Playing old school arcade style games en masse in a live comedy show is a clever idea, but the skill required to design, implement and execute it the way it has been here, is mind meltingly clever. Games are beamed into each player’s smartphone, enabling the audience to multi-play as groups and individually against one another, with the climax of the pièce de résistance – a 360 degree night flight ride.
It’s easy to forget that there are some serious technical gymnastics going on in the background and that the levels of risk to pull this off as a live show, make it quite a feat. The presence of slightly (and comically) worried-looking earnest programming wiz, Rob Sedgebeer, who sits behind a laptop occasionally mentioning routers and such, contributes to the geeky authenticity of it all. It adds to the general feeling that we could be living a scene from The IT Crowd .
WiFi Wars is intrinsically interactive and it’s necessary to bring a charged and fairly modern smartphone or tablet to get the full experience. Flashy lighting, rousing music and on screen graphics are well choreographed, and alongside host Steve McNeil’s bantering commentary – with plenty of vocal audience participation – it feels like a gaming party night. And these games are well pitched to offer plenty of fun for everyone from novices, to the slightly skilled, to the most competitive and nimblest of thumbs. The game graphics – especially the likes of Pong – are a joyful blast from the past and there’s just enough balance between the smartphone and big screen experience. It ensures we stay connected as a group, yet have a satisfying and fully involved individual interaction. The stakes are kept high thanks to the format of regular updates on who’s in the lead and inclusion of sudden death rounds.
Rob and Steve will soon have their work showcased on TV in the autumn, as their previous piece Go 8-Bit has been developed into a show for Dave. There’s something special though, about the collective, participatory and live elements of WiFi Wars, that make it a unique experience to which audiences will no doubt return again and again.
Go alone or go with others, but if you like laughing and playing games, just go.