1.6 – More Help Desk Games


Through the progression of a Help Desk game’s dialogues, we heighten the participants’ personal games.

Two players swapping opinions on a piece of art can be a pretty funny scene. But, with Help Desk game mechanics, we can heighten personal games to make the characters’ emotional perspective more important than the premise of “what makes art valid.”

Player One is really pretentious about art theory. Player Two is comparatively ignorant about art theory but knows what he likes. Through a Help Desk game, we can heighten these perspectives beyond the realm of art. In addition to playing out the verbal pattern, the game can also heighten a character’s personal game through an established progression.

Player Three can heighten Player One’s perspective by initiating a Set dialogue around the “value of war.” In seeking to repeat the Offer dialogue, Player One heightens his character’s personal game, justifying war through foreign relations policy. Player One’s pretentiousness though is heightened most by the progression of context; connected this way, “art” and “war” are individually less important to the game than Player One’s perspective. The topics progress while the reactions repeat. It is to Player Three’s benefit to, following the verbal pattern, admit that while she doesn’t know much about war theory she knows she doesn’t want to fight.

Player Four can cement this progression by initiating a Cement dialogue around the “justification of genocide.” Player One’s pretentiousness now enjoys being heightened through his justification of genocide and through his juxtaposition with Player Four who doesn’t know much about genocide history but knows she doesn’t want to be wiped off the face of the earth along with her friends and family.

The progression of “art” to “war” to “genocide” heightens Player One’s character game; it might be reasonable to discuss the validity of art but arguing the sides for genocide makes you an asshole. If Player Four had focused instead on “universal healthcare” instead of “genocide” we might have had more of a Categories game type Help Desk game on our hands; the players still have lots of patterns in play to heighten out to an edit, but instead of a core progression we have topics that could have been reordered within the game without effect. Remember: Tighter patterns facilitate expanded heightening which enables satisfying edits. More pattern, more good. “Guy willing to debate any topic no matter how indefensible” is a stronger personal game arc than “Guy willing to debate any topic.”

But of course, the Help Desk game does not need to end with four players. “Genocide” could follow “universal healthcare,” “Redaction of homicide laws” could follow “genocide.” If given the opportunity, Player Seven could throw the progression of in-defensibility on its head with a childish “Eek the Cat was the greatest show of all time,” compelling Player One’s “You’re absolutely right” response. When you have a pattern, you get to choose your edit.

But what if Player Three chooses to heighten Player Two’s personal game…

Player Three could initiate a Set dialogue that serves the progression of Player Two’s perspective. For example, Player Three could assume Player One’s role in pontificating over the value of creative sex. In seeking to repeat the Offer dialogue, Player Two heightens his character’s personal game, expressing general ignorance but individual preference. Again, it is the progression indicated by the Set dialogue that is most important in heightening Player Two’s personal game. In this case, Player Three pontificates on embracing sex with a knowledgeable and open mind; in juxtaposition, Player Two’s stance that what he knows and what he likes “is missionary” really heightens his ignorance and rigidity.

Player Four can cement this progression by initiating a Cement dialogue around “the beauty of the world.” Player Two’s ignorance and rigidity is heightened when, despite Player Four’s assertions that “there’s so much pleasure to be derived from the world,” Player Two maintains, “I don’t know much about the world, but I know that I like my couch.”

Who should you replace, Player One or Two? Remember, the most important aspect of the Set move is the decision to make it. If the scene needs it, get out there. Deciding which active player to heighten should never keep you on the wings. To have a pattern to trust, we need a Set move – get out there.

Remember, repetition alone is heightening. Get out there. Establishing a Set move with recycled opening dialogue is a clear signal to all involved that a pattern is being played.

Whomever you choose to replace, we want to focus on heightening reactions. You’re either the one heightening emotional reactions or the one feeding details out for heightened reactions; ideally you’re doing both. When each player is both having and causing reactions the resultant patterns hit harder and are more sustainable. The player chosen to remain will heighten his information and reactions as you heighten the context and reactions of the player you replace. And the progression of your interaction will provoke the Cement dialogue.

If a line was said in both the Offer and Set dialogues, it better be repeated in the Cement pass. When heightening context, rely on your To The Ether skills; we want to cement a progression. If the Offer dialogue revolves around a Flea Circus, and the Set dialogue introduces a Cell Circus, the setting of the Cement dialogue should be inspired by the sequential relationship of previous dialogues’ settings. Which setting would you choose?
A) Quark Circus
B) Family Circus
C) Plant Circus
D) RNA Roundup

There are no mistakes in patterns. But the answer is A.

A lot of times we’ll facilitate choosing who to replace in a Help Desk game with a Tag Out – instead of trying to inhabit the same space and time as the Offer dialogue, in initiating the Set dialogue, Player Three will tap the player she’s replacing on the shoulder to indicate that the tagged player should go to the wings and that the remaining player should stay on stage and repeat the pattern.

Tag Outs are great. But a Tag Out is a tool, not a game. I like teaching through the Help Desk dynamic because being constricted to inhabiting the same space and time helps improvisers focus on following the pattern of dialogue – from beginning to end – which enhances the game. Too often Tag Out runs, while certainly heightening a personal game, prioritize bits over pattern repetition. If I’m playing with tag outs I can run on stage the moment I realize Player One doesn’t like house cats and I can heighten his perspective by introducing a tiger. If I’m focused on Help Desk game mechanics, I’m reaping the rewards of not just the one progressive pattern (of house cats to tigers to…) but all the patterns ripe for plucking in the interaction.

In the Help Desk game, we make the most out of repeating a character’s personal game through commitment to the pattern and its progression.


Help Desk game mechanics can also be employed to heighten the scenic game of an interaction.

Let’s look back to the “art theory” example. Player One is really pretentious about art theory. Player Two is comparatively ignorant about art theory but knows what he likes.

We previously chose to employ Help Desk game mechanics in heightening players’ personal games. We heightened Player One’s pretentiousness and, in a different progression, we heightened Player Two’s rigid ignorance.

But we can also use Help Desk game mechanics in service of heightening the scenic game between pretentiousness and ignorance. Reestablishing the dynamic in a progression of contexts heightens the interaction above any one scene’s specifics to help us highlight a theme.

Remind you of anything?

Given more dialogue, the variation of the To The Ether game around poles resembles a Help Desk game. And all the same construction aids are there for you.

For example:

Player One – I want a baby.
Player Two – Oooh, I don’t know. Baby’s are complicated.
Player One – I want a little part of us running around our house.
Player Two – This house? There’s barely enough room for us.
Player One – Ah, c’mon. Picture having a little boy in your arms.
Player Two – (picturing) Be a man!

Player Three – I want a crumb.
Player Four – Ooooooh, I don’t know. Crumbs are messy.
Player Three – I want pieces of us spilling over this plate.
Player Four – This plate? This plate is dirty enough as it is.
Player Three – Ah, c’mon. Picture having a little chocolate chip in your arms.
Player Four – (picturing) You’re going to be eaten alive!

Player Five – I want a maggot.
Player Six – Ooooooooooooh, I don’t know. Maggots are fucking gross.
Player Five – I want larva overflowing this rancid meat.
Player Six – This rancid meat? We can’t expect it to be around forever.
Player Five – Ah, c’mon. Picture having a little maggot in your arms.
Player Six – (picturing) AHH! KILL IT!

Rather than heighten any one perspective in the argument, this Help Desk game variation heightens the argument itself.

Again, the power is in the pattern and the progression. Don’t allow “sense” to derail the pattern. Don’t let, for example, being a chocolate chip cookie keep you from having “arms.” Follow the pattern to the fun it forces you into.

And – remembering our To The Ether skills – if “AHH! KILL IT!” fails to earn the scene an edit, we can reinvest in the pattern. Player One just has to reassert her desire for a baby.

We get our edits by playing the pattern to heightened effect. We get our edits through repetition and progression of details. We ensure our edits by investing in emotional perspective and interpersonal reaction.


Whether it’s in service of heightening a scenic theme, enhancing a personal perspective, or making a “bad” scene look good, Help Desk game mechanics are applicable whenever it is a sequence of interactions that is being heightened.

That initial interaction does not have to be a two player scene; it doesn’t need to be a Two Person scene.

You can turn a Ten Person scene into a Help Desk game.

NEXT: Hey, Everybody!

2 thoughts on “1.6 – More Help Desk Games

  1. Pingback: Call & Response Connections | Improv As Improv Does Best - The Gathering ATL

  2. Pingback: 1.5 – Help Desk Games | Improv As Improv Does Best

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.