Carnegie Mellon University

Gun Play

Gun Play is an narrative interactive socially engaged performance being developed by Professor Caden Manson from the School of Drama and his company, Big Art Group. Embedded within the patterns of gun violence in America are questions about the interplay of race, justice and community, and in particular disproportionate impacts on “othered” populations. Key collaborators for Gun Play will be community leaders and artists as ‘level-designers’ for each act in the play: LGBTQA+, immigrant, African American, and Latinx community storytellers as well as a military veterans, law enforcement, and sportsmen bring diverse perspectives and reject stereotypic roles that have become mythologized in the American gun debate.

The project incorporates elements of interactive technology, public health, statistics, socially engaged art, and strategies of gamification translated into narrative theatre. As part of the development and research process the team will organize individual workshops and research sessions working with community stakeholders, statisticians, game designers, digital humanities scholars, and historians to identify the key problems and false representations built into our national gun story. Each of these research workshops will be developed into a level design (theatrical act) and game conventions of the narrative play.

In addition to excavating the stories behind the American gun debate, Gun Play will also research and engage contemporary forms of narrative that have emerged in the practices of gaming. Founded in script writing, gaming narratives instigate challenges that involve players as active explorers and agents to influence branching storylines. These techniques come together in contemporary performance to create live theatre that activates and empowers audience participants, creating resonant work that echoes throughout the community.

The politics around gun control tend to deadlock, but the issues of personal freedom, fear, sacrifice, race, class, justice, and extremism that are woven through the arguments find their natural expression in narrative theatre. Through the process of ‘gamification’ or making play out of issues in order to problem-solve, we see a direct connection to the imaginative aspect of theatre which fictionalizes and formalizes social issues in an effort to make a cultural space for critical thinking. The audience experiences Gun Play as a dual event: while the play occurs on stage and can be passively watched, audiences will also have the opportunity to see and interact during the live event with a gaming component installed on a personal smartphone or tablet. The audience will be asked to join the game and ‘shoot’ as part of  the narrative. This augmented view alters the perspective of the storyline and permits the viewer to target and shoot objects or characters. Each act of the theater piece (which mimics a video game level progression), will shift narrative focus & visual style and create more difficult and more ethically challenging gameplay. Through the difference of experience between the game immersion and the stage event, audience members can achieve individualized personal participation with the material and a richer understanding of the issues at play.