SUPERFLUXUS and the Gameflow Story Engine

June 15, 2020

SUPERFLUXUS – a free, virtual immersive sci-fi theatrical experience – is launching today, and with it, Gameflow Interactive’s story engine is getting its first test run.

Since March of this year, we’ve been inevitably thinking a lot at Gameflow about the overlapping challenges of software and audience development to support online art / cultural performance work in this moment. Gameflow wants to help use what we’ve learned and the tools we’ve developed to support and amplify BIPOC voices and cultural works and stories that Americans need to hear, process and respond to right now and moving forward.

When the pandemic started, a wave of our performing arts clients started calling on us to help build ideas that adapt to the new online space we all live in. They dove headfirst into livestreaming and the practicalities of online events with a radically changing set of audience needs and priorities.

Then came Pivot Arts, Seth Bockley and Drew Paryzer, who wanted to explore what it would mean to take their immersive escape room idea and move it entirely online – while also providing support for them to workshop their work easily and support the crack design team’s process building and placing layers of graphic, video and audio design.  The system had to support the team’s ability to collaborate efficiently without asking the audience to install special add-ons, apps, or browser extensions.

There’s obviously a ton of challenges with something like this, and we prioritized supporting audience agency, narrative pacing controls, and expanding the sensory experience.  We play tested timings, layering transitions, a bit of cross-browser video and audio support to – we hope – help the audience get that feeling of stepping into a different world, putting on a mask, and looking through different eyes for a bit.

So we built our first draft – a theatrical story engine.  It’s a headless WordPress CMS that allows playwrights to quickly develop their work –  building scenes, dialogue sequences,  characters, audience choice and easter eggs.  At the same time, a supporting design team can add layers of world-building with tools like interactive graphical interfaces, video, audio underscore, and more complex interactive experiences like puzzles.

The ReactJS front end is a bit like that magical layered mini-stage of a puppet show, or when you’re in a design meeting and the set designer brings in a functional model and the whole team starts to play with how the world is shaped scene by scene.

I’m deeply inspired by what the SUPERFLUXUS creative team has created, and thankful for the rich collaborative process that frankly has kept me sane and focused with productive creative energy over the past few months.  It’s a full-length piece of immersive theatre, playable on your couch.  It’s an escape into a theatrical world, a retro choose-your-own-adventure book with hidden challenges and surprises to discover. We hope you play, we hope you enjoy, and we hope you share your experience with us so we can make future experiences better.

You can’t develop a cultural work over the past three months without completely rethinking how you’re working at least twice. Like many of our clients, Pivot Arts has rightly responded to the Black Lives Matter protests and the systemic racism in our culture by amplifying the majority of works in the festival developed by BIPOC artists.  The festival is filled with powerful, beautiful works and conversations, and I hope you can spend some time here, especially if you’ve been thinking about what online performance can look like in this moment:

The Prison and Neighborhood Arts Project are presenting the Long Term, a hand-drawn animation developed by artists serving long-term sentences, and is a powerful exploration of how the injustices of the justice system and sentencing rules extend poison tentacles into communities of color.  The discussion with the co-directors, civil rights attorneys and community educators  who have been in the trenches fighting a culture of mass incarceration digs deep around these issues.

Red Clay Dance are sharing two works – their site-specific work Art of Resilience 2.0 exploring Chicago’s Black Belt and the Black Arts Movement; and a new work, Re-Imagined Resilience, a direct response in real time to the beginning of the Black Lives Matter protests.

Alpharaoh, a documentary by Lidieth Arevalo Hernandez about Alex Alpharaoh’s national tour WET: A DACAmented Journey is built off his stories as a DACA Dreamer, exploring what it means to be American in every way except on paper.  

So, what’s next for this project: I’m eager to have our story engine and our work at Gameflow support stories, artists, and audiences that need better access to cultural and technological platforms.

I want to bring the WordPress ethos of democratized self-publishing and add to it the theatrical act of collaboration, design, and telling stories that need to be told in a medium with deeper sensory and emotional context.  There’s a lot of work to be done to make this a truly open platform, but a big part of this will be working to make sure that artists have the tools to simplify the distribution and development of their work, and the ability and freedom to own their relationship the audiences they build, and retain the profits from the work they develop.

We want to be a partner to artists with diverse perspectives, and to challenge our own blind spots about what we think software like this should do and who it should serve.

We want artists to own their work, and keep the profits of what they create, forever, and to become independent and/or better supported in tangible ways from gatekeeping cultural organizations the predominantly white leaders and donors who have not materially valued their perspective.  Yes: this includes independence and tangible support from Gameflow and me personally, now and in the future. 

Profiting from online content in this moment is not easy or automatic in our society and in our moment, but we’ve helped many arts organizations strategically adapt in an increasingly digital world, and we understand deeply how technology has primarily served and enriched a primarily white and primarily wealthy audience.  If we’re going to build this story engine as an open platform service, we want to first explore ways that allow artists to better keep the profits their work generates while minimizing overhead and access costs.

If you are or know a BIPOC theatremaker who feels like you could use this multi-disciplinary platform to build the world of your story – or maybe you just need some free-of-charge practical support to adapt and promote your work in to digital environment right now – the Gameflow team and I want to help support you, and I’d like to connect with you and listen and see if we can help get you more of what you need, without cost to you.

Nick Keenan
CEO, Gameflow Interactive

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