asses.masses: a collective audience-player blog (FOLDA 2023)
I’d like to spend some time reflecting on my tenure with the controller in hand. Building up to this moment – which arrived well into the back half of the show – was an effort of labour for me. I’m someone who loves to participate. I also love games. I think I’m pretty good at them too. But I found myself quite anxious about stepping up to claim the controller and take the lead. After our dinner break concluded, I spent much of the time working myself up to the task. I had several supporters who encouraged me to stand up each time there was an opportunity for the player to switch. Yet I remained glued to my seat, tied down by an invisible force of insecurity. So, why did I feel this way?
The social pressure was a big factor. In the latter half of the performance, it felt to me as though there was significantly less patience in the room. We had built a rapport as a group which included a fair amount of shouting. We had grown familiar enough with the game for audience members to confidently become backseat gamers. At this point, I’m not sure people wanted to see a fellow audience member play the game, but rather, for them to serve as a physical conduit for progressing the story. There is a distinct pressure when individual performance is responsible for group progression. What if I couldn’t do something right? What if I made a bad decision?
The logistics of the physical space were another contributing factor to my uncertainty. When I first played asses.masses, I sat in the front row. Volunteering as player was as easy as standing up and walking forward a few steps. Here, a few rows back and planted firmly in the middle of a large aisle, the journey to the front was a more complicated one. For me, this made the act of playing more difficult. When I’m already working myself up to playing, the extra steps of needing to shuffle through the aisle and walk down the risers provided just slightly more of a mental barrier. It’s like standing at the bottom of a cliff that I needed to scale before taking a leap rather than putting one foot forward and letting gravity do the rest.
Eventually, my grappling hook caught an edge and I was able to propel myself onto the stage. This was in no small part thanks to the supporters on either side of me who gave me a needed boost. Regardless, I found myself in control of Sick Ass as she navigated a long winding road towards a mysterious temple. Compared to the technical challenges of the previous episode, expectations seemed low here. Phew. Soon though, I happened upon a bit of a detour which I spotted by looking around the world. It seemed to lead to a waterfall island. I’m a bit of a completionist, so I like exploring all aspects of a game. I asked the audience if it was cool to check it out, and I received some supportive encouragement. However, I also heard some voices of frustration, since the donkey avatar moved quite slowly and the path was long. The waterfall island turned out to be a dead end. I think. There might have been some more secrets to explore if I had some time to play around with jumping to a floating section which seemed just out of reach. I tried a few times, but couldn’t quite make it. The energy of frustration was building behind me. If I was playing alone, I would have spent more time here. But I wasn’t. As an anti-confrontational person, doing own thing while voices of dissention echoed from behind was not ideal. So I pressed on towards the critical path and left the mystery behind.
I now faced a lengthy walk without much to do in the game other than navigate a simple path. Spurred on by feelings of guilt at elongating this section and wanting to make things interesting, I posed a question to the audience: “what’s the longest walk you’ve ever been on?” It got a few chuckles. That brought some relief. Primed by a previous moment in the show where we peppered a player with questions as we vamped for time during a technical glitch, I felt that there was some precedent for creating conversation. It was difficult to talk to a crowd with my back to them, so I tried to turn around on occasion. But it’s hard to do that and play the game at the same time. It’s interesting, the staging makes it very easy for the crowd to talk to the player. The other way around, not so much. I wonder what that says about discourse between leaders and the herd?
Eventually, I reached a more involved puzzle portion in the game where we were reunited with our original avatar, Trusty Ass. Undoubtedly, the most interesting aspect of this section was the orbs which flew towards colourful portals when challenges were completed. Combine fun visuals, a sense of accomplishment, and a group of tired people who’ve been in a theatre for hours on end, and what do you get? Everyone chanting “orb” with repetitious fervour. In a moment that will likely resonate as memorable for many of the attendees, our group’s collective investment in the creating this orb call serves as one justification for the lengthy run time of the show. Given the small bubble of the FOLDA festival and the Queen’s community, our audience started with a great deal of camaraderie. Even still, I think it would have been difficult to arrive at this collective moment without enduring the time together. It built a sense of comfort and introduced enough loopy tiredness to create the kind of thing that happens between friends during sleepovers. To me, that’s pretty cool.
Ultimately, I was glad that I stepped up to play the game. I would have had some major regrets if I didn’t. I believe that my participation made an imprint on the tapestry of moments we weaved in this lengthy experience, which is a truly rewarding feeling. That being said, I also felt some relief when I returned to my seat and left the scrutiny of the herd behind.
A collection of rough thoughts in no particular order:
Select Difficulty Level…
A Stealth Too Far?
To spoil or not to spoil…
I’m Working Here!
The Transportation Machine
Press X to Sing
I’m Not Listening!