This week Phil Rickaby chats with Patrick Blenkarn and Milton Lim about asses.masses, a unique theatrical experience that sits at the intersection of video game and theatre. This episode promises to uncover the layers of this innovative game-meets-stage play and will leave you questioning your perceptions of traditional theatrical conventions. Expect to be drawn into a world where the audience becomes the performers, engaging in a live, interactive video game that requires the negotiation of power within the story, all while remaining enjoyable to watch for the non-participants.
As we navigate through the mechanics and origin of asses.masses, you will also find yourselves questioning prevalent stereotypes about the humble donkey. Commonly misconceived as stubborn and unsmart, our fascinating exploration of the donkey as a symbol of labor initiates insightful discussions about digital labor and its implications today. Coupled with the intriguing concept of game show mediation and audience involvement, this episode will certainly broaden your understanding of performance art, digital labor, and animal symbolism.
Our discussion extends beyond the boundaries of performance, delving into the debate over video games as an art form. You’ll be immersed in the collaborative process of game development and storytelling as we dissect the structure of Asses Masses and its influence from other famous titles. We also reflect on the changing attitudes towards art consumption and its impact on the reception of such innovative works. As we conclude, you’ll be left with a deeper appreciation for the intricacies of game development, the symbolism of labor, and the power of audience engagement in redefining performance art.
Patrick Blenkarn is an artist working at the intersection of performance, game design, and visual art. His research-based practice revolves around the themes of language, labour, and economy, with projects ranging in form from video games and card games to stage plays and books. His work and collaborations have been featured in performance festivals, galleries, museums, and film festivals, including the Festival Internacional de Buenos Aires, the Humboldt Forum (Berlin), Festival of Live Digital Art (Kingston), STAGES Festival (Halifax), Banff Centre for the Arts, Risk/Reward (Portland), SummerWorks (Toronto), rEvolver (Vancouver), RISER Projects (Toronto), and the Festival of Recorded Movement (Vancouver). In 2020, he was nominated for Best Projection Design at Toronto’s Dora Awards. In 2022, his work with Milton Lim, asses.masses, received the National Creation Fund from the National Arts Centre of Canada.
Patrick has frequently been an artist in residence at galleries and theatres around the world, including The Arctic Circle (Svalbard), the Spitsbergen Artist Center (Svalbard), GlogauAIR (Berlin), Fonderie Darling (Montreal), Malaspina Printmakers (Vancouver), Skaftfell Center for Visual Art (Iceland), VIVO Media Arts (Vancouver), and The Theatre Centre (Toronto).
Patrick is also the co-founder of and a key archivist for videocan, Canada’s video archive of performance documentation, and one half of Guilty by Association with Cole Lewis. He has a degree in philosophy, theatre, and film from the University of King’s College and an MFA from Simon Fraser University.
Milton Lim (he/him) is a digital media artist, game designer, and performance creator based in Vancouver, Canada: the traditional, unceded, and occupied territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.
His research-based practice entwines publicly available data, interactive digital media, and gameful performance to create speculative visions and candid articulations of social capital. This line of inquiry aims to reconsider our repertoires of knowledge aggregation and political intervention in the contemporary context of big data and algorithmic culture. Often cheeky and audience/participant driven, his work challenges standard performance traditions including duration, linearity, and repeatability. Milton holds a BFA (Hons.) in theatre performance and psychology from Simon Fraser University.
He has created works for and performed in various international festivals and venues including PuSh International Performing Arts Festival (Vancouver), CanAsian Dance Festival (Toronto), Carrefour international de théâtre festival (Quebec City), IMPACT Festival (Kitchener), Seattle International Dance Festival, Risk/Reward Festival (Portland), Festival Internacional de Buenos Aires, artsdepot (London), Battersea Arts Centre (London), New Theatre Royal (Portsmouth), Strike a Light Festival (Gloucester), Hong Kong Arts Festival, soft/WALL/studs (Singapore), and Darwin Festival.
Performance credits include The Arts Club’s The Great Leap, Gateway Theatre’s King of the Yees at Canada’s National Arts Centre, and Theatre Conspiracy’s award-winning immersive show: Foreign Radical at CanadaHub (Edinburgh Fringe). Milton’s media artworks have been presented at the Vancouver Art Gallery, San Francisco State University, F-O-R-M, VIVO Media Arts Centre, and The New Gallery. In 2016, he was awarded the Ray Michal Prize for Outstanding Body of Work at the Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards.
He is a co-artistic director of Hong Kong Exile, an artistic associate with Theatre Conspiracy, a co-founder and key archivist with the videocan national archive, an infrequent Sessional Instructor with Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts, one of the co-creators behind culturecapital: the performing arts economy trading card game, and a founding member of Synectic Assembly—an Artificial Intelligence focused art collective.
Upcoming: Milton is part of an 18-month Artistic Leadership Residency with the National Theatre School (Canada); his work on the asses.masses video game project recently received the prestigious National Creation Fund and premiered in Buenos Aires in February 2023; along with Patrick Blenkarn, he will be doing a self-directed residency in South America (February-April 2023) as well as continuing work with Darren O’Donnell, Alice Fleming, and a dedicated group of young people at the Humboldt Forum in Berlin over the next few years.
Labour, technophobia, donkeys, and sharing the load of revolution: asses.masses is a long form participatory performance that follows the epic journey of unemployed asses as they navigate the perils of a post-Industrial society in which they’ve been made redundant.
At its core, asses.masses is a custom-made video game designed to be played on stage by a live audience. Brave spectators take turns each night stepping forward from the herd to seize the means of production and become the player. There are no instructions. It is up to the audience and their self-elected leaders to make decisions and play out their version of the game.
Cheeky, political, and best described as Animal Farm meets Aesop’s Fables retold by Franz Kafka, Karl Marx, and Sonic the Hedgehog, asses.masses puts the control(ler) in its audience’s hands and asks them to discover the space between the work that defines us and the play that frees us.
Tickets to asses.masses at the Theatre Centre: https://theatrecentre.org/event/asses-masses-23/
Transcript auto generated.
0:00:04 – Phil Rickaby
I’m Phil Rickaby and I’ve been a writer and performer for almost 30 years, but I’ve realized that I don’t really know as much as I should about the theatre scene outside of my particular Toronto bubble. Now I’m on a quest to learn as much as I can about the theatre scene across Canada, so join me as I talk with mainstream theatre creators you may have heard of and indie artists you really should know, as we find out just what it takes to be Stageworthy. If you value the work that I do on Stageworthy, please consider leaving a donation, either as a one-time thing or on a recurring monthly basis. Stageworthy is created entirely by me and I give it to you free of charge, with no advertising or other sponsored messages. Your continuing support helps me to cover the cost of producing and distributing the show. Just four people donating $5 a month would help me cover the cost of podcast hosting alone. Help me continue to bring you this podcast. You can find a link to donate in the show notes, which you can find in your podcast app or at the website at Stageworthy.ca.
Now onto the show. Patrick Blenkarn and Milton Lim are the creators of Asses Masses. Asses Masses is a custom-made video game designed to be played on stage by a live audience. Asses Masses can be seen and played at Toronto’s Theatre Center from September 22-24. In this conversation we talk about video games as art and theatre, how this theatrical video game came about, and much more. Here’s our conversation. Would one of you like to give me a synopsis, an elevator pitch on what Asses Masses is?
0:02:23 – Patrick Blenkarn
An elevator pitch for a seven-plus hour show. All right, let’s do it. It could be a long elevator ride.
Yeah, let’s go to the top. So, in a nutshell, asses Masses is a seven-plus hour epic narrative about a herd of donkeys who have lost their jobs due to technological progress and are pretty dead set on getting those jobs back. It’s also a custom video game that we have built and designed amongst two of us, as well as an international team. We like to also think of it as a collaborative journey that an audience, like a live audience in a theatre, goes on.
0:03:05 – Phil Rickaby
So there are no actors on the stage, and is that right? The audience sort of becomes the performers.
0:03:13 – Milton Lim
Yes, that’s correct, Phil. So, in the essence of labour being deferred, we as artists do not perform. There are no actors on stage and in fact the audience takes on that role to take us through the seven-plus hour narrative.
0:03:27 – Phil Rickaby
There are video games that are fun to watch as a group. There are video games that are so, for example, like Mass Effect. You could sit, one person could play that game and another person can watch that game and get a lot out of it. You watch it like a movie. Some video games are good for that and some video games are more difficult for that. What is it about this game that makes it? Or this show slash game that makes it watchable for an audience, for the people who are not actively playing it?
0:03:55 – Milton Lim
I think that’s a really good point. I love that you brought up Mass Effect, because, it’s true, there are a lot of role-playing games where someone can fill that spot and then it’s all about that person executing the story. For us, as Masses, just imagine that. It’s a game in which you actually need to have people who are watching you. So we, as game designers, have gone in and it’s meant for people to be sitting behind you giving commentary, giving tips, providing extra sets of eyes and extra memory for when one player fails. This is a game that you can’t actually do alone very well.
0:04:28 – Patrick Blenkarn
I feel like we should be a bit more clear. So, if everyone who’s listening to this is imagining you come into a theatre and there is a plinth at the downstage front of the theatre and on that plinth there is a video game controller. The audience is tasked with the responsibility of negotiating who has the controller at any given time. The point of that is that there is a negotiation of power that’s taking place in the story about what the donkeys are going to do next, what the next options are going to be, as well as this sort of power negotiation that’s happening in the theatre. So when we talk about I guess you could say when we talk about what are we watching? When we’re watching asses and masses, yes, we are watching a game and get played, but we’re also watching each other. We’re watching our community or a social public that has gathered. Try to figure out how to give space, take space from each other.
This question of is it my turn now Is often one that we foreground as how and where in our social fabric do we, you know, feel like we have permission to put our hands up and say, hey, can I play, or can it be my turn now? I don’t think that what’s happening right now is maybe the best way to do it. Or I think I have another. I have a dissenting opinion about. You know the way we’re going to sort of like execute this protest. Can I have a go?
And so there’s a lot of, I guess, when we talk about sort of modes of spectatorship and what it means to be at a theatre, especially you know, when we’re in a theatre, and I think in a lot of cases we understand one of the great affordances of theatre is that you are able to watch things of your own choice, like unlike certain cinematic practices that really sort of force you to say look here, look here, look here Asus, masses. Similarly like, yes, there is a very cinematic, almost video game that plays out at times Like we will talk more about sort of the styles of games that we use, but there’s also this room and there’s food in that room and you know you’ve been there for seven and a half hours or maybe more, depending on how you’re playing it. So there is this invitation to sort of take up space and sort of make it your own and create a home for that community in the context of that theatre.
0:06:37 – Milton Lim
And maybe just to in case anyone’s listening and they say this sounds a little bit like couch co-op games or like couch cooperative games, where we’re all just sitting on a couch and like we’re either playing together or we’re taking turns. It’s very much extending from those sorts of practices in. Also let’s play videos where you are actively participating in spectating what’s happening. But it’s all that plus the added kind of participatory theatre element. Yeah.
0:07:03 – Patrick Blenkarn
I think that’s a great way to say.
It’s like, you know, if you’re thinking, if you’re listening to this and you’re like, oh, that sounds like couch co-op, we would be like, exactly that’s the whole, it’s couch co-op, except there’s a hundred people on your couch and some of them are your friends and some are the people who just like, have come over.
And if anyone was, you know, a youth of some age in the late 90s or 2000s, I think a lot of us actually had those sort of experiences. You know, you’re out of a bunch of people, come over to your house and like you’re trying to like share, I don’t know, NBA Street, or you’re trying to share. All of a sudden someone’s like hey, I want to play this like RPG game, which is totally just a one player game, or even if it was just Mario 64, that there’s this, this kind of collaboration that’s really alive and active but also gives you the permission to like go and get more food and come back, which we, you know we’ll get to that as well as like what hospitality means and what does it mean to sort of take seriously the context in which we normally experience video games and sort of bring them into the theatre and all the things that we have to import with them.
0:08:05 – Phil Rickaby
It’s funny you mentioned the couch co-op, the way that they will become really active. I can remember playing Final Fantasy 7 way back in the day with my roommates and one of us would be playing the game and everybody else would be shouting about whatever is going on. We would read the b b-, b-, b-, b-, b-, b-, b-, b-, b-, b-, b-, b-, b-, b-, b-, b-, b-, b-, b-, b-, b-, b b the dialogue out in a dramatic fashion and we would like just shout no, don’t do that. No, hit him with that. You know, it was all the so very active in a way that I think that I don’t know if people do that so much anymore, because I think there was a Sort of couch co-op sort of disappeared for a while and was it was all online play and there’s sort of a resurgence now of couch co-op games that I’m seeing and hopefully we haven’t lost the loud.
0:08:51 – Patrick Blenkarn
Well, and I think, as is masses, hopefully, is a testament to that. No, we haven’t lost it and people do know how to do it. They’ve been doing in Buenos Aires, they’ve been doing it in Kingston and Halifax, dartmouth, and you know we’re talking because we’re sort of at the lead up to some shows that we’re doing in Toronto at the center. We also have shows in Mexico City, like in two weeks. So we’re pretty confident that in those places to people have not forgotten how to yell at each other. So in a very supportive way, you know in a guiding way, in a very sort of firm backseat driving kind of way, and all the ways I guess, like you know, in between.
0:09:26 – Phil Rickaby
I’m curious about the, the mediation between who’s playing and like who decides who’s playing, all that sort of. Is there an in room mediator? Is it entirely the the the audience Making the decision? There’s nobody who’s. Is there somebody who’s like helping to make those decisions? Or is it entirely like, if somebody is standing there for like two hours, the audience has to decide to get them off?
0:09:52 – Milton Lim
There is no person that’s doing any mediation. It’s really just the audience who are deciding. I’m going to play this part. I’m very good at this. It could also be one person standing at the front for a large portion of the game and just playing. We haven’t yet seen someone play it in full, all the way through, and I think the audience probably say something. If there is any mediation, it’s just by virtue of the construction of the narrative that we have in the video game. But there is like we as the artists kind of take our hands off when we say it’s up to the audience now to decide what they want to do, when they want to do it and that includes also intermissions, and so they can decide how long wants to be. It’ll say press X to begin whenever. Again.
0:10:29 – Patrick Blenkarn
Oh, ok, yes, maybe like let’s pause on that, just so that everyone hears that the intermissions that asses masses are not scheduled in terms of duration. It’s like if everyone in the room wants a dinner break, they can take a dinner break. If they want to skip the intermission, because you know they’re really excited about what’s going to happen next, they can skip the intermission. That’s up to them. It’s up to whoever has the controller, but also the sort of, you know, the social contract that they’ve created for themselves around the game.
0:10:56 – Phil Rickaby
Hmm, hmm. So I’m curious where the what, the genesis of this show was, this video games last show? How did you decide that it was going to be something that an audience would participate in? How did this all come about?
0:11:14 – Patrick Blenkarn
Yeah, that’s a good question. So, sorry, the the origins of it and it’s kind of got like a number of beginnings as every, I guess, sort of good epic should. But you know, in the mix of it is Melvin and I were building. Sorry, melvin and I were building another game, a card game about the arts economy, called Culture Capital, and that project is still alive and sort of going, but that’s another podcast and what we’ve been through that project. We had been talking about what it means to sort of put real games on stage, and maybe I’ll bracket that’s because I think talking about what we mean by real games is Possibly contentious but also important to have that conversation.
At the same time I was finishing my MFA and I was doing sort of various aesthetic experiments on representations of knowledge through books and a donkey was a great antithesis to this image. I don’t know where. I think I saw it in a book. You know I’ve been well aware of donkeys for a very long time and you know, in learning and sort of digging into like this figure, it became clear that you know the donkey had sort of suffered from a lot of misrepresentation in its history as an animal. It’s not actually stupid, it’s not actually stubborn. Actually, they’re very sort of wise and sort of caring and philosophical animals that try to understand situations, and so what we perceive to be sort of stubborn stupidity in freezing is actually thoughtfulness and at the same time, you know, learning and sort of diving into like just sort of falling in love with the sort of lore around this animal.
It became clear that there’s a lot of contemporary issues that still face this animal.
Though it has disappeared from like a North American context or a certain sorry, not North American, but like certain urban kind of life spaces in North America and parts of Western Europe, it’s still like a lifeblood in many parts of South America, central America, northern Africa, and you know there’s a huge kind of like scandalous skin trade that’s taking place out of China, where donkeys are being sort of harvested and liquidated for other skins are being liquidated to create sort of a traditional Chinese medicine product, and so the idea that literally this animal who did so much for humanity to get us out of sort of these like very basic forms of civilization, is now being liquidated and consumed sort of sparked a question around like how do we, how do we think about the place of the historical worker.
What is labor today? You know how it seemed like there’s an opportunity for a conversation through this figure of the animal, and both as a sort of a symbol, but also the real situation itself. And you know, digital labor is in there somewhere. And maybe, milton, you want to spin on like, yeah, there was some digital things and tech stuff as well.
0:14:17 – Milton Lim
Yeah, I think it was in the constellation of different thoughts that we had around delegated labor and participation, and we thought labor, we thought the performer, we thought donkeys and these things tended to coalesce in ways that we were. We were realizing that we were giving over the work of doing this performance to the audience, and so, in digital labor as well, we just kept coming back to like where is labor going in the world, where is labor in the role of our story, and also even in the room itself, like where does the kind of labor take place and what are the metaphors that are around as we’re doing the story, about both donkeys, but also about the working class and about performance and theatre.
0:14:59 – Patrick Blenkarn
And I think actually an important part of that is we were talking about simulated labor in video games, like if you’ve played video games, you maybe have like harvested a field for a few hours in order to get a couple more, like rupees or Gill, in order to buy a new sword, and we were having this sort of conversation about, you know, is that what is meaningful labor? What’s meaningful action? Is there? Is there a way that we can have that conversation? And it seemed like video games were an interesting place where it is meaningful labor, very much so, but it doesn’t produce. You know, growing a digital carrot versus growing a carrot in your garden, the thing, the thing that is produced through that process is very different. And to what ends are we mobilizing those products and to whom does it benefit really in the end? So that, like we’re in that kind of soup, as we started and this might create another opening.
0:15:58 – Milton Lim
But just to say, like the duration of labor as well, especially when we come back to typical duration that’s expected out of theatrical practices, that, when we thought about the fact that you know, some people play video games for 60 plus hours and then, like they binge, play something for like all night until the sun comes up, those encompass different narratives, different relationships to labor and to play that we wanted to invoke by making it a video game and performance.
0:16:29 – Phil Rickaby
Patrick, you mentioned real games. Can we get into what that, what that means, what? What do you mean by that?
0:16:37 – Patrick Blenkarn
Yeah. So I mean, ok, we’re going to have to volley this sort of back and forward because it is a subject that is let’s start at sort of a beginning. So both Milton and I come out of devised theatre kind of practices and a lot of those practices use games to create material, you know, simple games and not just sort of like I can’t even name a sort of high school theatre warm up game but, like you know, identifying game structures as like a win and a lose in a scene or actually sort of like throwing something back and forward on stage and if the ball drops, that triggers like something, that’s an outcome. That I think is a very sort of for me. I’m just I guess this is my history because no one has a very more intimate relationship to video gaming than I do but to me we started to have a conversation about like when are the games that we see ourselves playing on stage real or sort of simulated, in the sense that, as you asked, is there anyone in the audience who’s like going to handhold or sort of railroad and help the audience get through? The experience Categorically said no, there’s not, because we want the game to stand on its own feet and be fully functional on its own.
We’ve seen, I think, examples of games in Canada, but also like international theatrical landscapes, where you you enter into a game context and you believe yourself to be playing a game, but there is a bit of theatrical magic that sort of swoops in at certain moments to make sure that the outcome is the same and that’s not the same as in saying like it’s the same end of the story because, right, you might play Final Fantasy 10 and you’re always going to get the same moments, like sort of that video at the end.
That is the end of the story. But there’s something about that kind of theatrical propping up that we wanted to take away because it felt like it was a disservice to the idea that games were in and of themselves performative spaces like live art. Why do we keep sort of trying to shoebox them into a two hour sort of mold or sort of make sure that they have like an act three moment that lands at exactly 90 minutes in, so that people feel this certain emotion only in at that time? Billman, do you want to spin your own?
0:19:05 – Milton Lim
spin my own yarn, yeah. So I would say yes. There’s like the reaction to kind of especially Canadian theatrical practice, where a lot of the kind of images of games that we see are not really games, they’re their illusions of games, or they are invoking the idea of games but like you don’t really get to play the game or, as Patrick is saying, like the game itself is not on stage. And so that kind of became a very direct line for us to say, like what if the game was the thing on stage? What if it wasn’t about trying to I’m going to play, you’re going to watch and then, like I’m just going to use the idea of the video game as a metaphor for something and instead like the core of it and the essence of what asses masses is actually what I might do on my off time and what a lot of people wouldn’t consider art.
And I think that was really important for us to say like, well, why aren’t these things that are very similar in a lot of veins, even in terms of the kind of practice of creation of games, like the amount of theatre makers that go into game development is much more than people expect, and I think that’s worth saying because of the times that you might read like in some sort of niche magazine about people doing Feldenkrais workshops and like practices as they’re trying to warm up and get ready for doing blocking for a scene inside of a video game.
That seems outside of the purview for a lot of theatrical communities, that that would also be serious art or serious games in some way. So the games for us that are serious and we understand that there are different categories, that a lot of game academics and theorists would say like oh well, that breaks down. We can get really kind of granular and and in the weeds about it, but for our purposes in this podcast I would definitely say that we don’t often see full games with any sort of like agency being explored in a lot of participatory performance in Canada.
0:20:58 – Patrick Blenkarn
Yeah, and maybe just to tag on, I think that this is where the relationship to Culture Capital, the kind of sister project of this one, is really important, because that is a competitive trading card game about the arts economy. We gather the public funding data for every arts organization in Canada, we aggregate it and then we publish it publicly online on CultureCapital Cards, and then we take that data and we sort of fuel a design to have real theatre companies sort of face off against each other in a not so like semi fictional context. And when we do that and we did the tournament right before the pandemic in Edmonton you know a final. You could come to the final and it could be 30 minutes or it could be a three and a half hour, like nail biter. Those are temporal experiences that we have in other forms of like event design and event experiences, whether it’s sports or different forms of arts.
So trying to listen to say, okay, well, what if something else other than my like directorial decision that like 120 minutes is like enough? Or rather it’s probably not even a directorial one, it’s like a producerial sort of clampdown. What if the actual materials that are on stage determined how long and in what way this is going to unfold. Is that going to be like what cards come up and in what order they come up? It depends on whether or not someone wants to plow a field for 30 minutes because they want to get the highest plowing field score, which you can do in NASA’s masses on September 20th to 24th in Toronto. So, like, do you know what I mean? That’s the range that we were interested in sort of being offering it also as like a provocation to our community to say like, let’s take more seriously how we do things on these stages.
0:23:00 – Milton Lim
In case we passed over relatively fast September 22nd to 24th.
0:23:05 – Patrick Blenkarn
What did I?
0:23:06 – Milton Lim
say it sounded like 20th.
0:23:11 – Phil Rickaby
I hope not.
0:23:12 – Milton Lim
We’ll fix it in post.
0:23:13 – Phil Rickaby
So the 22nd to the 24th is the earth.
0:23:17 – Patrick Blenkarn
It’s not the sort of like come back to, but let’s keep going on this because it is, I mean, maybe for you, phil, then you’ve seen other things in Toronto or you’ve seen other things in other parts of the world where you’re thinking about like participation and where your relationship is to it and you know if, or like you know, does that make sense to you, like when we say like hey, can, what is the thing that’s driving the bus really?
And is it just like a well trained group of actors who, for the most part, have rehearsed the thing to a point that they can do the thing at the same time every night and you can hear that equity stage manager being like you were two minutes late tonight Tomorrow. Like pick it up, because that to me is like a, that is like a parody, not to pick on a stage manager who’s just doing their job, but like that’s paradigmatic of a problem of our relationship to theatre in Canada. For sure that it doesn’t breathe, like if it can’t be two minutes shorter or two minutes or 10 minutes longer the next night, because the actors like really started to like live a certain moment. You know what are we doing. It’s not going to feel alive and video games feel a lot, because often there’s other people in the world with you, or at least the NPC system is at a point where it’s actually going to like talk to you back in more ways than the actors are going to.
0:24:37 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, yeah, I want to talk a little bit about. You were mentioning about video games as art. I remember years ago I had I was listening to some some radio show and they were complaining about how video games could possibly be art. And you know, it’s just, you know, a red dot moving through a maze and I was like you haven’t touched a video game since 1983. And at the same time I think I was playing through the Mass Effect series and I think what? What made me so angry at that statement was the fact that in that series, by the time I got to the, to the last game, I was having emotional experiences in the game and I was sort of like how, if this is happening, how is that not art? How is it not art? And then, if you could take an audience that is reacting together and that’s the essential piece of the theatrical experience, is an audience that’s that’s reacting together, breathing together. If they’re experiencing it together and reacting to it and having real emotional experiences together, then that is art, that’s theatre.
0:25:43 – Patrick Blenkarn
Amen, yeah, yeah no.
0:25:48 – Milton Lim
0:25:48 – Phil Rickaby
Well, what if I?
0:25:48 – Patrick Blenkarn
get it. We should talk about a bit of story, because we asses masses is a long story and we’re not going to sort of we don’t want to do spoilers and stuff like that Because you know we we have done our darndest to create a story that has quite a few surprises along the way. It’s structured in episodes, so you know it’s a very familiar kind of binge watchable structure which we purposefully used rather than sort of chapters or other ways of sort of demarcating the separation between these moments. And you know Laurel Green, who is our wonderful dramaturg and cowriter on the project, she joined two years into it, right before we went to once before, right before we sent the game to Argentina for the first time to be played during the pandemic at their international festival. And you know we’ve worked together between the three of us over the last years now to sort of shape something that gets to, you know, that gets us through a lot of these difficult moments for characters we recognize, you know, like that, as game designers, like we have a responsibility to create mechanics that are challenging, that to create worlds that are sort of like beautiful but also characters that are, you know, really like whether it’s relatable or like that you can see yourself in them, that they also speak to different sort of points of view that we feel like a lot of people might occupy in this current age, especially around like technology, whether it’s technophobia or whether it’s pro technology, or whether it’s certain political positions that people take around uprising or like you know, are you the type to join a protest if it’s going down the street or not?
And like, how do we sort of try to have, through this ensemble cast that we have of many, many donkeys I think it’s like 15, that you know that there’s room for everyone?
And that also really comes back to asking questions about where is this going and who are the people who are going to be in the room, and how do we make sure that a story that’s this big has room for everyone to, you know, get on, get on board with different characters at different times. That’s been, you know, that’s been this sort of like continual process of us of refinement over the course of workshopping it, of saying like, hey, this character is really like you know, people are really connecting to them. Like, how do we find ways that everyone has like a moment to take a step forward and to take a step forward, to take to take the helm, I guess, because each, each episode is led by a different donkey and you know, that’s again another way of sort of encouraging this sort of passing of the controller, passing of identification, passing of the lens that we’re sort of experiencing the story through.
0:28:41 – Milton Lim
I think it’s also important to say that the kind of narrative that we were chasing couldn’t have been told in less than two hours, and that’s true of a lot of kind of binge, like serialized, episodic kind of narratives that we’re used to a lot nowadays and that introduces a different relationship to character, especially when you’re participating in it and you play as that character. And all of those things, especially game wise if anyone’s played like the Last of Us and watched the Last of Us and just try to analyze the difference between watching those characters do something versus having to do it yourself All those things were alive in our conversations about when do we get characters to do certain things? When do we have to be on-site with the character? When are we opposed to the character?
So, in addition to creating what feels like this epic narrative that has an ensemble cast of really memorable characters, we were also tasked with trying to find out what is the player’s relationship and the audience’s relationship to any of these characters at a given time, and so what we hope has happened is that it’s created a really rich tapestry that you can both see yourself, a reflection of yourself, but also ask questions in real time, which often we don’t get to do inside of theatrical practice because you’re in the dark and required sitting beside a stranger, but in this case we’re actually asked to like well, how do we feel about something? Let’s have a forum about this, and so we come back to the kind of narratives that you can have inside of couch co-op games or just sharing the controller with your friends in the basement, because it is that open conversation in real time with this seven plus hour show. Yeah.
0:30:14 – Phil Rickaby
Interesting the way that that games change. Because you can come at them at a different wage time, different person who’s holding the controller will go in different ways. Some people will go straight for the main story and they’ll finish the game really quickly, and some people will do side quests. I have a bad tendency to follow the main story because as soon as they say this is urgent, I’m like okay, it’s urgent, rather than you know, even though I know if it was actually urgent they would have a timer on the screen. So I like fall into that trap a lot and then on my second playthrough I do side quests. But everybody plays games in a different way, totally.
0:30:49 – Patrick Blenkarn
And actually you’ve brought up a really good point, because this is a game that most people play once.
There’s no harm in you coming every night it’s at 6pm, 4pm and 2pm in Toronto from the 22nd to the 24th and but there is no harm in coming again and there is variation for sure, like we’re not going to tell anyone that it’s exactly the same every night.
And but one of the things is, you know, just as an anecdote, we had one time there’s an area in the game that there’s a lot of things that you can do, like an hour probably of content, of like of explorable material, and I think the very first time we put in front of an audience, they just ran right through it and just like ignored all of it. And that’s cool, it’s like sure they didn’t see the thing that happened at the end of that scene. They didn’t see what was over to the west or the east. That’s fine. And people who have played the game now, who were in that show they had come back another time to see it and they were like hold on, hold on, wait, like can we go over there? And so we don’t know what it’s like if people come to see Asus Masses multiple times. That changes the community fabric. But also it’ll be up to them about their generosity, of how they help people experience it for the first time.
0:32:20 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, the first time I played through the Mass Effect series, I missed a bunch of things. Also, the game changes depending on so many different factors that you, if you have one experience the whole game, you have to play it at least three times, probably six. But there are things that I missed. I didn’t ask the right questions, I didn’t do this, I didn’t do that, and there are whole storylines that you miss out on if you don’t do exactly the right thing. So now it’s funny because years later, you can actually go online and find out exactly how to hit all of the story points that you missed the first time, because there are tutorials of people who’ve done it before.
But it’s amazing to think about all the things that I missed the first time. And it’s somewhere. There’s a developer and a writer who were like but you missed all of this stuff and, unlike with I mean, again, somebody can go back and play, can attend again, but they might not be in control of the controller at that point. So very interesting to see this come together in that way.
0:33:13 – Milton Lim
That was something that we had to really negotiate as, especially when we were writing it, where it became so endeared to this narrative for, like, oh yeah, the character will say this and like this is some of the best writing that I’ve done today. And then to know like, oh, you know what, they might just not have this pass of it at all, because there are different ways that you can play as this masses. There are choices that you might know are choices, other ones that happen in the background. You have no idea as you’re playing it, and we felt like that’s important for creating and worlding a space that feels very alive. And as you’re playing through it, you know, just like in real life, we don’t know all the time when we make a decision that’s going to impact the rest of the day or the rest of our lives. Sometimes it just happens in the background.
0:33:52 – Patrick Blenkarn
And so, yeah, I was just going to say that one of the hardest things is to not like how do the games that we love that have that variation in them? Don’t make you feel like you’re missing things. That, I think, is one of the most successful. When we think about all those like wonderful Final Fantasy games, Like how is it that you like you know there’s like so many other things and side quests and many things and Easter eggs but how is it that they structure space, structure aesthetics, characters, that when you’re playing it you’re not just regretting already having missed things? That’s something you know.
We really hope that people don’t regret the decisions they make, because you know they’re made as a group. You’re in the moment and the best that we can do is hope that we’ve created something that allows people to stay in that moment, and it’s not just the moment again on screen, but it’s also the moment in the audience. So, even if they took a wrong turn in someone’s eyes, that there’s something there and that’s really our responsibility, that if you go a different direction, there’s no bad direction, it’s just different. And it should ideally reflect the sort of whether it’s jubilation or, you know, intensity or focus that’s in the room. So that’s our hope.
0:35:14 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, I am curious about whether you have faced pushback on the concept of this video game as theatre. Is that something that’s come up and how do you respond to that?
0:35:30 – Milton Lim
Yes, the answer is yes. How it’s come up, it depends on which intersection of the game I think the fun like we didn’t get funding for the project for what was the first year and a half, two years.
0:35:42 – Patrick Blenkarn
Yeah, yeah, it’s kind of gone in yeah.
0:35:46 – Milton Lim
Yeah. So like that was one side which is like our peers on the art story didn’t feel like it was either theatre enough. I think at a certain point we switched over to inter arts with Canada Council.
0:35:56 – Patrick Blenkarn
No, we’ve been theatre all the way through.
0:35:58 – Milton Lim
We’ve been theatre all the way through, I’m correct. So we’ve been theatre all the way through, and you know, yes, and there have been other places where people just don’t quite buy into the idea. Usually they haven’t played the game and they are opposed to like, hmm, that doesn’t feel like it’s something that can work, or like I can’t imagine something like that. I don’t know, patrick, what else comes to mind for people who have kind of had no feelings, not no feelings, but like no, I mean, I think the you know, when we say it’s like, hey, this is what it is.
0:36:29 – Patrick Blenkarn
And he’s like, oh, that’s asking a lot.
And I think that that is a great expression of where we are like psychologically as people right now, that like and also like the values that we’ve now attributed to these art forms, because it’s not a lot to go home and watch all of white lotus in one sitting, like how many people did that?
Music carries you like all the way through and but for some reason, to come into a public space, oh, that’s a lot. To be in public, in a public space for all that time, that’s a lot, even though you could probably watch white lotus with your friends all that time and it would be fine. But so we I think that you know we’re any pushback and it’s not really pushback, but I think any hesitation that people have had is really like a great opportunity for us to say like, hey, let’s talk about why. Why we feel like this is too much. Because we’ve got people writing hundreds of pages of novels, we’ve got, you know, movies that increasingly get longer and longer, and we’d all like, how many of us feel, have you been to a Lord of the Rings movie marathon before.
0:37:43 – Phil Rickaby
I have not, but I’ve done a one on my own, so I haven’t done like a theatre, but definitely.
0:37:48 – Patrick Blenkarn
I guess that’s extended.
extended versions so yeah, I would, I would presume no less. But like that is. I think that’s like a really important question for us to come back to that. It’s okay to do it alone, but the issues that we face and the issues that we’re talking about and I would say a lot of the issues that are even represented in this serialized media they’re not issues that are ever going to be surmounted alone. So why do we keep consuming media in those places, when you know the number of times we like see a movie that ends with the sort of a culmination of a group overcoming an obstacle, but we watch it alone now on a computer? That is. There’s a question there. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to watch it on your computer, because that’s maybe the situation that you’ve got, but let’s ask ourselves where we consume the media and whether or not those are places that create launching pads for actually walking out and saying, hey, let’s make sure that that doesn’t happen or let’s stop that from happening, because it is real here.
0:38:48 – Milton Lim
And for anyone who’s played something like Death Stranding, where it’s about the question of how to be alone and together and together alone and what this network to play is asking similar questions, but in a different direction, if that makes sense.
It’s like about the contemporary state of not being able to play all at the same time or in the same place, but we’re all asynchronously existing in the same world, where I can leave a note for someone else and it persists for that other person to pick it up, or my direct actions can affect someone else, and so our question because of our attunement, but also our interest in what public gathering looks like has taken place inside of a theatre.
I also did want to say that the idea of pushback has also come in the form of people feeling like it’s not really a show for them because they don’t play video games, and as someone who plays video games, I can understand that to a point.
But also I can’t pretend to say like I know exactly what that is, because I’m in-worlded in that already. But I think that what I’ve witnessed from a lot of friends and anyone who really which is a lot of people participated in someone else playing video game or has watched, it doesn’t necessarily need to have the technical skill to be able to execute certain things, and that became a very important part of how we imagined asses-masses, so that everyone brings the best part of what they can of themselves to the show, and that doesn’t have to be that they’re a great video game player. They don’t have to know all the genres that we use, because there are a lot of them, and instead they have to come with their eyes, their willing participation and the willingness to have a fun night at the theatre, and if they have all those things, then the rest of it is just unfolded within the different things that we’ve designed as game designers, but also as people who make live performance.
0:40:35 – Patrick Blenkarn
And I think that’s a great way to go back to something you asked already, Phil, which is some games are more fun to watch than others. So how did we decide what games that we were going to make? Well, we were at the theatre center as artists in residence during the pandemic and we, in one of the sort of like- you know liberated moments I don’t know what we call it, the pauses from the indoors.
We were able to go to Toronto and we had three weeks there to one visit donkeys in outside of Guelph and do some sound recordings and sort of like hang out with the real cast. And then we also tested video games as part of this sort of video game night. So Milton had sort of curated a series of nights where people would come. We’d invite anyone it was like totally public and open to anyone to come and play a random selection of games. Anything from like it wasn’t random, it was very specific Sorry, milton of like you know whether it’s Resident Evil to overcooked to, you know, games that have very distinct genre and mechanics. But it allowed us to sit in the back and we just took notes and watched how those games activated different people.
And some games that are amazing to play are not fun to watch. And some games that are, you know they’re okay to play, like they’re maybe more simple but they’re a lot of fun to watch because there’s like room for more, whether it’s heckling or whether it’s sort of supportive commentary and you know, go left, go left, whatever it’s going to be.
Or like things that involve memorization, things that we look at, like Mario Party we look at I don’t know what you’re trying to blank on all of the other ones, but a way out was also a way out was a great example of like a collaborative game where, you know, two players are required in order to move the story along it in any way at all, so that that taught us a lot. We use that as a very sort of important moment as we moved from the first four episodes of the game into the last six episodes of the game, and we keep coming back to that when we think about okay, so what is the information? What are these game forms, let, does it serve the story that we’re trying to tell right now? Or what is the game that’s already inherent in the moment that we’re, our characters are in? Let’s see if we can build something out of that.
And then, what can we take away or simplify or reduce so that it demands a little bit more on the audience? Like, can we remove a mini map? Can we remove details so that you’re told them once? And you better hope that some of the either like 50 to 100 people who are in that audience remember it. Those principles have guided the now entire sort of like the full arc of Asus masses design, because and I guess that’s what makes it weird as a video game is that some of these things that you’re supposed to have. We’ve just deliberately left out to make it depend on more brains.
0:43:42 – Phil Rickaby
That’s fascinating to me, because you guys are approaching this in a way that’s like intending for an audience to see it and I think a lot of those games that are really great as couch co-op or as what games that you can watch. I don’t necessarily know that they were intended that way is just they happened to be by the virtue of how they came up. You mentioned Resident Evil. I can remember again much like Final Fantasy playing that, with one person playing it and everybody else hiding behind like they’re screaming. Yeah, exactly, exactly. I had one particular roommate who screamed every time there was a zombie. It was part of the joy of playing the game. Was that guy’s going to scream? And it was terrifying game. But I don’t know that it would have been quite as terrifying if we weren’t all reacting to it together. But that’s not what the game designers intended necessarily. You guys have come at this with that specific thing in mind.
One question that I have is for Patrick specifically, but also for Milton, in relation to that. Patrick, you learned to code specifically for this game. Was that daunting? And tell me about how that unfolded? Yeah.
0:44:57 – Patrick Blenkarn
So it’s sort of an accident, but we started. So this process started on the stage of the Shadbolt theatre in Burnaby, british Columbia. We got a projector, we downloaded Unity and Milton and I sat next to each other and we just started doing tutorials in order to sort of have like a mock-up of it and to see if it was any interest. And then the world unfolded in the way that it did. That was in 2018, when we had that residency. So the world unfolded the way it did and, I guess, was it daunting? Yeah, it’s like a totally different version of being on the hook for like a crash. We still have this conversation when, like, if something in our beta testing sorry, in our beta testing I’m getting emotional about all the crashes. No, in the beta testing, if something goes wrong, it’s definitely that kind of thing where you see it differently.
As a director, I think, like Milton is trained as an actor, I am not. I have a philosophy undergrad and I considered myself more of a writer and a director in the time when I identified solely under the umbrella of theatre, and so there’s a different. Like you know, there’s almost, in some ways, there’s a performer quality to the coding that has happened. I feel like it’s very alive and I know where you know, I’ve always known where there’s like a crunchy bit and I, like you know, I bite my fingernails as we like get through some of these areas again in the beta testing. But yeah, I don’t know, milton has been privy to the whole process of me learning it and sort of like trying to do it, and so you know it’s YouTube school the whole way down. So if anyone is like aspiring to being like, hey, I’d love to explore like the options of this, just know that everything that we’ve done is, you know, we learned it from YouTube.
We don’t actually have that many contexts who are professional game programmers, just the nature of, maybe, where we live, the way our sort of theatre community is siloed off from that world, so that’s, you know that was a. There was some times of being like, wow, we’re really alone in this, like we don’t know how to achieve the thing that we want to achieve. What can we come up with? That’s more daunting. I think like learning the programming is like you know, you’re looking at physics stuff that you haven’t looked at since high school maybe, and you think about these stereotypes of people who are like oh, I don’t really like math and so I’m in theatre and like cool, but all of the best stage design is definitely math.
0:47:46 – Phil Rickaby
0:47:48 – Patrick Blenkarn
So like let’s go to math town and get everything that we need so that you know learning that has been a process and in part, asses masses is the greatest like school, because or was for me because every single time we wanted to do something it would push me a little bit more. Milton would test and like we’d like look at it together At this point. Now, like you know, we both look at code and that is. You know, that’s that’s how this is working now. But at yeah, early days you’re like okay, here we go, let’s you have the idea, when everyone has too expensive to realize it, so you’re going to do it yourself.
0:48:28 – Phil Rickaby
Basically is another version of how that, milton, what was your programming experience like at the time that you guys started working on this? Were you learning along with Patrick or did you already have the knowledge?
0:48:40 – Milton Lim
We started learning together, but during the pandemic Patrick certainly far outpaced me.
I come from more like a media art practice, and so node based visual programming was kind of where I felt most strongly suited for, and so when it came to things like doing shaders for our 3D effects and for our 2D things as well, patrick also came in with work in like Photoshop and illustrator, being able to do a lot of the pixel art assets.
So maybe just to say like this is not really an isolated thing for the two of us, I think, as artists we both like to be very flexible with the forms that we use and the skills that are necessary to be able to achieve them, and so basically every step of the way, especially for the first two years, if something needed to get done, one of us would just hop on a tutorial and like figure out how to do it from like sound to like cut scenes, especially on the programming and coding on Patrick’s side, and then we just kind of had to figure out on the fly, and it wasn’t until we were fortunate to have two additional members join our core team and then four additional members join our extended team at the last little bit, as we were successful in getting the National Creation Fund through the National Arts Center of Canada, that we all of a sudden had a full team behind us.
That really reoriented our time from being able to, like, now I have to do tutorials and do it all myself, to now having to negotiate time zones and making sure that we could be present to explain all the things that we learn how to do on the fly to people who arguably know how to do it better. And so that was. That was a big challenge in different ways, and the project really evolved from moment to moment, from time to time and really tested our skills. But maybe, to answer your question more directly, I still don’t program on my own, and so visual programming is how I would often execute things.
0:50:34 – Patrick Blenkarn
So, whether or not that’s in Unity or Touch Designer or Isadora, Hmm, yeah, and that balance, though I mean when you think this is something we’ve been doing, this isn’t isolated to asses masses. So, you know, we are the types we are sort of DIY, like, hey, you want to build it, build it yourself, figure out how to do it, because you’re going to discover some really weird thing in the process of learning and you’re like, actually, that’s kind of cool, let’s keep it. There are a number of parts of asses masses that you’re like, hey, this came out of, like us prototyping it on our own and just trying to imagine how we would do it, and not necessarily following conventions. But in our other work too, you know, we whether it’s like I do maybe some more graphic design, milton does video and sort of effects and or sort of like live interactive media systems, like there’s this sort of dialogue where we sort of things come our respective ways and we say, okay, which of us can, which of us can take this right now, and it asses masses.
I think you know the additional thing is that we share. We share all of the sort of decisions about what said and the structure of the story and like, and those are actually where we, you know, have to get into like the weeds, because the sort of technical stuff of how we’re going to execute it, you know, it’s objectively like hey, this picture, this sprite animation is like not good enough, so like we’re all in agreement about that. But subjective, more, somewhat more subjective things around, like hey, so like should the character say X or Y, you know, and then we get into the sort of like the old world of like our theatre degrees of like well, why, if the person is coming from this experience like that’s actually more where, I think, after the bulk of programming happened, that’s where, like the, a lot of our time ended up being spent together, alongside Laurel as well.
0:52:24 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, now, milton, you mentioned being being a gamer that you curated those events that you were at at the theatre center. Patrick, were you a gamer before this or is that a new thing for you? Just curious about your gaming relationship.
0:52:43 – Patrick Blenkarn
Yeah, so I grew up playing video games. I was like a PlayStation one kid Crash Bandicoot to find my childhood, and Final Fantasy 10 and, like you know, a slew of other sort of RPGs and then I stopped playing video games when I was in high school. I became a kind of a jock athlete type of person and I walked away from them and I just like didn’t have time, it wasn’t. I think a lot of people also wanted to play more cooperative games and and I liked more narrative games. I also feel like there was a moment where the consoles were coming out very fast and they were expensive. Like it just became like I had. There was a moment in my childhood where it was like we’d managed to like put together, we’d had like a PS1, ps2 and N64. And then I look back and I was like at a certain point I had a GameCube and I was like geez, I’ve got all of these like consoles but and so I couldn’t like afford to keep doing it. And then I guess, like almost 15 years later, I played Journey and Journey was and for those who come to see Asus Masters, they can see, you know, they can ask themselves like what moment of this game may or may not have been inspired by someone’s experience playing Journey, but that was, that was the big game.
And I think I actually went to Milton not long after and was like, hey, I have this idea about some donkeys and this like field. You know, like let’s, can we like talk about it? So that’s sort of, and I think in the process of it, and then I started to just borrow Milton’s games, like I borrowed. Oh my God, what did I borrow? It was the big one, the three part, near near automata. That was the next one that I was like.
So my sort of like, as I was sort of then like taking, like learning from what we were doing, but ironically, you know, they take a lot of time to play and to sort of cycle back to this. It’s like, hey, that’s asking a lot. Well, it’s like learning how to build video games became actually my main focus over the last four years, whereas Milton was playing video games and analyzing them. And then we’d sort of like come back together to be like okay, what can we do in the context? Well, here’s what I’ve learned how to do this week. And you know, it’s like well, this mechanic is happening in this game. This is like really interesting. This is asking a new. You know this is presenting this type of interaction in a new way. Is that of interest to us and that?
dialogue you know still goes on.
0:55:25 – Phil Rickaby
Milton, what kind of things is your analyzing video games? And I don’t know, don’t necessarily need the whole list of the games that you were analyzing. Um, what is the big long scroll? Were there particular tropes or things that you noticed as you were analyzing video games that you brought into asses masses?
0:55:45 – Milton Lim
Yes, it really depends on what episode, because asses masses is not the kind of game where we build one cohesive system and everything revolves around that system. So if anyone knows, like from software games and like Dark Souls or Demon Souls, and it’s all built around kind of the fighting mechanics, that’s not really asses masses. Asses masses per episode has like wildly different kind of strategies that you need to use an entirely different orientation towards like our sprite assets, and so it really meant like kind of rebuilding from the bottom for so much of the game. So when it comes down to like tropes that we wanted to use, they’re pretty episode specific and we had to think really dramaturgically about how any particular game trope or idea wanted to be executed mechanically but also narratively. And so, for example, a key thing for us for most of the game was this question of stakes, narrative stakes and death, and so I think that’s a really important point, and so in this role playing game we wanted death to actually mean something, but that also meant that you couldn’t really, in the game language of things, die and retry, and that became a huge conversation for us.
We ended up bending a little bit on one game I’ll say it because I don’t think people will play it in time for the game.
But Katana Zero was something we were thinking of at the time and then I played that and I’m like that is a distillation of how we were thinking we might try to get around thinking about death and retrying, and so that was one instance. There were things around how characters were being treated and long, long conversations that we had about our place as spectators and what an avatar is versus someone who’s like an NPC companion who can say what things, and then how do those things kind of stick in our memory as we think about like character objectives and goals, and so we really leaned into ensemble based storytelling games Utah’s, ione, kentucky, roots, zero a little bit and those kinds of games that, while on more of the experimental side, really for us meant that it wasn’t about telling the same kind of stories but instead telling the story about a group and a world, and that was probably most important to us. But otherwise to get more specific than that I’d have to go into details and spoilers probably.
0:58:01 – Patrick Blenkarn
Yeah, we don’t like that. We could say, like at the very beginning we knew we were working with 2D and 3D environments. So as this masses in both sort of aesthetics there’s a meaningful distinction between when we use one versus the other. And as we’re learning from the very beginning, like we’re very much inside of the aesthetic universe of Pokemon, that was like an important thing for me. Like it’s sort of even at the very beginning of it in the idea of like animals and like maybe people have seen Pita’s version of Pokemon YouTube video. It’s funny and tragic.
But the trying to think about like how do we, when we look to other games, to invite those references, that also becomes this like there’s a genre and there’s a tone and there’s a history and a narrative for, like different players associated with Metal Gear Solid or with Pokemon or with the certain color of blue that we use might be recognizable to people who’ve played certain games. And like that becomes something that we try to be very intentional about as best as we can. You know, inviting those references in at moments that actually might help you understand, like what your goal is or help you understand the scenario. Like ah, okay, is that a cardboard box? Like maybe, maybe there’s something we can do here for the Metal Gear Solid people and like that became not just like needless Easter eggs, in a sense, or like homages outside of it, but really saying like this is a dialogue amongst a lot of different art works and artists and so let’s, you know, let’s bring those together in moments that like sort of support kind of what we’re doing.
0:59:57 – Phil Rickaby
Just as we come to a close, I’d like to finish off by asking you each if you could tell me what was the earliest video game that you played. That you feel informs asses masses.
1:00:15 – Milton Lim
Patrick, you go first.
1:00:19 – Patrick Blenkarn
Well, because I’m younger than so, it’s more recent.
That’s sure let’s go with that.
I think that I think the sort of pillar like the emotional pillars for me of video games and asses masses still come back to the like a sort of a dialogue between Final Fantasy 10 and Journey that those like I remember weeping at the end of Final Fantasy 10 and thinking about, like scale and like you know, hundreds of hours.
And then I also remembered when I I guess you know I wasn’t as involved but when I had played Journey, thinking about a new negotiation around task, like an objective, like what is my goal. And I think I grew up in a context where a lot of my peers were really interested in gun like first person shooter games and I didn’t have as much of a community around me who was really enthusiastic about playing Zelda or Final Fantasy so, which are also full of weapons, let’s be real. But like there was a conversation of like an aesthetic conversation around flow that obviously that game company literally was doing. And, yeah, the pixel art. I think that I’m undecided as to like what, whether that comes from just like a relationship to Pokemon, or whether it’s like yeah, no.
1:01:58 – Milton Lim
Okay, Phil, I think you asked about for the earliest one.
1:02:01 – Patrick Blenkarn
Yes, that kind of idea for you.
1:02:02 – Milton Lim
But you have an idea for me? I’m curious.
1:02:05 – Patrick Blenkarn
Well, I would just in terms of which ones we come back to as like, hey, what are these pillars? But tell me yours first. No, no, no, I wanna know. I think that Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross had a very important place in thinking about like time scale, variability and and I’ve never played those, so it’s always been this thing where it’s like tell me more and I’ve watched. I’ve now actually watched YouTube videos of other people playing them, but you know that that was anyways. Tell us your version of.
1:02:35 – Milton Lim
Yeah, it was gonna be Chrono Trigger for an epic narrative that involves a cast of characters, and I remember sitting and like falling asleep really to the music of those worlds, and I think in the early days of Asus, mass is just really trying to figure out like what is the tone of this space, and I kept coming back to Chrono Trigger as an example of how unfolded I became into not only the narrative, not only the characters, but also the kind of the space that I could be inside.
So that was I’m gonna cheat a little bit because I think, patrick, you had two examples too. I’ll take some for this, sure, yeah, so then the other one, also on epic narratives, and these are both kind of well-known games, but Final Fantasy VII kind of came up for me very early on because I never played Final Fantasy VII the first time. I never touched the controller. It was a family friend. Their son had the controller and he didn’t let me play, and I just remember sitting there in the back, being engrossed in a story that I never had the chance to pick up the controller for, and I came back a lot to that essence of like still feeling so involved. But I would like say something in the back and he’d tell me to like be quiet.
1:03:49 – Phil Rickaby
That’s not what’s gonna happen at Asus.
1:03:50 – Patrick Blenkarn
Masses hopefully, but I just never know. So if you too have been traumatized by being denied access to the means of production, whether in your youth or in your adulthood, let us tell you here and now that Asus Masses is where you are encouraged to stand up and say hey, it’s my turn now.
1:04:09 – Milton Lim
Yeah, so those are the two earliest things I can think of. There are many, many more after that, but that’s another conversation.
1:04:14 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah Well, thank you both. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me this evening and look forward to checking out Asus Masses.
1:04:22 – Patrick Blenkarn
Awesome, see you there. Thank you so much.
1:04:24 – Milton Lim
1:04:30 – Phil Rickaby
This has been an episode of Stageworthy. Stageworthy is produced, hosted and edited by Phil Rickaby – that’s me. If you enjoyed this podcast and you listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, you can leave a five star rating, and if you listen on Apple Podcasts, you can also leave a review. Those reviews and ratings help new people find the show. If you want to keep up with what’s going on with Stageworthy and my other projects, you can subscribe to my newsletter by going to philrickaby.com. Slash subscribe and remember. If you want to leave a tip, you’ll find a link to the virtual tip jar in the show notes or on the website. You can find Stageworthy on Twitter and Instagram at StageworthyPod, and you can find the website with the complete archive of all episodes at Stageworthy.ca. If you want to find me, you can find me on Twitter and Instagram, at philrickaby and, as I mentioned, my website is philrickaby.com. See you next week for another episode of Stageworthy.