Best Before Archive
By multiple authors
18.05.2010 / www.ontheboards.org
Too much freedom might have resulted in utter chaos.Saturday, May 8th, 2010
In 1990, philosopher Peter Suber offered this observation: “If law making is a game, then it is a game in which changing the rules is a move.” Suber was not merely coining an axiom for the sake of his tenure; he was introducing a game he had invented called Nomic, in which passing, amending, and repealing the game’s own set of rules was its purpose. This was self-reflexivity at its most complex, and the creative intellectual destruction that accompanied each game was a wonder to experience. But like any laudably open and free set of laws, Nomic’s rules contained the seeds of its own potential dismantling. A system of rules designed to permit free and open action, can, even with the best of intentions, destroy itself. True freedom gives us full leeway to abandon it altogether.
Sitting through Rimini Protokoll’s delightfully cozy adventure, Best Before, Peter Suber’s quote stuck with me, and the idea that I might be partly responsible for the destruction of the very show I was experiencing was never far from my mind … or minds I should say.
Throughout the duration of Best Before, I was always in two places at once – there was the physical me, sitting in my chair amongst my fellows of flesh and blood; and the digital me, the bullet-shaped avatar I navigated around a large on-stage screen using a generic game controller. It was the same for everyone there on Friday night: two hundred puppet masters sitting in the dark maneuvering their virtual surrogates around BestLand. We watched and cheered as our avatars got their bearings, made decisions about the future of our civilization, gained rank and stature, mated, and even voted for a president, all for the sake of keeping our collective civilization afloat.
In BestLand, cause is somewhat cumulative. Each vote we cast or decision we made – to allow immigrants into BestLand, to legalize abortion, to become sexually active, to redistribute wealth – stuck with us for the duration of the game, altering our appearance, our biography, and sometimes even our population’s demographic. Our world morphed as the night wound on, gradually becoming a culture that represented the best at worst of all our decisions. And due to the bounded nature of our population – all 200 of us in one room – the aura of the polity was electric. We were anonymous yet visible to all, and our decisions were public but not personal. BestLand provided a forum for being brutally honest in a rowdy crowd.
As a cultural evolution simulator, Best Before doesn’t go quite as far as I had hoped. Control over our avatars was limited to moving and jumping, so there were limited opportunities to have a direct personal effect on the world and other players, and consequently there were few principles of natural and artificial selection at play. Or in game-design-speak, there wasn’t much emergent complexity. But presumably this was limited for a reason – too much freedom might have resulted in utter chaos. As Suber’s Nomic thesis suggests, we might have destroyed ourselves long before the show was over. But Rimini Protokolls intentions, if slightly restrictive, were far more generous. Best Before shines as a scaled down, sped up analog for culture as a set of collective personal whims. In just two hours we witnessed the often elating, often crushing reality of irrevocable action, and the brutal fact of moving forward through life on a foundation made of the discarded past. Through it all, our hosts weaved personal narratives of their own – some poignant, some banal, all relevant – arguing the uneasy point that living life may be just another game. Each second of every day, a choice is made, a result obtained, and the world moves on with or without you.
Finally, Best Before is a small technical triumph, proving that interactive art has vast potential in a niche all its own. Just as films first allowed the 20th century to chop narratives into impossible chronologies seen through improbably framings, video games have given citizens of the 21st century a chance to experience life at impossible scales. We can be as big as mountains, or as tiny as viruses, or live full lives that bear the scars of two dozen split second decisions in so short a time frame that we have no chance to consider the full ramifications of our actions. Such is life. It is a game, and living is its goal. It is a game in which changing the rules is a move. And though you may come to regret or rejoice those decisions in time, so long as you keep moving, you are alive.
Darby McDevitt is a game designer, writer, filmmaker, and musician. His most recent game credits include titles in the Assassin’s Creed series, Where the Wild Things Are, and The Sims franchise. He lives in Seattle.
Posted in 09/10 Season, Inter/National Series,
Seattle Gay Scene: Rimini Protokoll at On the Boards is perfect example of Art vs Technology = ArtSaturday, May 8th, 2010
Michael Strangeways:Best Before is that odd conundrum/enigma of a “play” that’s not really a “play” in the traditional sense of the word, but in reality, and in it’s completed state, it manages to BECOME a play, meaning that you meet characters, go on a journey and experience complicated human emotions and feeling. There IS growth, and warmth, and fear, and humor, and birth, and death, and longing, and love, and hate and all the other emotions we need to feel/experience in order to be fully realized human beings. For some people, the technology might stand in the way, but ultimately the emotion does win out…
This is your choice
Saturday, May 8th, 2010
Rimini Protokoll: Best Before, A fun and thought provoking blend of technology, theater, comedy and the personal and social choices that we all make on a daily basis. The Performance starts out with an introduction on how to control an avatar, basically an egg on a screen behind the actors that each member of the audience has and controls with a video game controller. The controls and functions are easy enough, this isn’t like playing an Xbox and thus don’t need to be too tech savvy to figure it out. Keep a whether eye open however, with 200 other eggs running about you can easily lose track of your own egg in this world called Bestland. The four actors, all of different backgrounds from a video game programmer to a construction flagger, lead you and your avatar through the performance sharing their own personal stories as they relate to questions and situations for you and your avatar. These questions range from what sex you are upon the birth of your avatar to questions that depend on your avatars age.
At 15 you choose whether to be sexually active or not? Are you going to drink? As the age of your avatar increases so to does your avatar grow both in size and in Bestland credits based on your choices. Buy a house? What career are you going to choose? What makes this truly interesting is this is a game of chance. As you grow and choose there are consequences, you might die, become pregnant, lose your job due to Bestlands economy, go to jail, lose your inheritance, be killed by your fellow audience members, or commit suicide to name a few.
Ultimately, this is about stepping outside of your life and for two hours living and reflecting alternative choices that we might not choose in reality. For two hours I became a divorced heroin using gun toting mother, who drank and had sex at 15 while supporting an army abroad, though not everyone might choose that life for their avatar. But that is the point! This is your choice, no one to say you were wrong, no one to lecture you, and thankfully no consequences outside the game.
Rimini Protokoll: Best Before is different, exciting, funny, and unlike games like Sims city, you are being presented actual situations that we all have experienced in some from in our lives. Widen your gaze, try something new, and have fun!
Seattlest:Friday, May 7th, 2010
Amy Mikel:The gaming is fun, yes, but Best Before delivers that fun with a steady, tangible reality … and in some odd circular sense, the experience of the show is reality.
And reality reared its ugly head as the performance last night suffered a technical glitch that crashed the program near the game’s culmination point. Here the “life experts” had to scramble to deliver the show’s closing without the planned-for technical oomph. But it wasn’t awkward; it was an experience. Together, we made it work.
The SunBreak: Rimini Protokoll Takes on the Game of Life…Choices
Friday, May 7th, 2010
Michael van Baker:All I knew about Rimini Protokoll’s Best Before show at On the Boards (through May 9, tickets $24) was that it somehow involved video-game controllers and would last two hours. This was anxiety-producing for me, a Zaxxon low-scorer, but I needn’t have worried; I spent most of the evening with a goofy grin on my face, and giggles and yelps of laughter were widespread.
The zany video-game environment of BestLand (a Sim City of life choices) is balanced by a panel of “experts in daily life”–people that Rimini Protokoll found to help more movingly portray the consequences of life choices. They’re not actors, though that’s never a hindrance (except in the case of avuncular former Vancouver City Councillor Bob Williams, who shares my uh habit uh of “uh”ing too uh often–you people are so lucky this is a blog and not a podcast).
sweet “analogue” momentsFriday, May 7th, 2010
Rimini Protokoll’s Best Before stages an audience-interactive video game run by five performers with varying technical savvy—from Brady, a former computer programmer, to Ellen, a journalist turned traffic flagger who says: “I played PacMan once, but I didn’t like it very much.” Each audience member creates and plays a character in the simplest of virtual lands. We each have a name (mine was “Ringo”— lucky me), a gender, and an occupation. We make choices: we vote, make money, shoot heroin, shoot each other, have babies, get divorced, until we all reach the age of 76, at which point Ellen asks us “Does anybody want to commit suicide?” as Brady attempts to make a black hole open up on the huge screen in front of us.
On Thursday night, the black hole graphic failed, but no one seemed to mind much, including Brady, who tried her best to fix the problem but ultimately gave up. Best Before is most charming in these awkward digital moments, and in its awkward live moments as well—the stories told to us between game moves that don’t quite resolve; a simple “traffic sign dance” the company performs in not-quite unison; and the meandering guitar music that underscores the audience’s collective virtual life. These sweet “analogue” moments point to the (also sweet) digital ones, just as the virtual lives we create point right back at us, sitting as we are, in the dark, among 100 or so real, live people.
Comments on Best BeforeFriday, May 7th, 2010
When the show first started, I was psyched. Live people! A stage! I liked the premise & everything started well. I was disappointed that one particular friend of mine had been unable to attend, because he develops games for phones & absolutely lives for these types of concepts.The first half hour was great, and the audience was enjoying the show as much as I was. It was novel, easy to participate, and showed promise. The following hour seemed to be the same as the first half hour, but with the novelty worn away. There were a few interesting moments; for example, at one point the audience was made to realize that armies are inevitably necessary, and that risk is inherent in both life and games.At the end of two hours, the performance had pretty much ground me to a halt. There was little new happening in the performance, and felt no “challenge”, as one might expect in quality art. My overall experience was that I was being asked to make many of the same choices that I have to make in everyday life. And a component of the later portion of the game was to show that there were consequences to my earlier decisions. There was definitely a subtext that “life is hard” or even “life sucks”. This was definitely underscored by the narratives offered by the actors.My own personal perception–my own interpretation–was that the performance merely mirrored some of life’s challenges that I face on a daily basis, and forced me to trudge through these tedious burdens yet again: voting, politics, aging, divorce, kids, money… Perhaps to a younger person, this might seem fun or even enlightening.
So, therein lies something fundamental to all art: perception. Aware of this, I moved on…Now two hours into the performance, the audience was given the option of allowing their characters to commit suicide. I went for it. I moved my character to the middle of the screen & waited for “the black hole”. It was not to be. The program failed to work & the game could not advance. The cast attempted to fix the program, even attempting to debug code in front of the audience.To add to my frustration…I’m a software developer…I didn’t want to debug code on my evening out. However, I’m still aware of perception, and my unique situation.Sensing the audiences waning patience, the cast wrapped up the show as best they could with thinly veiled disappointment.
I want nothing other than to send you a glowing review of the show. I greatly appreciate the tickets & the opportunity. However, I can’t give a gleaming blog post. If you want to use any of my comments, feel free.I think, in the end, the only real crime committed was a lack of crescendo. All art ultimately depends upon people, not technology.
Fear not! I understand that every live experience is a gamble, and one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor. I think this challenges me to seek out more theater…however next time, maybe with a bit more research. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Teen Tix: “Gaming the Play”Friday, May 7th, 2010
From Monet C:“Starting with a solo guitar with a coffee house vibe, this play/video game soars after the first five minutes and continually amazes with the twists and turns of our choices. It is like nothing that I have ever seen before!”Read the full review.
Projects Best Before