In my experience, the concept of “the game” is simultaneously one of the most fundamental concepts to improv and one of the most difficult to teach. Simply put, finding the game is finding the fun.
While searching the internet for a good example, I found this clip from the TV show Whose Line is it Anyways?
Even though Drew Carey calls it the game, I would argue that “World’s Worst” is a format, not a game. I spotted a number of games attempted in the clip, but one only was really coherent. Remember, where is the fun? Notice how all the jokes between 0:19 and 1:10 related to being as creepy as possible? To me, that's the game. Their performance demonstrated two points about games that I find important.
First is that games serve a goal. In improv, the goal is to make people laugh. Because each audience is different, players start a scene by probing for which jokes get the best reception from the audience. In this case, Collin’s initial joke was well received, so the other players ran with it. I was working on a scene this week, one that I meant to be the moment of discovery that initiated a romance subplot. Initially, I found fun through melodrama, but that didn’t read well with my betas. When I went back and looked at what other games I could play with the scene, I found that, with minor tweaking, I could pull out all the awkwardness of teenage relationships for my two adult characters. It didn’t take much to change the game, but the new version was much better received.
The second point is that games have arcs. When a scene starts, I’m looking for a game and once I’ve found it, I heighten that element through exploration and escalation. In the end, however, a game will eventually run its course and should be abandoned before it grows stale. When Collin received a good laugh for his first joke, the other players began exploring ideas like social awkwardness, blatant desperation and explicit inappropriateness, all within the creepiness game. Near the minute mark, Ryan escalated on Drew’s penis joke and got the best laugh of the game. Recognizing this, the other players began to search for a new game. The game had served its purpose, they had gotten their big laugh, and now it was time to move on.
Reading has long been a major source of entertainment for me, and has only become more so in recent years. Likewise, I write because I enjoy doing so. I believe that there should be no boring scenes in a book, scenes that "I just need to get through" to get to the fun part. If I'm not enjoying myself writing them, my audience will not enjoy reading them, which risks them putting my book down. I therefore, always keep an eye out for the element of fun in any scene I’m writing.
Tags: Sequence 02: Improv and Writing