After SPECULATORS IN SHUSH
Speculators in SHUSH was an exhibition of the work I’ve created during my residency at Blitz. At the center of the exhibition was the first performance of the new tabletop role-playing game system, Die SPEKULANTEN vor den SIEDLERN von SHUSH (dSvdSvS), one result of my residency. Along with the performance, I created an audio tour. The tour guided those who were not players in the performance through the process of creating a character that could be “played” in a future game.
Continuing my work with the sounds of ASMR, I created a soft soundscape, which accompanied the different stages of the game performance (introduction, character creation, expedition). The soundscape played throughout the performance, and I triggered samples inside of it, which were relevant to different stages of the game. The idea is to create an enveloping landscape of murmuring sounds, into which the voices of the game players blend.
I was lucky to be joined by four excellent players, whom I’ve met through the Blitz network while in Valletta. I couldn’t have asked for better players! One player’s character was a giant floating eye, another could make anything disappear by blowing smoke onto it. The third was seeking revenge for the untimely deaths of family members; a fourth was an amazingly resourceful telepath.
This was my first experience as a game master of an RPG, and I am eager to get more practice. While not everything about the game was perfect, by any means, the players had fun, and I was so impressed by the strange turns that the game took just in the short hour that we played.
You can watch a time lapse video of the performance here:
As you’ll see there is a large audience at the beginning of the game, a smaller audience in the middle of the game, and no audience at the end of the game. This represents a flaw both in my presentation of the game as a performance, and in the amount of audience engagement I solicited. I expected most of the audience to take the above-mentioned audio tour during the performance. The tour incorporated and explained the game and performance. But, of course, not everyone wanted to take the tour, or brought headphones to Blitz with them.
I can imagine several ways to make the game-as-performance more fun or engaging to watch. First, the game should open with a direct address to the audience, encouraging them to lean in on the table and explaining precisely (outside of the written instructions, which we included), what was happening. The game requires framing; it cannot exist on its own.
Second, this game was an hour long, but the game should take at least two hours. However, it’s a lot to ask people to watch something quietly for an hour, let alone two hours. Either a good portion of the game’s character creation and explanation should happen prior to the performance, or the performance should be broken into fifteen- or thirty-minute segments, between which the audience takes a break, and the players as well.
Third, the audience should have some role to play in the game to make them feel more engaged. Maybe they are asked for sound effects; maybe someone from the audience is occasionally given the opportunity to interpret a sign in the game; maybe the audience is asked to speak in unison as the voice of an important Non-Player Character (NPC). These are just a couple of thoughts off the top of my head.
Ultimately, I was really happy with the evening. I’ve been working very hard on developing the game system and the sounds that accompany it, and it was great to see it in motion — a fun experiment. The exhibition and performance provided me with quite a lot to think about, going forward, and I’m excited to continue developing the system, the sounds, and their presentation.