It’s All In How They Play The Game

I have been keeping a Createquity post about gamification and arts events bookmarked on my web brower for while now. I liked some of the ideas suggested there and hoped to refer back to the entry for inspiration in the future. I was surprised to realize the post was actually created nearly two years ago. It seems so much more recent.

I came across another article recently that underscored the necessity of paying close attention to the design of any experience you may gamify. As with any game, some times people get a little more competitive than we might like.

In a post recounting the different experiences she and her friends experienced attending Sleep No More, Megan Reilly talks about how some of the repeat attendees have been using their knowledge to try to force certain outcomes. This tends to negatively impact the experience of other attendees, especially first timers.

My other friend, Amanda, got to have the same Hecate experience that I described above – having the ring put on her finger, and going through “Is That All There Is?” When Hecate turned to choose someone else for her 1:1, however, that selected person apparently tried to take the ring off my friend’s finger! I really want to know what was going on in that person’s head, to make him think that this behavior was ok. And this is not the worst behavior I’ve heard of on the part of the audience – just the worst that has happened to someone I know

and later

Many people by now have had so much experience visiting and revisiting “Sleep No More” that they are becoming like gamers, saving and restoring and attempting something new to experience something they KNOW is there but has so far been hidden from them. They try to find the secret combination of moves that unlocks the 1:1 with Hecate, and get visibly frustrated when they are not the chosen ones. They don’t care that someone else next to them might be experiencing the show for the first time – they want their experience/interaction/hidden secret scene, dammit. After all, they paid roughly $90 to play this game (or more, if like me you are not in NYC) and they want to win.

I love the parallels between “Sleep No More” and games, I really do. I love being responsible for my own journey through a story, and having to do some work in order to discover a narrative. I love that there are little errands and quests within the show that are given to different lucky audience members. I don’t want the 1:1 experiences to be removed. But how do you let the audience of 400 something people a night know that the experience of the show doesn’t have to include any one of these things? That their ticket price does not entitle them to a specific experience? And that the other audience members and the performers are not non-playable characters?

I would encourage people to read the whole thing, even if you have no intention of ever gamifying your experience. Megan Reilly’s discussion of what elements work and why it is so exciting might change your mind.

In some respects, what she talks about are the hazards of attending a public performance writ large. The person who pulls out their cellphone in the middle of a conventional performance and starts talking may be the same person who pushes you aside at Sleep No More. The percentage of the general population who will impinge upon the enjoyment of others is probably going to remain constant.

Another issue one of Reilly’s friends faced seemed to simply be a function of letting the audience interact with each other. There was a lot of non-verbal signalling that something was going to happen when experienced audience members watched the rest of the audience for their reaction or all started rushing in a certain direction.

When people are all seated quietly in a theater facing in one direction, the anticipation of those who have seen the show before is less apparent. But that experience is certainly also less interesting and probably doesn’t encourage as much return business as the Sleep No More experience, even at $90 a pop.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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