Saturday, December 27, 2014

Notes on sex, consent, and intimacy in games and tech

This is adapted from the talk I gave at NYU Poly about my free spanking game Hurt Me Plenty. It kind of "spoils" it a little, if you care about that sort of thing, so I recommend you play it before reading this post... Or watch Pewdiepie play it, I guess.

You can imagine Hurt Me Plenty with its realistic representational graphics as a critique of the sex in contemporary Western video games with similar graphics, such as in Bioware RPG games (Mass Effects, Dragon Ages) which regularly feature "romance" storylines that climax in a cutscene of two virtual dolls glaring at each other for a few seconds, with cold unfeeling eyes devoid of human warmth, before tastefully fading to black. (My game hides your partner's face as much as possible.)

These kinds of representations are dangerous more for their structural properties: players understand these romances as puzzles to be solved where sex is the reward -- and the idea that sex is a puzzle reward feeds directly into a pick-up artist (PUA) culture built on manipulation and perceived entitlement to bodies. This is essentially the "kindness coins" critique, that the logic of training players to expect sex, based on a series of so-called strategic actions, is super gross and perpetuates damaging ways of thinking about relationships.

Instead, sex must be more than a node, it should be simulated as a complex system in itself. Sex must not be some sort of reward or foregone conclusion. What if we represented sex in games as an on-going process? What if we actually did sex?

Several games have explored this already:

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Inspired a bit by Ian Bogost's glossary, here's one entry of my own:

"games journalism"
making sure the screenshots from the press releases in your inbox, or from, were properly uploaded and linked; rarely involves reporting or fact-checking; see also "writing news"

"games criticism"
what games journalism ideally should've been

Friday, December 5, 2014

Radiator Blog: Fifth Year Anniversary

In keeping with tradition, I do a roundup of this blog's "notable posts" from this past year -- because this blog is now about five (5) years old, it is enrolling in kindergarten and learning how to write. Oh my, the time does fly! (All of the past years' roundups are available here.)

This year, I've posted about 50% less than last year. This is due to a few things: I've been busy teaching more often, I've been trying to work harder on my projects and de-emphasize my writing, and also I realize I've been "saving my material" to deliver at talks instead of "giving it away" on my blog. I don't like that I'm doing this, I've always thought I would be the type to discuss and share freely -- so next year, I'm going to try to post more reliably again... but still, it wasn't such a bad year:
  • I finished and released three games: Chandelier, Intimate Infinite, and Hurt Me Plenty.
  • My post as "A first-time IGF judge with IGF submission advice" in February got quite a few referrals from game development communities... and judging by this year's new batch of entries, a lot of people still need to look at this advice! I'll probably write another list of tips for next year, but this time closer to the submissions deadline so maybe a few more people will heed it.
  • "An alternate history of Flappy Bird" was me weighing in on the event that was Flappy Bird, back in February. I felt like (and I still do feel that) there was a strong racial current to the weird backlash and faux outrage. After all that speculation, I believe Dong Nguyen said in interviews that he withdrew Flappy Bird because he felt that distributing such an addictive game was unethical... which was an angle that occurred to approximately zero Western thinkpiece writers. I think my personal favorite Straight White Male angle was Charles Pratt's piece for Polygon, a formal analysis on how well Flappy Bird is tuned.
  • I took a few more stabs at procedural dialog / conversational NPC systems for Nostrum. Then I actually showed it at GaymerX2, and I had to disable the system at the last minute because it was still too abstract -- once again, I made the mistake of focusing on a system instead of a game experience. People seemed to like flying under rock arches though... which convinced me that I needed to re-think my approach to the game, and so Nostrum is currently on hold.
  • I am now one of (several hundred? maybe a thousand?) architecture critics with my words printed in a book, an expensive mega box-set organized by Rem Koolhaas. Of course, I haven't actually seen or touched these books in real-life, so they're still mostly imaginary to me, but I've totally seen the page proofs and they looked nice enough.
  • My snarky game engine review roundup fooled Jonathan Blow into following me on Twitter for a day or two, almost as if I were an authority on this stuff?...
  • Noserudake 2 is one of my favorite Japanese Unity web player games, and I riffed off that to write about the role of language in game dev, specifically how game development / our identities as game developers ("self-learning self-taught polymath nerd gods") is mediated by English being the "default language" of code and development, vs. other cultures and language users developing their own ways of game making.
  • Modding is still alive, it's just taking a different shape... I wrote about how Ryan Trawick's "Keys" plays with conventions of the "alt walking simulator" genre, and it's kind of amazing that there are established conventions and motifs now? It prompted me to look into Source SDK 2013 and revive the old Radiator... which, um, I still need to finish making. Shit.
  • I reviewed Anna's book on ZZT and Darius' book on Jagged Alliance 2. Both are excellent books, you should read them. I think I'm going to assign them in my classes.
  • I got more into tool development... here's me making a simple 3D scribble-modeling tool called "Mural", and here's me working on a Twine-like plugin for Unity called "Bramble"... which reminds me, I still need to finish those, huh? Shit.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

new game: "Hurt Me Plenty"

"Hurt Me Plenty" is a short game made for Leap Motion Jam 2014 where you spank the heck out of a dude and learn about how BDSM communities attempt to formalize consent / caring. I was really interested in how we can make games about intimacy without a "kindness coins = sex cutscene" trope, and how we can use expressive gestures to roleplay / think about pain and intimacy. (For the record, I don't think my game gets it right, and it has a lot of flaws... this stuff is hard to design!)

Monday, December 1, 2014

"Cheeky Designs: How to Make a Video Game About Spanking The Heck Out of a Dude" at NYU Poly Game Innovation Lab, December 11

I'm giving a short tech talk about making my hunk-spanking game on December 11th at the NYU Poly School of Engineering's "Game Innovation Lab" in Downtown Brooklyn. Here's a description:

This talk will discuss the design development of "On Your Knees" "Hurt Me Plenty", one of the very few video games ever made about spanking men. How do you adapt concepts from BDSM culture into a game? How do you translate the politics of consent and power exchange into game code, 3D animation, and motion interfaces? What if video games imagined sex as an interactive process instead of a cutscene "reward" dispensed by a talking vending machine?

I'll talk how each part of the game works / why I made it the way I made it / interesting questions this kind of work brings up. Hope to see you there if you're in the New York City area!

December 11, 2014 at 7:00 PM
5 Metrotech Center
Brooklyn, NY 11201