Technoculture, Art and Games (TAG) is an interdisciplinary centre for research/ creation in game studies and design, digital culture and interactive art

Research & Creation

Scaling Liveness in Participatory Experiences

Lynn Hughes, Bart Simon

SSHRC Insight grant  ; Lynn Hughes (Intermedia, Studio Arts, Concordia -PI), Bart Simon (Sociology, Concordia- Co-applicant), Noah Drew (Theatre, Concordia -collaborator), Jorge Ramos (Co-Director ZU -UK theatre company, London, UK -Post Doc), Jade Maravala (ZU-UK theatre company, London, UK- collaborator), Jaakko Stenros ( University of Tampere, Finland -collaborator).

This research-creation program looks at ”liveness” across three different but neighboring practices: participatory theatre, larps (Live action role playing games) and digital-physical games (games that are digital but focus on the body and sociality rather than the screen). In each case ‘liveness’ is at the centre of the experience and is what makes it compelling, but the type of liveness is different in each case. The theatrical experience involves professional actors (mixed with participants from the general public). Digital-physical games focus on physical interaction between untrained participants, where the interaction is structured by digital technology in one way or another. The focus in larps is on larger groups of people, who are not trained as actors, acting out a complex story together -and larps rarely depend on technology to structure the experience.

We ask how does liveness operate in each instance? How does liveness create intimacy and how can intimacy be sustained when we scale up participative experiences? In short, what can each of these practices bring to the others. Understanding liveness in theatre and larps is important for games because liveness builds player commitment to the experience. (This is crucial for example, if we want players to come back and replay a game). The use of digital technologies to structure, and even enhance, an experience promises to contribute to the sustainability of theatrical practices where liveness is very expensive both in terms of money and the actors’ effort. Larps have something to say to both games and theatre because they successfully build sustained experiences in which everyone is an amateur performer. Some larps involve thousands of people and run for months or even years.

This is the first structured collaboration between digital game researchers and designers, larp researchers, and participative theatre directors. Each of the research nodes is particularly strong. Hughes and Simon are the founders of the TAG research centre which has an international reputation for digital-physical game design and research, and is situated in the largest institute for interdisciplinary research-creation in Canada. London, England is arguably the most important center internationally for immersive and participative theatre, and ZU-UK  are a prolific, highly regarded theatre company in this area. The researcher at the University of Tampere is the world expert on larping in a part of the world renowned for larping. The research is resolutely international but the collaborations are built on solid existing relationships.

This area of research and practice is a key cultural one, in both the narrow, and the much broader sense of the term, because of the way it focuses on participatory culture that crosses between traditional forms (theatre) and powerful emerging ones (digital games) and because of the way it attempts to reconcile the digital with forms of liveness and sociality. Lessons learned from these three practices will position researchers to understand, and iteratively develop, test and evaluate, both small and large scale, sustainable experiences for very broad publics. Whatever the specific content is for these, the underlying message they carry will be one in which physical and digital experiences are not in opposition, and culture is participatory, inclusive and social.


Publication Type

Grants and Awards