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Lunchtime talk write-up
Posted on Mon 3 Jul 2017

Inspiring Improvisation with Digital Games

Alistair Aitcheson is a game developer who specialises in playful installations, custom-made game hardware, and interactive performances. Rather than seeing video games as an end in themselves, he sees his games as a…

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Sookie Greene

Sookie was the Studio Assistant from 2017 - 2018.

Alistair Aitcheson is a game developer who specialises in playful installations, custom-made game hardware, and interactive performances. Rather than seeing video games as an end in themselves, he sees his games as a springboard for human interaction, encouraging players to bend rules and make each other laugh.

Alistair shared with us the works he has created over the past seven years, including his on going theatre project The Incredible Playable Show. He demonstrated how to encourage improvisation and creativity, so that we the players can make the game experience our own.

Five Things I Learned

1. Alistair made several iOS games including educational maths games for kids before diverging towards installation games. His journey began with his app game Greedy Bankers vs. the World where he had the epiphany that fun didn’t come out of the hardware itself, but from the physical and verbal interactions between players. Things got even more interesting when Alistair encouraged players ‘cheat’ by stealing gems from each other’s side of the screen, rewarding them with double points. Inevitably players would start to slap each other’s hands away, cheer and tickle each other, all in an attempt to capture the most gems.

2. Alistair was intrigued by the idea of enabling players to cheat as the way you cheat with your best friend compared to a stranger is going to be completely different. The uniqueness of who you play with and how you react to them is exciting; if you have played it and you're still thinking about it, the game has made an impact. Tap Happy Sabotage, another one of Alistair’s creations, is played on a 27-inch tabletop screen and supports as many players as you can fit around it. Simple to get, rules evolve and people will evitable collide with each other. The heroes and villains of the group start to emerge and the story behind that is much more memorable.

3. Alistair found that he liked incorporating weird objects, wearable tech and Bluetooth into his puzzles games. But the hardware isn’t the goal- he wants people to interact physically, to incorporate space and make people aware of it, could objects around the space like chairs be a part of the game? For The Incredible Playable Show Alistair becomes the compere warming people up enough for them to take part and to not feel embarrassed. Alistair found that using costumes such as morph suits not only made players anonymous but also look completely ridiculous meaning they can get away with being silly and getting a laugh. 

4. “If you want people to think creatively you need to constantly create different rules”, Alistair’s next game was Go Power Team which involves four ‘human buttons’ in morph suits with tablets strapped to their belts. Other players need to tap the different human buttons in the order dictated by the games master each round while the buttons need to fulfil different commands. Improvisation became a bona fide game mechanic; the human buttons could react to each command however they wished, the audience rewards the human buttons for silly behaviour by laughing and this in turn encourages them to escalate it further, continually perpetuating the use of improvisation. 

5. Alistair wanted to demonstrate all of this by inviting us to play Match me if you Scan. The rules of the game were simple for everyone to grasp quickly. One player is nominated to scan the audience, each of us wearing a coloured vest with a barcode. Each time a vest is scanned an image pops up on screen and the player has to quickly find the matching image until the timer runs out. Hilarity came in the form of players desperately scrabbling about trying to scan everyone, absurd images flashing on screen and audience members cheering and calling out to help the player. The game was immensely fun and we were all in agreement that we wanted to play some more!


Alistair is currently touring around the UK and Europe and you too can take part in The Incredible Playable Show at Develop Conference 12 July in Brighton.