What is “Game Theatre?”
The Game Theatre is an experiential gaming and live role-play entertainment company. After launching our Summer 2017 high medieval weekend adventure, Dragon Thrones, we fielded many questions about what precisely is “Game Theatre.” These questions originated from multiple perspectives, including live action role-players (“Larp”), tabletop role-play gamers, and immersive theatre enthusiasts. So, we’ve taken the time to define (and describe) what we design and love.
“Game Theatre” is a new style of larp-hybrid, tabletop gaming, and theatrical experience. Game Theatre is a specialized gaming system combining larp, board game mechanics, and theatrical elements to create immersive social adventures.
In Game Theatre players are cast as character roles that are placed within an overarching plot (similar to larp). Players are also given meaningful (mechanical) choice-based objectives to create compelling socialization and story line progression. Game Theatre utilizes a tier-based objective design where players each have personal (individual questing), team (collaborative, or faction vs. faction) and global (entire game) objectives. This tiered system is employed so players can pursue different courses of action, but still always have a measurable influence on the overall game. Even the smallest decision can have ramifications.
Where Game Theatre departs from many larps is that tabletop and card game mechanics are deconstructed and used to resolve objectives at timed intervals. Game Theatre first selects mechanics with strong interactive features that can be successfully melded into a larp to create a larp-gaming hybrid. A few favored mechanics are social deduction, resource allocation, area control, and classic 52 card deck games. Game Theatre then scripts the role-play experience into “rounds”, “scenes”, or “timed objective understanding resolution stages” (called “TOURS” in Game Theatre) where player choices and actions must be made. This is how Game Theatre ensures that the gaming experience will generate outcomes consistently. Just like a turn in a tabletop game, in Game Theatre things will happen to players on a personal, team, and global level at set times.
Some in larp fear that this will strip agency from their role. However, we like to use the theme park example: you will have an intriguing character role to play, however your role also happens to be on a roller coaster, which will go up and down, left and right, Game Theatre is interested in how your role reacts to those elements and your reactions will affect the world when you step off the ride.
There is no direct player-on-player combat to navigate or manage in Game Theatre, rather players compete (in character) through fluid social strategy, decision-making, influence, resources, and team-building. Game Theatre often uses player trust/deception, influence indexing/tracking, and material measurement (money, resources etc.) to resolve conflicts and gauge success.
Although a larp-hybrid, Game Theatre does encourage a degree of free-form role-play, where players can contribute their own spontaneous side-plots into the game and pursue them once approved by Game Theatre administrators, referred to as “Game Directors.” Side-plots often become popular when certain players begin to lose power, influence, or the respect and trust of their peers. Hence, similar to Nordic Larp, free-form larp can be used to tell tales of tragedy (which makes one’s downfall still as interesting, and fun to play, as victory). Moreover, free forming never breaks the overall game due to Game Theatre’s structure. Free-form adds valuable color to the experience!
Game Directors and players will also launch into improvisational (interactive theatrical) scenes at TOURS stages to summarize the status of the game and overall story. Similar to a staged play, Game Theatre always has an opening, middle, plot-twist (thematic game mechanic addition to cope with), a final heated round, and then an unscripted conclusion that’s decided by outcomes, and repercussions of, player and team actions.
Game Theatre also utilizes non-player character (“NPCs”) hybrids but prefers that NPCs have a measurable degree of “in game” experience as well, so nobody involved in Game Theatre is ever completely out of the game. This tends to avoid the “overwhelmed NPC” bottleneck traffic flow problem. NPCs are often referred to as simply “The Cast” by the Game Directors and The Cast are successful if players have a very hard time discerning who are “players” and who are “The Cast.” As in life, this makes finding the connection as thrilling as milking the connection. The Cast are used to emotionally compel the players, drive story and progress the game with interaction, while always also pursuing their own competitive objectives as well.
Game Theatre also places significant focus on location and is typically played in professional venues that present an ambiance that matches the game’s theme. Live entertainment and non-actor, purely physical performers (dancers etc.) can also be scripted into the experience, whom often offer clues and intelligence to those who watch them closely and/or engage with them strategically. Another favored design tactic is the use of immersive spaces to place puzzles which, if discovered and solved, will convey further information and/or valuable items. All of these elements are aimed to trigger the different motivations and interests of players, while still retaining the structure of the Game Theatre’s larp-hybrid.
Overall,although Game Theatre takes its larp-hybrid seriously, its main design goal is to ensure that players, from a variety of backgrounds and experience levels, can enter into a collective realm that’s fun and meaningful for everyone. Game Theatre is always, first and foremost, a design system with entertainment value in mind.
Game Theatre as a “Show”
In addition to its larp-hybrid format, Game Theatre is also used to design interactive theater “shows.” Game Theatre shows are bifurcated experiential designs where the general public (audience) are given global meta-objectives, such as solving a murder mystery, stopping a global financial collapse, or escaping a hazardous location and so on. Audience members are not given character roles and experience the show as themselves. Meanwhile, senior Game Theatre players (again “The Cast”) assume engaging character roles within the story. The Cast then socially competes with each other to lively “tell a story” as an interactive larp spectacle for the audiences’ curiosity and pleasure. Audience members can approach and interact with the competing Cast members to obtain information to try and solve their own audience objectives. Meanwhile, The Cast themselves possess their own thematic objectives (secretly) between one another. Additionally, The Cast does not know the ultimate answers to the audiences’ objectives, so everyone begins the show with pressing questions on their mind. A Game Theatre show is essentially staging an entertaining, competitive theatre larp that’s played out elbow-to-elbow with audience members who have a compelling reason to be there.
Through such productions The Game Theatre has succeed in transforming larping and gaming into an immersive theatre production for the entertainment of both The Cast and the general public alike (consistently The Cast proclaims to us that they have as much fun in our shows as they do in our larp-games). The magic of a Game Theatre show is in how gifted larpers can be involved in their own passionate story, which then creates hyper-interactive theater for the masses. Only a cast of actors with larp and/or social gaming experience can truly achieve this unique performance method, and its quite a moving experience to behold. We as Game Directors are often left in awe.
If there ever was a love letter to the power of larp it’s seeing the emotive and psychological effect it can have on a by-standing audience, all whom have reasons to care deeply about The Cast, with both perspectives collectively vested in a troubled story only they together can resolve. In a Game Theatre shows audiences quickly do not know what hit them, but in a joyous way!
Game Theatre shows explore new channels of performative gaming and problem solving, while accomplishing the main objective that both the audience and The Cast share an amazing and memorable entertainment experience.
Dragon Thrones July 7th — 9th 2017
The Game Theatre is based in New York City and can be booked for private events. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org