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The Relation Between Games and Theater

     Before I start I think its important to let you know my background. My name is Steven Harmon, and I'm an independent game developer and actor. Odd combination right? Anyways, I think its important to reflect on how one can grow as an actor alongside a programmer making meaningful, helpful connections that are invaluable to any aspiring actor or game developer. So here it goes...




          . What it is in game development and design: A good game immerses its player into the mechanics, story, audio, visual aesthetic, and execution. This is a difficult task, but there's some brief important concepts that need to stick with you to make life easier. People need to get drawn into the game; this can be done with interesting new game play mechanics or gimmicks, glamorous pieces of audiovisual art that take your breath away, and just a well written story. Bonus points if you can do all these! Remember its aesthetic over graphics! There are a few things that can pull a player right out of a game: first is the game sucks, its another zombie, monster, first person shooter with explosions and nothing new (seriously if that's your game idea the people of the internet will fill your inbox with hate mail), second the game is too difficult or to easy, you need to make the game super easy to pick up, but difficult/near impossible to master or else you'll have a game of tic tac toe that always ends the same way, third is the game doesn't take advantage of people's drawn experiences; you need to not be general, but rather specific like a good mystic when creating your world, e.g, the statement of "Why the hell don't the cops attack the gangsters in Watch Dogs? They seem pleasantly intent on just ganging up on me, this sucks fuck Ubisoft!" Now, the designers could come up with an excuse like "If you didn't notice, the cops are crooked, therefore they made prior deals with the gang affiliates therefore it was meant to be that way. Sorry for the inconvenience here's a free key to Assassins Creed, now shut up." Cops main job that sets them apart from normal civilian npc's is that they'll fight off crime, if that be you or another npc. If a realistic game isn't realistic in mechanics as it is graphics you've lost some of your audience; this is suspension of disbelief, because people can overlook somethings, but to be truly drawn in they need to have understandable guidelines that are logical. Keep in mind this applies only to certain types of games, but if things are too thought out, its a good idea to add a dose of spontaneity like every hundred - two thousand times instead of shooting a bullet you'll shoot out a random physics prop or npc, i.e the wabbajack staff of Skyrim.

     . What it is in theater: You can't just always rely on emotions and talent, one has to turn on the actor brain that tells you to cheat out, not to upstage your partner, and technique from questions like "What if...", "Would my character do this? If so why?", "My objectives? My tactics (how do I get there)? What am I trying to get out of my partner?", "Am I physically embodying the character correctly, or am I showing?etc. I can go on all day with those questions, which just goes to show how difficult it is. One question in particular is the most important. "Can an old man really just sit down without preparation? You need to be a believable that you are an old man, even though you may not be a day over thirty. If you aren't immersed into your character both physically, mentally, and vocally it shows. People aren't going to be immersed in the play if they can't hear you. People aren't going to be interested if you aren't interesting, but don't overact because that's almost worse. Your character is an extension of your, almost separate, but still connected since he/she/it can only be built off of your previous experiences, thoughts, and interactions in life that could be so small but affect your entire life with a new set of branching choices, decisions, and consequences. You can think about dropping into character in many ways, but the most common are inward outward like psyching yourself out to be in the mindset of the character you are supposed to be, and everything will fall into place. Sometimes that doesn't work for people, and that's alright, because that can sometimes be unhealthy emotional wise when you recall bad memories to get into that unhealthy state for a part that you'll be twice a day for an entire tour. I think dropping into character outward in is a better option, think of it like cosplaying, but much more serious where you don't break to say hi to someone who wants a picture with you, but rather reacting as that character would if some random asked them for a photo. You can't be someone unless you walk in there skin for three days of a con in the hot sun. 


     . What it is in game development and design: Choices need to matter, period. On top of that those meaningful choices need to be interesting, unless of course its your goal to use mechanics as a metaphor of boredom which in some story cases could work, but that's a whole different blog post. You can't just have a selection of choices, that end up with you did this right, or you did this wrong. (SPOILERS) One of my favorite examples is in The Last Of Us where Joel saves Ellie instead of let the fireflies find a cure; it wasn't the wrong or right choice, but it was a choice that needed to be thought about deeply, quickly, and under the given circumstances, and even though there was no actual option of not saving Ellie, the game was so well designed that everyone did the humane choice and saved Ellie. The choice should make the player think about what they'd do in that scenario. That's the cherry on top of good design.
     . What it is in theater: You need to make choices that fit the character as written in the text, or what your director wants you to do. If you director is the laid back type, just experiment and go for what you think would work. Remember its better to fail now, then later, so fail. As for consequences... If you're in a play like Incident at Vichy where something is going to happen, and you as the actor know it you can't play it in advance otherwise why even come to see the show? You need to take every moment as if it were happening for the first time, because it can't get stale. Try new things, make new choices, and interact with your partners to bring some more life into the scene by surprising them every once in a while.


     .What it is in game development and design: So if anything happens at all, there is going to be like five people already cussing  you out on the internet forums or comments section that have little to no traces of good grammar, or even relate to your game. Seriously though, what the heck does "weird af" mean?
Anyway... I would ignore the hate comments, unless their offering constructive criticism to help improve your game as a tester or reviewer usually will do. Developers are pretty forgiving, unless they are dicks/had a long day/are threatened by you. A normal dev wants the most people as possible to make games, because more developers there are that means the more games, type of games, and overall good games that will be out there. Our industry is just a prepubescent  teen who has no idea what they want to do with their life; this is good, because right now we can experiment and make something, anything interactive and call it a game. Heck, even the "indie" title is a little blurry, but people use it since it makes things easier on the journalist's part. 

     .What it is in theater: A quote from Incident at Vichy, and the truth. The audience could be really great and boost your confidence ten fold, or tear you apart. Just try to do your best each show, even if there isn't an audience. I've been in a show at Fringe where only like 6 people showed up, but we still gave them their money's worth and did a terrific show!

So uh, I guess that's it for now since that feels like enough words for a blog post. I had fun writing this, because no one really has connected Video Games and staged Theater with great detail, so I thought I might give it a try for anyone who had the same thought or just wanted to read the writings of a fatigued teenager who just did his first day of driver's ed with a classroom of disgruntled awkward and prissy other adolescents that have little to nothing in common with you: fun! Not.