Final Conclusions

Balancing Game Mechanics and Audience Emergence

A lot of my work was based around trying to find a good compromise between giving the audience the freedom for emergent gameplay, where they can create, tell, experience and play their own story through their agency, and giving the audience clarity, context and goals to work toward.
I discovered through several playtests that in general, more game mechanics and more rules equals less possibility for creative play. It’s the endless Ludus versus Paidea argument. It’s not that more rules makes emergent play impossible, it only creates an expectation with the player that the decisions portrayed by the rules, are the only decisions they can make. Because, well, it says so in the rules, innit? It’s the same sort of code that tells people watching theatre to shut up and clap at the end of the show.
I’m a massive fan of emergent play, especially for Vloedelingen. The power lies in the fact that the decisions and therefore the story are created and caused by the individual. Therefore, they have influence, impact and control, and their role in the experience is important, most of all for that individual. Because of this, every decision they make hits home much harder. They didn’t screw over the Vastelanders because it would mean a high score, or more upgrades, instead they did it because they wanted to survive, gain power, get revenge, find love, or any other human drive.
Did I manage to find a balance? Not yet. It’s still too much toward the Paidea/theatre side of things. It’s too free, which means that certain types of audience (which I’ll get to later) have little clarity or context, which should be given by a set of rules and mechanics. I think that having a Game Master really helped though, and I”ll get to that too.

Don’t be scared of clarity, and being a Game Master

Leading from the above conclusion, I shouldn’t be scared of just explaining the rules and mechanics as-is. Sure, it can ruin the audience’s immersion for a short moment, but overall it serves to make the game mechanics clear from the word go, and for the rest of the show the audience doesn’t have to worry about figuring out the mechanics.
It’s also why I eventually decided to have myself be present as a Game Master. I can’t make rules for everything the audience might possibly decide to do. Myself as Game Master solved that. But there’s more!
As Game Master I can:
-Give clarity to the audience.
-Provide feedback on their actions.
-Improvise new mechanics on the spot if needed
-Give people cards with suggestions, thoughts of that character, states of being (eg sick), relationships, and missions, so I can direct the story to turn a certain direction, or make someone’s experience more interesting, or build on an existing story which that individual has started.
-Direct the flow of the experience by dividing it into days, and dividing the days into morning, midday and night. When an dramatically exciting thing is happening, I often wouldn’t want that to stop, so I prolong the time. It’s a great mechanic I derived from LARP techniques (fastforward, rewind, replay, pause, etc)

There are several types of audience, and each should be facilitated

I noticed that my audience ranged between gamers and roleplayers, and everything in between. Some wanted to play more as their character, and some played more as themselves while attempting to solve the game mechanics. It has mostly to do with the personality of the audience member, and also partly to do with what type of character they had. Characters which tied in with the mechanics, such as the Oude Monteur who could fix things twice as fast, tended to play the mechanics more. Characters which didn’t have that, and has strong emotional experiences on their cards, were played more theatrically.
Besides that, some of the audience was more active, others wanted to observe more. From my feedback I can conclude that Vloedelingen facilitates all these types fairly well. I do not want to reach either extreme. Too gamey, and there’s no context to relativise yourself to the story and subject matter. Too roleplayey (eh?), and you play your character so much you don’t act according to your personality as much.

Vloedelingen is a personal experience.

Unlike for example Early Days of a Better Nation, Vloedelingen is a much more personal experience for my audience than I anticipated. Many of my audience felt that they were shown a mirror, in which they saw what they would do in such a situation as portrayed in Vloedelingen. I think this has enormous power.
Thanks to my current setup where the core mechanics don’t regulate themselves, and actors and a Game Master is needed to make it work, the show can very easily and quickly react to every individual audience member. This means that every experience is partly catered for each individual, making it that much more effective to get across what I want to tell.
It’s also why I want to conclude that I really don’t want more than about 12 audience members!

Player Characters

They were so much fun to work on.
There were a few design questions when writing them, however:

-Balance between conciseness, easy to read, simple to understand, and wanting to tell their characters in a subtle way. Eventually I settled for a step down from explicitly stating “I don’t like people who are rude”. It worked fairly well, i think. It made sure the characters could be read and understood in a few minutes, while leaving it open for interpretation and not pushing an extreme opinion on that character.

-Relationships. The audience loved relationships. They needed them. From the first playtest, I got the feedback that some context as to what their connections were with the other audience members was definitely needed. I designed the characters so each had one to three relations, while trying to keep it scalable (It’s silly if someone has a relationship with a character that isn’t in the show). However, the relationships could be more defined (do I like my brother or not?).

-Tying them in with mechanics. Some characters begged to have perks and flaws when interacting with the core mechanics. Now, the fishermen can fish twice as well, while old folks can do only half the work, for example. And everyone needs a Doctor! It worked in giving the audience very concise roles. The downside was that the very functional characters were very often played in a very gamey way, with less attention to the character itself and more to what it could practically do.

The Eilanders and Vastelanders each had a different experience, but alike.

This should be obvious, of course, but I was never sure how different or how alike their experiences would actually be.
I was a bit wary of my assumption that perhaps only the Vastelanders would understand that it’s about discrimination, but
thankfully this was not the case. Because it’s a game, the audience can easily have moments of self-reflection during the
show, and after of course.
The Vastelanders’ experienc revolved predominantly around feelings of powerlessness, frustration and in some cases either desperation
(taking the fight to the Eilanders) or apathy (giving up and going along with the Eilanders).
The Eilanders’ experience revolved predominantly about suspicion, us-for-ourselves, pride and fear for their wellbeing.
But because both groups needed to survive, and often the power structure would be disturbed or turned around, these feelings did
bleed into each other.

Rules versus Suggestions

To compare with several roleplaying and board games, the idea of a core ruleset, with “rules” which aren’t rules, but suggestions
which players can ignore always or some of the time, worked very well in Vloedelingen. For example, it’s a rule that you need Diesel to
power the Generator, but it’s a suggestion to talk to the Burgemeester personally about your views. That suggestion would come in the form
of a verbal comment or a card with something written on it, from the Game Master. Also, on the back of the character cards, the rules & suggestions
were listed. Morning, midday and night is a rule that always happens, but how that time is used (discussion, then action, then reflection) is a suggestion.
This worked well to allow for emergent gameplay, and spur on audience members who were unsure if they were allowed to do certain things, like move props
about the place.

I’m a Dramaturgist

I didn’t really know what that actually meant. I can conclude now that my design and research process is very much focused around dramaturgy.
If I place that framed picture here, what story is it telling? What effect will it have? What does it implicate? Does it have cultural associations?
Not only before a show, but during as well. Because I’m a Game Master, i can react like a dramaturgist would while working with directors and actors on
a traditional theatre piece, but I can do it live in an interactive manner. I’m an interactive dramaturgist.

Pervasive Direction

And that conclusion can be brought further. I didn’t only work as a dramaturgist, but also as a game designer, visual designer, storyteller and director.
Why pervasive? Because I can design from these perspectives or disciplines before, during and after the show. Sounds pretentious but
I like the title Pervasive Director.

Facilitation of the “Beers after the show” Discussion

Coney’s philosophy of stories starting when you first hear about them, and ending when you stop talking about them, is an idea I subscribe to.
I wanted to try it out, at least the latter part, in Vloedelingen. The common occurence that people will discuss and reflect on a piece of media they
just saw, whether it’s a concert, theatre piece or movie, tells what the audience thinks about it. That moment of reflection which often coincides with some
sort of realisation is so often lost by the makers of these pieces of media, as they don’t often facilitate those moments. I tried to do so by inviting
the audience to discuss the experience and the underlying themes directly after the show. It worked well, though I really have to find a practical, structured
way to facilitate it. It’s nice to let everyone share their experiences, but eventually I want to ask direct questions and steer the discussion so that I
can get the information I need. I think practice makes perfect in that regard, and a better grip of the Dutch language would help too.

Concluding, then: Interactive theatre is effective as an activistic tool, if the audience is submerged into the situation which you as a maker want to
address, and have the freedom to come to their own solutions and their own conclusions. However, that situation needs to be designed, and the solutions and
conclusions need to be facilitated.


My biggest hurdle was finding enough, and suitable, playtesters. I did all my playtests except the final ones at VERS Vlees at the HKU. That meant I did have
a fairly good access to lots of people who more or less fit my target audience, but the last few playtests were very difficult. Most students were very
busy with graduation and other projects. My fear of failure kicked in more than once too, so that meant procrastination.
To conclude, in order to solve the problem of playtesters, I’d like a group of people who are always ready to playtest. How do I get that?
I think I have to think outside the box and look for communities that I can get in touch with. Maybe organise a community of playtesters and developers!
The playtests have to be more “official” than a hastily put together test. Offer more than just “an interesting experience”. When I mentioned people would
get free biscuits, they were more eager to come along.

Magic Circles

One of my research questions was how to begin the show. My conclusion is that an informal introduction by myself as Game Master works very well to focus the
audience into the code of “we’re going to play a game”.
After that, actors are needed. Actors can tell the story and the setting, which is the first step to immersion. Then follows the contextualisation with that setting.
The audience get their characters which tie themselves to the setting. The actors then need to tie the audience to their characters by addressing them
directly as if they were their characters. The actors and GM can then tie the audience to the game mechanics by walking them through the rules.

Audio-Visual Design

Although audio and visual elements were throughout my process a low priority, they did turn out to be immensely important.
I consciously chose for a low-production setup, trying to use only the bare bones which were functional in explaining the game mechanics and the setting.
I wasn’t focusing on immersion. The Dogville style worked functionally well. Masking tape to cordon off the locations with posters to say which locations they were.
Some props from the theatre prop attic to tell about the fishing culture, the traditional Dutch culture. Posters explaining the game mechanics on the relevant
locations. Using biscuits as a symbol for food and water in jerrycans as a symbol for Diesel. It was all very functional, not meant for immersion.
My conclusion is that this style has three main effects:
-It works well to quickly explain the mechanics and to reflect the setting.
-It works well to keep the attention to interaction with other audience members. It doesn’t distract from the most important interaction, which is social.
-It didn’t work well in the sense that it still felt like an unfinished work (which it was, but still).
-The lack of walls ensured everyone could observe everything, so they could keep track of what was going on more easily.
The Audio elements worked very well. Audience loved it when the radio went on, and the raging storm was exciting and immersive. I’m not sure if
I want to use too much audio, however, as that may distract the audience from the discussions and social interaction.


I never focused on immersion, and my conclusion is that I don’t need to. At least not in Vloedelingen in its current setup.
I think it’s important that the audience is allowed to periodically step outside of the gameworld to observe and reflect. It shouldn’t happen
too much for risking that the audience ceases to take the problems within the game seriously, which happened sometimes in my playtests.
If I had a million bucks, however, I’d certainly like to try a rendition of Vloedelingen with a lot more immersion.

Working with Actors

I had never worked with actors as a director before. I was lucky that my two actors were experienced improvisational actors, and could understand
interactive theatre and my vision pretty well. I should have been much clearer and more concise about the information (whether it’s setting, mechanics
or the order of events). Once we did a full playtest, they had a much better grasp on things. I should have done this much sooner. The best way to try out
and explain interactive theatre is to DO it, after all.

People are incredibly nice. (Creating Conflict)

I was oh-so upset when it emerged from my first playtest in which both groups were present, that they started to co-operate from the very first moment.
Vloedelingen is of course all about conflict and discrimination, so of course it needs to be present in some form, certainly throughout Act 1 and mostly in Act 2.
It was hard to convince people to hate the others, and even harder to keep that prejudice going, to maintain it. But i’ve discovered some ingredients that worked.

-Scarcity. There’s not enough for everyone, and our group is more important. This mechanic did not work on its own.
-Actors. The two actors helped enormously to stoke up conflict. They’re authority figures, and have the most knowledge both meta and ingame. People believe them, because there’s little else to believe.
-Peer pressure. I found that the bigger the audience is, the more likely they’re going to support and go along with each other, certainly with a Leader calling the shots.
-Character experiences/histories/prejudices. “Them pesky Vastelanders really did nasty things to me back then”. It worked fairly well to paint a picture of the others, but the audience didn’t act on them very often.
-Actual actions. Combined with the above, when the other group did something “bad” in the eyes of the other group (stealing food, refusing to share, scoffing, flipping the bird), it gave something to reference their prejudices to. One audience member only really started to hate the Vastelanders when they remarked they were coming to bring civilisation to the Eiland, for example. Then she could say “See! They’re arrogant pricks!”
-All the above wouldn’t be able to without the final sauce: Conflicting Goals.

I discovered that last one quite late. I sort of shoved that one aside. A brainwave came to me last minute on how to solve the lack of conflict. Eventually the scenario that the Vastelanders have to leave loved ones behind, get diesel and food on the Eiland, go back, pick them up, and sort it out, that worked. And it worked well. It was a bit of a problem finding a solution to what if they went back. Eventually I decided the ones left behind were just dead.
It’s a conflict of interest. The Vastelanders need Diesel to save their loved ones and to survive, the Eilanders need Diesel to survive. Whereas before, everyone needed Diesel to survive, and the best way to survive was to work together.
So, if the game mechanics tell a different story than the one you’re trying to tell, scrap ’em or change ’em. That addition worked well.

A Tool For Activism?

My most important question was whether interactive theatre could be an effective tool for activism. I think I can conclude that it certainly can be.
I don’t think it’s very effective to get a certain argument or ideology across. People already have their ideologies, and they’re often set in them.
I do, however, think it’s effective in explaining an issue in a very personal, first-hand manner. We don’t care much about the statistic that in 2014
3,500 refugees died in the Mediterrannean Sea. We would care more if we were put in that situation, even if it’s just a simulation. Now, Rot Op Naar Je Eigen Land
did this very well. It was a first-hand, real situation. But Vloedelingen isn’t. It’s not even a simulation, rather my interpretation of reality, simplified
and scaled down.
So yes, the experience of “what it’s like to be…” is effective, but can be done much better in a real-life situation than within the safe environment
of interactive theatre.
But then, there’s the nice thing about interactive theatre. It’s safe. That gives the audience room to play around with solutions to the perceived political
or social issue at hand. In Vloedelingen, the Eilanders had a solution to sink the Vastelanders’ boat. The Vastelanders had a solution to make friends with
the Eilanders personally. As a maker I do not want to say whether these solutions are good or bad. I don’t want to moralise in that way specifically.
Let the audience decide that for themselves.

That brings me to that next niggling question. Is interactive theatre, when used for activism, supposed to be objective? Yes and no. It’s impossible to be
purely objective, of course. It’s a human with their own ideologies making the piece. It’s also not a good idea to force your ideology, as an audience
is going to see through that. You want to criticise, shed light on, question and find solutions to a political, social, environmental problem.
Put your audience into your interpretation of that problem. Give them tools to (try to) solve it.

And Finally:

Translating social and political walls to game mechanics and dramaturgy.

I researched into topics such as political walls, national borders, immigration, refugees, discrimination, pillarisation and conflict.
Behind these topics are a plethora of causes, analysed through politicological, sociological, economical, philosophical and psychological means.
Around these topics are many arguments for and against ideologies, solutions, and underlying causes.
There are also experiences, emotions, memories and stories from the events associated with these topics.
I collected these, inventorised them, and tried to distill relevant causes, arguments and stories.
I settled on one example within this broad theme: immigration, refugee policy and discrimination in the Netherlands.

Because Vloedelingen is a sociopolitical situation based on refugees fleeing to another country which distrusts them, I focused my research on what causes and dynamics
were needed in real life to foster that situation.
My process was basically to find several different techniques (inspired from existing experiments and interactive theatre, LARPS and games) which
served to create conflict. See my conclusion on creating conflict for that! These techniques also reflected the conditions needed in real life to
cause conflict, whether they’re wars, racism or border protection. For example, Vloedelingen had Leaders to indoctrinate conflict. In real life, there’s
often a figurehead needed to act as the mouthpiece for conflict. That figurehead needs to be charismatic, populist and have authority.


VERS Vlees Show: Friday

So on Friday the 29th we ran the second show. I didn’t have time to make a lot of significant changes. The relevant changes were that I was more present as the Game Master, helped by the fact that I had two people on camera, so I didn’t have to film most of the time. I could be more actively observing and giving players cards, feedback and missions they could do, so i could direct and react a lot better. The Leiders now also had the responsibility to explain the time structure and what you could do in the morning, midday and night. I also announced the time changes a lot more clearly. The Leiders also reiterated what time of day it was, and what the audience should be doing. That really worked. The show as a whole was a lot less chaotic than Thursday’s.

Feedback and Conclusions:

-Again, there was a mix of playstyles. Some played very much as their character, some not at all, but pretty much everyone a mixture to some degree.

-Amazingly, to prove my point of every interactive theatre show being completely different, because each audience is different:
One of the audience members, who played the Schipper of the Eilanders, quickly decided to play very much as herself. She took leadership, and constantly tried to co-operate in an excruciatingly friendly way with the Vastelanders!
Someone remarked that this is the bane of Dutch culture. Polderen! Even if we’re playing a game or roleplaying a situation of conflict, eventually it’s going to turn into that very Dutch moment of “Let’s all sit down and talk about it, shall we?”
I’m curious to see what Vloedelingen will cause in a different country!
It was still very exciting to see that someone took up leadership, she was a great leader, just out of the blue. Nothing was directed to make that happen! The result was, however, that other Eilanders mistrusted her intentions, and I could strengthen that internal conflict by directing with cards and suggestions. Even the Schipper’s own mother turned against her “Who made YOU Burgemeester?”
Everyone agreed that the world needs someone like the Schipper!

-The relations between characters should be clearer. Sure, he’s your brother, but do you like each other or have a rivalry?

-I had great feedback on the scenario where some Vastelanders have to be left behind. People really thought it worked immensely. It was a goal, a mission and something to drive them to take action. However, once it emerged that the Vastelanders were all gone, it was a bit directionless.

-One audience member was very upset when he heard the Vastelanders who stayed behind had gone!

-That same audience member later stole a bottle of alcohol. He was the Visser, and decided drunkenly to go fishing. Well, I had him fall off the boat, and get a pretty bad cold because of that. He was lying, groaning, on the pier for an entire day. He really enjoyed that little personal storyline. I should do more with that, it was very enjoyable directing that bit! “It gives some colour to the story”

-Then again, the rivalry between the Jonge Visser who had a father in jail on the Vasteland, and the Advocaat (Lawyer), was great, but there wasn’t enough time and space to develop that storyline much further.

-The orange vests worked brilliantly. the simple psychological trick of giving people a uniform is hilariously mischievious.

-Having one Eilander who has a bond with the Vastelanders would work well. I have one character: The Veerman, but I didn’t get a chance to try him out.

-I should make rules for the use of physical violence. The Militair wanted to use violence if he got the chance, but he wasn’t sure if it was allowed and if so, how. I could use LARP techniques for that possibility. Because yes, people CAN die!

Favourite moments of the audience:

-When cards were given by the Game Master. They gave a mission, clarity, a focus to play towards, and were seen as turning points for individuals.

-For the vuurtorenwachter, when she asked the Vastelanders what they were coming here for. The answer was “We’re bringing civilisation!”. This made her very pissed off and from that point she hated them!

-When the Jonge Visser got really, really angry (from a personal level, not even from her character!) at something the Vastelanders tried to do.

-For the Advocaat, when he stole the Diesel. It felt like the only possible solution to fulfilling the Vastelanders’ mission.


What happened at the end? Interestingly, when the storm came, everyone, Vastelanders and Eilanders, banded together to fish the last bit of food they could get, while the rest gathered every single prop and piece of furniture around the Café to reinforce it! The storm started, and everyone hurried to the Café, where they huddled together, passing around a bottle of alcohol, reflecting on their sudden co-operation, telling stories, and singing sea shanties!

This in contrast with Thursday, when the Vastelanders and the Schipper of the Eilanders huddled in the Vuurtoren, thinking it would be the most secure. Meanwhile, the Eilanders took shelter in the Winkel, guarding the remaining food closely, and chiding the Schipper to come join them!

-The audience were very interested to hear what happened in the other show on Thursday, and were a bit surprised to hear that it didn’t end with co-operation!

What the audience thought were the underlying themes:

-What individuals and groups which are starkly contrasting in culture, in a crisis/survival situation. It might work well at schools. Instantly reminded of Forum Theatre.

-Discrimination, crisis and compassion. What’s the point when you have to throw all your prejudices and hate to the side in order to survive? When there’s no food left? When the storm comes? When the wind rips the roof off your house?

-The evolution of group dynamics.

-And again, like on Thursday, the idea that this show holds a mirror in front of every individual audience member, showing them what they would do in such a situation.


I only wished I had facilitated the post-show discussion a bit better. Filming with a camera with bad sound quality, in a room with annoying house music in the background, wasn’t such a good idea!


Other than that? Brilliant. Damn brilliant. I can’t wait to develop this further and bring Vloedelingen to many more stages.


Now it’s on to my graduation presentation!



VERS Vlees show: Thursday

Thursday 28th May at Festival VERS Vlees, we ran the first “definitive” playtest of Vloedelingen.


Damn was it amazing.


I won’t talk about what exactly happened, the important thing to get down are the feedback, audience reactions and conclusions.

Feedback and Conclusions:

I only have time to revise the discussion moment after the show, but some very interesting feedback and discussion points emerged.


-Some players were frustrated, but not because of the game but because of the actions of other players. That’s a good sort of frustration! For example, the Winkelier really didn’t like the Advocaat and her talk of writing up a contract. The Visser didn’t like that the Advocaat wanted to punish him for stealing Diesel, make an example of him.

-One audience member (Oude Monteur) remarked that the whole experience revolved around social interaction, more than interaction with the core mechanic. Once he had crunched the numbers he realised it was impossible to care for everyone, and the Vastelanders would have to leave the Eiland. He explained that this is how it would be in real life.
He also said that he didn’t begin the show thinking the Vastelanders were bad at all. He soon grew suspicious and believed they had ulterior motives. “I’m not like that! You got that behaviour out of me!”

-The Vastelanders really enjoyed stealing the Diesel. In general, physical actions were very much loved by the audience, and they wanted more of it.

-The Kapitein and Burgemeester were very much enjoyed. The Audience thought that they worked extremely well, and without them there wouldn’t be much to work with. Not only did they explain the mechanics well, but as one remarked: “It’s scary to think how easily I can be led to believe in something prejudicial when there’s a strong figurehead telling me what’s what”. Then again, there’s no other point of reference to the setting.

-That leads me to another conclusion, that extreme one-sided opinions are boring and not very open for dramatic conflict. A character should not only hate the other group, they should have mixed feelings, at least. This makes for more interesting drama, and realism, therefore immersion, too.

-The audience liked the fact they sent the Burgemeester and Kapitein away on a boat to the Vasteland.

-There wasn’t enough time at the start to learn and get used to the mechanics, even if they’re simple as mechanics go.

-The passage of time still wasn’t clear enough. The time of day and what you can do then is very important to get clear from the very start.

-The Eilanders were aggressive from the start. They planned to hide all their valuables before the Vastelanders would come. The Winkelier even wanted to sink their boat!

-A cliffhanger ending does not work. The audience were very frustrated with this, and there’s no real reason for a cliffhanger. On friday I tried it again, but with a little prologue.

-There was an interesting discussion about whether to make the player characters moe complex or not. For example a suggestion to make a character alcoholic or have kleptomania. But others weren’t so keen. The characters were bare enough to make sure that while they had a role, function, and experiences to give context to the players’ relation to the setting, they weren’t defined too much, so that the characters were mostly played as an extension or exaggeration of the player’s  personality. I think I’d much rather keep the characters roughly as they are. I’d like the pros of having roles and context, while also the pros of players playing as themselves (to different degrees), as the message hits that much harder, personally, to the audience.
“It’s amazing how you can, through your character, make your own personality bigger in just about 4 minutes.”

-For many Eilanders, the histories and prejudices illustrated by their characters and the Leiders didn’t really hit home. Not until the Vastelanders did “bad” things. Them stealing the Diesel was definitely needed to relativise abstract prejudices with actual events.

-The sounds such as the Radio and the Storm were very much enjoyed by the audience. They liked the fact that the Radio message was the very first thing they heard from the outside world.



-The associations the audience had with what the underlying theme of the show was, were interesting. One player immediately said she thought of the refugees in the mediterranean. Others certainly had some associations with discrimination. One person thought of team-building exercises. Another very nice quote “The show sort of showed me, especially when we were discussing what we had to offer to the Eilanders, and all we had were our skills, that we as Dutch people have no idea what it’s like to be a refugee in such a situation. You’ve got absolutely nothing but yourself and each other.”
One of the players told me that the biggest reason why he enjoyed the show so much, and why it had an impact on him, was that while he likes to think of himself as a peaceful person, that it’s not as black and white as that. He explained that the show held up a mirror to make him realise that in such a situation he would, let’s say, steal that diesel!

And the one thing that made me extremely happy after the show, when I was drinking a few beers with some of the audience, was that we started to talk about refugees, immigration, the very topics I wanted to winkle out of my audience’s minds! I’d say my goals were reached very well.

Last Hurdles

A quick post about the last week of production before my two shows at Festival VERS Vlees on the 28th and 29th of May.

After those two playtests, which unfortunately because of difficult planning were sort of last-minute, I managed to get priorities in order and start production on the “definitive” playtests in VERS Vlees. Vloedelingen is far from done, but I don’t see that as a problem, rather an opportunity to develop it further. It’s the good and bad side of making interactive theatre. You don’t know what’s going to happen each and every show. Actively playing audiences are unpredictable so it’s mainly about creating and perfecting a framework which allows you to improvise both dramatically and mechanically to what happens.

Anyway, with some help of Ernst-Jan, I refined the characters. The characters were edited down to much shorter snippets of text (with better Dutch!), and I added more relations, prejudices and especially ties with mechanics. The Dokter of the Vastelanders would be the guy to heal people should they get sick. The fishermen would fish twice as well as others. I had quite a lot of fun creating these characters, but due to time constraints they’re still a bit messy.

I ploughed through designing the visual printwork. All the locations got a big A3 poster. All the mechanics were explained as simply and concisely as possible, to be placed at the physical locations. The character cards were filled in, with a cheatsheet explaining game rules and game suggestions on the back. I made namebadges, and a plethora of events and missions which I as Game Master could slip into the audiences hands when needed to spice things up.
Example: “I don’t feel well. I think I have a fever” or “Last night, I heard a helicopter flying overhead” and “If we steal something from the Eilanders, we have more power to negotiate”.

With some help of my mate Sebastian, we ferried all the props, costumes, materials, technical stuff like lighting and audio equipment, all the way from HKU to NUtrecht, where VERS Vlees was. That was tuesday. On tuesday I also met with Nico and Eduard, where we did a dry walkthrough of the show, and cleaned up some last niggling questions they had.

Wednesday I finished up all the design work, put together a thunderstorm soundscape, and recruited our voice-actor-in-chief-extraordinaire Gerben van Melle to be the meteorologist’s voice announcing the storm through the radio.

Thursday morning it was printer time. Bought lots of biscuits and lunch, and cycled with a thousand tonnes of stuff to VERS Vlees. I had 3 hours to prepare and build up. Set up the lighting and sound first, tested that, and it worked fine. Set out the locations with masking tape (I think I used up a kilometre of masking tape in total!), placed the posters, arranged the props, had some last-minute briefing with the actors and my cameraman Roland Volbeda.

The Thursday show went extremely well! Still a bit chaotic, which I tried to fix on Friday, but it was amazing! Afterwards, discussion time and beer, then more beer, during which the discussion often shifted towards refugees, discrimination, and such. That alone, i think, leads me to believe I’ve reached the goals I wanted to reach.

Friday was even better. I didn’t change a lot to the show. The biggest change was that I had two cameramen: Niels and Alaine, so that I as a Game Master could be a lot more active to react to what the audience did.


More detailed analyses of the last two shows at VERS Vlees after this post!

Playtests 21st and 22nd May

On Thursday 21st and Friday 22nd May I did two big playtests, to run through Acts 1 to 3 and try to find out how well certain mechanics worked throughout Acts 2 and 3.

-The passage of time. Act 2 and 3 are divided into Days, which are divided into morning, midday and night.
Morning is a time for discussion and planning what needs to be done, as well as negotiating with the other group.
Midday is the time to formalise your decisions by standing at the required location. E.g. if you want to go fishing, pour some diesel into the engine and stand on the fishing boat.
Night is when the audience goes back to their group’s “home” (Eilanders:Café, Vastelanders:Boat or Pier) and discuss within their group, as well as having the chance to eat something.

I wanted to test how this passage of time worked. I directed it by simply shouting out whether it was day or night, and dimming the lights in the classroom.

It worked fairly well, as far as providing for a way to progress actions further.
On the first playtest it became clear that the passage of time had to be MUCH clearer. I decided on Friday to hang up big posters with how many days had passed on the wall, and more actively spoke out the time of day and what the audience could do at that time.
“It’s becoming dark, it’s now night. Perhaps it’s time for you all to have something to eat


-Testing how well the general mechanics of “I want to work on this so I’ll stand there” and “pour this in this” worked. The physical actions to symbolise actually working on something such as repairing a door handle or painting a stone. Whatever.
On Thursday the playtesters enjoyed this physical means, though it needed to be clearer and more refined. On Friday I concluded that I needed to explicitly state that the audience was allowed to pick up anything and use it as they wished.


The biggest problem I came across on Thursday was as follows:

There was very little conflict between the two groups. Why?

After a lot of talking with the playtesters I concluded eventually that this had two main reasons:

The groups were too small. There was no room for effective peer pressure.

Both groups had a common threat: starvation. The game mechanics told that the best way to solve this threat was through co-operation. Considering that most people when offered a ruleset, will follow that ruleset instrinsically, this was a problem.
I had to find a way to either have two different threats, have two ways of reaching a solution, or have a differing goal for both or one of the groups.

At the last minute, on Friday, I decided that this would be the scenario:

The Vastelanders have to leave some of their loved ones behind on the mainland. Their boat is not big enough to bring everyone, and each of the characters of the Vastelanders have a loved one they have to leave behind. Their mission is to travel to the Eiland, procure 16 Litres of Diesel and some food, and travel back to the Vasteland to pick up the rest of their group.

I tried this scenario on Friday (when I also had much more playtesters, so peer pressure!), and it worked exceptionally well. The Vastelanders had a mission to strive for, which meant that everyone’s survival was jeopardised. I also changed the mechanics slightly so that the Eilanders could feasibly survive on their own, but not with too many Vastelanders in their midst.

I stumbled across one more problem with that scenario/mission on Friday, however. The Vastelanders eventually managed to steal some Diesel and sail off to the Vasteland (leaving their Journalist behind, who eventually committed suicide. Actually, he had a rehearsal to get to).
Of course, the people they left behind couldn’t possibly come along, as they didn’t exist as players. So I quickly decided on a haphazard solution: Everyone they left behind isn’t there anymore. They’re dead, rescued, or made off on their own.

That solved the problem!

Another point I noticed on Thursday that was problematic, was that there was too much focus on the mechanics, which meant that the playtesters, instead of playing the ruleset through the context of their characters, played it through the context of wanting to “win”.

Some solutions, of which some I tried out on Friday were:

-Game Master (me) explains the audience that their characters are them.
-Actors more actively speak to audience as their own characters.
-The characters have more functionality within the mechanics. The Fisherman fishes much better than others.
-Use costumes.
-Put namecards on the audience.
-Give characters names.
-Use more extreme, clearcut opinions.
-Characters have more negative traits: Mourning, a broken leg, alcoholic, being old.

Some more conclusions and solutions from Thursday:

-The Burgemeester’s character had to be less exaggerated.
-The Kapitein’s character had to be more defined and consistent.
-The Game Master should not be a Veerman (Ferryman) anymore. I should be present as a Game Master only. I was scared that this would break immersion, but on Friday I was proven wrong. The audience really needed a “game system” which can react personally on their emergent actions.


On Friday I did some quick editing of the mechanics, characters, and script.

My conclusions on Friday:
-Use a cheatsheet on the back of the character cards.
-Have different ways to fish, and devise mechanics beforehand to prepare. For example, fishing off the Pier.
-Use sound to indicate times of day.
-Physical interactions were great! More of those!
-Characters should be shorter, more easy to read, less text. Ernst-Jan van Melle, one of the playtesters and my classmate and friend, offered to help me with that. He’s good at Dutching. I’m not.
-In Act 1, there was a good suggestion: to let the audience spend more time looking at the locations and the mechanics that were physically explained there.
One way we could do that would be in Act 1 to have the Burgemeester lead the players around to the locations associated with their characters or things that needed fixing.
-The GM should be allowed to explain and clarify rules.
-The Leaders should facilitate more and hold back on giving their own suggestions as to solutions to problems.

At the discussion afterward, I had some interesting reactions.
I tried to ask what the playtesters thought the underlying theme was. One association was immediately “refugees in the mediterranean”! YES!
Another was that this was a LoTR-esque fantasy setting, which I hope to solve with clearer visual design.

Another reaction came from Robert, one of the playtesters. He said that the discussions revolving around crunching numbers to see whether we would survive, was boring and frustrating. This drove him to steal the Diesel as a Vastelander. He explained that although the whole experience was frustrating and somewhat negative, it didn’t lie in the game itself, but with the actions and behaviours of the rest of the audience. This is a good sort of frustration in my opinion. The experience need not be enjoyable or “fun” if it illustrates the negative predicament either group is in well.


Here are the films of both playtests:

Playtest Act 1, and working with Actors

In April I ran playtests with my two actors: Nico Gruneberg and Eduard de Vos.

We had met beforehand, and had a look through my concept, doing some briefing, and a bit of brainstorming with Yentl de Lange (the third actor who unfortunately couldn’t take part fully but helped along with ideas and production nonetheless!) plus Nico.

Some very interesting ideas emerged from that brainstorm.

Here’s a link to the notes.

In short, the most important ideas were:

How to create two opposing cultures, for example the planning, future-thinking Vastelanders and the traditionalist, carpe diem Eilanders.

Ideas on how to illustrate the cultures, such as through idioms, sayings, poems, pictures and folk tales.

Inventarising not only the cultural differences, but the associated prejudices. The Vastelanders don’t see the Eilanders as practical, but as short-sighted and backward.

How to instill an inherent sense of leadership for the two leaders. The Zeiler is now know as the Kapitein (Captain).



First I playtested with Nico as the Burgemeester/Mayor, and tried out Act 1 for the Eilanders.

A couple of days later I tested with Eduard as the Kapitein/Captain, and tried out Act1 for the Vastelanders.

Both tests were more to give the actors a feel for the project, and to play around with their characters. It went exceptionally well, and the biggest conclusion I could garner from both tests was that actors in leadership positions play a vital, exceptionally important role for my project in several aspects:

They can tell the story and setting very, very well.

They can facilitate a discussion like no other.

They can instill a sense of group identity and common purpose.

They can easily influence the audience to go along with discriminatory ideas and behaviour.


The playtests were also a chance to play around with the player-characters. I noticed especially that the audience absolutely loved, almost needed, relations with other audience members. In the second test I attempted to give every character at least one relation with another character.

Another thing that happened in the second playtest was that the audience read through their entire character card in one go. That was a pity. Eventually the Kapitein reacted to what was being read out in character, and that worked well to spark the realisation with the audience that they were that character, and could and should act according to that character instead of reading aloud on a meta level. Splitting the characters between “Who I am” and “What I’ve been through/what I know” helped that problem too.

The Vastelanders audience enjoyed the fact that they were a rag-tag group of people whose only common thing was that they all survived the same ordeal. While the Eilanders enjoyed the fact that they were very close.

There were a couple of problems regarding the length of the discussion. More discussion topics would be needed to flesh out the Act 1 for the Vastelanders.

The Eilanders really needed time to figure out the core mechanics, no matter how simple they may seem.

A very important piece of feedback was that characters needed some sort of dilemma when deciding whether they hated the other group or not. While the Vastelanders are quickly prepared to come to terms with their prejudices, the Eilanders should not be. As such the Eilanders have mostly negative preconceptions and experiences about the Vastelanders.
It would be much more interesting, exciting and justifiable as far as my message is concerned, to insert a few positive preconceptions in there as well. Then the audience will have to juggle them, meaning a much more rich dramatic arc per player.


A Chat with Balint: Creating Stories Interactive(ly)

So after I spammed every channel I could think of with advertisements asking for actors to take part in Vloedelingen, Balint Mark Turi, a masters student from Hungary studying film direction in Amsterdam, contacted me to invite me for a drink and a talk.

Of course I said yes, and we had an interesting conversation about interactive media. I think he’s just about finished his course now, but his research was into how he could direct and create a film through interactive means. So, not an interactive film as a product, but the process as interactive.

He works with his actors using improvisation, open dramaturgical methods, and many different LARP techniques specifically freeform and jeepform LARP.

Incredibly interesting. Click on his name at the top of this post to check out his research blog!

We exchanged lots of ideas and makers,larps,films, theatre, games of which both of us had never heard of before then.

I think the most important thing that stuck to me was that I could not only use LARP methods in my product, but also as a process. Why not develop interactive theatre using freeform LARP and improvisational theatre?
I was hoping to try this out once I had actors, but once I had found them, two of them already had quite a bit of experience with improvisational theatre, and could easily improvise (and how!) when we playtested Act 1. More about that soon.

This is Jeepform!

This is Arpad Schilling, a Hungarian political theatre maker!

A Chat with Floris: Visual Design

I had a chat with Floris Barnhoorn, a 3rd year theatre designer, friend, and very handy, I thought, to have a beer with and juggle ideas about.

The questions I had were how I could design Vloedelingen visually.

I had a few criteria: it has to be productionally low-budget and low-effort with maximum effect (time and money aren’t things I have plenty of!), it has to be functionally intertwined with the core game mechanics, it has to be simple as not to draw attention away from the essence of the interaction, it has to sketch the setting in one glance.

With Floris’s help I arrived at some very useful conclusions and solutions.

-Use 50mm masking tape to outline the borders of the important locations on the island on the ground. The Café and Winkel are two 2×2 metre squares on the ground, with a place for the door.

-Using orange reflection vests (if lifejackets aren’t a viable option), to show a clear difference between Vastelander and Eilander.

-Using materials such as clear plastic sheeting for the sea, plastic bottles/jerrycans/olive oil cans to contain the Diesel.

-Simple ways to construct a boat for the Vastelanders. Why not only build the prow of the boat with wood, or cardboard. Use half car tires in a row.

-Chalk and chalkboards as a uniform design style. I quite liked this idea. It fits well with the black box, Dogville sort of style anyway. Lots of black and white!

-A small amount of kitsch furniture, pictures, delft tiles, nets, scrap wood, that sort of thing.

-Using cookies, sweets, liquorice as the symbol for food.



Playtest: Core Mechanic and Acts 1-3

Did a big playtest today, with 9 players.

I wanted to test the core mechanic of managing resources and time, as well as seeing how and if conflict would happen between the Eilanders and Vastelanders. I also wanted to test if a present game master would work. The test started with a short Act 1, and was mostly focused on Act 2.

Here’s the footage of the test with some of the feedback session:

Will be uploaded soon, a lot of footage and other priorities aren’t handy.


-Once the Vastelanders arrived, they immediately started to co-operate fully with the Eilanders and continued to do so throughout the playtest. There was very little conflict.
This is, of course, the opposite of what I wanted to reach, and is pretty shit to see. However, thanks to the feedback session I hope I can pinpoint some reasons as to why:

How and where the Vastelanders came into the room made sure that they mixed in physically with the Eilanders. They should have their own space, their own area. Maybe with a “fence” in between the two groups, some form of physical or implied barrier. The Eilanders should then have a chance to discuss further.

The Vastelanders had something to offer: a boat and plenty of helping hands. This isn’t bad, but they should be more dependent on the Eilanders.

A moment to introduce each other to the other group was missing.

Perhaps the rules, characters and mechanics were too unclear.



-There wasn’t much pressure to make decisions and take action. Perhaps a clock would work, or dimming light.

-Some problems with language in the texts which were difficult to understand.

-Characters should have deeper relations with each other, so they have context as to how to interact with each other.

-The players wanted a way to recognise each other, to know who the Fisherman was and who’s an Eilander or Vastelander. Perhaps with labels and pieces of clothing.

-It should be clearer that the wind turbine can generate enough electricity to be able to use everything.

-There should be much less diesel availible.

-There should be more focus that food is running out.

-It should be clear that this isn’t the Netherlands.

-A way to solve certain problems such as Who stole the food, otherwise there’s no reason to blame anyone. Even if one player knows that they themselves did it.

-All the players really wanted characters which were very clearly defined.
Suggestions were a list with bullet points: Things the character could and couldn’t do, what they knew, exactly what their relations are, and exactly what their opinions were. I tried to insinuate characters by simply showing what their experiences were, but apparently this didn’t work well at all. It worked well in my other two playtests, however, so I’m not sure why this was, and I’m not sure whether and how I want to change this. It’ll be very important to figure this out. Perhaps a playtest with very clearly defined aspects as suggested?

-Actually doing things such as fixing the turbine or going fishing were very boring. The lighthouse keeper did enjoy sitting in his lighthouse with the radio, but there’s two solutions I have that could make it more fun, or irrelevant. I could have physical objects with which to play, like building blocks, nets and a radio. i could also make the focus of actually doing things during the day irrelevant by focusing the gameplay on the discussion and planning before and after.

-The audience’s favourite moments:
Trying to provoke conflict, being able to use their imagination to fill in what wasn’t explicitly said, acting as their character, splitting up their tasks for the day, and the fact that there were different locations, even if they were portrayed with sofas and pieces of paper.

-The audience had quite a bit of critique on the ending, which is a cliffhanger where the second storm hits. Some players really wanted a result of the story, otherwise their actions would feel meaningless. I’ll have to try out an epilogue of sorts, with the consequences of the audience’s actions. Like this example of Fallout New Vegas:

-The pressure of the oncoming second storm worked well.

-The little snippets of information, such as the lighthouse keeper hearing over the radio that the storm was coming, worked well.

-The Vastelanders didn’t have a clear place for themselves, while the Eilanders had their Café.

-A great suggestion was to have some pieces of wood, some sandbags, any objects with which the audience could play around with and build something with!


Conclusion of Research and Process (For Now)

The following is a short conclusion of the research and process I’ve gone through in making Vloedelingen as it stands at this moment.

I started in February with a collection of themes I wanted to work with, each with a common denominator. Politically motivated barriers such as the Berlin Wall, the Bethlehem Segregation Barrier and the US-Mexico Border;
the forming of cliques, subcultures, identities and eventually race identities and nationalities, and the interaction between them;
the ideology of national borders and the less obvious barriers used to protect them.
The common denominator being that they each are symptoms of the human drive to join the like-minded and discriminate the stranger, thus building which I called social and political walls.

I started off with a lot of research into these topics, trying to distill the dynamics from them: political, economic, psychological, philosophical, all the theoretical stuff. At the same time I collected anecdotal stuff: stories, experiences, opinions, arguments, articles, and personal experiences.

I also had a look into how other makers and artists expressed the topics of social and political walls, as well as politically-motivated media in general. I found lots of incredibly interesting and useful projects which I didn’t know about before, from Rot Op Naar Je Eigen Land, that documentary which pits six Dutch people into a first-hand experience of what an asylum seeker has to go through, Nordic LARPs, Forum Theatre, you name it.

The first part of my process was focused mainly on my personal driving factors as to why I wanted to make interactive theatre, and why this topic specifically. The main reason I love interactive theatre, is for its potential to grant the audience the opportunity for emergent gameplay.
The moments when an audience takes your mechanics, your story, your setting, and smashes it apart with a sledgehammer, then pieces together the debris into something wholly unexpected and interesting, that’s what fuels my passion for interactive theatre.

The main reason for choosing a political theme is certainly my belief that interactice, live experiences are an incredibly powerful activistic tool, whether you as  a maker want to portray your views or simply want to pose a question, or even want to provide a safe, playful environment to experiment with real issues. Or all three.
So why not try to change the world? Or at least give my audience a stepping stone to start thinking about it, anyway!

The second part of my process was relativising myself as a maker with other makers. With all the projects I discovered made by others, I could see how they communicated their visions, and have a look at what practical gamey mechanicy and dramaturgically thingys they did good, and did bad. It was also a nice opportunity to humble myself and realise what that what I’m making isn’t revolutionary at all. It’s just sticking a middle finger up at the local politician.
And that’s bloody great!

The past month has really been focused on piecing together all the real-life dynamics and translating them to game mechanics and dramaturgical methods, then testing them with my audience and seeing how they behave.
I translated the economic arguments against immigration into mechanics and the cultural arguments into the setting and story.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out a well-fitting setting as well. That was difficult, but I found one that fit perfectly. It was close to home for my Dutch audience, yet fictional enough for lots of legroom to fiddle around with the specifics. And it works well to define boundaries for the audience.

I constructed the entire structure of the show, with its three Acts, which helped me pinpoint the choices, problems and questions I had to test.

I tested the first act, which would establish the setting and the characters whom the audience would play. In general this worked well, with some tweaks and clarifications needed.

I tested the entire playthrough, albeit shortened, functional and bare-bones, with a larger audience of 9. That didn’t work as well, mostly because very little conflict between the groups happened. I’m still trying to analyse why some things went wrong, and I have a few ideas, but that’s the very next step I need to do!

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of practical, productional stuff as well, and recruiting people to help and advise me. I can safely say that people are incredibly lovely and helpful! I’ve got a few actors to talk to, as well as directors, a theatre designer, the brilliant crowd from Coney. I’ve got help for building and moving big things around for my final shows, too.

Oh yes, and those shows are on on 28 and 29 May!

So my journey thus far has been hectic, but I’ve learned more than I ever expected. I think I’ve got almost all the tools I need to start producing the final show. The biggest hurdles ahead are making sure I can encourage and steer the conflict between the groups, working with the actors, nailing down style and design, finding out how best to have the audience play their characters and to what extent, and finally, making choices to see what the best declarative layer for the resource management mechanic is.