While everyone is fixated on what’s happening in San Diego at the moment, those of us in New York City have our own uinique options as it pertains to overindulging in various forms of entertainment and pop culture simultaneously. Especially if one is way into video games… and theater?
The Game Play festival is happening right now at the Brick Theater in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. For the past five years, it has produced “cutting-edge works that lie at the intersection of video gaming and performance.”
What does that mean exactly? Basically, plays and similar efforts that are centered on games. Sounds kinda weird, doesn’t it? It is. But kinda awesome as well, right? That too is correct. Here are a few of the performance I’ve seen thus far.
Legendary, Maybe: 4 Machinima Theater Pieces adapted from Livy
Legendary, Maybe is the latest production of EK Machinima Theater, which gathers a bunch of middle and high school kids to play a games on stage. Or so that’s what it looks like. They’re actually actors using games to breathe life into a story, via real time machinima. What’s that word you might be asking? It’s the use of video game characters, environments, and the like to create a narrative. You’ve probably seen a couple of examples on YouTube already (Red vs Blue is perhaps the most famous example).
This year, EK Machinima Theater chose to depict Ab Urbe Condita, an epic poem about the rise of the Roman Empire, including some of its greatest heroes. And to breath life into this tale, the kids play parts of games that best illustrate certain sections. Including World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, Super Smash Bros, Minecraft, Red Red Redemption, LittleBigPlanet, Golden Axe 2, and Assassin’s Creed.
The entire scene is quite the spectacle; you have PCs and gaming systems all on a table, along with the teens driving the action. As one person plays Minecraft, to depict a former king planning his revenge (the focus is the projected on the big screen), you can eyeball someone else messing around in Black Ops, as he gets his virtual actors in place for the following scene in which two characters die in the epic fashion. My description does it zero justice, Legendary; Maybe honestly needs to be seen to be believed.
Compared to Legendary, Maybe, Final Defenders is not as out there, though the more traditional approach might be a bit easier to process for some. The premise is this: every single game, ever, has been made by people in the distant future, and are actually training simulations. Those who excel are plucked from their timelines and gathered by the aforementioned party, the Konami Atari Alliance of Eden 3, to act as the last line of defense against the forces of Queen Bowsera.
Does it sound a lot like The Last Starfighter? They actually made that movie as well, to increase interest in game playing, we are told. Anyhow, the all-star squadron is not what you’d expect. You have the valley girl from the 80s that’s really good at Space Invaders, plus the dork from the here and now, who kicks ass at MMOs. But that’s about it when it comes to expert video gamers.
You also have a hippie from the 60s that’s a pinball wizard, a tough biker chick from the 50s that’s good at slap fighting, and a kid from the depression era that’s an ace at that game in which you try to get a wood ball into a wooden cup. Together, can they save the planet Earth? Though, more importantly, can everyone’s game so called skills be put to actual use?
Final Defenders answers this, and more; despite an ending that’s a bit underdeveloped and flat, the lead up at least is totally engaging, and the acting throughout is simply top-notch. If you’ve never experienced live theater, it’s awesome, and this is pretty much the best introduction that anyone could ask for, especially if said person is way into video games (the multitude of reference and in-jokes are genuinely smart and funny).
Targeting Eyes & DOT; A Videogame With No Winner
Whereas Legendary, Maybe was tricky to describe accurately (and Final Defenders wasn’t at all), this double bill is all but impossible, but here goes anyways.
First, Targeting Eyes is a performance piece that stars a Korean woman who sits on the floor, wearing a traditional dress and army helmet. We mostly watch her play with a game that herself and collaborators have fashioned on the PC, utilizing a Wii Remote and Wii Zapper. It’s a first person simulator, but instead of shooting people, she has to make eye contact, which you’re not supposed to due according to how she (and others like her) were raised.
It’s fairly avant garde, to put it mildly. One’s enjoyment will entire be contingent upon one’s familiarity (and tolerance) of performance art. While not quite a fan of the form, I can still appreciate such things, but even my patience started to wear thin when the artist took forever to get the necessary 200 points to advance to the next objective (which was the whole point, I realize). Let’s just say, it was very interesting.
The accompaniment was a tad easier to swallow, despite being even more formless. DOT; A Videogame With No Winner is simply a “gaming console” that presents “games” that consist of glitched graphics and sounds, which audience members are encouraged to play alongside its creator. In a funny way, it’s much like the machinma from before, but super abstract. Again, the barrier for entry is a bit high on this one, though if you’re a fan of chiptunes and circuit bending especially, DOT might be up your alley.
Yet, there’s more! You also have That Cute Radioactive Couple: A Post-Apocalyptic Comedy, which is a comedy that’s perfect for fans of Fallout and BioShock (saw it last year and found it quite enjoyable) and a chiptunes dance party (highly recommended for those who still don’t know what word actually means). Game Play runs until the end of this month; simply head on over to The Brick’s website for the full schedule and to purchase tickets.