INTERNATIONAL NOTICE track their position, delving into the crossover between mapping technology and interactive performance.
GPS (Global Positioning System) games immediately make me think of Geocaching, the world’s largest treasure hunt. I’ve never completely got the appeal – Saturday mornings spent out in the woods, scrambling up dirt trails, smartphone in hand, all in order to locate a plastic waterproof ‘cache’. Once found, you put your name in the log-book contained within, and move onto the next cache. There are 21,241 caches near Berlin. That’s quite a lot of rainy muddy weekends. I hope there’s an incredible reward for the winner of the worldwide hunt, but I suspect this 21st century incarnation of orienteering is simply a way to while away the time, jogging around the scrub and wasteland of the city, an inner stopwatch adding a self-induced sense of pressure. Still, what do I know? There are 10 million khaki-wearing users registered on the Geocache site. My feelings about geocaching aside, I am intrigued by the idea of location-based games, and curious to find out if the potential thrill increases if the tech/gaming concepts cross-pollinate with live performance. So I dig a little deeper.
A location-based game ‘is a type of pervasive game in which the gameplay evolves and progresses via a player’s location’. One of the first examples was BotFighters, first released in Sweden, shortly after the millennium. It is the gamer’s mission to locate (via GPS) other players and destroy them (via SMS) – a bit like Paintball with your telephone. In an article from 2002, Niklas Wolkert – a Swedish programmer – is described, standing in a supermarket car-park, shooting missiles at his anonymous opponent, 10 cents per pop, engaging in a virtual world layered on top of the real world. Hit and run destruction, and revenge killings whilst the rest of the family buy the groceries. I wonder if there’s now a free WhatsApp version, but the game seems to have sunk without trace. Ingress is a more sophisticated offering, developed for Android devices by Niantic, Inc in 2012. It’s described succinctly as an ‘augmented-reality massively multiplayer online location-based game’ with a complex sci-fi back story. I, honestly, have no clue what this terrifyingly extensive game/fiction is, or how it all works, but if you are looking for a distraction, you can fall down the rabbit hole via this link.
In recent years immersive performances – taking place in abandoned warehouses, empty hotels and underground passages, from the likes of Punchdrunk and Dream Think Speak – have begun to head out onto the streets. In the UK, zombie-chase craze 2.8 Hours Later, conceived by Slingshot, layered its human vs. zombie survival race on top of the architecture of various cities, with players running through backstreets, slipping through alleyways high on adrenaline – until the company went bust in 2015 (ticket prices didn’t quite match the escalating insurance costs). ‘As if caught in some parallel reality, you’ll play out your quest among an unaware general population, the game’s route taking you through eerily quiet or disused areas, and the occasional shopping centre.’ Helsinki-based live arts collective Other Spaces, also take audience-participants out into the wild. Their performance Reindeer Safari is a collective wayfaring for 20 – 100 human-reindeer, travelling through semi-urban landscapes. ‘The transition from human experience into reindeer experience is acquired step-by-step,’ promise the collective. For the curious, Lotus Lykke has written an article about his semi-wild herd/semi-domestic animal POV. As performances start to spread across whole cities, collaborations with digital developers have been initiated, with GPS-enabled smartphones connecting up participants. Rik Lander’s The Memory Dealer (2013) used phones as the main interface for a pervasive city-wide drama, and since 2013 Playable City have commissioned pervasive artworks that transform the urban environment through play, starting in Bristol (UK) and spreading their reach to Tokyo, Recife, and Lagos. Winners of the yearly award have included interactive, communicate lampposts and postboxes engaging in SMS chats, morphing shadows, and playful digital animals hopping up and down the cobbled steps of the old town. National Theatre Wales, together with director John Norton and digital designer Matthew Wright, dreamt up Bordergame in 2014, which won the first Space Prize for digital theatre. This challenge invited live players to make it from Bristol (England) to Newport (Wales) without arousing the suspicions of the Border Agency. Online players, on the other hand, fulfilled the role of informants for the Border Agency, good citizens helping to protect the border through surveillance and observation. The live event is a fusion of these roles – active game players, trying to outwit a mass online audience who are busy tracking their every move. Reviewers queried an underwhelm of detailed narrative content, and the ethics of ‘playing’ the role of a refugee, but this attempt to bring together live and online audiences into a hybrid theatrical space suggests that forms of performance are shifting and responding to new technical possibilities.
At Performersion these ideas are explored further: machina ex workshop How To Design Games in Real Life Environments, Maya Magnat generates some intimacy with your smartphone, Prinzip Gonzo, TOTO and CR8TR offer up an app-led Alice in Wonderland for 12 players, and Jan Keno Janssen and Kathrin Passig discuss what it’s like to get lost in immersion.
For those who haven’t got a smartphone, and don’t know their A from their Z, I’d recommend booking Fruit for the Apocalypse’s The Surrealist Taxi to get you where you want to go. Or somewhere else entirely. You just need to be in East London to start your trip. +44 74 132 888 50 to book – the line’s open 24/7 if the driver accepts your call.
- MAY 2016
Writer: Chris GYLEE for INTERNATIONAL NOTICE
Credits: Ingress Map, FRAGGER (IM #1) | Reindeer Safari, Open Spaces (V #1) | Bordergame, The Space (IM #2)