21 February 2015

Digital Games: Weeks 20-21

I'm not quite sure how to begin about these two weeks as it was a roller-coaster of events that ended with Tim and me working night and day to make a game about sex and contraception.

Before I continue, let me do a little disclaimer: If you are uncomfortable with sex, female sexuality, contraception and personal women's issues you might want to skip this blog entry. I've thought long and hard about how to go about this professionally but there is no way to talk about the very personal game Tim and I made this week without raising well... personal female issues. If you are uncomfortable with this in any way, I suggest you stop reading here.

It started with a strand of contraceptive pills that unleashed its wrath complete with sudden depression, debilitating migraines and violent mood alterations. Around me, we were discussing some very heart-felt topics in Ashley's theory class. The first was gamer culture and gatekeeping issues women face, the second was gender representation and sex in videogames. The first left me in a pit of hopelessness, the second with the powerful outlook that I could change something. So when Justin gave us the task to create a game with strong use of numbers and balancing systems, I knew what I had to do.

The goal was this: Create a game that would voice a problem a lot of young women have to face. Namely, (if they wish to) not getting pregnant. You play a young woman who is starting university with the aim to get amazing grades and great friends. Her boyfriend moved with her and the last thing she needs on her plate is a pregnancy. The game is one of balancing fertility, contraception and its effects with day to day life.

I went to Tim for game design advice and he exploded with great ideas and enthusiasm. He came onboard and we sailed off to create a sex-positive exploration of female sexuality and contraceptive use. Of course, true to the design task that Justin set us to do, it was backed by a mathematical system of balancing numbers: intimacy, pleasure and day to day activities.

The news spread quickly in the university labs that Tim and I were making "a sex game". We were approached many times by bewildered and curious faces. Often both at the same time. As we came closer to Wednesday, I worried about presenting the game to a male-heavy class however the reactions of some ("What is the pill?" "You have to take it every day?! That's so tedious!" "What does this day in cycle mean?") made it all the stronger. By putting players in the shoes of a sexually active female character, those that were uninformed became curious, asked questions, they initiated conversations on female issues as in the context of this game it also became the player's issues.

At this point I need to mention the game is far from perfect right now (like the very humorous but inappropriate need to have sex every night in the game to move onto the next day) but as a prototype of a more polished life-style game, it really works to spark curiosity, play with systems and, most importantly, empathise.

You can download and play the game here.

3 February 2015

Digital Games: Week 19

So many developments on the psychogeographic end have happened this week starting with auditing Will Self's classes. Various students in game design heard about my work on psychogeography in virtual worlds and let me know that the quirky and legendary Will Self is a professor at Brunel. After contacting him, he was kind enough to let me audit his weekly module literally called "Psychogeography" where he trains and takes students on derives. The experience was fantastic! The most fun I've had in a while. I'm so looking forward to Monday mornings.

On the other hand, in Design class, Justin introduced us to the topic of the week: out of the box. We are to create a game without thinking what a game should be. As an example he showed us three videos:

There were many great points made that have stuck with me. 1. Don't give a damn about rules. 2. When you forget the rules and play with your medium, you will fail 99% of the time. But 1% will be amazingly innovative and eventually become mainstream in the medium. 3. There are no rules to being creative. In fact creativity is often so out there that it is dangerous and, quite honestly, scary.

I paired off with Tim for this exercise and suggested an idea: "Let's make the first psychogeographic videogame." There have been movies, there have been drawings, there have been texts. But what would it look like as a digital game? Honestly, one week is not enough to explore this concept but we gave it a full day where we grabbed the metropolitan line all the way to the end, wandered, and then tried to express our observations through gameplay.

So what did we observe? Contradictions. Plenty of ridiculous contradictions. Government signs prohibiting drinking in the streets while two meters away, a barista practiced his juggling skills with a plastic alcohol bottle and cocktail cup. We saw a car park with a big "No Parking" sign. A coffee shop that called itself the Antishop. While Shoreditch puts on a facade of quirky liberation, it is still surrounded by corporate glass high-rises and considered a "good behaviour zone" in the controlling fist of the police.

What game came out of this? One precisely about these contradictions. Tim and I spent two days playing around in MMF and in between we watched Salvador Dali and Luis Bunyuel's L'Age D'Or. We observed that the film is full with meaning, only that they would put the message above anything else, including reality. For example, there is a close up shot of a character who has flies all over his face because he is literally "a piece of crap".

We collaged images from our trip and gave them behaviours to literally represent our observations from our psychogeographic wander. I will not say anymore since I feel this is very much a game that is a game for a reason: it cannot be expressed in anything that is not a game. (Although whether or not this is a game can be really contested. But that was the least of our worries.) You can play the game here.