Although no one was writing down rules during prehistoric times, it’s nonetheless likely that the offspring of our primitive ancestors were engaging in some sort of games (and not just to run off energy).
Throughout civilization, games have been an integral part of human existence and a way to encourage imagination, develop useful athletic skills, and plan strategies to outsmart one’s enemies. Not only are many of today’s electronic games an off-shoot of parlor pastimes and sporting matches from earlier eras but a number of them have also found their way into the movies and television.
These discussion questions provide a good foundation prior to choosing which exercises to try first.
1. Do you prefer games of luck, games of mental acuity or games involving physical activity? Why?
2. What’s your favorite game to play by yourself?
3. What’s your favorite game to play with others?
4. How much time do you spend playing electronic games? What skills have those games taught you?
5. What type of tournament would you most like to win? (and why?)
6. In terms of sports, do you prefer to play on a team or to compete against others as an individual? Why?
7. Do you prefer to play games with someone whose skill level is the same as yours or someone who is a much better player?
WINNING ISN’T EVERYTHING
Searching for Bobby Fischer is a 1993 drama based on the life of chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin. A strict tutor has been hired to turn the young boy into a ruthless force to be reckoned with so that he can dominate the chess world in professional competition. Is the price of fame, though, really worth it?
Your assignment: The protagonist of your futuristic film is a teenager who has never known human companionship and has, in fact, been tutored by robots since birth to solve mathematical problems with lightning speed. Even “The Games” in which s/he participates never involve any interaction with others. A glitch in the system, however, unexpectedly allows him/her a look into the outside world. Write a two page scene in which the protagonist first discovers there is more to life than just numbers.
Who’d have thought a vintage board game could not only hold so much danger but also prevent its players from folding it up and putting it away before the final roll of the dice? Such is the premise of Jumanji (1995) in which a pair of contemporary siblings discover that a wild-haired stranger has been trapped by a supernatural spell for almost 30 years and its frightening mayhem cannot be reversed until the abandoned game – currently in progress - is fully completed.
Your assignment: What game would you most like to be an “active” player in? Would it be Harry Potter’s Wizard Chess in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? Would it be the cyber world of Tron? Would it be the Queen’s Croquet Ground in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? Choose any game that would lend itself to visual effects and write the one-page synopsis of a movie in which this game is a major theme.
COLONEL MUSTARD IN THE LIBRARY WITH A CANDLESTICK
What happens when a group of strangers are summoned to a remote mansion on a dark and stormy night and discover that the person who issued the invitation knows all of their dark and stormy secrets? Clue (produced in 1985) was adapted from the popular board game in which players try to determine where, how and by whom a murder was committed. As an interesting bit of trivia, three separate endings were shot for the film so as to keep moviegoers from spoiling the surprise of who did what and why.
Your assignment: A fresh spin on traditional dinner theater is to host murder mystery parties in which the guests are assigned costumed roles, deliver lines of dialogue, and interact with one another to figure out clues and unmask a clever killer. Choose any venue (i.e., a riverboat, a factory, a haunted house) and create a character cast list that includes the roles of the invited guests as well as the “planted” extras. Identify which players will end up victim(s) and ascribe plausible motives to each of the participants in your game tableau. To get the creative juices flowing, check out http://www.playingwithmurder.com.
KEEPING UP WITH THE SIMS
As if people weren’t busy enough just trying to manage their own lives, there are life simulation video games on today’s market in which you can build entire communities and people them with fictional moms, dads, kids, teachers, judges, politicians, shop owners, etc. They go to work, they go to school, they go on dates, they play with their pets and sometimes they even experience catastrophes. As the cyber-creator of these imaginary realms, it can be a fun way to hone your storytelling skills, introduce new characters to the mix, and learn how to juggle multiple plots.
Your assignment: Take a close look at the following four rooms (which, if you really look closely, are all exactly the same floor plan). Choose which setting you like best and write a three-page scene in which SIMS characters of your own invention react to a startling surprise.
Long before Suzanne Collins’ dystopian YA trilogy about Katniss Everdeen, author Richard Connell penned a short story in 1924 called The Most Dangerous Game in which a celebrated big game hunter finds himself on a mysterious island in which his host decides that he shall now be the hunted.
Your assignment: Using any genre, time period and setting, write a two-page film treatment involving a hunter vs. hunted theme. The twist is that the hero and the villain each have one extraordinary power that can be used once – and only once - in the course of the chase.
During the 1948 summer games held in London, Czech gymnast and coach Marie Provaznikova became the first Olympics athlete to defect to the United States. Distressed about the impending changes that would come to her country under Soviet rule, she seized the chance to seek asylum when she could and soon thereafter became a gymnastics instructor in America. She died in 1991 at the age of 101.
Your assignment: The protagonist of your new film is a world class athlete predicted to take home the gold medal for the Olympic sport of your choice. If s/he wins, it means a life of celebrity in a home country known for the cruelty of its leadership. If s/he loses, there is a window of opportunity to slip away during the awards ceremony while all of the attention is on the winners. The athlete seeks advice from two friends – one who believes defecting would be a dishonorable act and the other who asserts that a better life can be had in the U.S. Write this pair of conversations as separate three-page scenes.
As part of my ongoing commitment to supply great lesson plans for today’s classrooms, I always enjoy getting feedback on how the material is used and what kind of new content you’d like to see in future columns. I’m also happy to answer any questions related to specific problems your students may be struggling with. Just drop me a note at or through my website at http://www.authorhamlett.com.
Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is an award winning author, professional script consultant, and ghostwriter. Her credits to date include 30 books, 154 plays for young actors, and 5 optioned feature films.