Two collaborative physical/digital hybrid projects

Along with the time I’m spending finishing off DomPam2, I’ve also been working on a couple of games with my good friend, fellow Concordia PhD student, and now-frequent collaborator, Jess Marcotte.

The first game is The Truly Terrific Traveling Troubleshooter, which we call “a radically soft suitcase game about emotional labour and otherness”. You can find out more about it here, including upcoming events where we’ll be showing it.

The second game is rustle your leaves to me softly, an ASMR plant dating sim that we prototyped during Global Game Jam 2017 last January. Jess wrote a more in-depth post about it on their blog.

As you can imagine, I’ve been super swamped this semester and terrible about blogging lately as a result. I’ll be making some more exciting announcements soon, though, so hopefully that’ll change!

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CHESS FOR MEN: a game for Pippin Barr

This past semester, I took a class in Player Studies, where one of the assignments was to study one particular player and then design a game specifically for them. When I was given this assignment, I thought it would be especially fun to use another game designer as my test subject. I chose to work with the renowned Pippin Barr, not only because I’ve admired his work for a long time, but also because he happens to work in the same game lab as me and was therefore easily accessible.

What I found when playing games with Pippin was that there was a difference between the games that he designs versus the games he enjoys playing. Pippin’s design style is short, to the point, and “jokey”, with a low-fi aesthetic; he is perhaps best known for adapting the works of contemporary artist Marina Abramović into games, which really says it all. The games he enjoys playing, on the other hand, range from masocore (e.g. Terry Cavanagh‘s work) to lushly-rendered exploratory “walking simulator” games (e.g. everything by The Chinese Room). Another game we ended up playing together was chess, which we both played when we were younger, then stopped — though Pippin did take it up again recently, via play-by-mail with a long-distance friend. While we were playing, and as he was about to win, he uttered the following phrase:

“I’m not very good at winning games… actually, I guess I’m not very good at games at all.”

This both intrigued and inspired me. What is it about winning games that would make someone uncomfortable? Moreover, how can I, as a designer, enhance this discomfort? In contrast to the idea of a masocore game that is so difficult that constantly losing is part of the fun, what if the game were ridiculously easy, and the accolades you got for winning then felt completely and utterly meaningless? Moreover, what if the way to play and win the game was to be a complete, utter sociopath?

The result was that I made a game called CHESS FOR MEN, which you can play here.

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DomPam2: Art, politics, and Brecht

I’ve been wanting to write a post about Brechtian influences on DomPam2 for a while now, but with trying to wrap up course work this semester and dealing with other life things, it’s been hard to focus on things that don’t have immediate deadlines. My general stress level has, in part, been heightened by last month’s US election, which affects us here in Canada pretty significantly, even though I honestly am glad to be back.

In times like these, I believe it’s more important than ever for artists to engage with politics in their work, even as some folks seem to get all bothered about it. “Artists are supposed to make people smile, not think.” “Games are supposed to be fun.” That sort of thing. And, well, sure, what I want to do is not going to make me popular or garner me a lot of Steam sales, because most people who play videogames seem to want to have fun and feel good, at least as I understand it. [1] And yet, I’m at a point where I can’t not make games that express the things I’m thinking and feeling.

So, Brecht. I first encountered Bertolt Brecht‘s work sometime after I released DomPam1, when people much smarter and more well-read than me started comparing it to The Threepenny Opera, and Weimar Germany-era cabaret theatre in general. So, of course, I eventually started to look into the stuff I was being compared to, and found it resonated with me in a big way. I mean, gee, I can’t imagine why, in this current political climate, I’d find a lot in common with a playwright who worked during the rise of fascism pre-WWII, but there you have it.

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Footnotes:

  1. It’s a good thing my primary source of income, at least at this point in time, isn’t game sales.
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New game: OPPRESSION OLYMPICS 2K16

Last weekend, I participated in GAMERella, a game jam for women, gender-nonconforming folks, people of colour, and any others who feel like they haven’t had a chance to make a game, hosted at TAG. I teamed up once again with my good friend Jess Marcotte and together, we adopted a new game jammer, Sarah Fay Girard.

Our theme was “inter/sections”, which made us want to do something related to intersectional feminism. At some point while brainstorming, we decided it would be funny to lampoon the idea of the “oppression olympics”, a term that’s used to describe when people of different marginalized groups “compete” against each other in order to prove who’s more oppressed — in other words, the antithesis of intersectionality. Several hours and cheesy sports metaphors later, we came up with this gem:

titlescreen

You can play the game here — for best results, gather together some friends around a single keyboard and button-mash as fast as you can! (Also, the source code is available here.)

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DomPam2: Games are not for everyone

I feel like there’s a misconception among well-intentioned games people that to promote diversity in games, the goal ought to be to make a game that everyone can enjoy. While it’s a goal that sounds nice in theory, in practice, it tends to result in bland, uninteresting games that don’t really speak to anyone in particular. I personally feel that what we should really be doing is making more games for people who don’t typically have games made for them.

One of the most frequently repeated criticisms of DomPam1 was, in fact, that it wasn’t a game for everyone. [1] To this day, I’m still frequently confused as to why this is even a bad thing: the vast majority of videogames in existence — the vast majority of works in any medium, even — are not for me, and I learned that lesson pretty early on in life. It occurs to me, however, that some folks do in fact go through life assuming that their tastes are universal, particularly those for whom the constructed “gamer” identity is a perfect fit. That is to say, if you play videogames, there are very particular reasons why you like videogames, and very particular games you hold up as gold standards for the medium. Generally speaking, you enjoy smooth-feeling gameplay that makes you feel empowered and as if your choices actually matter, and you like having impressive production values to go with that.

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Footnotes:

  1. There was even a particularly glowing review I remember that nevertheless ended with an editor-mandated lacklustre 6/10 score solely because of its not-for-everyone-ness. Unfortunately, this review seems to be lost and gone forever, otherwise I would link to it.
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DomPam2: Letting the cat out of the bag…

dp2-alley

So, I’ve leaked a few teasers here and there, but in case you weren’t aware of them: yes, I am indeed officially working on the sequel to Dominique Pamplemousse in “It’s All Over Once The Fat Lady Sings!” — which will be called Dominique Pamplemousse and Dominique Pamplemousse in: “Combinatorial Explosion!”

Full disclosure: I kind of hate sequels. I especially hate the idea of being obligated to write them. When the first DomPam game exploded and people started to ask me if there was going to be a sequel, I’d either groan audibly or joke that sure, I’d make a sequel, but it would be an angsty Twine game about my feelings, or something equally far-fetched. As far as I was concerned back then, I’d already written the story I wanted to write the first time around, and there was no point in continuing it.

But then, sometime last year, I got an idea. I was at WordPlay, and Sherwin Tija [1] was giving a talk about his “You Are A Cat!” gamebook series. He stated that if you write a story with multiple endings, and you then decide to write a sequel to said story, then it logically follows that you have to choose one of your multiple endings as the canon endings. And then I started thinking, hey wait a minute, what if you didn’t have to choose? In fact, what if the entire plot to a sequel involved being confused about which ending was canon?

So, I started thinking about Dominique again. Regardless of my feelings towards its completeness, a lot of things have happened in my life in the intervening 3-4 years since making it, which I now want to address. As it happens, my current PhD research is on autobiographical games, and while DomPam is not explicitly autobiographical, it has enough of my lived experience in it that it feels very formative to who I am as a person. [2]

The premise, therefore, is that since the first game had two endings, the sequel features two versions of Dominique, one from each alternate timeline. And so, they wind up wandering around in search of answers to the question of which one of them is canon, while encountering a number of wacky characters and situations in the process. I hope you find it as fun as I do.

Stay tuned for more writing about my design process, including thoughts on Brechtian alienation and stand-up comedy!

Footnotes:

  1. Sherwin is also known for putting on Slowdance Night, a dance party that’s all slow dancing all the time, and has become one of my favourite things ever since moving to Montreal.
  2. So, really, to some degree, every game I make is an angsty Twine game about my feelings.
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GISHWHES 2016 (in which Squinky makes a bunch of silly art things because scavenger hunt)

This past week, I participated in GISHWHES, AKA the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen. Below are some items I worked on that I’m particularly proud of, all of which were done in collaboration with Jess Marcotte and whomever else we could wrangle at the last minute to help us out.

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