I doubt the structure will ever change. Not just the inevitable feelings of exclusion, of being some sort of malformed trespasser, but also the “new kid in town” syndrome that is the direct result of my hopping from scene to scene; off the top off my head: the electronic music scene in Paris, the standup comedy scene in New York, and now the indie gaming scene here in Los Angeles.
No, it probably won’t change, and that’s because it isn’t the result of any exterior structure, but instead a manifestation of my internal wiring, welded and scrapped together long ago by rapid-fire cross-continent moves, early configuration with my caregivers, and my natural sensitivity / tendency to over-think.
So there I was feeling pretty fucking down, sitting on a bench after my first Indiecade 2015 event (Pillow Talk: A Keynote Conversation), mind hard at work convincing me that I should just GTFO because nobody wanted me around.
Wait, rewind. Let’s try this with less self pity.
The conversation between Naomi Clark, Nina Freeman, and Robert Yang was entertaining and insightful. Moderated by Bonnie Ruberg, it kicked off with a quick intro to each of these characters, a phase that gave way to a conversation about consent, intimacy, embodiment, character design, and many other delicious things.
Nina went first, and she was the most naturally awkward of the three. Makes sense, because there’s a lot more on the line: her games are intensely autobiographical, and her younger self is front and center in Cibele, her upcoming game about meeting a guy online, getting to know him by playing together, and eventually escalating the relationship IRL. “Sex is cool” she would later add, when asked if she had any last thoughts. “It’s in our games a lot.”
Nina mentioned that many players feel like voyeurs as they go through her folder of selfies on the virtual desktop that serves as a starting point in Cibele. She mused that this might be the result of the player, at this early stage, not having fully incarnated her as the protagonist (“I’m looking through a folder of my own selfies.”) Robert later brings up the question of performance, asking: “Are we performing as Nina? Or are we performing as this creeper on her computer?” Personally, I’m not sure there’s a clear answer there, as a big component of Nina’s work could be viewed as a form of exhibitionism, including the act of showing us pictures of her at a young age, taken at a time when the eventual creation of Cibele was still an unknown. No matter how much you tell the player “you are Nina”, I doubt this feeling of embodiment could ever fully overcome the reality of the underlying act: “Nina shows us selfies of her at a young age”. I look forward to playing Cibele on November 2nd, when it will be out on PC and Mac.
Robert then took the stage, and he, as Naomi would later bring up, really knew how to work the crowd. Robert has a showman’s chops, and his onstage persona, the “reluctant excentric”, functions very well as entertainment. He led us through a few of his games in quick succession. In Succulent you help a chiseled hunk eat a popsicle (his head later explodes and he morphs into a soulsucking monster). In Hurt Me Plenty you spank a manly partner just enough that he enjoys it, but not enough to make him feel disrespected, at which point he locks you out of the game for several weeks IRL. (Funny sidenote: Bonnie did this, which makes her, in Robert’s words, “a terrible person”). His latest release, Rinse and Repeat, sees the player meet at set times to wash the (recurring) hunk’s back, an act that if executed correctly inevitably leads south. A few takeaways: “nobody wants to be spanked by a jerk.” “Patriarchy is not only harmful, but also unimaginative and annoying.” And finally:
LOL. Stay on the lookout for my interview with Robert, which should appear in the near future.
Next came Naomi Clark, the incredibly articulate and intelligent creator of Consentacle, a card game about a human being attempting to forge an intimate connection with a tentacled Alien. Because my interview with Naomi was so in-depth, I’ll leave my discussion of the game and her creative process for that piece. Stay tuned. In the meantime, ponder these words: “System brings us together. System keeps us apart.” Mind blown.
After the keynote was over, I hastily arranged some interviews, met Cara Ellison (of Embed With Games) in person, and then spent an hour sitting on a park bench preparing questions for later, and of course pondering whether anybody even likes me. It didn’t help that I’d been having trouble at work. Seemed that conflict follows me everywhere. Or maybe it was all the coffee. No matter. I headed to the Fire Station where the selected developers were showing their games to the press (that’s me!)
It might be the format, but walking an exhibition floor has always felt very awkward to me. We are pitting these creators against each other, asking them to convince us, in person and within a few minutes, of their worth. Something a little carpet-salesman-y about the whole experience, and I quickly locked into conversation with random individuals instead, making the acquaintance of the editor-in-chief of an indie gaming website, a voice actor, two developers, and an academic. Before I knew it, the whole thing was over (and by this I mean that I summarily flagged an Uber and fled downtown to drink juice instead of meeting any new people. I think I’m a little on the spectrum.)
On the way back, staring out the car window, I realized that I had not played a single game. Next up: Sunday.
UPDATE: I did not go to Indiecade on Sunday. I was feeling overwhelmed and my social anxiety was through the roof. I stayed home and played Wasteland 2 instead.