Play the Knave is a motion capture video game for Windows that lets 1-4 players design and perform in scenes from Shakespeare’s plays. Users choose the scene they want to perform and select options for set design, sound, lighting, costumes, and theater space. Then they perform the scene, karaoke-style, by reading the script lines that scroll on the screen. This is no ordinary karaoke experience, however.

We use a Kinect motion-capture camera to pick up the player’s bodily gestures, mapping them onto the screen’s 3D avatar so that the avatar mirrors the user’s gestures in real time.

The players’ movements and voices are recorded, and they receive a video of their production, which they can edit or share with others.

Play the Knave engages users in the material labor of dramatic production, helping users understand and enjoy a Shakespeare play through the act of staging it.

The concept, content, and design for Play the Knave are the result of an established collaboration between literary critics, theater artists, and computer scientists at the University of California, Davis. We have created a prototype of the game, which runs on Mekanimator, an open-source platform we are developing in-house. The Mekanimator platform is explicitly designed to make it possible to switch out assets very easily, and thus the game can be modified quickly to serve the needs of different audiences and institutions.

Watch us in action!

Check out videos and pictures of our most recent installations, and see our feature in BBC News! Also, be sure to vote for our Steam Greenlight initiative to help this title get published.

The complete game will offer players:

  • a range of scenes from a dozen Shakespeare plays, with options for 1-4 players
  • numerous historical and abstract/fantastical settings (each of which provides a menu of choices for avatar/costume and sound)
  • a choice from among at least six different theater stages, including some modeled on existing and historical theater buildings.
  • scene playback from multiple viewing angles
  • the option for players in different locales (even those in a different part of the country or world) to play together on the same virtual stage