Act Three: Skip one, play beyond the fourth wall…

[Read Act 1 and Act 2 if you haven’t done so yet, then proceed]

Good things come in threes. Think TLC. Think Hanson. Think 3T. I would name check N-Dubz, but their wanton abuse of my surname has made me 50% bemused and 50% terrified of the teenagers who follow me on Twitter, thinking I ‘borrowed’ my surname from Camden Town’s finest. There are no words. Still – this isn’t about my musings on the murky prospects of Generation Y. Behold the last piece of the puzzle – some dessert for the intellectual palette; or for the musically endowed, my coda. Lest we forget the most important part of the play: you guys, the audience.


My quasi-middle class upbringing was punctuated with numerous instances of mother dearest screaming at the TV during re-runs of The Price is Right, amongst other daytime Challenge TV classics. Good television will do that to a lady, right? Hence, the ethic of ‘participatory viewing’ in a range of guises has been a point of interest for me over the years, and now provides the second-screen advertising battleground Facebook and Twitter are pulling clumps of each other’s hair out over via the trade press. Whichever side you wish to place your chips, the core motivation is clear – to harness and augment real-life experiences; to provide interactive social spaces within which participation offers rewards. Content snobbery it may be, but videos of cats and babies will only take you so far in life. You can’t create strong emotional ties without doing the hard yards; you can’t be believable in the real world if you are deemed irrelevant with real world themes. The pleasure is in the pain, my friends.

Referring to Playful 2012 one final time, Mark Sorrell of Hide & Seek spoke of the importance of people and humanisation – describing how progressive technology has enabled the re-distinction of “computer games” and “video games” – quite simply through the introduction of the human body into the play process. Where common parlance suggests technology-rich experiences are fundamental to our continued ‘detachment from humanity’,  smartphones have long promised the delivery of the “intimate internet” from a psychological point of view, whilst the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Kinect are reference points for ‘technological intimacy’ in the physical sense. Maybe machines aren’t so bad after all.

The Kinect is particularly noteworthy here, as the technology enables the traditionally inanimate computer to peer over the fourth wall for the first time; the gaming experience is in effect ‘in the room’ with you, making it ever-harder to host a passive audience. This ‘technological intimacy’ is nothing new – the pre-Kinect years featured multi-player games that placed an ever-increasing focus on ‘taunt’ and ‘showboat’ moves, allowing you to derive pleasure from bruising the ego of a friend within play (or fail trying). And if you had no friends, the Nintendo Rumble Pak launch in 1997 provided the logical next step through making this intimacy ‘physical’ – enabling players to feel vibrating sensations (steady…) triggered by in-game events and occurrences. Let’s face it; taunting an inanimate object was only going to provide a fast-track to getting sectioned.

Why does this matter? We have all come across the boredom of exclusion at some point in our lives – there is no joy in being the gooseberry. Being static is the enemy – Plato championed the importance of ‘participation’ to reveal the true emotions and qualities of others. Actions provide meanings; the only posters that went up on your bedroom wall were of musicians and footballers you (thought you) truly loved, right? These posters represented the “you that you want to be” to visitors of your (more than likely bedroom) sanctuary. Facebook and subsequently Twitter introduced timeline header image space as a device to allow you do just this – customising and playing with the space transforms it into your “digital bedroom wall”, to quote Hannah Donovan of This Is My Jam at Playful.

We must be prepared to ‘bend’ our stories to encourage audience participation, yet retaining enough control to be sure that the integrity of our message doesn’t get broken. Acknowledging the importance of fantasy to your audience and providing what is perceived as a ‘unique’, personal experience can produce great value – both creatively and commercially. One of the most stunning examples of this I have seen is found within a game called Tearaway – where you are literally required to “play God” within a fantasy world. Having identified games as storytelling devices in Act 1, Tearaway ups the audience participation stakes; through facilitating slippage between the ‘physical’ and ‘digital’ within gameplay, it wouldn’t be overly phantasmagorical to say you are literally inserting your hand into the video game. Amazing.

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Happy to wager that neither of these two were in full time employment whilst putting these pieces together…

I am too professional a cynic to ever ‘like’ gamification, but the ethic therein allows us to make distinctions between ‘toys’, ‘games’ and ‘play’. If we believe in Plato and the importance of playing with our audiences, it then follows that a toy (our comms or story) with a tangible reason to exist allows the audience to engage in high-level, intellectually sound ‘play’. The GamEffective blog reminds us the reason for this ‘play’ must be tied to business objectives – are there specific human behaviours which will positively contribute to your business goals? If yes, ensure your execution encourages these behaviours – should you wish to drive awareness, simply ensure the facilitated audience interaction requires your audience to identify your brand / service, or at the very least something synonymous with your brand. The continued harnessing of your desired human behaviours within your execution will then provide a loop of positive actions, for as long as you are able to continue the dialogue. (Yay! Still cynical).

Through the wonders of the iTunes marketplace, you can play this process out yourself with Chore Pad. Whether you are dealing with kids or adults, providing recognition of interaction with your story in a timely manner is key – the subsequent response to your audience effectively debriefs both sides, identifying where you both stand, and permits the celebration of success as appropriate. The longer you engage in dialogue, the more people will do for you – the very essence of flow theory, people. The deeper you immerse yourself, the more you understand, the more emotive you become. As humans, we are effectively “feeling machines that eventually think” – it is the context of our actions that are most important, not the underlying thought-process. We make point-of-sale decisions with our emotions, and justify our purchases retrospectively with ‘logic’. Anyone who has ever played “I have never…” will vouch for how far collective immersion into the game loosens tongues. (It wasn’t just the tequila, unfortunately).

Back to Earth now. The challenge is to find what your audience is most likely to respond to – the abundances of the digital era make it infinitely difficult to identify the ‘locomotives’ from the ‘box carts’. The ‘ages of transmission’ analogy suggests that as we have progressed from portals ‘pushing’ content at us, we are less inclined to ‘reach’ for content within search engines, hence we now rely on social platforms to discover content and learn from others who play roles within our lives. Aim to be where people actually care. Even if the analogy doesn’t sit well with you, I would dare not ignore the potential of an active audience. Armed with less than ‘progressive’ content? Harnessing audience interaction is still more than possible – think big, act small. The likes of Kiosked and ThingLink are pioneering executions that allow interactive ‘tags’ to be placed within brand images and videos, broadly with the intention of helping make shopping ‘easier’; be it a push to online sale, an avenue to make the mooted Facebook ‘want’ button (or similar) relevant, or simply to provide a link to additional content to continue to tell your brand story. All it takes is a commitment to keep the infrastructure of your comms sound to bring order to the content chaos; to make audience interaction simpler, clearer and faster.

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Interactive catwalk shows by Topshop earned significant digital back-slapping through London Fashion Week SS13

Thus, we begin the conclusion of my three-piece journey. It took a while to get there, but as with Pandora’s box – cutting corners will only hurt you; embrace the joys of delayed gratification. What do you do when the show is over? Taking cue from Holly Gramazio, this is call and response – put your hands together folks. From kids playing free-wheeling ‘clapping’ games, to the solemn clasping of hands in prayer, to the slow, sarcastic ‘anti-clap’; the putting together of hands is a communal, organic human activity – a truly social mode of communication. In the same way you learn the rules and shared structures of clapping games through being a participative audience, I hope you have taken more from this trilogy than a collection of YouTube links to giggle at. My performance complete, my audience – your feedback is the only way I will know if the three constituent acts stand up to scrutiny. Please feel free to comment.

The glorious irony – writing is a selfish, arrogant pursuit – one wherein authors are validated only through the act of sharing. Sorry may be the hardest word, but there is never a good time to say “goodbye”. It has been genuinely emotional.

Play us out, Van…I’ll get the lights.

Posted by John Duku, Digital Client Services Manager, @dukes4

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