The “Year” in Review: Online Immersive

Like all of us, the first weeks of the 2020 pandemic saw my scheduled entertainment plans to grind to a halt. My predictions for the lockdown’s length careened from “a couple months” to “a year at most.” So when my awareness of the severity finally settled in, I began to realize that even if I refused to change, the world of entertainment was going to drastically change all on its own. It was then that I decided to dip my toes into the world of online interactive content. From virtual escape rooms to immersive VR theatre and then onward into every nook and cranny I could find.

Here is a rundown – and belated review – of several of the immersive and interactive pieces I tried out in the last twelve months…


Chaos Theory: Digital Edition

When the pandemic hit, nearly every theatre had an incomplete production left in the lurch. Many were halted mid-run, some were still in rehearsals, and others, like one I had just built a set for, had a single performance that was both opening and closing night. When they weren’t worrying about Covid, the theatre world sat idle, wondering when they could get back to something… anything! Then, as cooler heads prevailed, many companies realized they could mount virtual versions of their works-in-progress.

One of the first artists to right themself was Jessica Creane whose “Chaos Theory: Digital Edition” found new life via the dreaded Zoom window. Jessica, founder of her own I Kant Koan game and theatre company, ran Chaos Theory for over a year at Caveat in New York before COVID struck. Her ability to pivot shines as a beacon that many others quickly emulated.

For her “Digital Edition” Jessica took her live, one-woman show about an awkward technologist giving a TED-style talk and successfully brought it into our living rooms by capitalizing on what we were all feeling in the early days of the lockdown: social awkwardness. Combine that with our newfound unease with video conferencing tools and you have a heady mix: an awkward narrator using confusing technology to reach out to an uneasy audience. The chaos was bound to follow no matter what.

Her tagline of “What happens when a TED talk about chaos theory goes wildly off the rails?” didn’t need to change at all for the virtual remounting. During the session, she put her Zoom attendees through a series of exercises designed to fail, and the audience gets the joke from the first moment. Jessica’s fictitious Dr. Genevieve Saoch pirouettes from scene to scene like a vaudevillian plate spinner.

The games themselves are things you’ve probably seen at corporate retreats, and the conceit of doing it with complete digital strangers is delightful. You begin to think that this production was almost meant for the video format.

But the climax of the show, as preposterous as it is, doesn’t hold a candle to the wonderful after party. After all the plates have come crashing down, Jessica drops her scientist façade and has a meet & greet. The switch is seamless and instantaneous. The tables are turned as you now become the showrunners, asking her about all the intricacies of the beautiful little immersive gem you’ve just experienced. You won’t even notice the change, though, as you realize she is one and the same person.

Chaos Theory has completed its online runs at both Caveat (NYC) and Curious Theatre Company (Denver), but is available through special arrangement through her website: IKantKoan.com


The Telelibrary

The Telelibrary won No Proscenium’s “Audience Award” as well as its overall top award in 2020 for “Outstanding Achievement in Immersive & Experiential Production” and it’s easy to see why. Or “hear” why, rather. The entire experience is basically a simple audio phone call with telelibrarian and artist Yannick Trapman-O’Brien. After registering for a time slot (which is considerably hard to come by due to the popularity of this show) you simply wait by your phone until the day arrives.

Well that’s what I did: I waited. But you might prefer to go about the rest of your life for the roughly 2 weeks between RSVP and call time. From what I was hearing, this was an experience so singular and so head-and-shoulders above the rest of the immersive world that it was singlehandedly inventing a new genre.

So when my call time finally did arrive, I was there at the allotted time with bells on and headphones in place. I made extra sure, per recommendations I’d gotten, that I had no idea what was in store for me. What followed was a 55-minute audio tour of the imagination.

What is the Telelibrary? In Yannick’s words, it’s “part theater, part game, part self-care.” A virtual audio library that is “constantly changing and evolving… to adapt to your needs and preferences.” You get the feeling it’s going to be a robo-voice guided concierge service that will result in perfectly-tailored selection for your reading pleasure. AKA, a computer is going to listen to you for a bit and spit out a book it recommends you read. But in reality it’s way, way more than what you can possibly expect.

Without spoiling much of anything, the performance built around YOU!. No matter what the telelibrarian may have in mind for any particular call, you, the listener, are fully in charge. It might be as simple as 45 minutes of call-and-response, or as deep as a 59 minutes and 59 second test of the limits of Yannick’s improvisational abilities. But you won’t break him.

One thing is for sure, no two people will have the same experience. This is due partly to the fact that each person is unique, with differing literary likes and dislikes. But also to the fact that Yannick likes to play with the meta-experience of a librarian AI built to cater to humans.

For my call, I expected nothing more than a line on a good book I might like. An hourlong call resulting in a good book recommendation would be, for the price of FREE, a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

What I got was a trip down a rabbit hole; a lesson in how to be clear and concise; and a reflection on my innate flaw of never asking for what I want in life. I miss the Telelibrarian dearly and I truly wish that one hour had lasted much, much longer. Did I find a good book? Doesn’t matter. I made a friend.

The Telelibrary is free and is ongoing, albeit sparingly doled out, at YannickTo.com/telelibrary.


Pursuit of the Assassin Artist

“Pursuit of the Assassin Artist” is an online-only escape room put on by Omescape. This San Jose entertainment  powerhouse is responsible for some of the most well reviewed escape rooms in the California Bay Area and this is their first foray into the virtual room market. Since the game’s premiere in early 2020, there have been many other offerings in the play-by-computer escape field, but Assassin Artist is the one getting by far the highest marks from reviewers… and rightfully so.

Deftly pivoting early in the Covid lockdown from in-person games to online, Omescape co-founder Sarah Zhang took a look at what was popular out there and set her team’s sights on delivering a best-in-show online experience. The result is an avatar-based, time-looping actor’s delight that has been running and selling out for over a year now.

Avatar-based games are a subgenre of escape rooms that lend themselves exceedingly well to the virtual arena. In them, an actor in the room’s real-world location gets commands from players using a video interface (eg. Zoom). Meanwhile, players watch through the “eyes” of the actor, in this case via a mobile phone which the actor is holding.

Delightfully complicating this setup is the time-loop idea. Every time the actor fails at a task given them by players, the result is invariably death. In fact, your avatar agent will come across numerous ways to get killed by the most innocuous of scenarios. Have no fear, however, for the dauntless actor is blessed with infinite lives, and thus so are you. Each time they meet their demise, either by being told to touch something they shouldn’t or undertake some other an ill-advised action, they are restarted at the beginning of the game, with no knowledge of what has transpired. Brilliantly performed, as our show was, your avatar will make a meal out of not remembering a single shred of your team’s accomplishments each time they are reincarnated. They will convincingly scratch their head and question why you aren’t letting them touch the dangerous items a second time (for them, the first time) or when you know a password that they are pretending to forget. The responses from your avatar are half of the fun in this escape room-slash-performance piece. The other half comes from the delicious flood of one-liners and puns your avatar will mutter while you think of your next command. I can only imagine the delightful hours spend comparing notes on which puns elicit the most groans and which get shared amongst cast members.

Time-loop games have become one of the hottest items in the escape room scene. And when executed well, as they are here, they are a thing of beauty. “Escape the Assassin Artist” may not have invented a new genre, but it has combined several elements of tried-and-true entertainment into an altogether new and exciting beast.

“Pursuit of the Assassin Artist” continues its run indefinitely. Tickets available at Omescape.us/sanjose/online-games


Collider

The Collider is an example of how to do immersive VR theatre right. The brainchild of Canada’s Single Thread Theatre Company, it ran for a scant 4 performances in late May/early June of this year as part of a crossover between the Festival of Live Digital Art (FOLDA), and the rEvolver Festival, put on by Up in the Air Theatre, also of Canada. Their short run was free and basically served as a preview or proof of concept more than anything else.

The production took place in Altspace within a bespoke world created by Single Thread ‘s Alex Dault. Right off the bat, the most impressive thing about Collider was the world’s size. It was larger by maybe two orders of magnitude than any other world I had visited in Altspace, due predominantly to Alex’s artful use of the “basic shapes” kit, which allows worlds to hold more visitors and take up more volume.

Participants in Collider, were given only the vaguest set up story: we were helping to track down a group of scientists that had gone missing in the Arizona desert near a top-secret research facility. Further instructions would be given upon arrival. Arriving in the private world at the arranged time, I was immediately struck by the scope of the environment. There were about 30 of us in the staging area and after several minutes I was able to ascertain that about 20 of us were “audience” members, with the remaining 10 or so being staff/actors. Even with this large group size, the comparatively enormous world size made us feel like a drop in the bucket.

We arrived via choplifter, as we pieced together from the large, futuristic Apache helicopter prop and the huge chain link fence-enclosed landing strip we were constrained within. After the cargo off-loading was completed (ie. waiting for everyone to arrive in Altspace), we were deftly corralled into the plotline. A crack team of actors took over with amazing skill and in no time we felt like we were in the middle of a story. The Collider team’s world construction, in-game objects, avatar costumes and background music seamlessly combined to coerce all twenty attendees hush up and fall in line.

The first fifteen minutes of the show were spent descending into an underground, alien world. Deep under the Arizona desert, we were introduced to our guide, a representative of the alien race that was populating this underworld. Speaking gibberish, the alien scientist beckoned us along labyrinthine corridors and subterranean vaults, along the way rescuing several teammates, all with no spoken words. The wordless communication became one of the production’s most endearing qualities in that it made us care deeply for the protagonists. Through elaborate avatar gestures and grunts, the actors goaded us deep into the alien world, eventually cluing us in to the fact that we were actually inside an abandoned starship.

To prevent the audience from wandering off – and to keep hooligans from sneaking into set pieces that we weren’t ready for – there was always a staff member leading up the rear, reminding stragglers via elaborate charades that there was a show going on… please move along. The result was a well-behaved audience that played along nicely but never was made to feel like they were in a “show.”

Along the way, we were treated to avatar fight choreography, puzzles to solve, quite a few staggering vistas, and at least one scene in which our guides were incapacitated, forcing the audience to work as a group, make a quick group decision, and run for our lives! Future immersive VR producers could learn a lot from this scene. The audience should always be treated like they are the smartest people in the room… and reminded occasionally of how much agency the storyteller is allowing them.

By the end of our journey, we had rescued our new friends, defeated an ancient villain, discovered new life and run ourselves ragged… whether virtually or not. Finally, as we were out of (virtual) breath, we were given perhaps the most imaginative curtain call I’ve ever seen in: the entire cast performing a dance number using every trick in the Altspace hand controller repertoire. And for the first time since pandemic had shut down theatre, I was able to do one of my favorite things: rush up to a show’s cast as they come out from backstage, heaping them with praise and asking them “How’d you do it!?”

Although Single Thread is unofficially reserving the right to bring it back in its original form, we are more likely to see something built on Collider’s technical backbone than any remounting. At the very least, we will be seeing more theatres pushing the limits of VR as we get more content creators into the growing metaverse.

Keep up to date on Single Thread Theatre’s happenings here: SingleThread.ca


Finding Pandora X

Despite its rave reviews, “Finding Pandora X “ is a good parable of how and how not to run a play in VR. With “Best VR Immersive User Experience” and “Best Interactive XP” awards in tow, Pandora seemed like a sure bet for me to further dip my toes into the immersive theatre scene.

Billed as “professional actors and Broadway talent,” Double Eye Studios certainly led with their pedigree. Their debut at the Venice International Film Festival clearly turned heads and ticket sales were reflective of a not-to-be-missed experience, but from the moment I bought my ticket the cracks were beginning to show.

There was one and only confirmation email: the one that came at the time of purchase. Leading up to the event, there were no other communications. Going back to my original invite, I saw in the fine print that I was not mistaken… other emails were supposed to arrive, up to and including the day before the show. Since I had waited almost until that day to start worrying, I decided to await the day-before emails. There was none.

The morning of the performance, I sat and watched my inbox and the hour before the event I even went into VR Chat and patiently sat in my home space, decked out in a spiffy new Rick Sanchez avatar skin. No messages came to warn me that anything was amiss, so I assumed that the show was still on and that I was just not getting the emails. Lest you wonder, I’m an email automation professional by day, so I had already done my due diligence in checking spam folders!

At ten minutes before curtain, I began searching for VR Chat worlds with “Pandora” in the name. After some digging, I found several people online with oddly spelled Roman god names that sounded like possible cast members. Plus, they all ended in a capital “X” just like the show’s title, so I pounced on them.

I friended everyone with an “X” in their name and started clicking the “Join World” button. Eventually, four minutes after the top of the hour, one of them finally let me join them. I found myself whisked into a gargantuan VR Chat world with gray-cloaked figures and a sign telling me all the things I needed to do before the show started. Lucky for me I had only missed that window by nineteen minutes!

One of the few non-gray cloaked avatars (a cast member at last) noticed me in my drunken scientist lab coat. “Hey, are you here to help us fix Apollo? Why are you still dressed like that? We can’t have a mad scientist in Olympus. It’ll surely confuse the gods.” But I think the gods were already a little confused.

On the plus side, they were in character from moment one. I truly appreciate that dedication in an immersive show, so things were starting to look up. I also appreciate the concept of making the audience all look the same. Like The Under Presents,” having an anonymous chorus lets the actors know who they are performing for. It also gives audience members a chance to feel less vulnerable.

The staff quickly set me up with a gray cloak and were very sweet about it, with only a few references to how late I was and that the show would be delayed slightly. Then they launched into an improvised scene that was clearly halfway between “setting the tone” and “communicating in code with the backstage crew to see if the show could begin”. Unfortunately it also came across somewhere between “Improv 101“ and “two good actors stuck vamping slightly longer than expected.”

Once the performance started, however, I was delighted to see actors who know how to project, how to manage crowds while staying in character, and who know how to deliver somewhat stiff material with a whimsicality that lets you know that they know that we all know it’s a little schlocky.

The rest of the show was a relatively straight forward retelling of the Pandora’s Box fable. There was nothing to write home about as far as the story: Apollo has a problem, Apollo needs the audience and later the audience would come through and we would all go home as heroes.

What really shone through the many rough spots in this tale was Double Eye’s use of VR elements in their theatrical experience. Their use of world gravity to make statues too heavy for us but light as a feather for Apollo. The ability to “fly” around us mere mortals who were stuck on the ground. Plus their use of world portals to move from act to act. In each case, the cast demonstrated these in-game elements and used them to heighten the dramatic tension. They even allowed the audience to play with them as a foreshadowing to later events. In-game items and props were freely strewn about and the cast was patient and even encouraging in their use. At times, these free-for-alls led to a bit of chaos, which inevitably caused the show to go overtime, but generally these moments were a source of entertainment and allowed the frustrated audience to let off some steam.

However the production’s live elements, like the pre-show logistics, were not without glitches. Upon joining we were assured that falling off the edge of the world was not to be feared. At one point, while we were being put through our paces on some light puzzle elements at the top of a precipice, we were reminded several times that the worst that could happen if we fell was we would respawn into the same scene. When I fell, however, I was stuck in a freefall that could not be exited. I eventually had to restart VR Chat. Pulling up the cast member list, I tried re-entering our guide’s world to no avail.

I tried all the other performers and eventually resorted to entering the world via their host bot. In what turned out to be my favorite, unintentional part of the experience, I found myself in the empty lobby with free rein of the entire worldspace. No Apollo, no guides, no actors (they had all moved on to the next world). With nobody guarding the henhouse and no way to rejoin the show, I entertained myself by playing with the gravity and numerous items laying about, as well as flying around the world. After discovering the final scene’s set, the green room and the after-show bar, the cast finally returned from their Act 2 worlds. I may never know what happened there, but Act 3 was a private joy for me as I (barely) contained my fly ability and only messed with the gravity controls a little bit. Sadly, the finale was as predictable as picking up a key in front of a locked door and using it on the lock in the door. To the company’s credit, the audience loved the show and stuck around to chat with the cast and crew and any production team willing to do that is aces in my book.

“Finding Pandora X” recently played at SXSW 2021. News on future productions available at doubleeye.co


A Thousand Ways

The La Jolla Playhouse has long been a bastion for new works and events that make you think outside the box, including their WOW Festival (Without Walls) which seeks to take the public “outside the confines of a traditional theatre.” Add to the mix longstanding guerilla performance troupe “600 Highwaymen” and you have a match made in immersive heaven.

“A Thousand Ways” is a three-part theatrical experience involving progressively deeper connections between two parties. Part One was a telephone call between two strangers. Part Two was an in-person meeting between two strangers. And Part Three is imagined as an in-person freeform meetup between strangers, this time with nothing separating the participants. In each stage of the show, the strangers could be, but are very much unlikely to be the same participants from previous performances.

When I first became aware of the show, Part One had finished, so I eagerly jumped in and got tickets for Part Two. Since then, additional performances for the telephone call have opened up and I was able to experience Part Two as well. Part Three has yet to be ticketed or even scheduled, but more on that later! First, let me explain the first two… in the order they were intended to be seen.

PART ONE: A PHONE CALL

For the phone experience, two strangers enjoy an awkward phone call, neither one with any preparation beforehand. The awkwardness comes from the fact that you are guided by a disembodied voice which serves as both telephone operator and go-between for the duration of the show.

Starting with a simple prompt, each caller is asked to introduce themselves, but only in vague terms. No personal information. Then, through a series of disjointed and somewhat contrived prompts, each participant gets to reveal more and more about who they are. “Person A, Please tell Person B something you see in front of you.” Pause for answer. “Person B, please tell Person A about an item on the wall to your left.”

The disembodied voice, for its part, waits until the answer is received and then moves on to the next prompt. The effect is a lot like your stereotypical therapist trope: “Tell me what’s bothering you. Hmm. Tell me more about that. Hmm.” But there’s significantly more thought put into the prompts than that, with each section of the dialog deepening the conversation.

During my call there were several times when the instructions were garbled or too quiet or were just plain covered up by line noise. In most cases the voice simply waited a split second and then asked the question a second time. But I wanted to determine whether it was a computer talking or an actual person with a computer voice, so I took several of these opportunities to push back a little and see if I could figure out if it was a human. My investigations told me this was a computer — it pretty much ignored my jokes and accepted any answer I gave, even my firmly worded “I’m not answering this one” answers.

Nonetheless, the voice pushed us forward. During the experience I learned that my mystery partner cant sew, likes to read, has very little family, does not play any musical instruments, loves cats and does not cook. I, on the other hand, went into depth about everything I do and took every chance I got to crack wisely, which caused my co-caller to laugh (sure, I was also making sure the other caller wasn’t a computer too… you can never be to certain!).

In the end I also learned that I like to guide conversations and that I bristle at random prompts. I guess it’s fair to say I bristle at computer AIs in general. After our hourlong conversation was ended, I didn’t feel changed by the encounter except perhaps in my willingness to open up to a stranger.

Whether the 600 Highwaymen were hoping for this result or for something more tangible and life-changing, I may not know until Part Three. As for Part Two…

PART TWO: AN ENCOUNTER

The in-person version of the performance was altogether different from the phone call. Moving from a phone call to a sit down encounter presents a chance to heighten the experience. The two ticket holders arriving at the La Jolla playhouse could either be repeat attendees who had already done the phone call, or brand new participants. They may or may not even have any knowledge what Part One was at all.

The only requirement is tat you do NOT know the other person attending. You can randomly hook up participants for a phone call, so it was clear that this was added for Part Two. My wife and I both chose the same performance. We dutifully clicked the “we understand we will not be in the same show” disclaimer. And we drove down to La Jolla and we waited for the unknown.

When I was led into my room I was the second person to arrive. Already seated was a girl perhaps 10 years younger than me. Between us was a plexiglass wall mounted on a desk. Since she was in a chair it followed that I was to sit in the chair opposite her. On the desk were two stacks of seemingly identical white index cards.

I managed to start the proceedings off with unintentional drama. I misread the first card which said that my desk mate would read their top card first. Specifically, it was wo begin as soon as I placed my hand down on the table. Since I read it too fast, I didn’t see that last part. To her credit, my partner waited for me to put my hand down. I, however, waited for her to read her card. And I waited. And she waited. And I reread my card. And I missed the last instruction a second time. And then I sighed. And I waited and she waited. Then I read it a third time and (realizing my mistake) slammed my hand down on the table.

When ensued was an hour of back and forth questions and answers prompted by the cards. Much like the phone interchange, our questions were personal, but not too deep. There were queries into our childhood memories, our ability to drive a stick shift, our cooking skills… and every so often a doozy like “Can you remember the last time you were truly happy?”

It seemed like the questions had stepped up a notch into the personal, character-revealing category. Perhaps the playwright’s intent this time around, given the face-to-face nature of Part Two, was to push us into leaving our safety zones.

My answer of “NO!” regarding whether I could remember the last time I was happy threw my partner off. She visually blanched at my answer. To me, the beauty of Part Two lie in the fact that we had all the time in the world to give our answers. For my part I choose succinct ones as often as possible, but then launched into longer answers when it felt appropriate. I’ll admit that as an actor my ulterior motive was always to entertain while being entertained. My costar in this performance, clearly not an actor, was choosing instead to give curt answers. When asked if she could cook or sew (there were lots of repeats from the phone call) she was almost reluctant to give her “no” answer, while I practically jumped up and said “Yes I can drive a stick shift like no one’s business!”

The experiment worked. By the end of the hour, when we were told (by the final cards) to go our separate ways, I made a meal of my departure. I adhered to the strictest possible meaning of the instructions on my last card as I left. From what I could see as I watched my cohort getting into her car across the parking lot, she was affected by the performance and by my abrupt, silent departure.

Contrast this with my wife’s experience in the room next door to us. She had been paired up with someone who like she was also an actor. The two of them blew the experiment up from card one. By her recount, they debated the mysterious nature of the cards’ instructions and interpreted them together as a group, chewing the scenery with their answers and really getting to know each other in the process. In the end, however, they departed as they had arrived… strangers…deeply affected by the experience.

Who’s to say which of us had the “intended” theatrical experience?

A Thousand Ways Parts 1 and 2 are in and out or production as of this writing. Part 3 has yet to be announced. Watch their website for information:  600highwaymen.org


Box One by Neil Patrick Harris

The play-at-home market benefitted from a renaissance in the past year and a half, thanks of course to a lockdown-induced captive audience. While quite a few new players (Vampire Pizza) and some experienced ones (Hunt-A-Killer) entered the market, it was also refreshing to see celebrities putting their mark on this overlooked industry. Magician Helder Guimarães and renowned Japanese game developers SCRAP both came out with popular offerings as well. Then Neil Patrick Harris, no stranger himself to the escape-room field, announced “Box One” in cooperation with theory11.

The box itself is a joy to behold (and hold). It’s surface is a glimmering delight from its gold embossing to its precision 3-D carvings. This comes as no surprise given theory11’s long history of putting out stunning magic tricks and card decks, all constricted with high quality die cutting and dazzling faux-gold overlay printing. In this case, you are getting your money’s for a coffee table conversation piece if nothing else.

But the proof is in the content, and from moment one, you will be impressed with Box One. As you unbox, you are met with a meticulous instruction sheet. Neil’s writing shines from the moment you start in on the step-by-step guide. “Open this”… “set that aside”… “pay attention now.” You get the feeling you are being guided by not just a dedicated performer, but a real person.

Eventually, you are instructed to open a mysterious pack of cards and read the first one. What follows is a puzzle experience on rails, but with exceptions. You will be given cryptic instructions, asked to answer trivia questions, solve light geography riddles, do wordplay and cryptograms (not hard ones) and eventually start piecing together a larger set of codes, clues and rules that will open up more content and more hidden stuff and…

Not giving anything away, what you initially see inside the box is very much the illusion that Neil wants you to see. I have not solved Box One (I’m slowly savoring it), but so far I am honestly gob smacked by the amount of content that is hidden at first blush.

A lot of hoopla is made in the game’s marketing about this being a game BY ONE person and FOR ONE person. Whether this is a sneaky ploy to discourage sharing among friends or an honest plea to keep the integrity of the game’s design from being watered down, I won’t know until I’ve finished. I do know that we tried it as a group and found it very engaging and even beneficial to have a few hands working various angles on each puzzle. At a certain point there are multiple directions the solving can go which leaves plenty for a group of two or three to do. Maybe it’s best to start it alone and then bring in some friends!

Box One Presented By Neil Patrick Harris is available at Target and from Theory11’s website: theory11.com


The Under Presents, 2-years-later

When Tender Claws debuted “The Under Presents” in 2019, it was like nothing else in VR. Their immersive, theatrical experience grew it’s audience, eventually adding “live” shows and a rendition of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”. This is not a review of either the game or the performance, however. This is a synopsis of the world as it stands now, empty except for the audience that came to play… and stay.

TUP, as its referred to by fans, is still a playable game. You still get the original experience, minus the live shows and the play. There’s a twisty-timey mini-game called “Time Boat” which showcases the team’s wonderful user interface, plus main stage, where a dozen recorded acts play in a loop. And then there’s the other players themselves.

The magic of TUP is truly inside the world created by YOU and your fellow players. With no instruction beyond the basic maneuvers, newcomers are forced to learn the finger snap  magic system on their own, perfect it with the help of strangers, and then teach it to the next newbie that arrives. I refused help for the longest time, having convinced myself that these were AI bots and NOT other human beings.

I was so, so wrong! Once I accepted their help, I was swept into an underground world of mysterious passages, workshops, upgraded gear and an entire hierarchy of competing guilds, all communicating via hand gestures. So if you want to experience the heady feeling of power growing slowly in your hands, snap your fingers and head on down into The Under Presents.

Tender Claws’ The Under Presents

What you will find at Gamurgy.com

Gamurgy.com is a place to explore that weird place where several of my lifelong interests converge:

  • Boardgames
  • Puzzles
  • LARPs
  • Immersive experiences
  • Video games
  • Traditional theatre
  • Comedy

Boardgames include card games, role playing, CCGs, miniatures, word games and kids games. We all grew up playing Monopoly and Connect Four, so why not infuse your creations with something we all know?

Puzzles can be crosswords, cryptics, riddles, sudoku, rebuses, brain twisters, metal tangle puzzles, and wooden mystery boxes. My sweet spot is hour-long puzzle on paper with meta-solutions that is the mainstay of the National Puzzler’s League.

LARPs are anything from parlor games to boffer wars, with my favorite being the kind you can play in one evening where everyone has a character and a goal. Imagine a store-bought murder mystery but for a 30 people and with costumes.

Immersive covers the gamut from Escape Rooms to VR to interactive installations with anything from Meow Wolf to Lazer Tag thrown in. Almost anything can be made immersive, and nearly any immersive experience can be gamurgized.

Video games, especially classic ones, but with a definite leaning toward Myst, Breath of the Wild and Rock Band and less of Madden Football and Fortnite.

Traditional theatre where there’s an audience and a stage and the material is written, including musicals, community theatre, black box one-acts and staged reading.

Comedy, whether it be stand up or sketch, and especially my favorite: improv.

In fact, LOTS of improv. You’ll likely see many of my designs involve improv whenever possible. Improvising a character while playing, improvising new rules when a game breaks down, improvising a solution to a puzzle or riddle, and — as always — me improvising my presentation of a game so that the players gradually understand what zany combination I am introducing them to.

Please enjoy Gamurgy.com, where styles, games, formats, and age-old media forms collide.

The Gamurgist

I recently unearthed this photo of me, taken at age 4, and it neatly sums up everything you need to know about me and this website. I recently unearthed this photo of me, taken at age 4, and it neatly sums up everything you need to know about me and this website.

I was raised on Legos, Tinkertoys and Big Wheels, and yet I still believe to this day that I have never played a game more than a few times as it was originally intended.I was raised on Legos, Tinkertoys and Big Wheels, and yet I still believe to this day that I have never played a game more than a few times as it was originally intended.

I’m sure I went around the block a few dozen times for a few weeks, but I distinctly remember tiny me thinking “everyone else does it the way the instructions day, but that’s not good enough.”

I vividly remember the day in this photo, even though it was lost to me until I saw the picture again after many decades. I remember seeing the handlebars and noting their symmetry and how flat they were. In my mind I was already thinking that this would be a stable toy even upside down. So upside down it went.

I remember pushing it to see if it would topple too easily, which it did. So I had to make sure the handlebars stayed perpendicular to the frame. And of course I sat on it. I can remember how it felt on my rear: Painful. But who cares.

I remember thinking, “what do I do with it now?” The wheel had to spin, so I grabbed the pedals and spun them. I remember the smell of the wheel as it shook off the dust in my face. I remember spinning it as fast as I could and then stopping it using my chest, and how that burned, and how my mom hated having to clean my clothes afterward.

And I distinctly remember the game I made out of it. On its own, spinning a wheel isn’t really a game, per se. Something in my mind triggered a memory of milling devices. Probably something I saw a picture of in the Worldbook Encyclopedia. So I grabbed some dirt clods and slid them into the space beneath the wheel where it touches the orange frame. I had to spin backwards so that the wheel would “mill” the dirt away from me.

I recall milling “wheat” clod after clod that afternoon into dirt flour. I’m sure I had a song to go with it.

Gamurgy is dedicated to the spirit of changing, adapting, messing around with, and generally finding the game — or a new game — in anything.Gamurgy is dedicated to the spirit of changing, adapting, messing around with, and generally finding the game — or a new game — in anything.

Over the years, I’ve collected over 2000 games, puzzles, toys and devices and I still venture to say I’ve never played any of them as intended more than a handful of times.Over the years, I’ve collected over 2000 games, puzzles, toys and devices and I still venture to say I’ve never played any of them as intended more than a handful of times.

In Which I Turn My First Blog Entry Into a Game

You are Spider-man!

The other day I was thinking about how I haven’t posted on my blog in a long time. Blog. It sounds funny to say it.

Blog.

It’s short for “web log”, a thing I forget and then remember every time Iook it up, kind of like how I have to remind myself that the Dakotas are east of Montana, not below Montana (just double-checked, yup that’s where they are alright!).

Side note:  Blog is not, apparently, short for “blogosphere” — at least not any more than ATM is short for “atmosphere.” 

And for those more than a year-and-a-half older than me or a year-and-a-half younger than me, blogging was all the rage… for about three years. Anyone blogging before that was updating their unread GoDaddy webpage. Anyone doing it after that was just stalling while they waited for one of their East Coast college friends to gift them an unused Facebook invite. Was I the only one whose friends kept sending them expired Facebook invites? Anyway…

For a brief, shining three years, give or take :D, from 2004 to 2006, blogs certainly sort of definitely maybe existed. I guess I have my doubts because accessing my old Live Journal account is like requesting a home loan while wearing an overcoat and being three babies on each others’ shoulders… there are a lot of security questions, proving who you are, and peering.

But after several attempts, I got in and was able to see my very first blog post. Here is it in all it’s unedited glory:

“Currently moving over to LiveJournal. Pardon the construction. In the meantime… your results: You are Spider-Man. You are intelligent, witty, a bit geeky and have great power and responsibility.” (click to take the test again!)

I guess I was moving over from maybe Blogspot? Blogger? I seem to recall that my previous content — prior to this beauty of a first post —  was mostly game related. Perhaps some of my best material, but lost to the sands of time. And before that my content was comprised of pretentious ramblings on AOL. Like you do.

And, perhaps we should be thankful that social media is limited to 40 or 140 characters… or to a six second video. Although a staged reading of my pre-2000 AOL Hometown pages would be must-see community theater if I do say so myself. And all of it does exist on a thumb drive somewhere.

Side note:  Does anyone know if you can just give those VHS & DVD converter services — the ones you see on fliers taped to telephone poles — an, I don’t know, ziplock bag full of USB drives and tell them to throw it all up on Google Drive? Asking for a friend.

Or better yet, can we make our first, embarrassing blog posts into a game?

Introducing the “Predictive First Blog Post Game”…

  1. Guess at what platform you first blogged on.
  2. Remember the name of your first girlfriend or first car you owned.
  3. Log into the oldest email service you can recall using.
  4. Fat-finger a few wrong passwords, then give up and reset it.
  5. Scroll way Way WAY back to your first blog post.
  6. Read it. Laugh. (Grammarly doesn’t sound so stupid now, does it!)
  7. Open a new text doc.
  8. Type the first few words of your nascent post and then let predictive text complete the post for you.

Yup. I didn’t invent the predictive text game, but I sure may have discovered what it was meant for. Here’s what mine turned into (original post’s first words in CAPS):

CURRENTLY MOVING OVER TO theater is a great place for kids and family and we can wine or dinner and the food was good but we had a great experience and the service is excellent game to play like this app facebook or facebook facebook or facebook facebook facebook or…

Cool. I like facebook and food. Checks out. But what happens if I try it with a slightly older device that has several years rather than just a couple months of predictive content to go off of.

CURRENTLY MOVING OVER TO a new home next week and I’ll probably go to the store to get some stuff for my moms house and then I’ll drop off the kids and I can do them a few times before… 

Okay, that went south pretty quick. Here. Let’s try it again but this time using my grandmother’s 10 years old old first generation iPad.

CURRENTLY MOVING OVER TO the best of the day and I love you so much after a long time ago when he said a thing better about myself and friends.

Aw. So sweet! We make a good team. But let’s throw a curveball at this predictive text by looking at Trump’s first post on twitter which was back in 2009:

“Be sure to tune in and watch Donald Trump on Late Night with David Letterman as he presents the Top Ten List tonight!”

Using my iPad’s predictive test that becomes:

BE SURE TO TUNE IN AND WATCH DONALD TRUMP card is a great idea and we had a good time and it’s the day you were thinking of going back into a game of a game and a couple days of fun.

Harmless. I like a good trump card game it would seem! Now, let’s see what my grandmother’s sweet words have to say:

BE SURE TO TUNE IN AND WATCH DONALD TRUMP is the best thing ever to have happened in my life and I love it so hard…

And it went south again. Some things are better left unknown. 

But I would definitely love to know what YOUR first blog post was and I would especially love to see what your post turns into when you predictive text it. Share them on your own blog or on FB or wherever (as of this moment I don’t have comments turned on for this site).

As a special reward for getting this far, I have included below my predictive text for first blog posts of Katy Perry, Billie Eilish, John Green, and Gary Gygax.

– – –

My version of Katy Perry’s first blog post:

NOT BATTERY OPERATED I was a great game a good app to play the games on the way home from my local theatre people and the other people who have a lot to choose.

The original:

NOT BATTERY OPERATED! I am a real person! HA!
Me and my little kittehnnnz first video blog about UR SO GAY! 😛 

– – –

Teen lit author John Green:

THE REINVIGORATED JOHN GREEN BOOKS has always been the perfect way to share your beautiful face and memories and your doorstep and your address and your name on the table.

Original:

THE REINVIGORATED JOHN GREEN BOOKS-dot-com contains all of the questions and answers you need for your book report, trivia night, or recreational dossier.

– – –

My version of Gary Gygax’s first column in TSR newsletter, 1975:

THE STRATEGIC REVIEW is the best way to get to the q&a app and the new one place to get the best of experience with a great game and it would totally make the best game of all time the games i have been the most interesting thing to do this is amazing and it’s fun. 

The original:

THE STRATEGIC REVIEW is the newsletter of Tactical Studies Rules which will quite naturally be used to carry advertisements for all of TSR’s product line.

– – –

Billie Eilish’s first tweet:

THIS IS THE ARTWORK FOR BILLIE’S debut album “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?”. The new single is out tomorrow at 9am PT.

My version:

THIS IS THE ARTWORK FOR BILLIE’S we are both in love with the new fabric choices and we are making them look like they are all together for the best ones. 

– – –

So it appears I like games, theater, food, fabric, doorsteps and beautiful faces. Again, it checks out!