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What about love? Inside a game jam revolution
What about love? Inside a game jam revolution Exclusive
April 10, 2013 | By Leigh Alexander

April 10, 2013 | By Leigh Alexander
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    4 comments
More: Indie, Design, Exclusive



The portrayal of romance in games has been an open discussion in traditional game design circles, and players and creators alike have longed to see how we can explore the deep and nuanced tonalities of love in interactive entertainment.

Yet while lifelike demos of faces that can really gaze at you provoke buzz and ardor, achieving the expressive, genuine sentiment of courtship, heartbreak, and sex within a medium that likes goal-oriented systems has been an elusive objective.

Trust pure, wild experimentation to emerge from the fringe. Beginning over the past weekend, following up on an idea she credits to friend Eren Russo, writer, visual artist and game maker Madam Luna spearheaded the Pulse-Pounding Heart-Stopping Dating Sim Game Jam, which encouraged game makers and hobbyists from all over the realm of the internet to use whatever tools they could get their hands on to make games about romance.

The result was explosive -- and fascinating for how quickly and enthusiastically a community from all walks of life and with all levels of expertise responded, uniting under the ongoing #pphsjam hashtag to produce and discuss a frankly-stunning array of expressive interactive experiences. As of now, the Jam's produced 80 games and counting. They vary in polish and some are not finished, but excitingly, that's not the point.

The individuality that emerges with easy access to simple tools like Twine and Ren'Py is on full show, and the sense of community seemed to offer participants a degree of encouragement and safety to discuss their own personal experiences, often (but not always) including themes of kink and queerness.

The range of voices is amazingly broad: Nina F. created a Twine game simply titled Dating Sim about the myriad interpersonal invasions one may encounter at a crowded party full of drunks; meanwhile, Lillian Behrendt submitted a MSPaint-illustrated dating sim about seducing a pink, amorphous chewing gum-like character called Princess Gloob into a romantic date followed by sex.

Many known creators participated; prolific Anna Anthropy created a heartfelt Twine tale about meeting her partner over a game of Aegis Wing, Merritt Kopas shared a journey of self-discovery across several first dates in 1STDATEMEM.EXE, and visual novelist Christine Love used interactive text messages to humorous effect as the interface for Japanese magical girl-inspired Magical Maiden Madison. Popular Twine author and games critic Porpentine created a text game intended for two in-person players entitled UNTIL OUR ALIEN HEARTS BEAT AS ONE.

There are even more new faces. I enjoyed the playful, occasionally-cruel writing style of NJD Somerville in Lovely Antiquing, set at the "Greater Lesser Trumpertington-on-Sea car boot sale." Someone even made a submission using PowerPoint. I myself talked a blue streak on Twitter about using Ren'Py to make a game where you attempt to court Vegeta from Dragonball Z, but got too excited about everyone else's games to focus on my own. I'll leave it to the pros.

Rather, to the expressly not-pros. The jam's a remarkable example of what an expressive community can do on its own for the love of experimental games. Despite publishing individual game-making manifesto Rise of the Videogame Zinesters last year, Anthropy tells the Guardian today she's uncomfortable being seen as such a visible parent of the Twine-based authorial revolution, and instead hopes the excitement around individuality in games and the use of accessible tools will continue democratizing .

"I'd rather have a movement where everyone is a leader," she tells the Guardian. An event like this makes it abundantly clear that Anna is one of many community motivators, but hardly an outlier: "This GDC [felt] tremendously different," she continues. "Because I don't really feel like I really am the only one."

The increasing celebration of handmade, personal games that focus more on the act of honest creation than traditional "design wisdom" has caused some measure of uncertainty among veterans and purists. Earlier this week, in response to some Tweets I'd made in disdain for definitions, Raph Koster wrote me an open letter on his blog.

He acknowledges the "uncomfortably-personal edge" inherent in taking new work -- particularly within a movement led by historically underrepresented voices -- and trying to label it, consign it to the "not a game" table, but expresses that systems and definitions around interactivity are important to some.

I wrote Raph a detailed response in his comment section, republished on my own blog. But the best argument against definitions and exclusions is here in the growing list of games that emerged from this joyous online community jam, made by people wanting to convey experiences of love through interactivity.

They're experimenting with a design problem that all the years of indie jams and formal industry have rarely managed to address in such a brave way before, arguably if at all, and surely if traditionalists can take some lessons from other experience designers, this is no small place to begin. With that in mind, what does it matter what they're called?

Though the deadline for the jam is technically passed, submissions are still being accepted. Check out the full list of #pphsjam games here.


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Comments


Daniel Cook
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We see a bit of the punk aesthetic of "Make a game. Express yourself. Never be limited by your internal critiques or the critiques of others"

There are a couple points of typical conflict here:

1) Revolutionary vs Establishment
Anyone who is established is labeled as part of the institution that has prevented expression in the past. It is a broad brush wielded wildly, but there is often little room for nuance when you try to force you way into the world that feels like it doesn't want you.

2) Craft vs Self expression
After you do a creative activity for a few decades, some folks start to wonder "Hey, can we do this better?" This yields a conversation and a specialized language. The goal is not definitions that constrain, but tools that empower. However, when the youthful / isolated / rebuffed revolutionary hears this alien language it comes across as a coded means of saying "No. You aren't good enough. You aren't capable of self expression at a high level." A true punk rejects even a hint of this suggestion violently. You burn with your goal, you've found your superhero voice and no one is going to keep you down.

3) Tribal identity
Any new group or movement engages in an exercises of forming group boundaries. Who in? Who understand the group norms? Who is out? Who represents undesirable behavior that potentially harms the group's coherency and identity? Raph, he's an established fellow who speaks about craft. That makes him a useful Boogie man, especially when he makes vaguely threatening overtures in his alien gibberish craft language.

This is all an old, old tale.

The solution is simple though rarely implemented. You find ambassadors between groups. You talk. You build a common language.

Leigh, here is an opportunity: Instead of asking "Does it matter what they are called?" ask "Why could it matter?"

Maybe you find out that...
- There has been a small group of monks toiling in darkness for years attempting to improve the world's theoretical knowledge of how games work. They speak with a funny accent and use common words like 'game' in strange technical ways. But they are not the Man and have been kicked down and spat upon more than you might imagine.
- There are immense opportunities to cross pollinate. Take the emotional mechanics work of Stephane Bura or Joris Dormans internal economies and mix it with the raw expression of Dys4ia. What happens? Maybe something wonderful.

It is great to celebrate a new movement and a new voice screaming forth in the joyous agony of birth. There is also something to be said for asking: What comes afterwards and how do we learn from one another to build another new thing?

take care,
Danc.

Timmy GILBERT
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I think you miss something fundamental, rejection is necessary to find their own identity first or the risk is being diluted. Only once the identity has been established that the reconciliation is possible. It's not new and it's right in Raph Koster talk about social mechanics:

1. First, users try to conform to the rules as they work to understand them.
2. Then they try to innovate and reach the goals in new ways.
3. Then they keep doing things “the right way” but stop caring about the objective. This is called ritualism
4. Then they retreat and stop caring about the goal or the method.
5. Finally, they rebel and start doing their own thing.

Identity allow to reflect and to compare, if you look at video games history it has always evolve that way: Ludo vs narration, casual, social, artgames, notgames and indie, all where branching against the wisdom of the time, built their own language and exploring new avenue, pick what works best and return to merge with the norm.

Timmy GILBERT
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The goals of the monk therefore is not to enforce the so called broader view, but to nurture the departure until we learn the right lesson. I think the letter of raph koster was a misstep, it try unconsciously to tell people about what he (and I) care personally about and miss half what other people are trying to achieve and care about.

It's like saying you should put sugar on everything, because sugar makes things sweet and sweet is great, but those people want to avoid the sweetness at all cost and want to experience what's about and explore the bitterness, telling them to put sweet come across as condescending.

There will be always a time to learn from them, we should not act as if we always hold the key. Sometimes different need to be different, listening is key, not talking.

Emppu Nurminen
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Daniel; yet you see how eagerly people are ready to defend the few established comfort zones in the industry, which seem to be the biggest problem to keep games perceived as juvenile and immature entertainment. It feels odd to take patronizing attitude for something that want to work the games from the other way around. As the relationship between art and entertainment in other mediums are mutual, inevitable, and needed status quo to feed and enrich each others, I see no reason, why games are an exception.


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