Critical Making and Design: Rita Hayworth Isn’t In This Game

adventures in gaming, critical making

This week, for my directed reading course, I attempted to make a game using alienation theatre techniques, as described by Brecht in his Organum on Theatre. The only person that has playtested it so far is my husband, so I only have his and my own opinions to go on so far to judge how well the project turned out. For what it’s worth, I had fun with it! I will also be reading Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed and Frasca’s Videogames of the Oppressed, but have deliberately avoided reading and engaging with them until after I finished making this game and writing about it.

As a reminder, you can watch a bit of the film as a reminder of some of the scenes that I’ve taken inspiration from…

This is a game for people who have seen The Shawshank Redemption. It probably won’t do anything for you if you haven’t. That being said, you should both read “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” and watch “The Shawshank Redemption” if you haven’t already.

You can play the game here: http://jekagames.itch.io/rita-hayworth

Specifically, the Brechtian concepts I’m engaging with are the ones elucidated in sections 39, 41, 43, 44, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 54, 67, 72, 75, of Brecht’s Organum. You can read paraphrase notes on the Organum here: http://peterbuwert.com/research/?p=69 – I found them helpful, because while Brecht writes very well and has interesting things to say, it can be hard to tease out a simple summary to describe his meaning. I’ll pull out some of Buwert’s paraphrases to explain some of my choices for this game.

Sections 47, 48, 49, 50 and 51 are perhaps the ones that influenced me the most for the game.

“47. The actor must abandon all attempts to get the audience to identify with the character. His speech must not flow in the way we expect an actors speech to flow ‘parsonical sing-song’.”
(Buwert)

Morgan Freeman’s voice is itself a character in cinema – his warm, friendly narration is unmistakable. So I got rid of it. Much of the audio in the game consists of truncated text-to-speech versions of Freeman’s voiceover. I have to say, it almost hurts. But, for me, hearing his lines interpreted by CodeWelt’s CW Speak both calls to mind the film, Freeman himself, and a strange reality (the one I have created) where it isn’t Morgan Freeman speaking the lines – thus separating the actor from the character, as is suggested in section 48 and 50.

Similarly, in the opening introduction/contextualization of the game, I identify the “agents” of the game (the “yous” that I address with “You are,” if you will): Andy Dufresne, the actor that portrayed Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and the player, further trying to separate the actor from the character and, as in section 49, trying to demonstrate the thoughts of opinions of all those agents. I tried to keep this separation clear by addressing the Player in the various mini-games, also writing in opinions for actor Tim Robbins (who would like to win an Oscar), and instructing the Player to “help Andy,” further highlighting the separation between the two of them.

Sections 51 and 72 say, in paraphrase:
“51. In order that the viewer identifies the character as being the portrayal of a particular individual at a certain moment in a certain situation, all illusions that the actor is the character and the set is the location must be broken.”

“72. The composer is liberated in no longer having to create an atmosphere to aid spectator immersion. Likewise the set-designer no longer has to create the illusion of an actual place. The set should give hints of greater interest than a mimetic representation would.”

Many of my aesthetic choices for the set pieces and character animation stem from these two sections. I was also limited by time, having made this game in under a week, but I also deliberately chose to not model the sets after those seen in the movie (with the exception of the pipe scene, which I really wanted to feel like the movie even if it didn’t quite look like it). Similarly, there is no music in the game because Brecht suggests in section 71 that songs should not be used for emotional expression or discharge — which is exactly the use of all the music in the film. Trying to use songs to demonstrate something extra, on top of all the other outputs of the game (text, audio, visual, etc) seemed like it would be excessive.

Section 41 says, in paraphrase by Buwert:
“41. It is a process of sketching, where ‘the way it is’ is accompanied by a multitude of possibilities of ways ‘it could be’.”

To represent this, I have animated a ghostly character, identical to Andy/Tim who follows Andy/Tim around and performs other possible outcomes – mostly involving walking in the other direction or tripping.

“44. Things which never seem to change seem to us unchangeable. The viewer must be amazed by the familiar and through this come to question and interrogate normality.”
(Buwert)

Section 44 affected my choice of material. The Shawshank Redemption is a much-loved movie and, according to IMDb, it, along with The Godfather, are the top-rated movies of all-time. It also features, as previously mentioned, Morgan Freeman’s voice, and other things that seem constant and comforting. As such, I felt it was appropriate material for this game.

Finally, as Brecht reminds us in section 75, my goal was entertainment, to some degree, and so I tried to keep a good sense of fun and humour throughout the game.

Okay, time for what went well and what didn’t go so well:

THE BAD
– This game took way longer than I anticipated, and I only started to make it on Saturday after carefully considering what I would do, because all of my work seemed to take longer than it should have this week.

– The bugs! One problem with working with a semi-WYSIWYG program like Construct 2 is that it isn’t always clear why something goes wrong. Specifically, I had a great deal of trouble with audio for this project, and without the audio, the project sort of falls apart, without the absence of Morgan Freeman’s voice and other contextualizing quotes from the film.

– As always, I am learning to use different design approaches to make games and other objects, and I don’t know how well I am reconciling making a “good” game and getting the ideas that I intend to across. For what it’s worth, my one playtester seemed to get the sensations and provocations that I was going for.

– I’m still not programming in JavaScript or learning a programming language…I think I’ve got the logic down, though, and someone recently suggested this cool-looking game to me for further practice: The Human Resource Machine (http://tomorrowcorporation.com/humanresourcemachine). I plan to start in Phaser soon with JavaScript, if I ever find the time…

THE GOOD
– Those SHOES – I’m quite happy with my shoe-shining animations.

– Global Variables: I used something like five or six global variables as switches in this game, and I’m quite happy with the results. I feel like this game was excellent practice for me.

We’ll see what players have to say!