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I'm an NYC-based director, and this is an outlet for my various musings about theater and about the city of New York. Sometimes the subjects run together, sometimes they are entirely separate, but between the two they comprise the most fitful, most intense, most trying love affair of my few years. They fill my head, my heart, my mouth every hour of every day; they could fill a book.

Friday, January 21, 2011


Continuing this week's apparent theme of exciting storytelling revelations/revolutions:

So, this may be old news to everyone but me, but I was recently briefed on the ending of a video game called "Call of Duty," which I guess is a big deal as far as video games go? This particular version was called "Modern Warfare," as I'm sure that will mean something to someone (although it isn't me).

This is what happens when you beat the game, as it was explained to me:

"It was weird. You, like, see yourself get shot and and then you watch the rest of your unit die. Then, when it goes back into the game, the controller gets really shaky - you know, like, really difficult to operate - and you have to kill all the rest of the bad guys before you die. And that's the end."

Now, the last time I beat a video game was my freshman year of college which was - oh god - almost ten years ago now. It was something called "Metroid Fusion," and I got really into it while "assistant stage managing" a play that semester. Or, as it was better known to me, "bringing my roommate's Gameboy and sitting quietly in the back of the house during rehearsals so that I can earn my 'tech' credit and pass my theater classes." Before that, the last video game I got really excited about was Super Mario Brothers.

Needless to say, I'm not really up-to-date on the gaming world. These days, my understanding of it is almost exclusively restricted to the few times I've happened to see my friend's husband play when I've visited her house. I have been told that games have become exponentially more sophisticated, and, indeed, my friend's husband's games look very, very complicated.

But while the game I played in college was worlds beyond the Super Mario Brothers of my childhood, the last time I had any personal interaction with a video game, the basic story structure appeared to have remained the same: a sort of choose-your-own-adventure-style plot, in which you died (or lost) until you survived and won.

There's something about the notion that you can win the game but your avatar, presumably the hero, can still lose in a big way that I find incredibly intriguing. The idea of a video game that ends in tragedy seems rather revolutionary.

Maybe this idea has been in circulation for a while, I don't know. But whenever it developed, it was revolutionary.

Because while I know that video game narratives have evolved considerably over the years, this scenario creates space for possibilities that I have never considered before. As complex and imaginative as these stories have become, it seems to me that the narrative has always been in service of the game.

Now, it occurs to me that the game can be in service of the narrative.

I'm not saying that this version of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is a video game Hamlet, but I guess I'm saying maybe something could be? I find the possibility exciting. And with interactive devices like the Wii and the Kinnect, the audience (and yes, I am using the term audience rather than player) is able to engage with a story in a new and unique way. The possibilities of the technology are suddenly clear to me: this isn't just something that uses certain storytelling constructs in order to make a game accessible - or at least, it doesn't have to be. This could be an entirely new, interactive, storytelling medium.

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