Thinking about Theater in Terms of Negotiated Agency

As I was skimming thru the Internet I came across this blog post and thought it was very interesting. Of course because of who I am, I looked at what she was saying thru the lens of theater. It is by Nina Simon, who runs the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.

She quotes the creator of Sim City who said: “Game players have a negotiated agency that is determined by how the game is designed.”  The term negotiated agency means a set of rules that decides how much freedom of choice they have to engage the game. Which immediately brought to mind the idea of theatrical conventions and the ‘rules of the game’ for theater performances. She goes on to say:

In other words, the more constrained the game environment, the less agency the player has. The more open, the more agency. Think about the difference between Pacman and Grand Theft Auto. Both games have a “gamespace” in which they are played. Both games have rules. But Grand Theft Auto invites the player to determine their own way of using the space and engaging with the rules. The player’s agency is not total, but it is significant.

A lot of games now give a lot of leeway or freedom for the player (audience of the game) to choose their way. As a result, younger generations are expecting a different set of rules to engage experiences. This is also reinforced by the rest of the world people are living in now. Think about the entertainment options that are available now as opposed to the 30-some years ago. By that I mean the younger generations have had a lot more interactive experiences on the web actively choosing and searching for their entertainment, as opposed to having the 4 broadcast TV channels I grew up with. There is a different attitude, of being connected to friends thru social networks and sharing their real life experiences with the online community. All of that contributes to younger generations expecting a different way of interacting with the world. Makers of theater today have to understand this when creating work. If you want to engage a diverse audience, this includes younger members, how can you revisit traditional notions of negotiated agency(conventions of theater) to spark the interest of that younger audience? Can that new negotiated agency create a form of theater that would be different than other entertainment? And would that form of theater bring in an audience that can get a passive audience experience through other modes of entertainment? Time will tell. Or perhaps I need to get out there and make something like that…

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