A Perfectly Normal Panel About Awkwardness in Games

This winter, two friends and I decided to submit a panel about awkward game design to some conferences. We thought it would be a great idea to experiment with awkwardness in form as well as content, so we settled on a “powerpoint karaoke” format wherein we all wrote our own talks/slides, and then, during the panel itself, we switched identities (complete with costume changes) and performed, completely unrehearsed, the presentation of the panelist we were pretending to be.

We presented this panel at Different Games (livestreamed here), and most recently, at the Canadian Game Studies Association conference this week. Two conferences, because there were two unique permutations for identity-switching — had we had more participants, we would have submitted to others.

For my talk, I decided to write a Twine game — surprise, surprise — which I called “Being Dietrich Squinkifer”. It was a really interesting design challenge to create a playable experience that involved awkwardly giving a prototypical Squinky talk (complete with the requisite dance break) in front of a real audience. It was also unusual for me to design a game intended only to be played by two specific people, but I quite enjoyed being able to do so. In particular, I managed to create a situation in which Allison, playing as me, got to wish herself a happy birthday (Allison’s birthday did in fact fall on the day of our CGSA talk) and Jess, playing as Allison, reacted accordingly.

Performing the talks themselves was a fascinating play experience in its own right — I found myself adopting some of the mannerisms of my friends as I tried to emulate them. It felt like I was primarily performing for the specific person I was pretending to be, as well as any of our mutual friends in attendance, and that the rest of the audience played more of a spectator role. We also had some technical difficulties at points, and having to keep going and work around them, especially since we had never seen the talks before performing them, was extra challenging, but added to the general feeling of awkwardness we were going for.

So, were our talks successful? If you came in expecting an informative panel about game design, you might have been disappointed; it is, after all, very difficult to properly communicate your thoughts in detail when they are, in fact, someone else’s thoughts, and you’ve also never rehearsed them before. That said, as a self-demonstrating spectacle of somewhat intentional failure, I think we did pretty well, and that we had a lot of fun, and the audience seemed to get a few insights, if not awkward laughs, out of it as well. A++++++ would panel again!

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Summer updates!

Last April, I attended the Different Games Conference, in which I a) ran a game of Coffee: A Misunderstanding, b) spoke as part of “A Perfectly Normal Panel About Awkwardness in Games” with my awesome friends/collaborators, Allison Cole and Jess Marcotte, and c) teased a short sneak preview demo of a certain sequel I’m currently working on and will talk more about later.

This week, I’m heading to the Canadian Game Studies Association Conference, wherein Jess, Allison, and I will be doing a repeat of the aforementioned Perfectly Normal Panel About Awkwardness in Games, only this time the awkwardness will be enhanced through the magic of videoconferencing.

Later in June, I’m speaking at the Games For Change Festival, on Comedy, Games, and Social Change, discussing how humour can play an important role in humanizing difficult situations and helping us feel empathy for characters.

Between July-August, I’ll be showing a selection of my work in a solo art exhibition at Babycastles. More details to come soonish!

Finally — because apparently, I haven’t yet had enough of grad school — this September, I’ll be starting a PhD at Concordia University, working with some of the fine folks at the TAG lab. My proposed research will be on designing autobiographical games, a topic that fascinates me greatly, both in terms other people’s work and my own. I’m quite looking forward to it!

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Most Sincere Greetings, Esteemed One

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For this year’s Global Game Jam, I teamed up with Jess Marcotte to create a game inspired by the theme of “Ritual”. What we came up with was a two-player physical game about greeting rituals and the awkwardness they sometimes produce. Each pair of players is asked to perform a set of procedurally-generated instructions for greeting one another, then taken to a page where they receive procedurally-generated feedback on how well (or poorly) they executed the greeting.

I implemented the text generation using the Tracery library, by Kate Compton, which I had previously used in Interruption Junction and Fitzwilliam Darcy’s Dance Challenge. Jess constructed a gong out of aluminium foil, a paper plate, a fork, and a Makey Makey, which gave us a physical controller that players could hit to advance to the next screen. We also gave players brainwave-sensing headbands to wear that didn’t actually do anything, but added to the fiction of linking the players’ minds together or something or other.

You can play the game in your web browser (for best results, find a partner to play it with you), watch a gameplay video, or check out the source code.

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Stuff happening this winter!

First off: I now live in Montreal! It is lovely, but cold. Brr!

This coming weekend, on January 16, I will be showing Interruption Junction at the Indie Arcade: Coast to Coast event at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC.

A couple of weeks later, on February 5, I will be part of a panel called “The Visual Politics of Play: On the Signifying Practices of Digital Games” at the College Art Association Annual Conference, again in Washington, DC.

On February 16, I will be giving a talk at the University of Central Florida for their The Big Read event.

Finally, my GDC talk has now been announced! This March, I will be presenting on Designing Discomfort. It should be a jolly lark!

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Pictures at an Exhibition, or: Squinky’s First Solo Art Show OMG!

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A few weeks ago, I had my first solo gallery exhibition of my games at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. It went from October 26 – November 16, and the works featured were Dominique Pamplemousse, Coffee: A Misunderstanding, Interruption Junction, Tentacles Growing Everywhere, Quing’s Quest, Conversations We Have In My Head, and Fitzwilliam Darcy’s Dance Challenge.

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My IndieCade 2015 Talk: Why People Matter

Here is the full text of a talk I performed at the IndieCade festival today, as part of the “Why ___ Matters” panel. Accompanying melancholy music is here.

I don’t think I would have ever made a game if I didn’t know there were going to be people out there who wanted to play it.

I mean, sure, when you talk about why you make games, you’re supposed to say it’s because you intrinsically love the process of making games. Which I do, honestly, and I have for the last 15 years or so. But the existence of a community of people wanting to play what I made was the thing that pushed me from just tinkering around to actually finishing a game.

As is true of any other artform, game-making is fundamentally communicative. When you make a game, you need players. Sometimes, these players are other game-makers; other times, just regular people who stumbled upon your work somewhere, but either way, your game doesn’t truly come to life unless and until someone else interacts with it.

My game-making practice is, to this day, heavily informed by every review, blog post, forum post, and tweet written about my work — the very proof that what I’ve created doesn’t exist in a vacuum and people have, in fact, played it and had an emotional reaction to it.

This is especially important since most of the games I make are things I work on by myself. I spend all these weeks, months, and sometimes years on a project, practically isolated from the outside, so those moments when I can show what I’ve done to the world become even more necessary.

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Name Change Announcement

I am changing the name I go by publicly to Dietrich Squinkifer.

(You may, of course, still call me Squinky, and in fact, I encourage you to do so.)

Since coming out as genderqueer, I’ve had a complicated relationship with my name and the gendered expectations that came with it — in retrospect, I don’t remember a time when the name I was given ever felt like my own, even though there were many things I did like about it. Squinky is a name I chose when I was thirteen and have always loved, and yet, going by a mononym in a society where most people have a first and last name is, I’m finding, more unwieldy than I’m willing to deal with.

Hence, Squinky is now short for Squinkifer. And Dietrich is a permutation of my given name that someone once called me by mistake and I happened to wind up preferring it to the original.

All my past work credited as Deirdra Kiai or Deirdra “Squinky” Kiai will remain so, because as a rule, I don’t make significant changes to projects after they are publicly released. I see them as time capsules of who I was at the time I created them, even if I am a somewhat different person now. However, when referring to past works of mine in the present day, I would appreciate if you honoured my name change by using notation such as “Dietrich Squinkifer (writing as Deirdra Kiai)”.

And of course, my pronouns, as always, are they/them.

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