Scattered thoughts on QGCon 2017

Cross-posted to ReFiG (Refiguring Innovation in Games), who sponsored my writeup as well as my trip to this year’s QGCon.

Early this month, the Queerness and Games Conference took place at the University of Southern California. This was the fourth time the conference was held, and the third for which I was a co-organizer. Aside from my usual organizer duties, I gave a microtalk and had two games on display in the QGCon Arcade: DomPam2 (which is still on sale until the end of the month) and The Truly Terrific Traveling Troubleshooter (which my collaborator, Jess, wrote a lot about here).

Here are some scattered thoughts on this year’s incarnation of QGCon:

This was the first year we held the conference in LA instead of Berkeley. It made sense to move it because most of us organizers are no longer based in or near the San Francisco Bay Area. There was a lot I missed in terms of the change in location — USC is not as centrally located to food and other amenities as Berkeley, and we ended up having an unfortunate issue with campus security that made our Saturday night karaoke party less well attended than usual. We’ve been floating around the idea of moving QGCon to different locations every year (I keep rooting for Montreal, of course, and not just because I live here now) but everything’s still up in the air for the moment. Stay tuned, I guess!

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QGCon 2017: falling in love in a cyberpunk dystopia

Below is the text of a talk I gave at last weekend’s Queerness and Games conference, as part of a microtalk series on the topic of “Out of Sheer Spite”, moderated by Kris Ligman.

This time last year, I went through the worst major depressive episode I’ve ever experienced. Up until then, I’d experienced periods of what I thought was depression, but could really be more described as melancholy. This time around, however, was a complete, utter breakdown. I’d alternate between states of heightened anxiety and uncontrollable crying spells. I lost my appetite. I had trouble sleeping. I couldn’t even write code without having to stop because I was too anxious.

I’ve known how to program since I was ten, to give you an idea of how drastic that was for me.

I’d moved to Montreal at the beginning of the year, eager to have a few months to myself to live alone in a tiny apartment and make some games while living off my savings, waiting to start my PhD in September. For as long as I can remember, I would have given anything for unstructured time where I didn’t have to work for a living and could just make art for a while.

Unfortunately, my brain had other ideas.

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DomPam2 release!

I’m super proud to announce that I’ve now completed the long-awaited sequel to Dominique Pamplemousse! I can’t believe it’s already been exactly four years since I released the first game. A lot has happened in the intervening time: I went to grad school, came out publicly as queer and nonbinary, changed my name and pronouns, got nominated for a bunch of awards, showed my work at art exhibitions, and survived in the midst of many catastrophes, both on a personal and a global scale.

To celebrate this milestone, I’m offering both DomPam games for sale at pay-what-you-want with a minimum of $4 (or $2 each). Proceeds from this sale will go towards me getting top surgery (specifically, a radical breast reduction), a long-awaited important transitional step in helping me feel more at home in my body.

Anyhow, do head on over to itch.io to buy the game. Hope you enjoy it!

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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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