Gaming theatre could spark a playful interest in science

时间:2019-02-28 05:09:05166网络整理admin

Sebastian Matthes & Manchester Science Festival By Stewart Pringle YOU’VE just sat down to dinner, but you’ve got a job to do. Before the dessert arrives, you need to save a pair of orangutans named (with a cheeky nod to British politics) David and Samantha. If you want to safeguard these animals and assure their habitat, you’re going to have to do something about palm oil. You’re going to have to crack The Green Gold Conspiracy. How do you get the public to engage with science? It’s a question to which there is no definitive answer. Science reporting cannot engage because it exists to report discovered truths. If it gets stuck in the complicated business of what science actually involves, it rapidly becomes confusing and unreadable. The mainstream press has different challenges. With barely a few seconds to grab the reader’s attention, news media need gripping human stories under eye-catching headlines. All too often, running a scientific controversy through such machinery produces scaremongering half-truths. Now, perhaps, comes a new, theatrical way to constructively convey the sheer complexity and difficulty of science – though it’s not like any play you will have sat through before. Take, for example, The Green Gold Conspiracy – an ingenious interactive show that draws on the tools of theatre, game design and science to build a unique and powerful experience. First shown as part of Manchester Science Festival 2015, it’s the creation of Coney, a London-based interactive theatre company. Coney devises adventures that draw the audience into an imaginary world – one where they find themselves free to make their own decisions. “The personal autonomy we experience in a role-playing game is taken to a real-world setting“ The past decade has seen an explosion in immersive theatre, with companies like Punchdrunk and sensational sell-out shows such as You Me Bum Bum Train wrenching audiences from their seats directly into the action. But the interactive shows created by Coney take the form a step further, allowing audiences to make decisions which will affect the outcome of the show. The personal autonomy we experience in a role-playing game is taken to a real-world setting, and enriched with live performers and an ingenious narrative. The games can either be played by groups of friends or strangers, or by individuals communicating with mysterious, unseen games masters by email or text. Experiences can be designed to span large swathes of a city, or they can be played out in simulation over a dining table. Coney is one of a handful of companies worldwide to explore interactive theatre’s potential to communicate the intricacies of systems to the widest audience. It wants to equip educators, charities and scientists with the tools to understand and explain complex, interlocking structures like businesses, governments, ecosystems – even climate. The founder of Coney is Tassos Stevens, who has leveraged his PhD in psychology and a childhood as the dungeon master of countless role-playing games into a theatrical career. The Green Gold Conspiracy was commissioned by Chester Zoo as part of its Act for Wildlife campaign. The campaign is lobbying for sustainable palm oil because of its impact on wildlife and biodiversity:”The zoo headlines this with concerns about the damage unsustainable farming wreaks on charismatic megafauna like orangutans,” Stevens explains. “As part of that, they asked for a piece of interactive theatre that could be created in a non-theatrical space.” A what? “Specifically, in a restaurant.” So Stevens, co-creator William Drew and their team devised a game that separates the dining audience into three countries: Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Malaysia. Each country takes part in games and discussions relating to planting, harvesting and retailing palm oil. First, they play plantation owners: selecting their crop (usually opting for the high-yield palm oil), converting land into plantation, cutting down forests, hiring workers and setting wages, and choosing whether to apply potentially hazardous fertilisers to increase yield. Next, they consider which policies to put in place at governmental level, in the light of their position within the international community. Finally, the players take the roles of retailers, setting the price of palm oil products in a low-cost supermarket. Boho Interactive At first only tangentially related to one another, these rounds of gameplay and the discussions they generate eventually come together to present stark and difficult choices for the players. “You have these ‘Oh, shit!’ moments,” says Stevens, “where you’re faced with a decision that you suddenly realise will have far-reaching consequences. And we intentionally don’t tell players what the exact parameters are to ‘win’ the game.” Coney has developed similar games and experiences for institutions worldwide, including several for the London Science Museum. In one of these, Crack the Code, the audience works in teams through various cryptographic challenges, while being tutored by experts. At the same time, they’re drawn into a tense conspiracy theory involving international cybercrime and blackmail that forces them to reconsider the role cryptography plays in their apparently secure everyday lives. Coney’s work has been heavily influenced by Boho Interactive, a theatre company based in Canberra, Australia. David Finnigan, a core member of the group, says its aim is to “spread understanding of scientific concepts from fields including complex systems science, game theory, network theory, and climate and global change, and the risks of ignoring the implications of these concepts”. “At moments, you’re faced with a decision that you suddenly realise will have serious consequences“ Boho Interactive’s tagline, “we fight dirty for science”, neatly conveys the company’s urgency. Much of its work features fighting talk and disruptive activity. The company has collaborated with the Stockholm Resilience Centre, a joint initiative of Stockholm University and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The centre researches new ways of governing and managing human activity, taking into account the complex needs of the surrounding environment. In other words, it is looking for ways of doing business that don’t trash the planet. It’s a grand mission, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be played on a grand scale. Boho’s projects include unpicking the systems that sustain a news stand in London’s Euston station. In its large-scale touring performance, Best Festival Ever, the company explores the complex interplay of processes in the management of a major music festival. “The piece considers a music festival as an example of a complex, adaptive system, and challenges a group of players to manage it,” says Finnigan. Together with scientists at the Stockholm centre, the Boho team has worked out a way to model the participation of all stakeholders in a system. “Next we’ll be taking this mapping approach and applying it to real-world systems,” Finnigan says. This year Boho will be modelling a nature reserve area called Flaten, south of Stockholm. The reserve is about to get a state-sponsored facelift, improving its facilities and appeal as a tourist resort. The problem is how to do that without disturbing the ecosystem, or, come to that, any of the people who use the space now. The Boho team will build a systems map of the area so that scientists can view how the area’s human and natural systems interact. By turning the map into a game, different groups will then be able to see “their” area from the others’ perspectives. For Stevens, in the bowels of Coney HQ, where plans are hatched, models constructed and adventures mapped, it all comes back to the crucial problem: “What can any of us do to influence these systems? And what are we doing without even noticing it?” he says. “We’re able to demonstrate that no single solution, such as a consumer boycott, or a piece of legislation, is necessarily the answer to a question like how to make palm oil production sustainable,” says Stevens. “We’re able to use narrative devices and theatrical devices to open the question up for our audiences. We encourage them to think outside their own immediate perspectives, to approach the situation creatively – to be bold and mindful, and propose their own ideas.” As a way of solving real issues, there is, obviously, a lot that can go wrong with this approach: players have to depend on the quality of the models they are given, and playing a model is never going to be a substitute for handling reality. As a thought experiment, though, as a prompt to understanding, or even as a simple and entertaining reminder of how intractably big life is, there’s clear promise here. This article appeared in print under the headline “All the world’s a game…” More on these topics: