Game Library: “Slow Motion War”

As a decider or warm-up, Slow Motion War provides a wonderful opportunity to enthusiastically embrace losing on stage.

The Basics

Players scatter around the workshop or stage space and suitably dynamic music is cued up, such as Mortal Kombat. Each player establishes one forearm as their “sword” which extends from the tip of their little finger down to their elbow. This edge has been “poisoned” so that if any player (including the owner) is even gently touched, they immediately begin to die in excruciating pain. When the music begins, players begin moving through the space in super slow motion, battling any other players they encounter. The only safe point of contact is each player’s own sword edge that can be used to parry an attack. Players who become poisoned must then die in super slow motion for the entire remainder of the game. The war continues until only one player remains atop a pile of squirming “not quite dead yet” bodies. If you’re using this as a decider, this player’s team is declared the winner (and teammates generally don’t attack each other).


The music begins, and the battle commences…

The Focus

This game offers a chance to stretch your pantomimic and physicality muscles while also working on subtleties and accepting offers from your fellow players.

Traps and Tips

1.) Keep it slow. Establish a slow motion tempo and strive to make it consistent. Players can have a tendency to speed up in order to land or avoid a hit which isn’t really in keeping with the spirit of the game. When used as an exercise, it can prove helpful for the facilitator to monitor and reinforce the set speed as best they can, noting if players are routinely distorting the pace of play. I prefer to play the game at a super slow pace as this allows for a really exciting level of detail and whimsy.

2.) Accept the hit. The desire to win can prove quite strong for many and players may bend the rules to do so – suddenly shifting direction or quickly moving their sword arm to meet a hit. The game takes on a much more joyous tone when players willingly and playfully accept being hit by the arm swords when this fate is clearly projected and inevitable. Perhaps it’s human nature to avoid such moments to some degree, but the game suffers when players essentially “cheat” or pursue tactics that keep them out of harm’s way.

3.) Embrace the loss. And once you’re poisoned – which is in many ways the real goal of the game – fully embrace the loss. Luxuriate in your epic slow motion death scene. Keep your choices clean and specific. When the deaths are approximated or become wimpy, the overall experience suffers for both the players and any observing audience members. In many ways the real victors in the game are those who imagine and execute the most dynamic death scenes!

4.) Play the game. Tell the story. Yes, the competitive frame will certainly inform the action, but there are so many opportunities for fun characterizations, physical finesses, and narrative elements. Perhaps your fighter spends the whole battle meticulously preparing only to immediately die at the hands of a hidden rival, or you get ill at the sight of any violence, or you spend the scene protecting another only to be betrayed. Don’t underestimate the potential for playful story telling amidst (and through) the silly fighting.

In Performance

When you play to lose spectacularly, the battle becomes so much more enjoyable for everyone. If you’re sole purpose is to win, on the other hand, you probably will but without this amazing sense of selfless abandon. And at the end of the day, is that really winning?

Cheers, David Charles.
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© 2023 David Charles/ImprovDr

Connected Concept: Winning

Published by improvdr

A professional improvisational practitioner with over thirty years experience devising, directing, performing, teaching and consulting on the craft of spontaneous (and scripted) theatre and performance.

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