Tim's Dilemma

Made by Ling Xu, aduan1, Di Wang and Chelsea Chen

A choose-your-own-adventure story between Tim and Lisa with different endings based on audience's choices via "voting lollipops"

Created: November 13th, 2016



Working off of our original idea, we wanted to bring some sort of performance to life in which the audience had the option of choosing which direction the performance would take. The goal was to create an interactive piece in which the audience would stay engaged by actively directing the performance. In creating a choose-your-own-adventure telephone call, we leave the audience with some uncertainty as to who the person on the other end of the line is in relation to the person who is directly performing. This hopefully helps the audience to maintain a keen interest in the "plot" of this performance, as well as the fact that they have the opportunity to influence the plot. 

(We came up with the idea of a telephone call as one of our members will be absent on the day of performance; therefore, incorporating her recorded voice into our performance is sort of like her "telepresence").



We created a choose-your-own-adventure telephone call. It was a conversation between Tim (played by Di) and Lisa (played by Alice), in which Tim has a gambling problem and turns to Lisa for advice. The audience was asked for feedback on what Tim should say to Lisa in response to many different questions and inquiries. Because Alice (act as Lisa) would not be in Pittsburgh the date of the presentation, we pre-recorded many different clips of her voice to "respond" to whichever option the audience chose for Tim to say. We distributed our "voting lollipops" which could be flipped to show orange on one side, and purple on the other. This is how the audience would communicate their option to the performers - they would raise the "lollipop" with the correct corresponding color to vote for each option. Because each different option presented to the audience will affect what Lisa is going to respond, the outcome turns out to be emergent and indeterministic. 

Although all responses were prerecorded and different pathways of the plots were pre-designed, the audience did not know which two choices they will have for Tim, what Lisa would "say" in response to their choices, or to which direction their choices would lead the plot in. Therefore, similarly to the Game of Life which follows a set algorithm, the actual implementation of the performance is indeterminate. 

Two example pathways of our story are presented as follows: 

1. In the "good" one, the audience chose a good start ("ask if Paul told on Tim") and were consistent on their idea about kidnapping Paul all the time; therefore, a "good" ending (Lisa and Paul are going to meet and discuss how to kidnap Paul in detail) was reached.


2. In the "change" one, the audience started with a bad choice ("ask if Lisa told on Tim") and always changing Tim's mind, which would be considered really annoying if in a real situation; and therefore, a bad ending (Lisa lost her patience and hung up the phone) was reached.

Ling Xu - https://youtu.be/VIRkByzTnmM


We were inspired by other create-your-own-adventure style performances and literature, as well as Game of Life. We were intrigued by the concept that something could be set in stone but also incorporate randomness at the same time: for example, to someone who knew the algorithms behind the performance (i.e. the implementer), he/she would be very clear about the potential outcomes and be able to manipulate all the components to reach the outcome he/she desires; yet, to the audience who had no idea about the architecture of the performance, they cannot predict what will happen next based on their choices. 


Interpretation as above makes projects like the Game of Life lie somewhere on the fine line between determinate works and indeterminate works; and we found it interesting to play with that distinction and explore what it really means to create an emergent, indeterministic performance. Thinking back to our discussion in class about the readings, and the tension created between this distinction (specifically pertaining to Game of Life), we developed our performance in a somewhat similar fashion as there isn't really pure randomness in the performance. Yet our performance changes each time because the audience will give a different input (i.e. vote for different options at each fork) when it is performed, and thus the performance will take on a different, undetermined form each time.

Based on the four levels and categories of interactivity in media art and performance (introduced in the reading "Performing Interactivity" by Dixon, S.), our project will fall into the participation category as the audience will trigger different plots of the story and reach the corresponding good or bad ending.

The idea of our "voting lollipops" through which the audience show their choices by turning either the orange or purple side to the performers came from a similar situation mentioned in Dixon's reading where large audiences express their opinion "by each holding up a paddle 'wand' and turning either its green or red side to the screen". We didn't use the exact same colors as they are so commonly used that certain stereotypes have formed --red seems to indicate "stop" (or bad) and green represents "start" (or good). We didn't want the stereotypes of colors to influence the audience's choices or indicating /revealing the potential results of each option; thus, we chose a pair of contrast colors which have not been overly used and are relatively visually appealing, i.e. orange and purple.



Distribution of work:

Chelsea: make "voting lollipops", perform, documentation

Alice: recorded voices, documentation

Di: create the scripts, perform

Ling: power point, documentation


Our concept was revised many times before completion. We were originally inspired by Jimmy Fallon's Mad Lib Theatre segment, and drafted (as seen in our proposal) a performance in which the audience would choose a location, genre, and object for the plot, and two group members would do a short (namely) "improvised" (but probably still preset) performance based on these choices. After extensive discussion with Kevin, however, we realized that the idea was based too heavily upon the "performance" aspect in a traditional context, and would be extremely difficult for people with no theatre or improvising experience to come up with a skit on the fly (or carry out the preset plot expressively). Moreover, since we will probably only incorporate the media part as backdrop, it doesn't seem to be a must, that is, an indispensable and essential part of the performance ... Therefore, we ultimately rejected that idea after trying to mold it to our needs, realizing that it was not a smart choice. 

As we rejected the previous idea and facing Alice's doomed absence at the presentation, we suddenly realized that we could implement a simpler interactive performance with only one group member using recordings. With the help of recordings, Alice can still participate and contribute to the performance without physically being there, and we would integrate the media (sound) into the show in a meaningful way as well. 

Originally, we intended to use Mentimeter as a voting platform. However, we switched to create our own "voting lollipops" as the voting scheme because we felt that this way audience can potentially see what other's choices are, which may or may not affect their own decisions, and would make the process of voting a more fun activity for the audience.

The "voting lollipops" and a related slide:



Our work successfully channeled ideas we've learned from this module, nonetheless, it could have been more well-executed and there could have been more media involved. For example, we could have integrated pictures in our power point and played background music according to the different conversations taking place. Specifically, since our conversation could take on 16 different paths, leading to 2 good endings and 2 bad endings based on "Tim's choice" of either kidnapping or not, we could potentially play smooth, tense, happy, or ominous background music as the performance transitions from one stage to another. 

Pictures would be a minor plus in our situation compared to sound, since our performance is basically a phone conversation, but it would definitely make the performance more lively.  For example, as Tim (played by Di Wang) is carrying out his end of the conversation in front of the audience, we could integrate pictures of Lisa (played by Alice Duan) 's facial expressions into the power point in addition to her voice. 


Group Reflection

We ran into a technical issue during the presentation, which accidentally turned out to be a good thing as the audience got to choose a different path for the storyline, whereas they probably wouldn't have had the chance due to time limit. However, we learned that we really should have made sure things would go right before the presentation. We changed the power point many times to make it as perfect as possible, but end up not having time to rehearse for the final version of it beforehand. Therefore, if we had another chance to execute the project, we'd meet up more times and be really familiar with the performance before actually performing. 

Also, compared to other groups' projects, ours seemed to be pretty dry and did not get the audience involved very well as the focus of the story was the conversation between Tim and Lisa... If we had more time and learned how to incorporate more advanced technologies (instead of Powerpoint and visualizing the result of votes in person...) , we would have created a more interactive, playful and engaging project.



For perfomance 


Lisa --implemented by Alice's prerecorded voices

Other sound effects are downloaded from https://www.freesound.org/

1. Phone Call Tone.wav  used at the start of the conversation

2. Phone hang up / suspend  used at the end

For documentation

1. John Conway's Game of Life


2. "Cinematrix" --interactive audience participation technology 




Our script


Tim and Lisa are talking about the recent “misfortunes” of Tim: gambling, having a huge debt (which has been found out by his parents recently). Lisa suggested that they could turn to their high school friend, Paul, for help. However, Tim was not so happy with Paul always preaching him to stop gambling, and was not sure if Paul would be willing to lend him money to pay off his debts. He suggested that instead of asking for money they could kidnap Paul to get the ransom, which would be more than enough to cover the debts. Lisa, while being supportive and understanding, seemed to be reluctant to agree on the plan. It is left to the audience to really keep the conversation smooth, which would lead to the “good” ending where the two agreed on the plan, otherwise the “bad” ending, in which Lisa unwilling to talk to Tim anymore...



Conversation Tree 

I. a) Ask if Lisa told on Tim 

        (Bad start --distrust between Lisa and Tim)  

1.  a -> c-> e -> g -> i -> k -> m -> o -> q  : Bad ending (kidnap)

                                                           2.  -> r : Bad ending (not)

                           3 .  -> j -> l -> n -> p -> s : Good ending (not)

                                                           4.   -> t : Bad ending (kidnap)

                 5 . f -> h -> i -> k -> n -> p -> s : Bad ending (not)

                                                           6 .  -> t : Bad ending (kidnap)

                            7 .  -> j -> l -> m -> o -> q : Good ending (kidnap) 

                                                            8 . -> r : Bad ending (not)

II. b) Ask if Paul told on Tim

      (Good start -- and thus most endings are Good)

1. b -> d-> e -> g -> i -> k -> m -> o -> q : Good ending (kidnap)

                                                           2. -> r : Bad ending (not)

                         3 . -> j -> l -> n -> p -> s : Good ending (not)

                                                           4. -> t : Good ending (kidnap)

               5 . f -> h -> i -> k -> n -> p -> s : Good ending (not)

                                                           6 . -> t : Bad ending (kidnap)

                          7 . -> j -> l -> m -> o -> q : Good ending (kidnap)

                                                          8 . -> r : Good ending (not)



Our project will be a “Mad Libs” style interaction in which the audience votes via Mentimeter for words of a certain type without knowing context. They will choose words which describe a context/location of the performance, the genre (comedy, tragedy, romance, horror), and an object. Then, two performers will perform a short, "improvised" skit based on results of the vote, incorporating the object and genre into the location. There will be different backdrops projected in the background depending on the chosen setting of the performance, and different sounds based on the genre chosen (laugh track, sappy music, etc etc).

For example,

Location options: bathroom, New York, Pausch bridge, Trader Joe’s

Genre options: comedy, tragedy, romance, horror

Object options: banana, headphone, waterbottle, sunglasses


  1. 1 minute              get question answers (20 seconds each)
  2. 30 seconds         for performers to discuss what they are going to                                      perform/tech person sets up for performance                                           (sound cues, visuals)
  3. 30s-1 min           for performance

Source (see the video as follows):

Mad Lib Theater with Benedict Cumberbatch
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kM9Wuzj4k24
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62-150 Intro to Media Synthesis and Analysis

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A choose-your-own-adventure story between Tim and Lisa with different endings based on audience's choices via "voting lollipops"