hasn't really admitted what it is and, in fact, claims that it is just a regular, truthful, NON-fictional blog. (Most fans aren't buying it! but they like the story anyway...) The project tells the story of a young woman on the run, hiding her identity and location to escape a mysterious past. The entire story is told through first-person blog format; the author responds to reader comments and incorporates them into the "story" and occasionally arranges for real-world contact. Here's a link to the blog drama itself, plus a brief Wired news story that will fill you in on the background and a long but fascinating Esquire magazine article about a writer who set out to track down the truth behind the project...

What do you make of this new form for storytelling? Have you seen any other new storytelling or dramatic opportunies arise on the Internet? Or perhaps we could say that all blogs that are used as personal journals are, in fact, "drama engines" that enable the writers to turn their everyday life into drama? What would Mamet make of Live Journal?

Monday, January 26, 2004

Speaking of possible field trips...
Nick has suggested a group outing to Yerba Buena to get your hands mutilated (or watch others get their hands mutilated) on the PainStation2 machine. The exhibit also has some very cool "network art" (related to the 6 degrees of separation concept) and some other "playful" (but not necessarily game-related) art exhibits. We can toss some times and dates around, maybe tack it onto a class meeting sometime? All those in favor, speak up...

The opportunity for another possible field trip that would be a little crazier has just come up, althought it would require us getting down to San Jose on a Monday afternoon... logistically speaking it might be tough, perhaps impossible, but there are lots of benefits, including a really unusual experience that is also a paid game/performance gig for any of you who would like to participate. The basics: An game company I work with, similar in some ways to the Big Urban Game, is planning a gigantic game for upwards fo 500 live street players, and we need lots of "plants"... that is, people who interact with the players in some kind of character and give them passwords, points, handcuffs... it's not for the very timid, but it's also not nearly as scary as it sounds. Details in class... here is the link to check out for background: The Go Game. at www.thegogame.com.

ANYONE INTERESTED IN BEING A PLANT FOR THE GO GAME either for San Jose or at any point in the future (perhaps a local game) should submit your info at http://thegogame.com/brownie/about/contact/plants.asp . There are games nearly every week, often more local (i.e., San Francisco.) If you're interested but not sure your performance skills or nerve are up to the challenge, talk to me... I give excellent crash courses in being a plant. :)

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Creative writing exercise
If you'd like to be creative with your blog post this week, try this exercise inspired by our Mamet reading "The Wind-Chill Factor." (It will help if you've read the essay before you try the exercise!)

Mamet begins his essay by claiming, "It is in our nature to dramatize," and he suggests that we give everything that happens "a plot, in order to understand its meaning for the hero, which is to say for ourselves." Sound familiar? I agree with Mamet that we all have a tendency to narrate things that happen to ourselves and to others in such a way that everything we encounter becomes a story primarily about ourselves.

For this excercise, can you decide NOT to be what Mamet calls "the protagonist of the individual drama we understand our life to be"? Think of something "dramatic" that happened to you this week; perhaps something you've already told a friend about or written about in a journal. Can you "rewrite" the drama you've constructed around the events to take yourself out of the protagonist role? Can you make it "undramatic", still writing from your own p.o.v.? Or can you turn it into someone else's drama, keeping yourself as a peripheral character? Try it and post your new "undrama" or "alternate drama" in our comments, and tell us what it was like to try to take yourself out of the protagonist role.


Friday, January 23, 2004

Weird things to catch your eye...
As we get through some of our reading on drama, performance, interactivitity, play, and games, you'll start to see interesting opportunities for applying what we're studying in unlikely places. Please post links on our blog to any exciting examples, trends or other curious phenomena that grabs your attention and reminds you of our class. In the meantime, I'll post mine to give you an idea of the wide range of objects and events that are in the scope of our class. Check out whatever catches your eye, and share your reactions and questions in the comments. Here's what captured my imagination earlier today... for more traditional theater stuff, see the post below.

Forget PlayStation2. Try PainStation2, an old Pong machine rigged to physically torture players each time they miss the little pong ball. This one-of-a-kind game installation travels the world (last time I saw it was in the Netherlands) and amazingly, it is in downtown San Francisco at the Yerba Buena art museum. You can get whipped, burned and shocked (and see other cool game art) right now! It's the ultimate performance of... something. But what? Anyway, anyone who shows up to class with an official PainStation wound (good players get a fleshy open sore on the center of the top of their hand from the burning flagellating whip) gets extra credit and the class's oohs and aahs.

Outkast meets Charlie Brown
What could you call this re-edit of Peanuts clips to Outkast's "Heya" song if not play? I'll leave it up to you to decide how and why we might call it play... note the final credits: "Used without Permission. Please don't sue us." Outkast and Peanuts fans, enjoy "Heya Charlie Brown."

Lenny Bristow never colors outside the lines
Just what you wanted to relieve the new semester stress: A Law & Order Coloring Book. Color in the crime scene chalk outlines, the body on the M.E.'s table, or the helpful neighborhood witnesses. Do you think this is play? How?

Sweet dreams machine
A new Takara toy on the market claims to empower you to dream about exactly who and what you want, when you want. No more nightmares? Lovely, happy, fantasy-filled slumber? Perhaps... if you play right. Its makers say the new toy is an opportunity to "be creative in your sleep." It involves pictures, fragrance, light displays, soothing music, and more. Read more about it in a Wired article.

Zip code addict
Is this interactive zip code explorer a game? Not exactly... but users are calling it fun and "frighteningly addictive." You decide what you make of it: You look at a map of the United States, with each zip code represented as a single white dot. You punch in a zip code - say, your own - and watch as the applet zooms down on that specific location. For example, the entire country is white dots to begni with; then, when you hit '9', only the West Coast lights up; with '0', Los Angeles, and then '210' narrows it down to Beverly Hills in specific. Sounds dull, but it's a really interesting visual experience. Try it!

...and finally....

Subversive cross-stitch
They call it "snarky therapy." See for yourself what subversive cross-stitching is all about. It's more than an art form... it's definitely an opportunity for performance or play, I think... especially if done in public...
Upcoming interesting theater events...
What's that? You just finished the reading for the weekend and you LOVED David Mamet's essay? You're a huge David Mamet fan for life? Well then, you definitely will want to check out the World Premiere of David Mamet's new play at the Magic Theater in San Francisco. The Bay area is really lucky to have a Mamet premiere (like I said, one of America's greatest living writers in any medium), and it's starring the amazing Ricky Jay, who is a real Mamet veteran. It's semi-affordable as far as live theater goes... $25 a ticket for the first week of performances ("previews"). Or, you can try to get a volunteer usher spot and see the play for FREE! (Call two to three weeks in advance. (415) 441-8822, www.magictheatre.org. ) The play is Faustus, and it's a modern-day adapatation of the classic (and epic) Faust tale. [The official scheduling dirt: David Mamet’s Dr. Faustus Previews 2/24-27 Tue-Fri 8:30pm $25 Play 2/28-3/21 Tue-Sat 8:30pm, Sun 2:30pm $53-$34 ($75 Opening Night)]

Okay, maybe you're still deciding what you think of Mamet. Here's another very interesting show coming up at the Fort Mason theater space in San Francisco: A new production by the famous Word for Word theater company, which stages literature exactly as it was originally written. So instead of adapting a story or novel for the stage, the actors keep the original text intact, saying things like, "'What are you doing home so early?' she asked as she slipped the letter into a drawer and tried to keep the blush from creeping across her cheeks." It's a very strange effect and a supercool performance technique that is hard to imagine until you see it done, and these guys do it quite effectively. The Wednesday night performances are "pay what you can", meaning you can decide to pay $1 or $5 or whatever you can afford. [The official scheduling dirt: Word For Word Three Blooms Previews 2/17&18 Tue&Wed 8pm, Play 2/19-3/21 Wed-Sat 8pm, Sun 3pm $27-$25 (“Pay What You Can” on Previews & Weds) www.zspace.org (415) 437-6775]

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Two games to check out before Friday's class...

Your mission for Friday's class: Investigate the Big Urban Game (B.U.G.). Your challenge is to figure out at least 3 research questions you could pursue if you wanted to write a research paper about B.U.G. Feel free to think wildly; there are no wrong ideas. You should also jot down some ideas for how you might explore each of those questions-- who would you have to talk to, what would you have to read, where would you have to go? Please bring your notes to class on Friday. You'll use your notes for discussion and brainstorming, and then I'll collect them at the end of class.

Recommended: TELE-TWISTER
Some of you have seen this game before or even played along online or in our studio. Well, this Friday at noon may be the LAST Tele-Twister game EVER, so now is your last chance to experience the bizarre world of remote-control Twister. You can find out more about the game on our Tele-Twister site. If you're interested in playing live in the lab on an actual Twister board, email me; if you want to play online, simply visit the Web site at noon on Friday. Game runs live from 12 to 12:30 PM.
Since we're all in this research business together, let's get to know each other's areas of expertise and interest. Take a minute to introduce yourself. Tell us a bit about your interests in play and performance... what games, sports, performing arts or other a varieties of play do you love? What's something you know a lot about that might be a good research area for our class? While you're at it, give us at least one link to a site you like (or perhaps even your own site or blog!) Bonus points if your link is connected to the themes of our R1B class.

I'll go first: Although I do a lot of research on digital games, I'm still pretty old-school: I like playground games and classic party games and vintage board games the best. Also among my favorite gaming pleasures: the "vicarious play" of game shows and reality TV shows and the NBA... go Kings! My all-time favorite performance was a running gig as Pippi Longstocking at outdoor festivals in Central Park, New York City. (Come to think of it, that was as much play as it was performance...) As for what I know a lot about, I suppose you'd better hope for our class's sake that it includes dramatic literature and research strategies. Well, I'd also put reality tv, horror films, adventure travel, weird game-like theater and weird theater-like games on the list. :)

Here's a link to my web site, Avant Game, where you'll find improvised instructions for games I made up, cryptic evidence of top secret projects I've worked on (okay, maybe not top secret, but definitely unusual), and some of my favorite articles, essays and manifestos (!) I've written in the past year or so. A couple more (and more fun!) links: My 2 favorite proscrastination tools, which I bet some of you are already familiar with: PopCap games and Orisinal games!

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