Switching audiences for players: Chloe Mashiter writes

A couple of years ago, Coney worked with Headlong to make What’s She Like, an online game which lives inside the world of Duncan Macmillan’s People, Places and Things, and which still exists to play here. It was an exciting collaboration with various lovely impacts on us at Coney, including a piece we’re very proud of, and also some brilliant new connections.

One of the people we met through Headlong was Chloe Mashiter, a writer, director and performer, and the winner of Headlong’s 2016 Digital Artist Award. With support from the award, along with a great deal of ingenuity and resourcefulness, Chloe and a team of amazing people have created a new online game called The Last Thing Left. It’s due for release in November, and it’s a great example of inventively using digital storytelling to reach people wherever they are.

Coney’s own Director Tassos has been acting as a mentor on the project, so it’s incredibly exciting for us to be able to share more about the the game. That’s best explained by Chloe herself – so read on for her take on the challenges and rewards of using a digital medium as a theatre-maker.

And of course, don’t forget to check back here and on Chloe’s website in November, to see how you can play The Last Thing Left. 

As a theatre-maker, I’m used to being in the same space as audiences.

(I say I’m used to it. The first show I ever directed, I spent most of the run watching from the tech box because sitting amongst a group of people I’d actively worked to actually make feel uncomfortable feel too tense to bear. But I’ve gotten better at it.)

I have fun improvising with audiences in interactive shows. I enjoy the back-and-forth with audiences in some relaxed performances I run. I like having to focus on an audience member so much in a one-on-one show that I’ll know how they’re feeling from how they’re breathing. I like the immediacy of everyone being in the same space, of that instant response, of the space for feedback in the moment.

Which kind of begs the question: why have I been developing a digital game for the past two years?

I think, really, it comes down to something that’s at the centre of theatre, and at the centre of the kind of game I’ve made – storytelling. I’ve been a long-time fan of indie video games, typically drawn to those which aren’t about giving the player challenges to surpass or puzzles to complete, but are often about the story being told or the meaning of the player’s response to the game.

Beyond that, there’s a lot of different elements of the game I’ve been making, The Last Thing Left, that I think are upshots of my theatre background: the use of binaural sound (put to amazing use onstage); the audio game format (a relatively niche genre where it didn’t feel like there was an intimidating mass of already-made games sprawling ahead of me); the straightforward controls (tapping a touchscreen) and the mechanics that vary from typical gaming ones (focusing essentially on how you support/aid characters in the game).

Stills from The Last Thing Left

Stills from The Last Thing Left

I think there are two sides to the coin of working in a new medium – how you have to adapt to a new process of making something (with different systems, collaborators, timelines and suchlike), and how what you make is shaped by your different background. There’s also the two sides of how it can feel – exhilarating for all the possibilities, the things to learn and discover, for how new and different everything is – and terrifying for exactly the same reasons!

Right now, the difference between an audience that I can share a space with, and players who I can’t, is the scariest thing about all this. Making a live show where there can be an immediate reaction might seem intimidating, but it feels strange to me that I’m about to put something out into the world – something people can interact with and I can’t speak to them all afterwards about their thoughts, my inspirations, their interpretations and my intentions. Actually thinking about people’s experiences as players has had a fair amount of overlap with audiences (boiling down to the story fundamentals of ‘do people understand, believe and care about what’s happening?’), it’s the relationship between myself as a maker and them as players/audiences that’s felt really different. And sometimes scary. But as the release date gets closer, it also gets a lot more exciting too…

Chloe is a writer, director and performer whose work often sits in a blurry grey area somewhere between theatre and games. Her biggest current project is a set of shows under the banner Adventurers Wanted, which adapt tabletop roleplaying games for the stage and range from 250hr-long marathon participatory shows to specially commissioned one-offs. You can see more from Chloe on her website, and on Twitter.

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