Take That, Monica! Kapow, Chandler!
March 3, 2003
By MATTHEW MIRAPAUL
From the New York Times
On a coming episode of the television show "Friends,"
here's what might happen. Ross arrives and starts to whine.
Suddenly an armor-clad warrior rushes in and with a blast
from a space-age weapon reduces Ross to a pile of twitching
viscera. But the show must go on, so Ross pulls himself
together and rises to complete his sniveling soliloquy.
Just as he finishes, he is slaughtered again. Call this
episode "The One Where Ross Is Repeatedly Annihilated by a
Except that this full-combat "Friends" takeoff will be seen
on the Internet, not on television. And rather than a cozy
New York cafe built on a Hollywood sound stage, the show's
setting will be the futuristic digital scenery of "Quake
III Arena," the ultraviolent computer game.
This marriage of carnage and comedy is the creation of
Joseph DeLappe, an artist and professor at the University
of Nevada, Reno. On Saturday Mr. DeLappe and five fellow
players will convene in cyberspace to perform
"Quake/Friends." The actors will appear on the computer
screen as typical "Quake" gladiators, but each will have
assumed the role and identity of a "Friends" character.
Then, using the game's instant-message system, they will
re-enact the real show's 1994 pilot episode in the "Quake"
space by typing and transmitting dialogue to other players'
So far, so dull. But online performance is, in a way, a
form of street theater, and audience participation is
expected to enliven the action. While the "Quake/Friends"
actors won't fire their weapons, unsuspecting "Quake"
players will notice that a game is under way and will be
able to enter the show with their own guns blazing. In a
game whose sole goal is to kill as many as possible, Monica
will be mowed down and Chandler chopped in half. Happily,
actors who die can, at the click of a button, return to the
virtual stage and continue delivering their lines, a
concept any actor would cheer.
"Friends" was recently renewed for a 10th and final season.
Anyone puzzled by its sustained success should greatly
enjoy the notion of its congenially witless characters
being dispatched in such gruesome fashion. At the same
time, by executing the six beloved "Friends" characters
instead of anonymous warriors, "Quake/Friends" effectively
exposes the shameful violence at the heart of many computer
The "Quake/Friends" project is another instance of using a
computer game as a medium for creative expression and
cultural criticism. While the first examples were mostly
commentaries on the games themselves, the latest projects
have grander ambitions.
Mr. DeLappe said he was motivated to combine the brutal
"Quake" and the genteel "Friends" because both are
pop-culture creations that "present a fantasy, a simplistic
view" of the world. He said the "Friends" characters' happy
life in New York is "this perfect existence, and it's
totally fake." To him the "Quake" violence is equally
phony. "You're killed but you're instantly O.K.," he said.
"There's no real consequences to it."
There are other similarities as well. Both "Quake" and
"Friends" take place within tightly defined universes. The
action on "Friends," such as it is, rarely occurs outside
the characters' apartments or the Central Perk cafe, while
"Quake" shoot-outs are confined to their computer-generated
Nor is it obvious whether it is "Quake" or "Friends" that
can claim to have the most three-dimensional characters.
Both function on a set of predetermined rules. So just as
we can predict that an opponent will need to reload at a
certain point, we also know that Joey won't get the joke.
As for character development, neither Phoebe nor the
gun-toting skeleton has matured much since we first met
But Mr. DeLappe is less interested in cultural criticism
than in establishing the Internet as a new kind of theater.
Computer interaction is not usually considered to be a form
of performance, but it can be. We adopt roles. We
communicate in real time. We speak publicly. It is
something of a cliché to say all the World Wide Web's a
stage, but there is some truth in it, too.
No one wants to watch Shakespeare on a computer screen, but
to determine what will work theatrically on the Internet,
it makes sense to experiment with a classic text from
another medium. In 2001 Mr. DeLappe started "reading"
antiwar poems into computer games like "Medal of Honor," a
game that simulates World War II, in an attempt to provoke
a reaction from other players. He held a private
"Quake/Friends" performance last fall.
With this "Quake/Friends," Mr. DeLappe, 39, has upped the
ante. It will be staged in the campus art gallery with six
large screens displaying what each actor sees as he
delivers his lines. A Webcam will allow online viewers to
observe from afar. (The performance, which is expected to
last two to three hours, is scheduled to start at 10 p.m.
Eastern time, and will be accessible online at delappe.ws.)
Rachel Greene is the author of the forthcoming "Internet
Art" (Thames & Hudson, 2004). In a telephone conversation
she compared "Quake/Friends" to the conceptual-art
"happenings" of the 60's. Like those performances, she
said, Mr. DeLappe's project does work from a script. "But
in other ways it's very much not scripted," she added. "And
it is in this very particular environment."
Mr. DeLappe is not the first to conduct such experiments
with Internet theater. In 1998 computer scientists
performed a version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in a
crudely rendered 3-D environment. It was not for the faint
of heart or slow of modem. In 1997 Desktop Theater, an
experimental online group, staged a reading of "Waiting for
Godot" within an Internet chat room. The play's main
characters were represented by lime-green circles that
talked. The performance was derailed when a muscleman who
claimed to be Godot arrived and declared the wait to be
Adriene Jenik, a co-founder of Desktop Theater, said that
if the Internet was to be used in a theatrical way, "you
have to push against the boundaries to see what's
Still, efforts like Mr. DeLappe's make sense to Robert
Thompson, a professor of television at Syracuse University.
When characters become as culturally ingrained as those
from "Friends," he said, "They become part of this
repertory theater that can be re-interpreted by other
After all, isn't "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" just a
slightly more psychological version of Pong?
©2003 The New York Times Company