Time, Space, and Improv

When I was reading Frost and Yarrow’s Improvisation in Drama, Theatre and Performance: History, Practice, Theory, I was particularly drawn in by the claim that to Neva Boyd, “games… condense time and space to promote more rapid and freer learning” (Frost and Yarrow, 50). While it seems obvious why the condensing of time would result in increased pressure to learn faster, I was curious as to how condensing time and space is done by games (particularly non-electronic games) and how that condensing allowed for a greater range of learning.

The condensing of time and space is easy to imagine in video games – like how Grand Theft Auto IV is based on New York City, but everything’s closer together or how The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask has a three day cycle that does not actually span 72-hours – but imagining a decrease of time or space was difficult for me at first. However, as I write this I think I’m understanding it better. What pops into my mind is those old games of “House” that I would play with friends in elementary school that, in retrospect, were definitely improv games. We each had our characters in the family. Our house with its different rooms were designated by the lines of the Four-Square painted on the playground gravel and any other structures (the grocery store, work, school [woah meta]) were mimed a few steps outside of the Four-Square. Designations were key to condensed space. As for time, much like in Majora’s Mask, our days lasted minutes.

But did that allow us “freer learning”? Well the game certainly would have been boring if there were never any conflicts in our little made-up family. After a normal “day” or two in our game world, suddenly the dog will go missing or a murder would ensue and the game was on. Perhaps, the idea of “freer learning” has more to do with Sawyer’s emphases on the creative process and problem finding (152). In our little improv games, the fun was certainly first in finding one or more interesting-enough problems and then in playing at how to solve the problem. I suppose this could be called learning how to problem solve on subjects that we were interested in.

But how else can time and space be messed with to improve games? Is condensing time and/or space the only way to improve games or can increasing time or space lead to any positive outcomes? Let me know what you guys think!

4 thoughts on “Time, Space, and Improv

  1. I believe that a key reason bending time and space is freeing is that you have loosened another constriction of the ‘real world’ and can explore possible events without being linearly related to the moment before it.
    By bending time and space we allow players to make bolder assertion of what comes next.


  2. Compressing time and space certainly puts pressure on players to complete a certain set of actions within a set spatiotemporal frame, thus promoting “rapid” learning, but it is unclear to me as how they “free” the player. It is certainly the case that putting limitations or restrictions on the ways in which one can use space (and to some extent, time) can encourage one to feel more comfortable acting at all within a given space by relieving players of the pressures of unguided improvisation. At the same time, I think players are left more with the semblance of freedom than with freedom proper, as they explore bounded combinations and permutations of play that feel comparatively unlimited only by nature of delimiting risk.


  3. I think a lot of the ways that games bend time are similar to other forms of storytelling. In a movie or a book, for instance, you usually wouldn’t see the full process of characters getting ready in the morning, commuting between places, going to the bathroom, etc., which seems like a similar condensing to the sped-up time of something like Majora’s Mask. Interestingly, I think ARGs sometimes don’t condense time to the same extent. Since the boundaries between game and not-game are blurred, little everyday occurrences that weren’t planned by the game designers, like walking to a location, scrolling through twitter when you follow an in-game account, and so on, can feel like part of the game. So I’m interested in how ARGs condense time, but also in the ways that the real-time aspect of gameplay means that they don’t.


    1. I agree with the fact that ARGs don’t necessarily condense time in the same way that other video games do. In this way, I think that ARGs accomplish a form of pervasiveness or at least a more immersive experience that video games cannot. While playing video games or even something like Dungeons and Dragons, one has to almost suspend their disbelief in order to roleplay or really get into the game, while with ARGs, aspects from the game and aspects of the life definitely are blurred when time is not condensed. A full day truly does feel like a full day.


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