What does Atari have to do with theatergoing?

I’m 38 years old.

I was a kid when the arcade was introduced. And I was a pre-teen when home video game consoles like Atari, ColecoVision, Intellivision, and more were rolled out to the world.

And the video game generation was born.

I grew up on them.  I don’t really remember life without them.  To say they had an effect on people my age and younger would be like saying social networking has had an effect on hooking up old hook-ups . . . a serious understatement.

I’m 38 years old.

That puts me about 7-10 years away from entering the prime theatergoing age, according to recent demographics.

The video game generation is about to become the theatergoing generation.

And if we still think we can create the same material, and market our material in the same way, we’re going to be seeing the ‘game over’ sign faster than the cars cross the road in level 5 of Frogger.

Oh, and in case you think that video games are just for kiddies . . . and boy kiddies at that . . . read the Entertainment Software Associations report that details the demographics for video game users.  Want some Super Contra-like bullet points?

  • Average game player is 37 years old
  • 29% of playahs are over the age of 50
  • 42% of gamers are female
  • “Women age 18 or older represent a significantly greater protion of the game-playing population (37%) than boys age 17 or younger (13%)

What does this mean?

It means that to reach this audience, and get them to put down their joysticks, we’ll need to provide them with live entertainment that provides thrills similar to gaming.  In another decade, our audiences will want more interactivity in their theater.  They’ll want challenges and contests in their marketing.  They’ll interact with entertainment in an entirely different way than the generation before.

Video games are a form of entertainment.  And that form of entertainment is a game-changer.


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  • Casey says:

    I think that’s what they were trying to do by producing Spiderman. To get the non-theater, video gaming playing people to get to the theater.

  • Matt says:

    Ken, do you have Pac-man fever? Is it driving you crazy? Are you interested in producing a Frogger musical?

  • Tom Hoefner says:

    You speak the truth. More than you know. However… the current guard of theatre (and likely the usual reader of this blog) doesn’t agree with you in the slightest. It’s an attitude of arrogance and elitism that permeates the upper echelon of all forms of entertainment… but that permeates the majority of gatekeepers in theatre. That attitude must change. Evolve or die.

  • Paul Mendenhall says:

    Okay, let me get this straight:
    There is theatre, a shared communal experience in which the whole range of human concerns is explored, shared values critiqued and/or celebrated, our search for meaning embodied.
    And then their is “gaming,” an isolating, dehumanizing experience, with no content whatsoever beyond pointless, abstract conflict.
    And you think the former should become more like the latter?! Seriously?
    From my point of view, everything that is going wrong with the theatre and sucking the very life-blood out of it are those factors that are making it more like video-games: the use of technology that is placing barriers between the audience and performers and reducing us to passive spectators, corporate financing, the dumbing-down of content, the dependance on marketing instead of quality of product, the use of focus-groups and surveys instead of oh, I don’t know, brains and taste?
    No art-form can ever create a satisfying experience by trying to ape other art-forms. What makes theatre great is the fact that is is live, real, right now, and a shared experience. What could possibly be less like a videogame than that? Was it Peter Brook who said “All you need to make great theatre is two planks and a passion?” The further we get away from that, the more we cut our own throats. And that isn’t “elitism;” it is the opposite. It is the assertion of the primacy of people!

  • Colleen Toole says:

    That all depends on what games you play. Of course there are video games with nothing more than hack-and-slash, boring content, but that’s not all video games, which have had to become more and more inventive as their audiences have seen it and played it all before. Sure, for some years they were pacified by new and better technology, more realistic graphics, but now more and more new inventive video games are being created, with humor, point of view, even plot. (“Braid” comes to mind, even “World of Goo” has some surprising points of view.) And, in fact, the interactive nature of video games does something quite incredible–it implicates its audience. The technology, in this case, does not make the audience passive–it activates them. That’s the whole point of gaming over, say, movies. In gaming you explore, you are involved in the action. Which, then if you have to do something that’s clearly reprehensible to “win” or “progress” in some way, the game has the opportunity to raise lots of questions on morality and ethics, actually. And some do. (Also, never doubt the community that arises around video games, especially now that multi-user games are so popular.)
    I think Sleep No More actually does an incredible job of merging the idea of gaming and the idea of live theatre, because it is an interactive theatrical experience, with a full-on world to explore. My brother is somewhat interested in theater (the type who did it in high school and will still go on occasion), and has been a gamer his entire life–and that’s the PERFECT show for him. Because, like a video game, it involves him. It involves him more literally than most shows do, but I think that is, ultimately, the goal of most theater–because it is, as you say, live, real, right now, and a shared experience. (I’d say movies are much less like video games when you put it in those terms, since video games, again, are DESIGNED for their audiences to be active participants.)

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