Friday, April 8, 2011

Secret mind-link discovered! Girls get naked on the Internet!

"Amazon, amazon, queen, lust, chains."

You know what's the best thing about the Ronnies? There is no fixed number of winners, meaning I can really root for everybody else's great submissions while still harboring hope for mine. How's that for a refreshing change of pace? Thus, here I am, having a late night beer* and reading through my non-opponent's games for the current round (Ron said he won't be ready to announce results until maybe Monday, btw, and it sucks because I'm dying to know).
So, last Saturday afternoon I was in a car, coming home from a party (I mean, the party was on Friday night, but pretty far away from where I live), talking about the Ronnies with friends, and of course we went through the obligatory: «let's pick Amazon + chains and make a game about a bookstore franchise.» I'm super-glad Dan Maruschak did it — or at least it's a game set in a shop of a chain — because it would have been a super-sad Amazon Queen Lust Chains Ronnies if nobody did.
I had a blast reading Her Son, by Jackson Tegu, with its peculiar, objectivity-be-damned style of writing, the heavy-handed but still pleasurable metaphor, the whole children-are-naturally-adept-at-augmented-reality thing, plus again the goddamn writing style when it turns all "here's me staring at a screen and wondering what to write and I'm eating a sandwich right now". I now ♥ Jackson Tegu.
Eric Boyd's Queen of Thorns and Andreas Eriksson's Tales of Lust, both, I didn't at all dig the premise — or, rather, the elevator pitch — of, but after a read they both look like fun, much more than I expected. Ben Lehman's Homage to Ninshubar, au contraire, I was all fired-up by reading the pitch, but then what? Looks like Ben's being sort of sloppy and just putting together a Poison'd hack to play Steal Away Jordan with (and doing the gender-thing instead of the race-thing is great and all, but SAJ already does the gender-thing a lot, too). But then, you know what? I guess if you're Ben Lehman it's OK to be lazy sometimes.
Those are the ones I read, up to now, except before reading those I started with Elizabeth Shoemaker Sampat's Camwhores — I mean, of course I started there!

So, here's a story some of you may already know…
I always have my head full of half-formed game ideas, that's just me. 99% of those die out before they're even born, usually because they aren't interesting enough ideas, but sometimes it's because I don't really have what it takes to give birth to those games (yet!).
So, last year I was at InterNosCon, and Ron Edwards held this laid-back and cozy game design workshop there. He asked each participant for a single game-idea they were looking to develop, and I deliberately answered with the most outrageous one I had going through my head at the moment, which had occurred me a few weeks earlier: a game about women (the PCs) sharing naked pictures of themselves with the wider Internet. Why do they do this? That's what we want to know. And I was thinking of phenomena such as the so-called "goddesses" of 2chan.
People at the workshop, including Ron, seemed to like the idea. Tobias Wrigstad was also there, and he appeared to light up at the first mention of my idea, like it was the only game discussed which was worthy of his attention. He even suggested me a working title for the game: Amateur. Then we got dragged into a discussion about pushing or not pushing players out of their personal "comfort zone" and stuff, and I mistakenly thought I was beginning to understand Tobias — which I wasn't, and still had to go a long way. In fact, when we met again just a couple months ago, Tobias asked me about that one game…
But I never went on to design Amateur for real, and now I know why: I was and still am totally clueless about the very IRL phenomenon attracting my attention, which I only partake of as a passive consumer, many degrees disconnected from the actual people who are doing this.

Enter Elizabeth Shomaker Sampat, with a game about webcam girls! It's in many ways almost the game I wish I was able to design, and even if it wasn't I'd dig it awesomely just because it's "like Czege's Nicotine Girls but a little closer to me", in the sense that I've got (a few) real life reference points I can append the game to and exploit to more completely relate with it, whereas for Nicotine Girls I've only got movies and stuff (or maybe I'd have to retool it in such a way that it references the reality of my own country).
It's of course not the same game I sort-of-had in my head, mind you! For one, it's about cams, that is, real-time streaming videos, instead of photographs, and this isn't trivial at all: webcam girls engage their marks in interactive dialog, which makes the whole experience way less anonymous (it's closer to sexting or cybering, with your image also exposed) - and this is to Elizabeth an opportunity to deliver a much more nuanced and engaging set of encounter-resolution mechanics than what I could have ever hoped for hypothetical Amateur. On the other hand, cam-whoring is basically a form of prostitution, so no mystery about the PC's motives here: they're doing this for money.
On a related note: I had absolutely no idea that Amazon wishlists are used that way! Brilliant, I admit. And that's probably why I was unable to "see" this one subject in the list of keywords myself, dammit! How cool would it have been to have two games about this topic in a round of the Ronnies? Man…!
Well, I was just kidding there. I'm actually glad it was Elizabeth to make this game and not me. Not just because she's a woman — like I should fear being called a sexist for making (I, a male!) a game about objectified female bodies, etc. — but much more importantly because she met webcam girls firsthand: she talked to them, she's friends with them. Follow me? She's got an understanding of the topic. I haven't. I'm hooked by the subject exactly because I'd like to understand better.

But that's only half the exciting story… Stay tuned and be back in a few days for the truth about the secret mind-link between Elizabeth and me. I kid you not! (Well, maybe).

··· END OF PART 1 ··· CLICK FOR PART 2 ···

* = Castello Rossa, an Italian bock, or strong lager. For those two-three guys out there who are into beers.

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