Places, Please!

Places, Please!: Hamlet Edition is a joint venture between The Games Institute at the University of Waterloo and the Stratford Festival of Canada. Designed by Shawn DeSouza-Coelho as part of his MA Major Research Project (University of Waterloo, English), it is a 4-player cooperative mobile game designed to simulate the acts of putting on a theatrical production at the Stratford Festival. This particular version of the game finds its foundations in the 2015 production of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, presented at the Festival Theatre. Within the framework of this production, four players take on the roles of each of the four production departments (Acting, Crew, Stage Management, and Tech). All departments must work together to perform simulated versions of the real life, individual and collaborative duties required of them to ensure the smooth running of the show. The game is unique in that the focus is not on these tasks, but on the complex modes of interaction required between departments in their completion.

Notice that the above description states that the game is designed to simulate the acts of putting on a theatrical production. This distinction is important because theatre proper is much more than an assortment of acts (tasks and obstacles) that needs to be worked through (let alone a random assortment of acts). Theatre, as an entity possessing exponential, infinite ontologies, in some sense, exists above these acts, a whole that is more than the sum of its parts (for further discussion on this topic see Games and Theatre).

Briefly, the game is split into rounds. Each round is called a ‘Scene’ and the objective of the game is for the four players to play as many Scenes as they can before reaching that ill-fated game over. The game is unwinnable in the sense that players must simply play Scenes until they fail totally. Each Scene consists of a random assortment of ‘Moments’ and ‘Events.’ Moments are tasks completed by the players individually or collaboratively, each of which is an abstracted version of an actual task completed by the production departments at the Stratford Festival. Through Moments, players earn points and, once again, the objective of the game is to simply get as many points as possible (within as many Scenes as possible). Events, on the other hand, are obstacles to the completion of these Moments and represent actual obstacles in the Stratford Festival such as malfunctioning speakers, wireless headsets, etc. (For a complete understanding of how Moments and Events are selected within a given scene, click through the Stepwise Scene Construction Chart). The game ends if the players cannot keep the show running smoothly, which is measured in terms of how high the house lights (auditorium lights) have been raised (commonly, when the house lights are ‘up,’ the show has stopped). Failing at a particular Moment raises the house lights, while succeeding drops them.

Places is but one part of the Stratford Festival’s much greater digital development initiative, which seeks to mobilize their existing/future archival, theatrical, and cinematic resources in order to extend their reach to new audiences, provide new ways for existing audiences to experience the Festival’s culture, and teach the theatricality/performativity of Shakespeare’s language. Practically, this amounts to situating the player within a game space that resembles the iconic Festival theatre…

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…and positioning the player not as a member of a theatrical production department, but rather positioning them as the (Acting, Crew, Tech, or Stage Management) Department as a whole.

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The players are thus responsible for completing the tasks of an entire Department, as opposed to those of any one of its members. So, a player adopting the role of Crew will in one instance be required to perform a costume change in tandem with the player donning the role of the Acting company…

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…and in another instance have to verbally inform the same player that their mic pack might be malfunctioning…

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…even though these tasks would very likely be accomplished by different crew members in reality. While the Crew player performs these actions, the Stage Management player could be responsible for leading understudies around backstage…

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…while the Acting player must follow the path taken by the Stage Management player (as shown below).

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From these examples it is clear how collaborative the game can be. At base, Places argues that much like reality, it takes many chefs to bake a theatrical cake.

Links to the Stratford Festival Archive are designed into the game as well. These are present in Trophy Section of the game. There are 28 trophies in total, each following standard “achievement” conventions in games (i.e. they reward both standard as well as exploratory play), and each possesses a name that is Shakespearean in nature.

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In the future, the particular artifact shown in the achievement/trophy would link to the Stratford Festival Archive’s online catalogue such that interested players could learn more about a particular item’s history. In terms of allowing players to interact with aspects of the Stratford Festival’s history (as opposed to merely passively representing it via the trophy system), the game was also designed with an Add-On called “Tent Mode” that allowed users to perform tasks required of Departments when the festival was still housed in a large tent (in the 1950s). Such tasks include placing ice around the tent, poking holes in the canopy after rainfall in order to drain the rainwater, and stacking hay bales (shown below) in order to help cool the audience members (which were often overheated at the height of summer).

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Future iterations of the game would attempt to draw players into the Stratford Festival webspace via the creation of Theatrical Team Profiles that allowed four players to, in essence, “create” a theatre company. These company profiles would then be housed on the Stratford Festival website.

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Individual profiles (an example of which is shown below) would include such information as: types of games played (e.g. Tent Mode), total score, high score, etc. for the theatre company.closeup.pngPlans were brainstormed regarding competitions that could be orchestrated between theatre companies to see which could achieve the highest score (keep a production running the longest), competitions that would be sponsored by the Stratford Festival itself. However, as with the game as a whole, the exact place of these competitions within the Stratford Festival’s current marketing and financial plans remains undetermined. As such the game remains at the prototype phase with no current plans to develop it any further.