To the frustration of its native gamers, the Australian government's got some sort of fetish for banning violent video games. But that doesn't mean that the medium isn't making its way into the cultural fabric over there. Here's exhibit A: Half-Real.
The new production by creative collective The Border Project opened last week at the Malthouse Theater and lets the audience vote on the narrative path via Wiimote-style wand controllers called Zig Zags. It's a murder mystery with the killing of central character Violet Vario at its core and each viewer gets to choose who's telling the truth while digitally projected images change the backdrops and float in 2D characters for the actors to interact with.
The plot determined via an individually-issued gaming console voting system called ‘Zigzag', an electronic hand tool that displays three colours: red, blue, green. As the story unfolds, we are asked to cast votes, choosing a colour from these three. The percentage is added and displayed, like a computer score. The vector most voted for receives a promotion into the narrative via the characters/actors playing out the scene. Initially, interrogating is fun, then, irritating after thirty minutes or so, feeling disempowered by the realisation that the‘majority rules', on what gets the promotion. A tantrum rose and subsided.
The experience sounds a bit like a live version of L.A. Noire with hints of the board game Clue and a tasteful level of Wiimote waggling, if such a thing could be said to exist. Without having seen the production, I imagine that the actors in Half-Real must memorize three versions of the play's events and call up whichever one the audience chooses. That—along with the fact that they need to move around a set that's not actually there—seems to require a different kind of discipline from that of other plays.
There's been a few game-inspired theatrical productions in the U.S., with a Dance Dance Revolution musical, The Wii Plays and the recurring Game Play theater festival as the most recent and best example. It may be a while yet until something like this gets turned into a big Broadway production but, hey, if Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark can get made (and re-made) then it may eventually happen.
Half-Real [Malthouse Theater]