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MacBeth + Hitchcock + Bioshock = Sleep No More

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The reason I play video games isn't to master the mechanics or chase a high score. For me, the most important thing a game can do is give me a chance to experience something I'd never be able to in real life and to immerse me in a world that's at once completely believable and unbelievable. And so, with that, I want to share with the Giantbomb community my experience last night which managed to both top and video game experience I've ever had, while also opening my mind to new ways that games could draw players into a story. That experience was a show in New York City called "Sleep No More".

So what is "Sleep No More?" In short, it's a retelling of MacBeth mixed with Hitchcock and film noir, told mostly without words in a six story 1940s era hotel with more than 100 rooms. Guests are dropped off, sometimes in small groups, sometimes alone, by an elevator operator on various floors. They are given white masks that cover the entire face and instructed not to talk. In the words of the elevator operator as he pushed me out of the door, "This is an experience to be had alone. Things are not always what they seem, and fortune favors the bold."

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Wandering off of the elevator, I found myself in a dark hallway, with little understanding of where I am or where to go. But then, I heard soft music. Following it, the hallway opened into a huge hotel ballroom where 20 or so people were dancing an intricately choreographed waltz. A young waitress walked around passing out drinks and a pair of dancers began flirting with each other. But then, the lights cut out and the music turned dark. Suddenly the young waitress was in the center of the room, illuminated by a spot light. She begins an intense, writhing dance and before our eyes, rips out her hair to reveal that she is bald and transforms from an innocent servant girl into some sort of snake like monster. This is one of MacBeth's three witches.

This was one of the less strange things I saw last night. Other highlights include

  • A woman eating raw human hearts only to then spit out a silver ring and give it to an audience member. She then began singing an old jazz song in a man's voice.
  • Stumbling into a bedroom to find Lady MacBeth greeting MacBeth as he returns from battle and both of them naked, making love before she tries to convince him to kill the king.
  • Spending time in a detective's office, reading the case files that were inside his desk when the detective comes in, motions for me to come with him. I follow him into a back room covered in black and white photos, with a work bench in the back. He opens a drawer and inside is a dead bird which he begins dissecting with tweezers.
  • Finding a graveyard and the ruins of a bombed out church with a man beating his head against a statue.
  • Discovering the witch's hut, which in this version is a ruined nightclub. This turned into a crazy techno music orgy with strobe lights and lasers where a naked man put on a bulls's head, two naked witches made out with each other, and then a bloody, dead baby was paraded around the room.

So, what does this have to do with games? Well, for one, the total freedom to see things, while still giving enough subtle clues to get you to where the action is. And then, being able to see all of these non-linear pieces and letting them form the narrative for me. I'm still sure that I only got maybe 70% of the story, but it just makes me want to go again. The thing was like being in Bioshock's Rapture for the first time, but without the combat but the same amount of fear. I would love to see this experience replicated in a game - a fully detailed, open environment with a non-combat focused story and enough clues to let the player figure out what's going on without making it feel like they were led by the hand.

Also, its just an amazing experience, if you can get down with weird and artsy. It's maybe the most unique thing I've ever been a part of.