“Oblivious” began when my interest in writing a cyberpunk-themed interactive show fused with my team member’s idea for a live game environment. What it’s become is a theatre production that operates like a videogame by giving audience members player agency and allowing playtime in a responsive live space. A workshop performance of this show was staged at the CalArts New Works Festival last spring, and was met with unanimous praise- no one had seen theatre executed like this before. What I feel is so compelling about this unique form is that it fuses the liveness of theatre with the intimate relationship between story and player found in videogaming. The result is a refreshed live experience that challenges passivity, a deepened connection to themes of social responsibility, and a startling amount of fun.
As an MFA Acting student in my final year at CalArts, I’ve never felt bound to any single role in the creative process because all facets of generative art feed into each other. I’ve been in various productions at CalArts, but what has been most rewarding for me is being able to offer more than one skill to the project at hand. “Oblivious” is my most ambitious production yet, what with me serving as creative director, writer, director, actor, and producer. This is my first time spearheading a project, and I am humbled by the amount of dedication it will take for this to succeed. I will genuinely appreciate all the support I can get to manifest this passion project and transform the Los Angeles theatre scene.
— Jenapher Zheng
+ Oblivious: A Videogame Theatre Experience +
“Oblivious” is an exciting new interactive production that creator Jenapher Zheng calls a Videogame Theatre Experience. By combining video game narrative and theatrical production value, the collaborative group Active Captivation Games strives to translate video game play and mechanics to real-life environments where the audience [players] interact with objects and non playable characters within the environment to further the story. The resulting production is both a spectacle and a call to action which relies on audience input to continue its structured storyline.
To engage the audience by offering them an active role in theatrical storytelling, and to allow that agency to deepen their experience of the performance through a sense of responsibility for the outcome of the game as well as for their role in the larger social issue highlighted.
“Oblivious” draws from the concern that the future of democracy will be jeopardized by tools of mass surveillance as a fear response to threats of terror in a post 9-11 world. If an Orwellian 1984 dystopia is uncomfortably similar to the current state of things, then “Oblivious” is a fever dream that caricatures that landscape so that we can laugh as we consider the implications of compromising liberty in an information age. The production also pays homage to notable videogames such as Portal, Tron, and Bioshock.
The fictional United Nation-States of Surveillance [UNSS] is a dystopia where civil liberties have succumbed to a micro-managing government that uses mass surveillance to enforce hyper-consumerism. But at least the robotic dictator CaNDOS (Corporeal and Nefarious Disk-Operating System) seems to be having a lot of fun, right? We’re eerily told that we are safe, simply because we are watched.
Immigration Officer Praxis 45-O elects 3 people to be new citizens of the country. Before you can be fully inducted, a mysterious voice claiming to be “The Creator” induces a system shutdown; he pleads with you to side with the revolutionaries in bringing down the fascistic government by systematically debilitating CaNDOS and ultimately dethroning her. The voice of The Creator serves as your compass as you eliminate CaNDOS’s powers of sight and hearing, wounding her modes of control over the UNSS people. Should you succeed, CaNDOS herself will confront you for a final duel. Will you emerge as victorious revolutionaries, or will this be game over for freedom?
Playing audience members are chosen by a live actor out of a group of Spectating audience members. The chosen 3 players follow instructions given through audio-visual cues and assume active roles in the story of the game. Players think creatively and interpret the instructions to solve puzzles and manipulate objects in the space to accomplish tasks set out by the game- the environment will change based on their actions. Live actors guide the players along and establish context and continuity. The game has a series of different Game Rounds before its climactic finish of a classic videogame-style Boss Monster Fight with a live actor. Should the audience fail to complete tasks in time, a “gameover” is simulated, and a live actor will replace players with new members from the audience. The journey continues until the story reaches its determined end.
Support OBLIVIOUS via their IndieGoGo Campaign.