What Pokémon GO has to do with the future of the theater.

Are you playing it?

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one.

One day after its release, the “augmented reality” app-based game was installed on more Android phones than Tinder.  That’s right, believe it or not, the only thing better than hooking up or finding a life partner . . . is “scoring” points collecting little electronic bugs.

And now there are more Pokémon users than there are Twitter users in the US.

So what in the name of Pikachu is going on?  And what does catching Meowths have to do with theater?

Well, I got news for you, playahs . . . it is theater.

I first wrote about video games and what I believe would be its influence on what we do back in 2011 (and I’m now developing this concept into a keynote that I’m delivering at an educational theater conference this fall).

The quick recap is this . . . see, I was a part of the first generation to grow up on video games.  I was an early adopter of the home gaming system (because I was a semi-geek) and got my first Atari at age 11.  But the generation after me?  Well, they’ve had video games their entire life. They’ve grown up with a joystick in their hands.  And, of course, one of those games that babysat them was Pokémon.

That means that my generation, and more importantly the one after me, has had a totally unique and different form of entertainment than our parents and our grandparents.  And in this form of entertainment, the user controls the destiny of the hero.  You pick your Pokémon character (you even get to dress him, name him . . . or he can even be a her), and you try to capture the princess, save the world . . . or accomplish whatever your objective (or “want” to use an acting term) may be.

My theory has always been that as this generation matures to the age of the traditional theatergoer (in their 40s . . . which is where I am, and the early adopters of Pokémon are a mere 10-20 years away)  . . . and more importantly, as they become the theater creators, they’re going to demand and create entertainment that has a similar component . . . where they somehow control the destiny of the hero.  Because that’s what they’ve grown up doing . . . unlike any generation before them.

While there will always be room for the classics, do you really think an audience 20-30 years from now is going to want to sit down in a theater, behind some imaginary fourth wall, and watch Willy Loman decide if he wants to live or die?  By then they’ll have seen 10 Broadway revivals anyway (especially if we keep bringing these classics back with a new star as often as we are).

Maybe they will.  From time to time.  But that’s not going to the bulk of what they want to experience.

They’re going to want to get into their entertainment.  They’re going to want to hold the controller of their story.  They’re going to want it to be all around them.  (And don’t even get me started on what the generation after them, who will grow up on things like Oculus, will want from their theater.)  We’re already seeing this in fits and starts.  In just a couple of weeks, I’m going to see a show at The, super hip, House Theatre of Chicago called The Last Defender which is billed as “A Live Action Game That Makes You The Hero.”  And this is just the beginning.

What does this have to do with Pokémon?

For the first time in a major way . . . the video game is more than just a user and a console.  Now, the user has to get out.  The world is the stage.  And there are other audience members around you . . . sometimes playing with you.  It’s a live theatrical experience that just happens to have a technical component.

And you know what’s the most interesting part?  The Producers of this show aren’t paying any theater rent.

Pokémon isn’t what the theater will be in 20 years.  But it’s a sign that something new is coming.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, my Pokémon name is BwayMon.


(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

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  • Frank says:

    I can see this type of interaction being incredibly apt for marketing a show, but the theater functions the way it does because it works. Not everything is broken.

    I think you over-estimate the impact of gaming on the future of theater. Gaming hasn’t taken over film or television at all. It won’t take over theater either.

  • Thought you’d find this relevant…

    We Players go interactive with “Romeo and Juliet”

    Are you ready to walk in the footsteps of the most famous lovers of all time? Join us on our grounds this October for a production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that you’ll never forget!

    As the famous story unfolds, renowned SF Bay Area theatrical innovators We Players will blur the boundary between audience and actors, history and the present moment. It’s a one-of-a-kind, site-integrated production in which audiences will be on their feet—physically moving to different locations on our grounds as the action unfolds.

    Hear the clash of steel as sword fights fly on the Great Lawn; join the Capulets at their infamous masked ball in the historic Villa Montalvo; participate in the rituals of marriage and death in the Italianate Garden; and let Romeo and Juliet fill you with joy—and break your heart.

    Seven performances are scheduled from October 6-16. Each show also offers a boxed lunch/dinner addition so you can enjoy a meal before the production begins.

    Guests are asked to wear comfortable walking shoes and layered clothing.

    Montalvo is a member-supported
    non-profit organization
    dedicated to the arts.

  • Carvanpool says:

    Spoken like a producer that can’t get a Broadway Theater to book.

  • rob preuss says:

    “i’m too old for this shit.”
    – Roger Murtaugh, Lethal Weapon
    and so are you.
    keep it real, Ken.

  • Shannon D. says:

    I think this will keep the younger generation OUT of the theatres. This generation is a me, me, me generation and are desperately attached to their phones, do not interact with anyone else, and wander around aimlessly starring at a little screen. Do you really think they will put the phone down long enough to sit in a theatre of any kind for a performance, interactive or not?!
    I’m almost your age, and had an Atari 2600, and the “newest” game system I have is a Super Nintendo, and try to live without a smart phone, but it is getting harder everyday.
    I actually sat down every night this week and watched the new Roots miniseries and come to realize how much I miss the way things used to be… simple… no cable, not HUNDREDS of channels, how families sat around and watched these things on tv together. Not the kids in their rooms, or now wandering the streets, playing video games….

    • Frank says:

      Your parents most likely said the same thing about your generation. Engaging with TV’s and film more than people, etc. The young generation is better at getting the word out then previous generations hands down. They get un-ironically excited about things more than in years past and then they pass that news on to others.

      When you dismiss them you don’t deserve their patronage in the first place. Life wasn’t more simple before, it was simply different. You can either change with time or get crushed by it. For the sake of the theater… I hope those of the “older” generations learn to change for the betterment of everyone.

      Thank you, madam. Please call again. Doooooo call again, Madam.

      • Shannon D. says:

        I do agree with you…. maybe simple wasn’t the correct word to use.. but I am just basing my opinion on what I have experience first hand… and the childhood obesity issue associated with tv/video games… but one good thing people are saying is at least this game gets them moving… not looking at where they are walking, lol, but moving…. one 15 yr old actually got killed playing the game in NC I believe, because he went on to private property, then tried to go inside to get a Pokemon, or a Pikachu, and the woman shot him, because he was an intruder. I just keep hearing different stories like this… but just so you know anything that will get people into the theatres is good with me! 🙂

        • B. Russell says:

          The 15 year old killed thing was fake….One thing we young people do know about the internet is that not everything you read is real! Even Ken is a little inaccurate here because the NES came out in 1985, the first Pokemon game came out in 1996, most people of the Pokemon generation haven’t even used a joystick! 🙂

  • Dick says:

    Fellas who of you play Pokemon GO? Amazing game, yesterday i caught
    rare pokemon Magmar using pokebusterbot ! No ban so far, still
    using it. You should too.

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