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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 s

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