Video Games and Visual Cues

Playing video games will help you become a better improviser!

Wait! Before you say, “that’s preposterous,” and go watch cute kitten videos, hear me out. The kittens will always be there! Well, so will this blog, but still. Just hold on. I promise this will make sense! And, if it doesn’t, you can sit back smugly in your chair and think, “I knew his ideas wouldn’t make sense. I just knew it!” Everyone likes being right! See. If you stay and learn, you made the right choice. And, if you stay, and don’t learn, you’ll feel vindicated. You win either way.

I recently completed Dishonored on Xbox. It’s an incredible game, for a number of reasons, not least of which is how much information it silently communicates. Dishonored is all about surviving a unique world. You’re a “dishonored” guard, who happens to be a pretty incredible assassin. You’re out for revenge. And…….


That’s all you have to go on. Better escape the jail cell, and do it quietly. How do you do that quietly?

You crouch. You’re told how to crouch. Get used to crouching, because you’re sneaking around a lot in this game. The guards never know where you are, and you want to keep it that way.

When you’re playing from a first person perspective, however, going from standing to crouching is a minor perspective change. A few inches really. In the heart of a battle, and you’re trying to slip out quietly, do you remember if you’re already down? Am I standing? It’s so hard to tell!

Well, it would be hard to tell…but the design team are silent geniuses. They knew the player needed some visual clues. The player needs a height hint. So they decided to change the blade. When you’re walking around upright, you hold the blade upright and when you’re down low, the knife is folded back, along your arm. You’re ready to strike, and you’re educated! You know you can duck out of the room unnoticed because you have a clear visual indication you’re crouching.

dishonored 2 2016
dishonored 2

It’s a visual cue that saves you a lot of frustrating guesswork.

Do you leave your improv audience to frustrating guesswork? You might. We all might. Visual cues are invaluable in a show.

When we’re creating an improvised world at our Rocklin theater, the audience is much like a gamer, thrust into a unique situation. Like a game designer, we, the players better give the audience some information. It doesn’t have to be verbal. We don’t have to turn to an audience and tell them, “here’s the table, and the family photo that makes me cry is sitting right here. On the table.” It can be nonverbal cues. Pick up the photo, and tear up. Put it down, and leave the room. When you enter the room again, cross over to the table, pick something up and begin to cry, the audience will assume it’s the picture again. The audience is smart, and is looking for patterns. X means Y. Reinforce it. Play with it. Help the audience. It’ll probably help you in the scene too.

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