Week 9: Human-Only Playtesting (Part 1)

I'm inclined to incorporate imagery or video of human faces and/or figures into a final project for Collective Play, although at this point I have no idea as to how or for what outcome. However, this kind of imagery is meaningful (especially if it's of yourself), recognizable, and full of expressive potential. So for this week's preparatory exercise to playtest a human-only interaction, I attempted to move towards this general direction and prepared an activity requiring participants to intentionally observe one another and move their bodies the entire time.

Inspiration for my game came from Augusto Boal's, Games for Actor and Non-Actors, the first three parts of his mirrors sequence in particular. I ran the event on four separate occasions with different pairs of peers. Each time, I asked partners to start by facing one another and explained that one person would be the mirror image of the other, imitating with as much accuracy as possible any facial expressions or movements in their partner and all without talking. Following Boal, I suggested that anyone looking in on the activity should not be able to tell who was leading or  following. The goal was not trip each other up, but to see if they could move in sync. That was part 1. In part 2, partners swapped roles such that the mirrors were now leading. Finally in part 3, I instructed participants to perform both roles simultaneously: they were free to move in any which way but they were also to follow their partner. (This last round reminded me of the speaking-one-line-at-the-same-time activity in class a few weeks ago.) After each session, I asked my peers to jot down their feelings and what they noticed during the different stages. 

With this event, I was curious to note how long it took for folks to express boredom, whether they maintained eye contact the entire time, and by leaving it open-ended, what choreography they discovered together, especially during the third round when the leader/follow roles were ambiguous. I hoped to learn more about the emotional dynamics at play from the feedback I collected at the end. Here's what I found: A desire to move on to the next stage, which I interpreted as an expression of boredom, was always expressed by the leader somewhere between the 45-second and 2-minute mark. Overall, my unscientific takeaway from observing and reading the comments was that it was easier for the mirrors to follow along rather than deal with the pressure of continually coming up with new moves (some expressed anxiety about this). But having each person take turns in the roles was useful practice for the final syncing stage, which was perhaps the most challenging (confusing to know who to follow) but the most rewarding, even if they repeated movements from the prior rounds (they could fall back on a previously-created and shared vocabulary). Though I expected partners to continually face each other and stay planted in their same positions throughout, in two of the sessions, I was surprised to see bodies turn and starting moving in all directions through the space. Because of this, eye contact broke (I expected this to be a must to maintain for syncing success), and I noticed folks intentionally trying to make it hard for the other person to follow (which was of course hilariously for all of us). Despite any confusion expressed during or after the game, there were generally smiles, laughter, and a good time shared by all. A HUGE thank you all to all who playtested!

A few keywords:
Leaders - happy, excited, uncertain, nervous, manipulative, bored
Followers - engaged, fun, relaxed, confused (sometimes to flip the movements)
Simultaneous - uncertain, confused, rewarded

For next time, perhaps I'll give players a specific goal or several tasks to accomplish. I'd also like to play around with the timing and pace. What impact might giving a time limit to achieve a particular outcome have on the gameplay?