LARP as score
Updated: Aug 7
An analogy I see pop up in a certain amount of literature about game-performance from LARPs to interactive theatre is the plan/script/guide as being like a musical score.
Since I am apparently interactive theatre’s Music Person (by the way, you can hire me to write your in-world anthems, folk songs, and more), I thought I’d dig into that concept for how it might help and hinder interactive theatre makers.
The main thing a score does that a script doesn’t do very well is mark out what’s happening simultaneously. In a score for an opera, you can see that the bassoon is doing something at the same time as the soprano (or not, as the case may be).
You can also see how similar two parts are, and (with training) whether they are in harmony or dissonance (i.e. given the context of the piece, do they sound normal together or not). Game-performance relies on the relationships between their parts, whether mechanics, NPC activities, or otherwise, and thus the score metaphor works well here.
Scores are about planning. If we’re doing Don Giovanni, the score tells us what to do. If you (as at many game-performances) decided to go off and do your own thing, it will quite possibly sound bad.
To some extent, this is a cultural thing. Theoretically, you could do your own thing around Don Giovanni. But it would not be ‘proper’.
You would also, as in jazz, need a shared understanding of what ad-libbing was acceptable, and what was not. Free jazz, in its lack of rules, is notoriously hard. Usually, there are some shared points, such as a chord sequence, around which people can improvise.
Improvisatory jazz, therefore, tends not to have scores in the sense I think the core metaphor here means.
Thinking about your [PLAN] as a score might help highlight the role of time in it. While you might note ‘Minute 95’ in a bulletpointed list, a score contains time intrinsically, in a number of ways.
There are tempo markings, various rhythms and rests, plus other features designed to organise the temporal aspect of music.
There are also markings indicating the feel of a piece, whether applied to individual notes (a staccato marking indicating a note should be quick and detached from the others, for example) or a section (such as Allegro indicating a brisk speed and a somewhat warm atmosphere, even though the same tempo information might be indicated by ‘120 beats per minute’).
Considering how to include this kind of interpretative information in your ‘score’ might help. For example, a convention that at the top of each section, you mark the mood in bold to guide the reader.
Scores are documents that require training to understand.
That might be something you think of as helpful, but I do like the democratising idea that, in principle, it is possible for most people to pick up and run most game-performances.
The more precise a system of notation, the more particular training is needed to understand it.
For example, I’m currently preparing to work on a 19th century opera, and there are passages where the note written will not be the note sung, due to the traditions of interpreting a type of singing called recitative.
That’s fine, because I’ve learnt enough of the conventions to know that. But it is a barrier.
Scores are highly structured documents.
One of my favourite scores is that of Spem in Alium, a choral piece with 40 individual vocal parts, because in the score it is very easy to see how each group of singers relates to the others.
There are eight groups of five singers each, and often those are the groups. But sometimes we see the high voices doing something together, or Choirs 1 & 2 do something together, or otherwise. By becoming pictorial, the score visualises that pleasingly.
This is joined by an entire language around musical structure, such as ‘sonata form’ or ‘da capo aria’. While many game-performances have some sense of narrative structure, musicological approaches often focus more on abstract themes, or the feeling of a section. While this is a slightly fuzzy point in my head, I do wonder whether thinking about musical structures alongside narrative ones might be beneficial.
Above all, it’s a metaphor. Game-performance has its own grammar, and I’d hate anyone to conclude from this that I think any metaphor entirely useful.
But it is a useful one to play with. In part, because finally:
Scores mark silences.
Rests, parts that aren’t notated in certain places because frankly, the trumpet ain’t coming in until the next movement, or vocal lines that have no words beyond ‘laaaaaaaa’*
Right now, I’ve seen very little game-performance that delights in silence. It might have everything happening, but quietly, but it rarely has actual absence.
In musical terms, it is at best ‘tutti, piano’ (all parts, softly), but never a judicious selection of the possible instruments.
And that might be a quite a nice thing to explore. There is a magic in the trumpet sitting there throughout the first movement doing nothing, for the player, the audience, and the work.
Can we all sit down for a while and watch something else happening, while it’s not quite for us, because we’re a part of it?
*that does indeed say La, not Ia. La as in ‘Lalala I’m singing’, not Ia, as in ‘Iä, Iä Cthulhu Fhtagn’. But I understand why regular readers might be unsure.