Online theater games – where spies and murderers hide
I am standing in a Victorian gentleman’s office filled with maps, books, rugs, newspapers. . . Any of them could be a vital clue to a murder. I have seven minutes to review them. But which one to choose first? The bottle of whiskey? The letter? The little silver box on the leather armchair?
This is not a lockdown induced panic dream, but a scene of Sherlock Holmes: An Online Adventure – The Hung Parliament Case des Enfants Terribles, a new interactive online theater show in which audiences make the crucial decisions that could bring a serial killer to justice. Holmes has inevitably been detained elsewhere and we, a motley group of new recruits assembled via Zoom, must take on a case involving three ministers and five devious-looking suspects.
The pandemic has seen an upsurge in such spectacles. In the last few weeks I have solved another murder (Sherlock in Homes: Murder at the Circus), rectified a miscarriage of justice (Investigation), provided vital communications to a spy on a mission (Agent Venture: The Heist) and saved the world from destruction at the hands of an evil society (Sheltered). The baking of the sourdough is therefore the last confinement.
A careful mix of game and theater, these programs aim to combat the passivity of online viewing. There is a plethora of great on-screen entertainment out there, but what it can’t quite replace is the interactive nature of the theater – the fact that, even in the most understated live performances, the audience plays a part. active role. That’s where this kind of playful mystery comes in, says James Seager, Creative Director of Les Enfants Terribles.
“Some people will see it as a game,” Seager explains. “Some like an escape room, others like a theater, others like an experience. For us, it’s a play. We approached this just like we approached any other immersive live show, starting with an idea, story, and script. And this is the basis of the drama.
Les Enfants Terribles specializes in immersive theater: shows that envelop the world of storytelling around the spectators. Early examples borrowed ideas from the game – such as player-led storytelling – and merged them with the immediacy of live theater: audiences roamed freely through performances (Punchdrunk) or improvised their way to through scenarios (you bum bum train). Seager suggests that with many theater companies now experimenting online, the influences have come full circle.
“The in-game and immersive worlds are very similar,” he says. “You step into a fantasy world, you get a tutorial, you are assigned a role, and you are given a reason. So I think acting influenced immersive theater and now we’re going back to it. How to immerse people in the theater live but through a screen? That’s really our starting point with it.
The answer, in Parliament hanging on, is a complex mesh of live action and pre-recorded video (Seager shows me the stunning flowcharts and spreadsheets that bring the show to life). The team worked with game company LIVR and used 3D technology to capture real-life locations and turn them into extremely realistic interactive crime scenes. It’s a lot of fun to play with – us amateur sleuths rummaging around rooms, examining objects by clicking on them – but we quickly realize that every choice has a consequence. Fall in love with a red herring, ask a suspect the wrong question and you risk ending up on the wrong track.
Collaboration is the key to success with all of these shows: the faster an audience learns to share tasks, the better. You quickly learn to rely on those with natural leadership skills. In Sherlock in Homes: Murder at the Circus (from the Wardrobe Theater and the Sharp Teeth Theater), this is a group of little girls from Wales with a formidable line of questioning. (The same companies also created Sherlock in Homes 2: Ice Murder.)
Another show inspired by Sherlock, Murder in the circus is a fun and family affair, not very technological, rich in public-actor interaction. Sherlock is (again) missing, this time leaving behind a case of rum involving a dead circus clown and a plate of potted meat. We impromptu detectives must interview a list of dubious suspects with names like Glenda Flex (acrobat) and Rory McPride (lion tamer), who are all adept at juggling the truth.
After several rounds of untargeted questioning from our team, the 10-year-old Welsh are taking action. “Where have you been location-wise when you kissed requires one, severely, of a particularly evasive character. It would take a hardened criminal not to crack.
It is this crackle of spontaneity that is part of the appeal. In an age where endless lockdown has flattened the experience, online theater games combine true unpredictability with the satisfaction of solving puzzles. Like in live theater, you are building an impromptu community. And there is a real pleasure in improvising with others and seeing the dynamics of the group change with the events.
In Investigation from Jury Games, one of the best shows out there, fast communication becomes essential. Gathered on Zoom as jurors, our task is to examine the case of a student who drowned in 2010. Was it an accidental death? Illegal murder? Natural causes? There’s a mountain of brilliantly detailed evidence – autopsy notes, phone records, Facebook posts, grid references – winding up at first, but ingeniously constructed to reveal and cover up. Text messages arrive with links to email accounts; the archivist who helps us may or may not tell us everything.
Our hero this time is a young woman with nimble fingers who sifts through the evidence with astonishing speed (she turns out to be a real-life family historian), while others crack passwords or watch. witness statements. It’s a show that skillfully uses modern communication tools and subtly encourages teamwork, until, with well-timed nudges from creators Joe Ball (playing Coroner) and Tom Black (l ‘archivist), we come to a verdict.
The skill of the actor-facilitators is the key to the immediacy of such events. They must react in real time to the group’s chemistry as they move the narrative forward and hit the plot twists on time.
For some, like Agent Venture: The Heist, this task is further complicated by the fact that there are several paths to the result. In this witty and very enjoyable spy drama, the mission is to guide an (invisible) agent through building a corrupt society and seize the offending files in the boss’s safe. You play in small teams of friends or family and choose your roles – browser, hacker, researcher – beforehand, each given a specific manual (maps, codes, websites or beautifully detailed personal files) that they are the only ones to have. be able to consult.
Each step requires a decision and each choice is fraught with pitfalls. Bluff your way into the building and you might raise suspicions. Sneak into the service elevators and you might run into the guards. Tension builds as your hacker fumbles with the codes and the other team members pile up with “useful tips.” The story revolves around the choices you make with the quick-witted host improvising in response no matter how odd the suggestion is – a great joy to The breakage is that you could replay it and do it completely differently. Morpheus spy drama Sheltered, meanwhile, stimulates your imagination by making you play blindfold.
In the end, theater games are a chance to escape the world, get lost in a story and share a live experience. There are downsides: large teams can be heavy; intrigues can be obscured by distracted players. And you would be hard pressed to defend any of them as serious drama. But for James Seager, a year after the start of the pandemic, that is not the question. “It’s about forgetting who you are for an hour and a half,” he says. “People need it more than ever. ”
Five immersive crime dramas
Sherlock Holmes: The Hung Parliament Affair Someone is murdering MPs and it’s your job to stop them. Sophisticated interactive spectacle of Enfants Terribles. Captivating storyline, intriguing characters, and beautifully designed 3D interiors.
Sherlock in Homes 1: Murder at the Circus Family Detective Capers from Sharp Teeth and The Wardrobe Theater, with a cheerful Victorian music hall vibe and a cast of larger-than-life characters. Flex your questioning muscles.
Investigation Captivating, complex and brilliantly detailed show from Jury Games using multiple platforms. You jurors must look into a closed case and render a verdict on the death of young Scott Davies. Exciting and intelligent.
Agent Venture: The Heist Assemble your elite team ahead of time and join forces to help an agent on the ground take down the evil BAD Corp. Are you a hacker or a soft-spoken communicator? A delightfully detailed save and a versatile and extremely enjoyable adventure.
Sheltered Enjoyable and gripping Morpheus spy drama as you play blindfolded, with a small team, while your guide and a living soundscape build the story around you. The headband cleverly emphasizes the role of your imagination as you collaborate to outsmart the bad guys.