Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Right on Cue

The Cue

Many moons ago I acted in a play called Tevye Comes to Israel, an amateur sequel to The Fiddler on th Roof. In TCtI, Tevye finds that the horrors of Russian pogroms and the loss of his daughters to assimilation are nothing compared to the difficulties of surviving Israeli bureaucracy. After being visited by a slew of tax collectors, Tevye sings a song about how happy he is that he's not a rich man so that he doesn't have to pay much taxes.

When you perform or produce a play, you become familiar with a specialized guiding force that exerts major control over your actions: the cue. You may want to be listening to the whole play from the wings of the theater, but you can't get lost just listening to the play as a whole. You need to recognize the phrases and movements that occur on stage when they are relevant to your own entrance. You need to wait patiently while someone still has more to do or speak, and you need to act when they are done, knowing what to do and speak at that time. It doesn't matter what part of the play you are involved in: acting, directing, costumes, scenery, lights, or sound. Each part plays a coordinated role, and each one needs to know its cue. Once the momentum starts, you are carried along for the ride at the pace of the play.

The Game

A well designed game is a play. Forget about opponents, confrontation, theme, and so on. A game is a story from beginning to end. With improv.

The play begins with a prelude: you take it off the shelf and set it up. After being opened and set up, the first act finds the players getting a feel for what is going on. By act two, you may already be familiar with the characters in the play. You can now see their character development deepening, either through position or through acquisition. In act three, the plot turns; major characters fall or rise, major transitional scenes occur. In act four, each player faces off his or her character flaw against his or her own dramatic conflict. The conflict may be one of their own failings or an external conflict with another character. Resolutions occur. Act five sees the mop-up; the good guys win. Peace is restored to the world. Epilogue: The villains have been vanquished and the hero returns home. The game is put away.

The scenes that occur in a game have to hit the right cues. If the resolution walks in during act two, the game is ruined. If you skip right to act four, your game lacks tension. This doesn't mean that all games have exactly these scenes in exactly this order, or that each of these scenes must be exactly the same size. There are as many types of stories as there are cultures and peoples. But a good story is a good story. The cues have to be hit in the right order, and at the right time. When you play a game with a bad script, you wonder what you're doing.

The Players

If you are a player in the game story, you have a job to keep the story moving along. Don't start rolling the dice when it's not your turn. Don't wait for people to say "Hey! It's your turn!". Don't miss your cues.

The other part of making a good story is that the story should be interesting. What is interesting depends on the story being told.

In your home, if you have the opportunity to lock a player out of the game at the beginning of the game, it doesn't make a good story. Sometimes it is best to find an alternative. After all, the story is the important part, not who actually ends up on top.

On the other hand, in a tournament, one game might be only a scene in a longer tale, in which case you may need to take that advantage early in the game. You don't ruin the story by doing this, you only create a dramatic turn of events.

Whether you are creating a game from the game point of view, or acting the game from the player point of view, the goal is the same: make it a good one.


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