Drama at the receiving end of an AK-47

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Thy drugs are quick. Thus, with a kiss, I die.

Shooting things with a shooty thing mounted in the middle of your screen is perhaps one of the most pervading and immediately recognizable images of modern gaming. The first-person shooter has been a fixture since Doom, and although it can be argued that its zenith days may be over, it is still easily one of the most popular means of killing people on the computer.

However, even in these seemingly base games there can still be found the seeds of a dramatic performance not warranted but sprouted by both the game’s internal workings and a developed culture between the players. Most evident (and probably most familiar to involved players) is the concept of Teabagging, a low-brow debasement of an unrelated mechanic which, on closer inspection, is actually an ember of culture within a digital framework.

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All that’s spoke is marr’d.

Teabagging is what happens when Person A shoots Person B dead, after which Person A repeatedly crouches on top of Person B’s lifeless head, implying that he is pushing his scrotum into his vanquished foe’s face. While in essence a base form of ritualized humiliation, the very fact that the crouch button – usually used for crouching – has transcended from a tactical control to a human expression, however dubious, is an interesting and encouraging one. The game lacks a visual language, so the players inhabiting it develop one, repurposing existing movements and reestablishing them as conveyors of information, of emotion even. However base. This type of unassisted dialect creation is something that I’d like to emulate in Exit Pursued By A Bear.

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And then all this thou seest is but a clod And module of confounded royalty.

The second element of first-person shooters I wanted to touch on is Spectator Mode, a feature of many multiplayer modes. The concept is simple. When you die, you usually have to wait for a bit, either until the end of the match or until a respawn timer or some such mechanic has run its course. Many games offer the use of a Spectator Mode to use in these types of situations, or sometimes have dedicated Spectator Modes for entire sessions.

It basically does what it says on the tin – rather than actively participating in the game, you are a spectator, often having a choice between fixed camera angles and piggybacking on the players’ perspectives, an objective overview and a subjective angle; all boiling down to the same thing: Suddenly, the game has an audience. The game played is not just for the benefit of the involved players, but also caters to an invisible audience of onlookers.

Now, in an era where both Twitch-streaming and Youtube Let’s Plays have become staples and fixtures, this may not sound overly interesting. It might, in fact, even sound outdated. It is. Twitch presents a far more direct way of letting spectators in on your games and Youtube allows far more channels of communication between players and audience; but Spectator Mode is an embedded function inside a game. The audience is, to an extent, there, not merely watching the players’ screens, but inhabiting the game space, invisible, yet still in control of their own movements and perspectives. They have a choice what to view and how to view it, a choice that they must make as the game is being played, not before or after. Even though they are spectating, they are in effect also playing.

It is this ‘involved audience’ mechanic that I would like to capitalize on in this project. A performance-centered game by definition appears to need someone to witness it to qualify as something to do with performance, and I would prefer it be to the benefit of more people than merely the players. What play is only to the benefit of actors. Except, perhaps, Larps. More on that later.

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