asses.masses: a collective audience-player blog (FOLDA 2023)
I submit a series of vignettes:
Moments of divine unity. Near 10 PM we started getting loopy. Derek is playing a series of puzzles that reward completion with a magic orb. "Orb! Orb! Orb!" we chant whenever one of them is onscreen. I feel delight. I feel like a child.
7.5 hours in, and people are starting to fall asleep. A technical glitch leads to 5 minutes of downtime halfway through the final chapter. People are looking at each other, bleary-eyed. No one is rude enough to drink the last cup of coffee. Suddenly the game is back on. We are tasked with creating a list of 5 demands to realize our glorious revolution against the humans. We have a list of around 25 to choose from. It's 1789. It's electric. The Constituent Assembly enthusiastically passes our first 4 bills. Asses have secured the right to vote, mourn their dead as they choose, own property, and refuse unsafe work. Suddenly it's 1795 and we're paralyzed. The debate is spirited, but tough. One of the options is "Everyone stop fighting!". I interpret this as meaning World Peace and argue we should put it in above "A parcel of land for every Ass!". Someone argues that world peace is impossible to enforce. I argue that the Holy Ass can accomplish anything, as we canonically control the second coming of the Messiah at this point. Someone else asks "Should manifestos be utopian and idealistic? Or grounded and actionable?". "Idealistic!" I say, "We're God!". "Land!" comes the reply.
I'm too sleepy to keep arguing.
I read Six Months in Red Russia recently. Louise Bryant describes the All-Russian Democratic Conference with "The sessions often lasted until 4 in the morning, but the hunger for truth and the liquefaction of difficulties never lessened. There was the same earnest groping for solutions in the gray dawn as in the flaring sunset...". So much of history is made of small rooms of revolutionaries, trying to solve the problems of the world using only rhetoric. Late into the night. For a small moment I was there with Trotsky, and Robespierre, and all the others.
There were 2 technical pauses. During one of them a girl was left stranded on stage. She had just begun her turn playing when the game bugged out and crashed. Milton Lim shouted at us to hold on while he fixed it and the girl turned and looked out into the audience. She was clearly nervous to go up and play and now she was stuck. She didn't say anything. Clearly this woman was not a performer. I helped her vamp. "What's your name?" I called out. I forget her reply. "What's your favorite fast food restaurant?". I continued asking her icebreakers until the video game turned back on. When she took her seat (which was directly behind mine) I apologized for putting her on the spot and explained that I was trying to fill dead air for the audience. She didn't say anything.
Later, there was another gap in the action because the person who was playing offered up their controller and no one took it. "Everyone should put their hands up if they haven't played yet!" someone said. I agreed and repeated them, to the room. "Only IF THEY WANT TO PLAY!" She was looking at me, shouting. I didn't ask if she wanted to play my interview game. I made her really uncomfortable.
Our donkey, Lazy Ass, is consoling Sad Ass. He wants to leave. The grinning human zookeeper has set up an incentive system that rewards the donkeys points based on how many humans they impress. Sad Ass is at the bottom of the leaderboard and through superhuman graft we have pushed the arthritic Lazy Ass to second. The audience in world A and the donkeys in world B all buy in to the same arbitrary points system with our whole hearts. "Impress the old lady! Now do the kid! Mash circle! Clockwise! Old lady!" we all shout conflicting commands at the harried young man holding the controller. The game presented the option to walk over and console Lazy Ass during our shift at the zoo. The sole audience member who suggested this was shouted down by the mob pursuing more points. Now that the work day is over we are consoling Lazy Ass. We have 3 options.
1. "Don't leave! We all love you."
2. "Where would you go? It's dangerous out there!"
3. "Can I have your points?"
The metaphor is perfect. The donkeys wax poetic about labor in the salons of Paris/stables of Fannyside but turn into vicious scabs the moment they are given the opportunity. The donkeys piloted by the audience have always chosen the kindest, most thoughtful dialogue option available to them. Now that we are given the option to be ruthless agents of capital we jump at it.
"3! The bottom one!"
Lazy Ass's reply is a non-sequitur. "You can't change my mind. I'm leaving." The point is driven home doubly: we cannot change the world of asses.masses any more than we can change the world of Days of Our Lives. Any player of the sort of dialogue driven role-playing games asses.masses is modeled after is familiar with this construct. A false choice between 3 dialogue options that could all reasonably prompt the same response. In this case only 2 of the dialogue options were accounted for, leading to an immersion-breaking gaffe. asses.masses fails as a video game. It is devoid of meaningful choices for it's players to make. asses.masses succeeds as a "long form participatory performance" (Quoting from its website). It made me feel wholly new sensations in theatre.
I'm a theatre kid, I do not shy away from attention. I do not want to grab the controller. I do not want to be subject to 40 backseat drivers. I press the x button to end the intermission and sit back down. Someone else can do the work.