Connectivity and Commentary: The Video Game Monologues

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So what’s a blogger who doesn’t play video games to say about a play about video games? Basically, regardless of your commitment to gaming or your feelings about theatre, The Video Game Monologues is an hour of entertainment for pretty much anyone.

From portrayals of romantic and familial bonds through gaming, to elegant repurposing of actual game scripts, actors Janne Barklis and Renzo Ampuero play a cast of sundry characters in monologues written, directed, and produced by Lian Amaris.

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Barklis backseat gaming. Photo by Elliot Bamberger.

Upon meeting and chatting with Lian before the show, I felt assured that my lack of gaming knowledge would not leave me confused and clueless once the play began. With Master’s degrees in Performance Studies and Interactive Telecommunications from NYU, as well as experience teaching feminist and gender studies and new media, and a current job as the Director of User Engagement at Glu Mobile, Lian had all the tools she needed to bring TVGM to life. To her, creating a show like this was a no-brainer.

“The show was created in a style similar to the important theatrical work The Vagina Monologues while experimenting with storytelling through the lens of gaming,” she explained. “TVGM highlights different game experiences with equal representation- male, female, hardcore, casual, young, old, arcade, console, PC, and mobile- while addressing the complex relationship between screens and psyches. The stories are comedic, romantic, awkward, dark, unsettling, sad, hopeful.”

Barklis talks about a love for ocean creatures and for her grandmother in "Little Bites." Photo by Elliot Bamberger.

Barklis talks about a love for ocean creatures and for her grandmother in “Little Bites.” Photo by Elliot Bamberger.

Despite the varied representation, TVGM opened last Friday to an almost entirely male audience. That’s not to say that men and boys can’t take something away from this show. And also, that’s not to say that TVGM simply takes gaming stereotypes and gives them an exact 180 flip. Lian was determined to delve deeper.

“As a woman currently working in the game industry, I wanted to be creative in adding more voices to the gaming conversation – beyond the ‘bombs and babes’ stereotypes – while remaining mindful of how video games are too often used as cultural scapegoats for violence and sexism,” she said.

TVGM succeeds in delivering such eloquent commentary framed by a broad range of games – everything from Portal to DDR to cell phone word games. Without giving too much away, my favorite monologue was the Halo-based one called “Rampancy,” in which Barklis’ character relates her own atypical emotional responses to a character in the game. I may not have recognized all of the cheat codes recited masterfully by Ampuero in the epilogue, but the three teenage boys in the front row sure did, and I was able to laugh along as well.

After an eternity of cheat codes, Ampurero unlocks the chest. Photo by Elliot Bamberger.

After an eternity of cheat codes, Ampurero unlocks the chest. Photo by Elliot Bamberger.

“Beyond their entertainment value, games are an important cultural barometer for how we connect to or disconnect from other people through technology,” Lian said.

The Video Game Monologues runs for one more weekend in San Francisco before heading to New York. Catch it this Friday (9/27) and Saturday (9/28) at the Phoenix Theatre Annex in San Francisco, and October 2-5 at the Nuyorican Poets Café in NYC. Tickets are available on Eventbrite.

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