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Warm Hearts (Lyst Summit 2014)

A personal recap of the Lyst Summit 2014 on romance, love and sex in video games. Includes a rundown of the talks and a few of the games created in the game jam.

Crossposted by Martin Nerurkar from the Sharkbomb Studios blog.

Have you ever slowly slid your finger into another person’s fist? Or have someone slide theirs into your fist? Give it a try. You might like it. I know I did.

And that’s not the only thing I did and enjoyed at Lyst Summit 2014 in Copenhagen last weekend.

Conference Info Envelope

Conference Info Envelope

I couchsurfed and I was on a boat. I got my hair braided and made rich_lem paint his nailswith my polish. I made a game and danced in a dome. I learned how to do sex in Nordic LARP and I read a touching love letter. I gave and was given hearts. I felt comfortable and I laughed. I humped a man’s back and sang into a floppy piece of asparagus. Oh and I laughed. A lot.

To put it in a nutshell, Lyst was an absolute blast.

Foreplay (Getting there)

I’ve already spent this year visiting a few conferences. In Februrary I was in Amsterdam onCasual Connect. March was San Francisco with the annual Game Developers Conference. And finally in April was the terrific A Maze in Berlin. And after that I was done with conferences, until the astonishing Lucy Morris pointed out Lyst to me. Love, romance, sex and games? I knew I had to be there.

Since the year was pretty expensive already I was looking for a cheap couch to stay and fortunately the Lyst folks set me up with the Kajakklubben, a bunch of Dutch game developers, none of which I knew. I arrived late thursday, bringing 5 liters of good german beer with me. A traditional present for my gracious hosts. I’m not sure if it was me, their open attitude or the beer but we had a lot of fun making some impromptu music (or noise), talking and hanging out and suddenly it was two o’clock in the morning.

Dirty Talk (The conference)

Even though I meant to be there for the first talk the previous night’s escapades delayed my getting-out-of-bed somewhat. Getting on the bus I was at the love boat in time for the second session though. Yes, you read that right: love boat. The Lyst Summit was held on a boat, the MF William Jørgensen. Granted, I was a bit iffy on the idea, as my stomach tend to be sensible when it comes to these things. The boat featured one open area, where most of the festivities, chaired by non other than Richard Lemarchand, were held and it was appropriately decorated with hearts and made comfortable by a smattering of carpets. And best of all: It didn’t once leave the harbor. Otherwise I might have not enjoyed the excellent food as much as I did. Queasy stomach and all.

Arriving at the Boat

Arriving at the Boat

Keynote: Touching the Player

The first talk I caught was from Jaakko Stenros. He talked a bit about Nordic LARP, a scene of LARP in Scandinavia that often veers from the traditional fantasy LARP and into more expressive and experimental territory. He talked about how, in the late oughties they started looking for ways to simulate and abstract amorous interaction (love, sex etc.). Just as we don’t want to engage in actual violence within the game, there are enough reasons why we might not want to engage in actual lovemaking either.

Jaakko presented a few of these rules or methods. Among them such things as radio play, where the interaction is audibly telegraphed to inform the potential audience, without there being any actual interaction. Something often employed in LARPs with lots of tents. Or Ars Amandi, where only the arms and shoulders of the participants touch to model the encounter and it’s qualities – rough or gentle for example. Or using body painting as similarly sensuous abstraction.

Why the Games [4Diversity] Jam Mattered Matters

When Menno Deen took the stage he talked about his experiences with the Games [4Diversity] Jam he organized and how he tried to make the world a better place with it. So far the Jam has dealt with feminine and LGBTQ issues. The talk was enlightening to see his presentation but most interesting were the questions and comments afterwards.

So for the coming year the Jam is planing to deal with the issues of race. A topic I’m currently working on myself with my as-of-yet-unreleased game Different. Next to sex, race is an obvious and often talked about facet of diversity. But as the venerable Ernest Adams pointed out: Age is one too – one we often forget. Our industry is generally very young and only rarely deals with issues of age. The same is true for physical disabilities, something Menno himself was bound to find out, since his right arm was in cast from a bike accident.

Being the only Woman in the Room

Cristina Majcher was next. I met her at GDC earlier this year, sitting on the floor trying to breathe life back into my dying iPhone 5. We shared the power socket and a few words. She’s an industry journalist, covering games for a long time, and she talked about how she’s often the only woman in the room.

She is a very positive person and this came through in her talk as she tried to focus on the potential positives of such a situation. The super-power of being different from the rest can be a powerful asset. For example the unique perspective of the “lone woman” can be especially valuable.

She also spoke about a personal experience, that spoke to me in a slightly different context: She mentioned how she regularly got (and still does) these incredulous questions, after she mentions that she writes about games: “Oh, do you play?” and how she initially used these as a springboard to educate. But after more and more of these came she eventually got fed up and angry with them.

While I’m not the only woman in the room, I’m usually the non-white German in any room, especially outside game development. And I usually get the “Where are you from?” question, that has started to annoy me so much, I’ve started making a game about this (the above mentioned Different. And yes, you can play it. Soon. I promise).

However Cristinas positivity again shone through when she overcame her frustration and went back to trying to educate people instead, focusing on the good she can do when she hit’s this unreflected ignorance. Something I want to take to heart.

Reinventing Slumber Party Games

Lau Korsgaard took the stage to talk about their thoughts behind and experience with Spin The Bottle, their game for Wii U. He explained how slumber party games ride the line between innocent play and potential transgressive context. The talk was very inspirational and ended up being the springboard for the Game Jam project of my team, of which Lau was also a part.

Keynote: The Mechanics of Love

In the second one-hour keynote Ernest W. Adams stepped up to deliver a talk on human relationships and how they could possibly be simulated. He took apart a few games that try to deal with relationships. Among them dating sims, Leisure Suit Larry and Dragon Age. He showed how these are often troublesome, propagating very unhealthy systems of attraction or friendship. How you only need to give enough presents to your “target” until the final reward of sex is unlocked.

He also talked at length about the different ways with which relationships can be simulated, different preferences and weighting among other things. Most important to me though was his closing remark: Making love into a game is doomed to fail, as this will always overlay values of winning and game mechanics onto it. Simulating love however is a valuable pursuit.

Ellie’s Last Line

Unfortunately I missed a big chunk of Dr. Esther MacCallum-Stewarts talk, as I had to flee from the drastic Last of Us spoilers.

Arse Elektronika

Johannes Grenzfurthner of the artist collective Monochrom has been organizing Arse Elektronika for a few years now. The conference is not only a pun on the famous ars electronica, it’s also a honest-to-god conference about sex and technology. Each year dedicated to a different topic. Johannes gave us an intense and rapid fire look at a few of the conferences with anything from the 12 year development time of a personal butt-plug up to books on electrical stimulation. The world of sex and tech is wonderful and weird and this talk was a tremendously interesting (and entertaining!) look into that world.

Art - A special place for special people

Art – A special place for special people

Loving through Games, Designing for Compassion

In the days final talk Dr. Hanna Wirman, who works for the Hong Kong Polytechnic University recounted her experience in designing games for non-human animals. In her case she’s working with orangutangs, experimenting with games specific to their nature. Another very interesting talk and her playdoer for compassion was an excellent way to end the formal part of the conference.

Dinner and Games

With the talks done we played some games. We played a wild selection of getting-to-know-you games. And the weird and wonderful tale of the lovebirds was told. Players rubbed their beaks against one another in the shade of the gummi trees, while a violin played on. And moaning was heard as two players joined their rhythms in a version of the Dark Room Sex Game played with Playstation Move Controllers.

Dark Room Sex Game

Dark Room Sex Game

After this we turned to dinner and then got started on the second part of Lyst: The game jam.

Play Time (the game jam)

Separated by the colors of our hearts we formed into groups. Mine, the purple hearts was made up of Cecilie Stranger-Thorsen, Lau Korsgaard and myself. We quickly knew we wanted to make a game that helps you to get to know people in your group a sort-of pub setting. With that out of the way we spent many hours discussing back and forth, coming up with ideas and throwing them away. At one point we had a game about escalating dares with the loser paying a round of beer. That ended with me singing the Rains of Castamere into a floppy piece of asparagus, to a crowd of strangers. Sexily.

Saturday rolled around and we were still struggling with lots of ideas. By then we knew we wanted something with lots of physical contact. The hands seemed ideal for this, as they are often used to touch others in the hand shake, and they are a very innocent tool but can also be used to get closer to someone. This would allow people to get more physically comfortable with one another without making anyone uneasy. However the game still eluded us until I brought up the German kid’s game of Commando Bimberle.

Here one player calls for a gesture and all other players need to quickly execute it. There’s an element of misdirection involved, as the lead player can say something different from what the gesture they make, trying to confuse others. This was the initial inspiration for our game but we knew we didn’t want the element of misdirection.

Sushi Hands

After this it didn’t take long for Sushi Hands to emerge. Without any tech we were able to play the game pretty instantly. We grabbed a few volunteers here and there and started testing out the game. As soon as we showed the gestures and had some people playing the giggling started and we knew we were on the right track. So I got off the boat for a bit to work in a less sway-prone environment as we started to refine the game:

We tried out a lot of different hand gestures to provide some variety while maintaing the suggestive nature of the game. We also found out that we needed a bunch of three-handed gestures to make even numbers of players more likely to lose hands. And we added the Sushi Train rule to break ties, which often happen around 6 players with 2 hands or 1 hand each. We also wrote the rules, something that is far more difficult than one imagines. We tested the rules over and over by letting new people read and explain them. In the end we rewrote them at least half a dozen times.

We also added the rule of switching seats at the end of the game. I have often experienced that when sitting around the table people usually only talk to the ones they are close to. Add to this the fact that people often only sit close to the people they know best and getting to know new people gets difficult. This rule makes it more likely for the seating to change and the players being able to engage other people, in the game and out of it.

Game Jam Presentations

On sunday the presentations of the games rolled around. A total of 11 games was produced during the jam. Most notable to me were the following:

Fever, game where multiple players need to join together to wrangle all the input on a controller into a very precarious position to recreate the pattern on the screen.

Touch of Three, which has two players control to human avatars in an escalating battle of physical contact. The players alternatingly decide on actions and the avatars decide whether to go through with them or not. Only if they perform the action does the player get points. The player to get the most points wins. Since riskier actions score more points but are more likely to be denied by the avatars the game makes the players try to explore and push the boundaries.

Touch of Three presentation

Touch of Three presentation

Dear You, a twine game that features two interactive love-letters. One to a little brother and one to a best friend. The is well written, honest and personal. It was touching to read.

Custody, is for two players, each playing one parent on one computer. Between them is the smartphone, which is the child around which play centers. Each computer shows a match 3 game that needs to be played to earn money. The child is also always with one of the two parents, requiring attention and distracting from work. At regular intervals the child is passed back and forth. In the end the player who performs best wins custody of the child in the end.

The jam was also ranked, with the winners being chosen by the participants. Custody came first with 10 hearts, Fever followed with 9 and Sushi Hands came in third with 8 full hearts. A very satisfying result for us.

Lyst Jame Scores

Lyst Jame Scores

The Climax (My Conclusion)

In case it wasn’t evident, but Lyst was a complete success for me. Despite not knowing anyone in Copenhagen and only having met two of the attendees briefly previously, I felt welcomed. It took no time for me to feel completely comfortable with All the participants rank among the most excellent of human beings. As do the organizators. The whole conference was simply made with love. everyone around. From the envelopes that contained all the paper, to the heart-shaped name-tags. Everything was excellent.

And even beside the conference and the jam we simply had an excellent time. There was great food, dancing, swimming, cupcakes, the spoiler boat, painting nails and even a chocolate fountain to be had. Granted, there was little sleep to be had, but that’s a price gladly paid.

So after these three spectacular days in Copenhagen I can confidently state two things:

  1. I find myself gently rocking back and forth as if I still was on a boat.
  2. And I will nevertheless be stepping on board again next year. After all Lyst has won my heart.
Lyst Nametag

Heart-Shaped Nametag

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