How do you “Yes, and” to something you don’t know about? (Ask Again Later)

“Yes, and” is an essential practice in improv: “instead of undermining the scene one’s partner has just created, the performer accepts that reality and builds on it” (Vickers, 2). In Ask Again Later, the Story Tellers (STs) had a “yes, and” attitude toward player improvisation, and they constantly tried to integrate our actions into a single cohesive story. However, the medium of theatrical LARP presented some restrictions to “yes, and” because play happened in real time. Though the STs had an attitude of “acceptance” instead of  a “resistance” (in Vickers’ language), our improvised realities could only be woven into the “official story” if they were witnessed by an ST.

The STs were enthusiastic about “yes and”, but they could not “yes and” the scenes they had not witnessed. For instance, at one point, an ST and a few of us players were imagining an old man having a heart attack. The ST had to leave us for a moment, and we continued to improvise the scene, making decisions to move the old man and call an ambulance. For me and the few other players, the story progressed as we moved it forward together. Yet when our ST returned, it was as if our actions hadn’t happened, since our Story Teller picked up the narrative from the last moment they had witnessed. This was a strange moment, and a break in our improvised reality, as I suddenly felt like my previous actions had not happened in the “official” narrative of the game.

During debrief, the Story Tellers told us that they were constantly communicating with each other, explaining what was happening with different players to try to make a cohesive story. This shared story became the “official” narrative of what had occurred, and this was the story that that the STs reacted to. While the STs tried to incorporate all of our improvisations, the improvisations were happening in real time, and STs couldn’t be everywhere at once. This experience showed me how the medium of theater affects collective storytelling, and made me think of the importance of medium for ARG puppet masters as they try to respond to their players with a “yes, and” attitude.

The type of medium shapes the communication between players and game designers. If storytelling happens through performance, time in the game goes by very quickly—in Ask Again Later, so many things were happening, making the experience exciting and intense.  At the same time, these scenes were ethereal and vanished immediately after performed. If an ST was not in the same space at the same time, it was hard for them to know what had happened in our improvisation. On the other hand, if part of the story-telling medium is online, I’d imagine the pace would be much slower. Responses could be spread out over time because there would be written documentation of it, through messages, posts, etc. In fact, some ARGS, like World Without Oil, specifically make documentation a part of completing a challenge, which seems like a good way for puppet masters to keep up with their players. Thus, the puppet masters need not witness every improvisation in real time in order to be aware of their players’ actions, allowing them to include their improvisations as part of the collectively-built narrative.

This way that medium shapes communication has interesting implications for puppet masters designing a transmedia ARG. as the designers must decide which mediums to use at which points of the game. As Fullerton argues, game design should be player-centric, and a game designer is chiefly an “advocate for the player” (Fullerton, 2). ARG game designers should be attuned to the effects of medium, which helps determine their ability to say “yes, and” to player improvisation, and thus affects how players experience the alternate reality.

One thought on “How do you “Yes, and” to something you don’t know about? (Ask Again Later)

  1. Do you think that switching between media would cause disruptions in the sense of reality to an ARG? Like, if playing from behind a screen is capable of creating a stronger sense of all actions being “official” gameplay, then would switching from being behind a screen to live-action gameplay result in either the less convincing gameplay for that section of the play or even the game’s loss of believability altogether?

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