Penn and Teller and more Holy Cow

So it turns out sleeping after a Penn and Teller show is impossible. Your brain’s just far too fizzy.

The whole show (as the previous post probably indicates) was an inspiration (except, if I’m honest, the nailgun bit, which I’m pretty sure any competent musician could have pulled off for real after a bit of practice and a deep breath). What got me thinking about my own work, though, was the people-wrangling.

The night before, I and the other creators at the WonderLab had run Couple Up for an invited audience. Couple Up was a game we’d created that very afternoon, and only tested once, and was full of imperfections (some deliberate, many not). Running it was a process of getting 30 people, who hadn’t come to play, to understand, perform and enjoy a complex physical, social game simultaneously. It went, all things considered, pretty well. But it was a bodge, and required an amount of on-the-fly rule evolution and bit of improv stage-management. As I spend more time designing and running meat-space games, I’m only beginning to learn the dark art of introducing games to players and facilitating and shaping their experience. Godding Werewolf is one thing, getting 30 people to make choices and speak to actors and move around rooms is many orders of magnitude tougher.

So where to turn to for advice on how to take someone who doesn’t know the rules and get them to do the things you need them to do? I’d never thought of how abundantly obvious it is: magicians. Magicians’ whole careers often depend on their ability to pull people from the audience and get them to do the right thing. I’d thought before about what they might have to teach videogame designers, but hadn’t thought about how valuable they’d be for training physical game runners.

Leaving the show tonight, I had the chance to talk the idea over with Stuart Nolan, who extended the idea to specifically learning from busker magicians. Rather than swapping magic tips, he’d had the chance to learn crowd management from buskers. It’s crucial to learn how to stop the audience applauding, apparently, because applause signals an ending, and so people start to leave. But how do you perform a trick in such a way that it amazes and delights people but disinclines them to applaud? Stuart Nolan knows, but I don’t, and now I want to learn.

It’s probably a better use of my excitement-induced insomnia than trying to get a hang of the needle trick.

2 thoughts on “Penn and Teller and more Holy Cow”

  1. Definately, I am a magician and used to be a street performer – I’d suggest another good place to look is theatre facilitators (used to be one of these too) – getting a group of people, whether they’re 4, 14 or 40 years old and who aren’t actors, to understand the rules of a theatre game, and then throw themselves into it is closer to the free play we look for in games…

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