This is a bit of a stream of consciousness, so bear with me.
Apart from gaming, my other passion is theatre, and I’ve often thought that it has a lot in common with gaming (particularly RPGs and LARPs) . This isn’t a revelation by any stretch of the imagination, just look at the ‘What is Roleplaying’ section in any RPG sourcebook and you are bound to find some reference to acting/theatre or improvisation.
And it’s Improv and LARPing that I think probably mark, or rather, blur the boundary between gaming and theatre.
The theatre group I’m involved in, No Drama Theatre , are a diverse bunch of folks (including a handful of gamers and former gamers) and as well as rehearsed performances we spend a lot of time on improvisation. We do weekly workshops where the participants are expected to improvise a scene or two. We also have a dedicated Improv Troupe – Laughalot who perform short form Improv games (The short, funny games of the sort that you see on Whose line is it anyway) but also Long Form Improv.
Long Form Improv is a form of improvisation where, no points for guessing this right, the performance is longer. To be more specific the same characters and premise exist for the duration and it’s less likely to be laugh out loud funny than its short form sibling. There are certain structures in place for a long form in terms of the composition of the piece, the Harold is a particular variant that breaks the improv into segments with different ‘rules’. But diverging from these rules is encouraged as the performers grow in confidence and can ‘feel’ where the story should go and sense the audience expectations.
What you end up with (IMHO) is a very freeform LARP with an audience.
What It comes down to is that the same skills are used in both places with different focus
- Both groups are trying to create a cohesive story.
- Both groups are individually playing a set character (With the exception of the GM who is kind of a ‘bit part’ improviser!)
- Both groups are playing to a broad setting/plot/theme.
- Both sets of players do not know what is going to happen next, the story is molded as they go along.
Do the skills transfer? I think so.
Can an improviser learn something from playing a game or a gamer learn from improvisation? I think most definitely so.
The Settings for games are so very very rich compared to the very broad strokes backgrounds that an improviser works with. Similarly the game mechanics (of an RPG) will provide new challenges and opportunities for an improviser, where they in the passed just mimed swinging over the ravine and making it by the skin of their teeth, a little bad luck here means they are suddenly falling.
For gamers improvising, releases from the restrictions of a game mechanic with the ability to just decide what will happen means perhaps reining it in a little for the sake of the story. Swinging across the ravine successfully, just because you can is perhaps not as interesting as the opportunities provided by deciding to put yourself in peril. The other interesting dynamic is an absolute dependence on your co-performers, in a different way to the kind of dependancy built into a game. The stakes are much higher with an audience..
There are other synergies between gaming and theatre. Many theatre warm ups and exercises are not so far removed from the likes of ‘Werewolves of millers hollow‘ (I’ve actually used this with our group and it worked well) or perhaps Lunch Money.