Pros: Potentially a very accurate representation of gaming for non-gamers.
Cons: Frustrating, repetitive and impenetrable.
People Show’s Hands Off at Toynbee Studios offers a niche performance, but what niche they’re aiming at seems unclear. The play follows a futile account of a gaming experience, intended to offer a view into the gaming world for non-gamers, but is likely to be frustrating, repetitive and impenetrable for audiences, regardless of their gaming experience level.
The play revolves around three gamers on stage. Below the stage, with an array of computer screens, are the suits who control the gaming industry and, by extension, the gamers. One of the suits, with the manner of a malevolent game show host, describes the gamers’ virtual world, and then asks what each of them would like to do. When they make an incorrect choice, they die, the game is reset, and we all have to go through the whole thing again. Over the course of an hour and a bit, the gamers are dropped into various virtual settings, to make decisions which will kill them, trap them or, possibly, see them survive and progress to another life or death situation. If this seems futile and infuriating, it is made even more so by the absence of any obvious logic guiding what works and what doesn’t. The gamers are engaged in a pursuit of pure trial and error, where skill and experience count for nothing, because the gamesmaster is a sadist who uses the game to indulge his own fantasies.
The effect on the gamers is obvious. They are driven to continue the game, despite the repeated setbacks, and the arbitrary nature of the process. Given the chance to proceed to the next world, but abandon their fellow players, they don’t hesitate to proceed. Given the opportunity to punish an opponent, they become caught up in a violent frenzy. And when one of the players fails repeatedly to move to the next zone, her panic and desperation are palpable and infectious.
The video game experience would of course be incomplete without a brain-curdling jingle, and this show has several electronic refrains that play over and over again. These, however, are not half as tiresome as the gamesmaster’s endless repetition of the phrase ‘What do you want to do?’ And if I was inwardly screaming ‘I want to get out of here’, a small part of me still clung to the hope of a satisfactory ending. It was not to be. There are masks, there are fireworks and there is incredibly loud music. But there is nothing in the way of clarity or resolution.
The experience of watching Hands Off was, for me, wearing and not terribly enjoyable. Its repetitiveness, along with the absence of any empathic characters or a comprehensible narrative, made for a less than engaging experience. And therein lies its success. It entirely recreated the experience of gaming as perceived by a non-gamer. So if I found it irritating, I suspect that a gaming enthusiast would have found it even more so.
Devised & performed by: People Show
Producer: People Show
Booking Until: This show has now ended its run.