Taking a class on puppetry this past spring, I couldn’t help but think of some video games as a kind of digital puppetry. After all, just as the puppeteer controls the movements of their puppet to imbue an inanimate object with agency and life, when we control an onscreen character we are also acting through a digital object and imbuing it with agency and life. Animate literally means to give life, after all, and it doesn’t matter if that life is just an illusion or an extension of the performer’s own life. Mario is simply a collection of pixels until a player acts through him and makes him move and act. Of course, in most games the player is limited in how they can make their digital puppet move and act. You can make the character act out the story, but seldom are you able to deviate from that set narrative or create an entirely different narrative.
I was thinking about the possibility of creating new narratives and games within old games when Animal Crossing New Leaf came out for the 3DS. Much has already been written on this game, but what was interesting to me is that it is a game that defies the player’s attempt to find goals. You can do nothing but gather bells and pay off debts, but then there will always been more to gather. You can attempt to build a perfect town or complete the many different collections, but then there is no real reward for doing so beyond yet more collectibles. Despite the uber-capitalist undertones, the only real way to “win” Animal Crossing is to ignore Tom Nook and the endless cycle of debt and slavery. Instead, players must define their own goals and their own games within the sandbox of Animal Crossing. I was amazed how in such a short time, players had devoted themselves to creating fantastic works of art within the game. Dream villages with interactive stories, intricate costumes and designs, digital art galleries and displays. It was fascinating. I have no idea if Nintendo ever planned to create a game that offered players so much freedom to create and become artists and actors (yeah, probably not). But no matter what the company’s intent, here was a game that created a space players could use for means far beyond the “real” game.
And so with that in mind, I began thinking about how to use that space in another way. I’m happy to announce an open casting call for the first production of the Animal Crossing New Leaf Players. I’m hoping to find two players interested in performing a production within Animal Crossing that we can take “on the road” to other players’ towns. Essentially it would be a digital wandering theatre troupe, moving from town to town to perform short theatrical pieces.
The first production I’d like to direct is Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants. It is a short, one-act piece for two actors (and me as director/stage manager/background waiter). It is ideal for performing in New Leaf towns because it is short enough so we won’t have to worry about lag or poor wifi as much, but still has powerful enough dialogue and a lot of opportunity for the actors to create interesting, personal performances.
I’m looking for two players interested in taking part in this production. All ages, genders and theatrical backgrounds (or lack-thereof) are welcome, but having a lot of unlocked emotions from Dr Shrunk is ideal. I also need costume and set designers interested in creating patterns for clothing and furniture.
So if you would like to audition as an actor, please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will schedule an appointment in my town. Please prepare a short monologue you will perform as your villager. If you would like to audition as a designer, send me some qr codes or screenshots of your portfolio. Ideally I will have cast the show and we will rehearse in September. Then October we will be ready to perform in towns by appointment. If you are interested in hosting a performance, stay tuned to this blog for details of when you can reserve a slot.
I have NO idea how tenable this idea is, but the idea of performing a digital puppet show using Animal Crossing, and then “traveling” with that show is just so damn appealing I think we can make it work.