Before I moved to Oskaloosa, every class I taught had a large majority of students I was working with for the first time. Every game or activity I introduced was new to them. If life was a video game, I was repeating the first level every time I taught a class.
Today, we have Youth Theatre campers who spend all 8 weeks of their summer at camp, side-by-side with first timers and those who fall somewhere in between. You can imagine that playing the same first level of theatre games for 280 hours over 40 days might incur a rebellion, and rightfully so! Instead, I really have had to change my outlook on games (i.e. the control panel, which you can read more about here).
Sometimes, though, it's not all about adapting to your group of students. I came to realize that games themselves can lean toward adaptation, and once that hit, it was like seeing the computer code of the matrix. I began to understand how games operate and what makes them successful (or not).
- All games have a specific goal or objective.
- All games have their own physics that players must abide by.
- All games have a flow
- All games have a stall line, meaning they can crash and burn.
- Goal - Be the last one to cross the barricade, or as the barricade, stop everyone from crossing.
- Physics - Players must stay in bounds, they must not make noise, they must not touch the barricade.
- Flow - Players cross the barricade, then the facilitator allows the barricade to reorganize to best stop remaining players. Repeat until one of the goals is accomplished.
- Stall line - Players refuse to accept the physics of the game, and you must stop. This happens with people can't listen, or follow directions, or both. (A common stall line in any game/activity.)
- Goal - Get across the Chocolate River with your group
- Physics - Players must stay in bounds, they may not touch the river, they must finish the goal together.
- Flow - When the team works together, they move across the space.
- Stall line- Failure in teamwork means a failure to complete the goal. This game can't be done alone.
Balance is essential. This isn't about always making it fair for everyone, but it is giving everyone the opportunity to be successful. Campers are always thrilled when they've overcome the odds, and that makes sense - who doesn't love an underdog story?
First and foremost, I believe the objective of a game should never be "to win." Competition certainly has its place, but I'm not certain that "winners" really learn anything by winning. We learn by failure - we learn how to be better next time so we can be in the winning team's shoes. Our society is not built around asking the winning Super Bowl team what they need to do better next time. (Though maybe that's exactly what we should be doing, both for ourselves and our students!)
If gaining experience is the "key," the challenge is the "lock." My dad always said once he hits a hole in one, he'll quit playing golf, because it would no longer be a challenge. I'd respond to that line of thought that the obvious answer is to make it harder. Can you hit a hole in one one-handed?
What can you do to offer a greater challenge in your theatre games? This could be as simple as changing part of the code -- maybe everyone has to do it blindfolded, or they can't talk. Maybe it is mashing two game mechanics together so that you need to keep two different sets of game rules running at the same time!
Next, we will look at a game created with the George Daily Youth Theatre. I can't promise it doesn't exist anywhere else (nothing is truly original, am I right?), but we did work with campers to create this game.
Generic Brand Name: Turn based tag.
Goal: One or two players start as a shark(s), masters of the ocean. Everyone else is a swimmer. Swimmers need to survive, sharks need to tag swimmers.
Physics: Everything happens in turns. Sharks are trying to tag swimmers but they only can do so on their turns. Players must stay within the bounds of the game.
Flow: Sharks take two turns, and they go first. The first turn is walking while the facilitator counts down from 5. Then, the sharks get their second turn. In this turn, they can move as fast as they safely can with a faster count down (usually five, but it's dependent on space). Any swimmers they tag in their turn will become sharks. Next, it's the swimmers turn. They can move as fast as they safely can to reposition themselves away from sharks. They get a count down from 5 (usually equal to the sharks' first turn). Swimmers and sharks may not move unless it is their turn.
Stall line: This game fails if players continue to move when it isn't their turn, or when players are not mindful of their surroundings. Younger players can easily be trampled by older players if older players aren't careful.
Facilitation: Define your space, including where sharks and swimmers start. I often use a cue word, and if a group moves before their cue word, they lose their turn (I almost always use the cue word "GO" for this game).
- "Sharks, it is your turn, you are walking, GO. 5...4...3...2...1... Freeze.
- If you were tagged by a shark, stay where you are. You're turning into a shark until the next round."
- Sharks, it is your turn. You may move as fast as you can GO. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Freeze!
- If you were tagged by a shark, stay where you are. You're turning into a shark until next round.
- All sharks, sit down and cover your eyes.
- Swimmers, it is your turn. You may move as fast as you can GO. 5...4...3...2...1...Freeze."
- Trade off sharks and swimmer turns until you decide that if the swimmers survive the next shark turns they win, OR sharks have tagged all swimmers.
Age Group: PreK-Adult
Group size: 5-15
- What worked well, what didn't work well? What did you notice?
- Were you successful? Why?
- How can you be more successful next time?
This can be an intricate game of cat and mouse, or it can be "run your brains out" turn-based tag. At the George Daily, we play in the audience seats to give players the opportunity to hide. You aren't allowed to climb over chairs, and groups don't need to move each turn -- they can hide if they like.