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In the four centuries since his death, William Shakespeare’s works have been adapted to nearly every media form imaginable, including books, film, web, radio, and even a board game.

Now the Bard has entered the realm of virtual reality with an immersive video game, Play the Knave, developed by the University of California, Davis.

Gallaudet University will have an installation of Play the Knave at the Washburn Arts Building during the month of October 2016, coinciding with the exhibition of First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare and Homecoming 2016.

Play the Knave is a great addition to the Folio! month at Gallaudet. Shakespeare’s plays were written to be performed, not read. Video gaming is a fun new way to experience the plays visually,” said Dr. Jill Bradbury, project director of First Folio’s stop at Gallaudet, and professor of English.

Play the Knave is a motion capture video game for Windows that allows up to four players to pick a scene to perform, choose from a variety of stage designs, lighting options, costumes, theater spaces, and actor avatars, and then act out scenes while a Kinect motion sensor camera picks up their movements and mirrors it on a screen.

The result is “Shakespeare karaoke,” allowing players to engage with the plays of Shakespeare in an accessible way, helping them understand and enjoy the plays through the act of staging them.

Play the Knave will present a unique opportunity to observe how deaf people use gestures while playing the game, and how this compares to gestures used by hearing players.

“Because the game’s avatars don’t do anything unless the player gestures, the game rewards players who are not shy about using their bodies to communicate,” said Dr. Gina Bloom, project director of Play the Knave, and associate professor of English at the University of California, Davis.

“My expectation is that deaf people who are used to communicating through gestures might actually be a little better at the game than hearing people, and be more expressive and creative with their gestures when they play.”

During gameplay, players select one of 15 Shakespeare plays and which scene they want to perform, with options for up to four actors. Players then select their level of acting mastery, determining how fast the lines from Shakespeare’s script scroll on screen. Next, players choose the kind of theater stage they want to use for their performance, casting, costuming, and setting, along with final touches on their set design.

Once all options are selected, the screen transforms to show players their designed stage. The Kinect camera matches each player’s body with their avatar character. The players rehearse briefly, then the scene begins. Shakespeare’s script lines scroll on the top of the screen. The players read the lines with as much gusto as they can muster and gesture with their bodies to animate their avatars.

The scenes and avatar movements are recorded. When the game concludes, players receive a link via email to the video they have produced and can download the video to a computer drive.

“A lot of people, hearing and deaf alike, find Shakespeare intimidating, and one aim of the game is to make the plays more accessible to more people,” said Bloom. “Players get a chance to wrestle with Shakespeare’s incredible language, but the game eliminates some of the pressures involved. There is no score. The mood of the game is light and fun.”

Play the Knave invites everyone to take the stage and become part of a Shakespeare production.”

Previous installations of Play the Knave include: the University of California, Davis’ Arts Center, the Stratford Film festival in Ontario, Canada, Chicago’s Shakespeare 400 celebration, the Utah Shakespeare Festival, and the Blackfriars Conference in Staunton, Virginia.

For more information on Play the Knave, visit https://playtheknave.org/

For more information on First Folio! at Gallaudet, visit http://www.gallaudet.edu/news/shakespearefirstfolio.html  

To watch a promo video of Play the Knave, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bK9UaeSSxh8

First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor and by the generous support of Google.org, The Lord Browne of Madingley, Vinton and Sigrid Cerf, British Council, Stuart and Mimi Rose, Albert and Shirley Small, and other generous donors.

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