Treason: A Live-Action, Performative Game exploring the ethics of Espionage and Surveillance

Treason is an espionage-themed performative experience that uses a cooperative game-like structure: by working together as a group with an unseen agent, players uncover a narrative that explores themes of cyber-security and surveillance. Participants are able to deconstruct and examine their relationships to power and authority through these simulated predicaments.

NYU Game Center MFA Pierre Depaz worked in collaboration students across multiple departments at NYU to create the live theater game, which was shown as a part of Brick Theater’s Game Play 2014. After three successful showings, Pierre took some time to answer a few questions about his experience designing and producing Treason.

What was the experience of playing Treason?
Treason simulates the final practicum exam of a class of security analysts (the audience) as they help an invisible field agent infiltrate a government laboratory. Throughout the performance, some of them are asked to come up on stage and perform various actions, take decisions, and creatively help the actors to uncover the identity of a mole.

How did the collaboration come about for Treason?
Treason started as a project by current ITP students Sharang Biswas and Amelia Winger-Bearskin as they applied for the Tisch Grad Student Organization Interdepartmental Grant. Since they wanted to make something game-related and needed students from other departments, they sent out an email to the Game Center listserv to which I responded, and I started to work on the project, along with Adam Jackrel, from the College of Arts and Sciences.

You’ve worked on a few different large scale, physical games at the Game Center. How did designing for theater compare to those games?
Designing for the theater is very different, because you have two populations that you have to think about: players and audience. If accounting for all levels of player involvement and creativity weren’t hard enough, designing a solid experience that can be enjoyed from the back of the theater is incredible challenging . It felt like designing a spectator sport without having the support of physical prowess, and only relying on acting and content quality.

However, as intimidating as interactive theater might sound, it is actually surprisingly close to tabletop/live-action role-playing, and having a team of designers well-versed in that domain was super helpful (Adam even took Naomi Clarke’s Tabletop class at the Game Center).

Did you have any particular playtest methods for Treason?
Well, since it was a side project and all of us were either in grad school or graduating, we didn’t have that much time to set-up proper playtest sessions with new players every time. We did have one or two of these, but sessions like that could last up to two hours. So we mainly focused on rehearsing our performance as actors and, as we did that, we effectively playtested the script, by asking questions such as “ok, what can the players do, now ? what if they do this/that ?” and then we set up mostly improv guidelines for us to follow in that case. The good part is that the designers were always present during play!