Stage Struck

Fri, Feb 18, 2011, 00:00

THE ABSURD BANTER and antics of two tramps on a country road near a tree don’t sound like the stuff of electric dreams. But when news broke last month that Waiting for Godoton the Nintendo Wii had become the fastest selling videogame in history, the story rattled around the world (okay, the Twitterverse) with so much gusto that you wished it was true.

It wasn’t, of course. The lovingly detailed spoof on had the niche appeal of a joke specially crafted for drama graduates and gamers. But the gag brought together two cultures that are still trying to work out their differences.

The game, we were told, “offers a series of increasingly futile activities such as arguing, exchanging hats, discussing whether this is the right tree for the arranged meeting, and contemplating suicide – all to ‘hold the terrible silence at bay’”.

Whoever wrote that line probably spent hours in semiotics seminars, and they nailed the videogame/theatre conundrum: how do you make futile activities involving? (Incidentally, there actually is a Waiting for Godotvideogame, available in all its 8-bit majesty on I could only endure two levels, though, making it a game in which nothing happened, twice.)

Will theatre and videogames ever find a common platform? They’re both interactive (sort of) and neither could exist without players, but every time a game is adapted for stage, the weight of differences takes ages to load.

This month New York’s technophilic Play Group opened The Wii Plays. It a fun idea: a plumber and a hedgehog have a chilly stand-off in Mario and Sonic at the Winter Olympic Games, while Wii Tennisfinds a pair of ex-lovers in a rallying argument over coffee. However, narrative adaptation misses the point. Games replicate life as little models of individual freedom within governing rules, yet they don’t operate on the metaphorical level of theatre.

Last year, Rimini Protokoll’s Best Beforewent some way to turning spectators into players; we got joypads and moved basic avatars through a game of life. But the metaphor never plumbed deep enough (you make choices, stuff happens, you die, so what?), and the performance itself didn’t respond to the will of the players. It provided as much room to manoeuvre as PacMan’s maze.

If we have yet to find a game that leaps happily into the “real-time 3D environment” we call the stage, that may be the point. The capacity of videogames for improvement is, let’s face it, negligible for everybody except those with severely bad hand-eye co-ordination. But their facility to waste countless hours in bleary contentment is second to none.

Maybe Waiting for Godotthe videogame isn’t such a joke. “Well, that helped to pass the time,” says Vladimir, and his philosophy works as well for gameplaying as theatre or all human endeavour. We pass the time, ascending the levels, waiting only for the great finality of two little words. Game Over.