Tuesday, June 26, 2012

GAME PLAY Artist Interview: Cameron McNary ("Of Dice and Men")

Of Dice and Men deals with the world of tabletop roleplaying games rather than that of video games, although the issues of why we game, what it means to be a gamer, and how gaming impacts peoples' lives are much the same whether you're rolling dice or working a controller.

My piece explores the intersection of theatre and gaming by presenting the act of running a tabletop RPG as theatre: giving the uninitiated an accurate picture of what roleplaying is, what it looks like, what it feels like, and (most importantly) why people do it. I used to be mystified that anyone would ever want to watch other people play D&D... until I realized TRPGs are just a form of participatory improv where the players are (usually) the only audience. It was a pretty short leap from there to putting a game session up on stage. In a broader sense, the play toys with the line between the game and the play itself... the character of John Francis is the Dungeon Master for the game within the play, but he's also the DM for the play itself. Similarly, presenting each of the Player Characters as they are perceived by their player (often in completely stylistically different ways), and then showing how that comes together into a common play experience is something I think you could only do on stage. The ability to play with stage conventions allows you to comments on the player, their character, and the relationship between in a way I don't think any other medium could quite pull off... putting a cheap fake beard on a woman in her forties, giving her a hammer and letting her tell Dwarven dick jokes directly to the audience would be awful hard to make work on film.

When people say gaming isn't art I tend to want to smack them, hard, because this is such a settled issue at this point. Games exist to generate narrative, and anybody that says a medium that can generate narrative can't be art has no idea what they're talking about.

My most emotional reaction elicited by a game was... there are too many to count at the tabletop. You kinda had to be there for just about all of them. In terms of video games, it was when SHODAN killed Dr. Polito and finally showed her stupid face in System Shock 2. Hands down. I was so hurt and furious and betrayed at being denied the only human companionship I had known for so long that I emptied two clips into SHODAN's face even when I knew it wouldn't do anything, and that ammo was incredibly precious in that game. I didn't reload my save, either; Polito deserved that much.

True or False: games are now more culturally important than they were in the past. Resoundingly, triumphantly true. We now have two or three generations who grew up knowing what hit points, mana and leveling up are.

Why should people see your Game Play show? Because it's a really good play. If you're a gamer, this play speaks for our tribe; you'll see yourself in it. If you're not, you'll get who we are and why we do what we do. Also there's a dragon.

Cameron McNary is the author of Of Dice and Men. The show runs July 7 27, 2012. Tickets can be purchased here.

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