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Playing Isklander, a stay-at-home immersive theatre experience

Everybody needs good neighbours.

Where is Ivy Isklander? That's the question on my neighbour's lips. We're on a video call, and she - the elderly neighbour - is worried. She's worried young Ivy has gotten herself into trouble. She's worried Ivy was mixed up in something bad. Can I help look into it? Sure, but what does she want me to do? Knock on her door? I'm a bit taken aback when she tells me she wants me to hack into Ivy's email account.

How would you do that (forget the 'would you?' for a moment)? Where would you look for clues, for things someone might care about enough to use as a password? Of course! Where else? Social media.

So I go to Facebook to search for Ivy Isklander and to my surprise, she's there. I find her profile and start looking through her life, which feels as weird as it sounds. I even send her a message asking if she's okay, but she doesn't respond. But I do find what I'm looking for: a photo and a caption on it - a name. I use it as the password and all of a sudden I'm in.

I'm in Ivy Isklander's email inbox and her nosey - and legally dubious - neighbour is right: Ivy Isklander is mixed up in something bad, and probably is in trouble. And this email break-in? It turns out it's only the beginning...

An introduction to the Isklander series, how it's played and what it's like.

I'm playing a game that uses the real world, the real internet - even your phone at one point - as its playground. It's called Isklander (the three-part series is called Isklander - the episode I'm playing is called Plymouth Point: Isklander), and it's a new kind of immersive theatre experience for a world in a pandemic. Because we can't be crammed inside theatre spaces as readily any more, or as easily, immersive entertainment company Swamp Motel came up with something else. It reimagined the experience online.

Plymouth Point: Isklander, then, is a ticketed 90-minute detective game that you and your friends video call into. It's part recorded video, part recorded audio, part internet sleuthing. And there's a live host with you all the time.

It's clever. It's clever how Swamp Motel has taken things we're familiar with now, like video conferencing, and spun them into a game idea. It's also really clever how the team has created special social media accounts, websites, email addresses and more to spread a mystery out over the internet. Not being contained in a game world makes it feel much more believable. And when all the elements come together, like the recordings and the videos, they can combine to powerful effect. The ending genuinely unsettled me.

But Plymouth Point: Isklander doesn't quite manage the excitement these kinds of events do in person. We had some nice shared moments while breaking passwords, and while reacting to dramatic events, but mostly it felt like two couples pursuing clues quite silently on their own, rather than one collaborative and exciting endeavour. I guess trawling the internet isn't a particularly social thing, especially when you're home on your own machines.

The result was a nicely put together and interesting idea, but one that left us a bit flat. I was the only one of the four who fancied playing episodes two and three, and I don't think I'll do it alone. Some people, eh! Anyone need a new teammate? Head over to the Isklander website if you want to know more.

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About the Author

Robert Purchese avatar

Robert Purchese

Senior Staff Writer

Bertie is senior staff writer and Eurogamer's Poland-and-dragons correspondent. He's part of the furniture here, a friendly chair, and reports on all kinds of things, the stranger the better.

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