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  • Marina Mastros

A New Perspective on Game (Part 2)

I'm back! This is the second part of a two-part post. If you haven't, you may want to go read A New Perspective on Game (Part 1) first.

Last time I broke down game-based improv scenes into two parts: base reality and game. What I describe won't apply to narrative or short-form improv, just game (or pattern) based scenes. As a quick refresher, everything that happens before the first unusual thing in a scene can be thought of as base reality. Any improv school can teach you to establish base reality, or the who/what/where of a scene. So I'll skip that. My "structure of game" is essentially everything after that. Before everyone starts yelling at me, obviously there are exceptions to this. This isn't a set of strict rules. Think of it more as a new way to conceptualize game. As the title suggests, I'm just offering my perspective.

I developed the following outline to help my students who were having a hard time with game. Over a few years of trial and error, I came up with this step-by-step guide. Of course, no improv scene will ever look exactly like this outline. But my students have found it helpful to use on the way to playing game more freely.

Here's my structure for what an ideal, game-based scene could look like. The bones, if you will. This is for scenes with an unusual person (UP) and a voice of reason (VOR). Scenes with an unusual world, peas in a pod, or other forms will look a little different. Here we go, starting with the first unusual thing (in UCB language).

Structure of Game

Think of game as three cycles of the same series of steps. This is the first cycle, or the first time something unusual happens. Some people call it "hitting the game."

  1. Unusual Person (UP) does an unusual physical behavior, aka the first unusual thing of the scene

  2. Voice of Reason (VOR) expresses concern or curiosity about the UP, aka labeling the behavior as unusual

  3. UP voices a philosophy or motivation for doing the unusual thing, sometimes called a justification

  4. VOR lists potential negative consequences to UP if they keep doing this unusual behavior

  5. UP agrees the consequences aren't worth it, and says some version of, "You're right, I'm sorry, I won't do it again."

  6. VOR offers a new physical activity for them both do & changes the subject of conversation away from the unusual thing and onto the relationship, aka resting the game

That looks like a lot! Don't worry, in real time it goes by incredibly fast. You can practice this structure as a line-by-line exercise. But most of these steps will take a few lines to complete. A little back and forth is totally fine. Remember, even though there are six steps, there's only one game move. You may end up doing your unusual thing more than once, but that's fine as long as you don't change it very much.

Congrats! You've competed your first game move. It's worth noting here that this is where many improv scenes get edited. Even in the first beat of a Harold, many performers feel the urge to cut the scene at this point. I'd recommend holding out for a further two game moves. Doing so will really cement what the game is for your character, the rest of your team, and most importantly, the audience.

So now what? To get from the first game move to the second, the UP comes up with a new game move that's different from the first one. But how? Well, the last thing that happened was the Voice of Reason offering an activity to do. This physical activity could be anything that makes sense for the scene: sewing, cleaning, picking apples, whatever. The process of doing that action should eventually inspire the Unusual Person to do that action in a weird way. Boom, you've got your next game move. And here we enter the second cycle:

  1. UP does a different unusual physical behavior (establishing a pattern)

  2. VOR expresses a heightened concern and/or curiosity about the UP

  3. UP reiterates the same philosophy and/or motivation as before, clarifying if needed

  4. VOR offers new potential negative consequences to UP based on the new behavior

  5. UP again agrees and delivers some version of, "You're right, I'm sorry, I won't do it again," taking the time to really convince the VOR

  6. VOR again offers a different physical activity and moves the conversation forward, resting the game

As you can see, this is almost exactly the same six steps as before. The only difference is that the game move is new and the concern is heightened. It's important that the Unusual Person's philosophy stays the same, otherwise the player, team, and audience will get confused and lose interest. This usually trips up students. Your unusual behaviors will change, but your philosophy doesn't. In other words, you should do different weird things for the same reason every time. So from here, of course we do it one more time because comedy comes in threes! But the third game hit is much shorter because everyone understands the game.

  1. UP does a new game move inspired by the last physical activity

  2. VOR expresses extremely heightened concern for UP

  3. Edit!

Et voilà! The cycle goes from six steps to three because we've now seen the game three times. We get the idea. So altogether, a complete game-based scene can be done in 15 steps, with the understanding that it's actually just six steps repeated.

Whew! We did it! If you read this and your head is spinning, I get it. Most of my students have a million questions after they see this written out. Don't worry, I'll fully explain the nuances of each step in future posts. I'll also explain why I (mostly) insist that game moves be physical as opposed to verbal. All in due time! I'll include exercises for teachers or teams who want to try it on their own. Huzzah!



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