1.9 – Organic Games


Using To The Ether mechanics we can build a pattern from a progression of personal games, establishing and heightening a scenic game in the pattern’s evolving repetition.

Using Help Desk mechanics, we can establish a pattern out of a scenic game, and repeat that pattern to heighten a personal game or theme.

Using Hey Everybody mechanics, we can develop a pattern from a scene’s disparate personal games, and then heighten all games through that pattern’s evolving repetition.

With these rubric game mechanics in our toolkit, we can confidently navigate any progression of moves. We can start a pattern that resembles a To The Ether game and then layer on a Help Desk game pattern and then tie it all up with a Hey Everybody game pattern.


Utilizing each of the rubric games’ mechanics in collaboratively building a game, a group could improvise “Summer Nights” from Grease.

Danny – Summer lovin’ had me a blast.
Sandy – Summer lovin’ happened so fast.

This could easily become a To The Ether game, right? “Summer lovin’ swelled up with gas.” “Summer lovin’ lit up a match.” “Summer lovin’, we’ve been dispatched.”

But no Player Three comes out to join the game yet. So Danny reinvests in the pattern already established to set up a game.

Danny – I met a girl crazy for me.
Sandy – I met a boy cute as can be.

This could easily continue as a To The Ether game around poles. “We connected with just one glance.” “He reminded me of Bruce Vilanch.”

But now that we’ve clearly set a direction, everyone wants to play. With “Summer days driftin’ away but uh-oh those summer nights,” the cast swarms the stage forming two groups around Danny and Sandy respectively with “Uh well-a well-a well-a huh.”

Group One – Tell me more, tell me more.
Doody – Did you get very far?
Group Two – Tell me more, tell me more.
Marty – Like does he have a car?

Now we’ve added a Help Desk dimension to this game. The interaction between Group One (The Thunderbirds) and Danny is heightened through evolving repetition of the interaction between Group Two (The Pink Ladies) and Sandy.

But we’re not going to let this new game make us drop our old game. Danny is going to set a new pattern that encompasses all that came before it.

Danny – She swam by me, she got a cramp.

Danny says “Hey Everybodywe’re returning to the beginning of the sequence. In doing so, he signals to Sandy to reinvest in their initial To The Ether dynamic.

Sandy – He ran by me, got my suit damp.
Danny – I saved her life, she nearly drowned.
Sandy – He showed off, splashing around.

And when we reach their part of the pattern, Groups One and Two need to heighten the Help Desk dynamic of the scene.

Group Two – Tell me more, tell me more.
Frenchy – Was it love at first sight?
Group One – Tell me more, tell me more.
Kenickie – Did she put up a fight?

Now what? The group needs to cement what the group laid down. They need to take it once more from the top and have it progress in the context of all that has preceded it.

Danny – Took her bowling in the arcade.
Sandy – We went strolling, bought lemonade.
Danny – We made out under the dock.
Sandy – We stayed out ‘til ten o’clock.
Group One – Tell me more, tell me more.
Putzie – But you don’t got to brag.
Group Two – Tell me more, tell me more.
Rizzo – Cos he sounds like a drag.

The game is cemented. Everyone can play with confidence. With concentrated pattern work, several scenic games and many personal games are heightened collaboratively.

But the scene’s not over just because we reach magic chorus number three. The group invests in a fourth pass and then a fifth pass that further heighten all games at play.

Sure, Grease is not improvised; tracking the progression of “Summer Nights” helps illustrates the layering patterns. On stage improvising, if we’re focused on how a game builds through subsequent moves keeping To The Ether, Help Desk and Hey Everybody mechanics in mind, we can confidently navigate any game, following its organic evolution together as a group.


On the IO stage in Chicago, most teams start their show with an organic group game, which essentially entails a game that begins abstract and can go anywhere.

In Chicago, improvisers can learn by watching and doing. On this page, I’m going to teach in text.

Our game mechanics will be our guide.


The suggestion is “Zombies.”

Player One enters stage walking like a zombie and moaning, “Brains.” Player Two enters stage walking like a zombie and moaning, “Brains.” So when Player Three enters stage walking like a zombie and moaning, “Brains,” everybody better enter stage walking like a zombie and moaning, “Brains.”

Now we have ourselves a One Person scene.

Then a player speaks. And we work to establish a To The Ether game.

Offer – I need someone with brains.
Set – I need an intellect I can really bury my teeth into.
Cement – I’m hungry for a smart girl.

We’ve cemented a game that heightens the zombie scene with the context of seeking out a desirable mate. It’s a pretty clear game, so everyone can play and we can trust it to evolve in a concentrated direction.

Someone who does crosswords.
Someone who listens to NPR.
Someone who reads the WSJ.
Someone who knows not to say, “Irregardless.”
YUM! Brains! BRAINS!

We’ve heightened this pattern’s progression and emotional energy. Reaching this apex, it occurs to a player that there’s a line that pulls together the scene’s dual contexts while flipping the scene’s emotion.

Why is it so hard to meet someone these days?

Maybe the player who spoke this line expected it to generate a run where the zombies heighten their lamenting. And this would work; the zombies set a pattern by investing in another pass with individual games heightened through the new filter of disappointment. Then, cementing the pattern, they might continue oscillating between desire and disappointment. Or they could repeat the sequence, this time with a self-criticizing filter – “I’m too slow.” 

We’ll follow this example though: Hearing “Why is it so hard to meet someone these days,” another player feels the scene is ripe for a transition. This player breaks away from his fellow zombies to become an angry survivor with a shotgun.

Get away, ugly monsters. Bang!

First things first, all players must break away from being zombies to become angry survivors with shotguns. Establishing this new One Person scene, everyone contributes their “Bang!”

Now, we could focus our heightening on how this new initiation answers the zombies’ question. Why can’t they meet someone? Because they’re ugly. And this would work. The survivors would heighten their disgust with ugliness in the context of relationship-based language. Then the scene would continue with shades of a Help Desk game; we’d heighten the established interaction by playing out a few more monster/survivor pairings through the relationship lens. Vampires who want someone to neck with versus hunters who hate things that suck. Aliens who want to “get up inside” versus astronauts who feel taken advantage of for being good hosts.


We could simply reinvest in the established pattern through this new context. We just need to restart the To The Ether / Hey Everybody pattern while we reload our shotguns and roam the stage.

I want someone who makes me feel safe.
I want a partner who protects me.
I want a living situation I can relax in.
I don’t want to hear any more cross words.
I can’t handle any more crying.
I can’t carry any more dead weight.
I’m sick and tired of people blowing up on me.
What happened to this world?

It’s time for the Cement pass. If zombies then survivors then what?

A player breaks away from her fellow survivors, raising a mimed vial into the air.

Eureka! With this serum, no one will ever die!

First things first, all players must break away from being survivors to become excited scientists with vials. Establishing this new One Person scene, everyone contributes their “Eureka!”

Then we reinvest in the established pattern in the context of all that led to this point.

I’ll have my family with me forever.
I’ll always have my friends.
I’ll never be lonely again.
I’ll be on the cover of the New York Times.
I’ll win the Nobel Prize regardless of who else is nominated.
I’m the smartest girl in the world!

And everyone turns back into zombies and devours the smartest girl in the world.


“You wrote that,” the audience will say. Sure. You might be discounting my example with the same accusation as you read this. Sure. But with strong game mechanics in a team’s tool belt this game progression is possible.

And you can enjoy these same results. You just need to commit to honing your pattern reflexes through rigid exercise and practice. Concentrated analysis of how games are built, with emphasis on the To The Ether, Help Desk and Hey Everybody mechanics, will enable you to respond in-the-moment to recognized patterns.

With a commitment to making each move in the context of what preceded it in order to serve the collective direction of the group through patterns and repetition, your team can confidently navigate any group game together.

2.0 Scenes

5 thoughts on “1.9 – Organic Games

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