On Time Jump, and getting too good.

I remember when I first started improvising at the Canterbury Uni’.  We were all pretty much making it up as we went along (oh yes, I see), with me trying to direct while simultaneously teaching myself to improvise out of Impro for Storytellers.

I’ll never forget playing Time Jump for the first time.  A scene that started with a blind date and then flew headlong through an unwanted pregnancy, a shotgun wedding, back to an embarrassing school dance moment, then forward to a funeral and beyond.  It was the best scene we’d ever done.  Time Jump instantly because my favourite game.  Every time we played it: gold.  It was the only game I wanted to play.

Then suddenly, the magic evaporated.  The scenes just stopped working, and the more we tried to make them work the worse they got.  It was like, as KJ puts is, slamming a revolving door.

Eventually we just stopped playing it.  Which is a shame, because I think it’s a lovely game.

It’s obvious to me now what was happening.  We’d worked out ‘how to play it’, and we spent too much time going for the gold and not enough time on things like character and story.   It started innocently enough with the observation that, after a jump forward, you should either radically change the stage picture (suddenly one character is naked and the other is on fire) or keep it exactly the same (six months later and they’re still waiting for the bus ho-ho).  Then we realized that it was always funny if you jumped back to see the same characters back in High School.  Pretty soon we knew completely how to play Time Jump, and we were completely unable to do it.

With game based improv there’s always a risk of getting too good at the game, at which point the game starts playing you*.

So the challenge is, how do you stop thinking about how to make the game work and just play?  (and thus making the game work).   Just keep playing new games?

*this may not make sense, but it sounds good.

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6 Responses to “On Time Jump, and getting too good.”

  1. Jeff Says:

    1) Mix it up. If Player A always starts the scene, make them the last on on stage.

    2) Do the scene in gibberish. I think you can apply this to ANY game. No-one is being “clever” because all they can be is emotional/honest.

    3) Create a completely stupid rule (“everyone must touch someone else to talk” “change into an animal by the end of the scene”). It reminds you the rules aren’t there for anything except giving you an excuse to be creative and revitalises the game.

    4) Challenge yourselves to play the worst game possible (i.e. throw all the “tricks” out of the window). I have yet to see a group “succeed” at playing a game badly – if only because they have so much fun trying.

    5) Make a list of “Top 5 tricks used when playing game X” (i.e the shtick that people “always use” when playing the game). Then play the scene. The moment anyone brings in a “trick”, the players get dragged off stage, a whole new team enters, or you simply yell “again!” and start over.

  2. jill bernard Says:

    I have a blessing. I can’t remember anything. It’s horrible because I don’t remember the names of people I’ve met a dozen times, but it’s wonderful because this never happens, I never forget to improvise my improv because I have no other choice.

    The gimmicks of a game are not what makes it compelling. They are the frosting. You’ve got to have cake underneath.

    Repeated gimmicks fail when they’re not connected to the moment. People forget why they’re doing them, what they meant that first time.

    I met a team once that only knew gimmicks. They, in isolation, had created an all-gimmick version of improv. I had to stop them and make them learn how to do long slow truthful scenes.

    I was once in a workshop with Del Close where he yelled at us, “What is short form without the gimmicks?? Nothing!!” I would like to respectfully disagree. Short form without the gimmicks should be lovely active scenes between interesting characters.

  3. improbable Says:

    Thanks Jeff!

    Thanks Jill!

    I reckon that so long as we recognize that playing to a formula is ‘a bad thing’ then we can never go too far wrong.
    It’s when people think that the formula is the one and only path that we should get worried.

    Like all those High School kids I see who play the WLIIA ‘I remember what my Grandpa always told me’ style of Papers.

  4. Comikaze Says:

    I think that is wise.

    The rules of games were only ever invented to trick people into being creative. Consider Low Status Love Scene – the very rules contrive against anything “interesting” happening in whatever story that can be created.

    If you want to get REALLY technical, LSLS is essentially a prolonged bridging exercise combined with (if not totally parallel characters) characters with parallel motors/mantras/motivations. Our teachings and “rules” say “NO! Avoid this scene! Or make it interesting/clever/funny!”. However, this will kill any LSLS instantly (or, at least, turn it into a different scene).

    I have yet to see a LSLS – played with good characterisation and emotional truth – fail on stage. It won’t get laughs, maybe. But no performer comes out of it feeling they cheated or wasted their time; and no audience member ever gets tired of watching.

    It’s very easy to get tangled up in safety nets.

  5. improbable Says:

    True true.

    That said, not all games are created equal. Not all games have as much educational value.

  6. A tragedy in slow motion. « story robot Says:

    […] then have a chat about the kind of stuff I talked about here, about how you can get caught up trying to recreate past magic, and how it never […]

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