Thursday, 4 December 2014

GAMERella: The "Boss Up" Women's Game Jam

Long time no cybersee! Hope you’ve all been doing well as winter slowly creeps in and takes over. This week I wanted to share my thoughts on the final event I went to for the She Got Game documentary.


Wait, no...


Wait, no...

GAMERella! Ok phew, that was it. 

This was a pretty big game jam run by the women working at the TAG lab at Concordia (the same ones who ran Boob Jam.) There was actually a sister event being run at the same time in NYC by The Code Liberation Foundation which is co-directed by Nina Freeman (read a post on her work here.)

The theme of the jam was “Boss Up” and we got an awesome introduction to this topic by indie game creator Kara Stone. If you’re unfamiliar with her work, it’s totally worth checking out.

Kara explained how the initial idea for the jam was inspired by a Nicki Minaj video where she asks, "Why should I be called a bitch when I'm being assertive but a man is called a boss?" 

There’s kind of this problem out there where women who are assertive or ambitious or outspoken are labelled as bitches. This is a problem for women in all kinds of situations and careers right? As an independent artist, this topic really hits home for me. You have to be self-promotional. You have to be assertive to get anywhere and to get anyone to pay attention to you work. And you have to be comfortable delegating tasks unless you can somehow manage to do everything by yourself all the time. 

So Boss Up seemed like an appropriate starting point for the jam, also because the word is linked to gaming of course!

I ended up in a group with 4 cool ladies: Nicole Aouad, Kara Stone, Kim Hoang and Maeve Levasseur. Each of us had a pretty different skill set and experience level, so it was the ideal group environment to get something like this started. 

If you have the right hardware, anything can be made into a controller. All you need is something conductive on the object so that the response can be fed back to the computer. Kim threw out the idea that we should do something with a pink wig and high heels. That set the ball rolling.

Coding. Shopping. Drawing. Sewing. TA-DA!

Nicki Homaj: a tongue-in-cheek game where you’re dressed up as a Nicki Minaj-type character and you’re fighting off annoying comments by a jerky guy by flipping your fancy pink hair and stomping your feet (in extra extra high heels). 

The more you let him get away with it, the more he starts to win. But if you stomp your heels, you start to slow him down and if you flip your hair, his comments disappear and his mojo drops. You need to keep the air clear of his comments and stomp away your frustration to win!

You can play the game HERE.

Now to be fair, the game was actually pretty hard to play. The heels were ridiculously high—to the point that your thighs were burning by the end. You had to be pretty precise with your stomping to actually get points. The wig was also hot and itchy and, well, it’s harder than it looks to strut down the street and flip your hair all at the same time.

GAMERella produced some really cool-looking games and there was a massive range of ideas. Here are a couple others:

I also have to give props to the CBC for also covering the event in a pretty fair, well-researched way. You could tell they tried hard to give an accurate representation of what was going on and why we were doing this.

Something that really strikes me about the indie scene is how limitless the imagination is. Scarcity of $$ resources sometimes leads to incredibly creative innovations.The video games created at these jams are much more like interactive art with digital components than traditional AAA games. There was something really cathartic about joining a group and contributing ideas, rather than just sitting on the outside trying the capture the feeling of what it might be like on camera. As a visual artist, the more I learn about the communities, programs and resources at my disposal, the more I wish I had discovered this world earlier.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Anything but Convention(al): A Gal's First Con Experience

Hey fellow gamers! My name is Kristi and Cailleah has given me the great honour of letting me write a blog now and then for She Got Game. I also figured I should introduce myself a little so that you’re not all thinking some crazy chick has hacked the blog.

I have been an avid gamer since the ripe age of 5. My first experience came when I got to try the original Mario/Duck Hunt on the NES at my friend’s house one day after kindergarten. We sat down in her living room and from the minute her mom put the controller in my hand, I was hooked. My friend got bored after 10 minutes and was far more content to play with her paper dolls and Barbies but I was enamored with the world of Mario, never to look back.

From there my passion for the world of gaming only grew stronger. From my computer that was huge and only ran the game DigDug, to the Christmas when an original Playstation showed up on our doorstep from “Santa”, from n64 to Xbox 360, I’ve loved it all.

And now, thanks to Cailleah and She Got Game, I get to spread some of the stories and things I’ve discovered through gaming with a wider community of awesome people. Let’s hope this is the start of a beautiful blog-ship!

I suppose it’s about time to get into the nitty gritty details the real reason behind this post though, so here we go!

This past Saturday at the International Plaza Hotel & Conference Centre, the good people of ConBravo! hosted FanFare II, Geek Fest, a one day Geek Marketplace and Gaming event.

Super 1Up Games provided a plethora of awesome gaming selections for the masses. 

There was rarely any free table space throughout the day due to tabletop gaming popularity.

The vendor selection, though small, provided some incredibly creative and imaginative product.

Get 'em started while they're young, amiright?

There were some intense competitions happening but nothing was exciting as this Sailor Moon side scroller. Seriously. It was amazing.

The convention was small and took place in just two rooms, one for vendors and the other for special events such as live Nerf gun fights and the infamous Fandom Musical, but it also offered the opportunity for hardcore cosplayers who wanted one last hurrah to strut their stuff before the bleak, conventionless winter.

As a female gamer who has never attended a convention before this was a pretty excellent introduction. It was an intimate space and getting to tag along with the Super 1Up Games crew allowed me the opportunity to have a ton of interesting introductions and conversations with people without having to approach too many strangers on my own.

I get a little gun shy when it comes to walking up randomly to people and striking up chats and that’s something I’ve always been nervous about when it comes to conventions. I worried that I wouldn’t experience the fullness of the con if I couldn’t talk to anyone. I have always told myself that I’ll make it to FanExpo or Anime North but not having been exposed to what a convention is or could be I never seemed to have the motivation to spend the money or put together a cosplay either.

But then yesterday happened and a whole new world opened up before my eyes. With everything that’s happened in the past few months with GamerGate I think I’ve gotten too personally invested and had a bad taste in my mouth when it came to talking openly about my passions for games and overall nerddome. I’ve been feeling like I have to always be ready and on the defense but that’s been a bad headspace to be in and I felt it break at FanFare because the people are simply amazing.

What I quickly realized is that the rumours about geek and nerd conventions are true. Everyone is really, really nice and really, really awesome. I have been so blind. I mean, sure, you get the occasional person who isn’t that social but most people are so cheerful and excited to chat about all your favourite things. It was a gathering of happy, positive people who all got together because of a love of games, comics, books, and anything else you could think of.

My point is this. It’s so easy to make excuses for yourself when you’re faced with new opportunities that are intimidating, especially if you feel like a minority in what you love. My love of games and comics has always been something I’ve taken a private pride in and only recently have I begun to wear it like a badge of honour in public so this was a big step. Challenging yourself to be proud of what you love is so important and it’s something that you have to remind yourself of often. It can be a challenge to embrace what you’re passionate about all the time, but you can’t let insecurity stop you from enjoying that and finding new avenues to do so.

FanFare II wasn’t the biggest con or the most widely attended but it achieved what it set out to do, to create a space for fellow geeks to get together, embrace what we love and have a blast doing it, and isn’t that what this is all about?

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Boob Jam: Use Your Imagination!

So turkey coma is my official excuse for not posting last week, but really I just needed a break from work to drive through the countryside, see my family and watch old home videos. This week I want to talk about something which no doubt will catch the attention of just about everybody: BOOB JAM.

A couple of weeks ago when I was in Montreal, I did some filming at Boob Jam which was held at Concordia's TAG lab. TAG stands for Technoculture, Art and Games and is a center for research, game creation, digital culture and interactive art. Envision your ultimate play-lab with a mix of all the cool toys you loved as a kid and all the fancy hardware you covet as an adult. Yeah. Wee bit jealous.

As I was saying, I was on my way to film at the jam, and my 70-year-old dad happened to be with me on second camera. I was all geared up for the event when he finally got down to brass tacks and asked, " they mean "boob" as in dud? A TV? Jam? What exactly is this thing we're going to?" Suddenly I was reminded that this was not your everyday, obvious kind of event and that I should rewind and explain what it all meant.

Most of you surely know this, but a game jam is where developers and artists of various sorts get together to plan and create a game within a short time period of time--usually a weekend. So Boob Jam was just what it sounds like; a game creation meetup centered around the theme of boobs. The idea was inspired by a tweet by Jenn Frank who started the official Boob Jam site available here.

In the words of the ladies who started the jam, this is the reason it all began:

"While the game industry has poured millions of dollars into boobs, obsessing over things like jiggle physics and revealing outfits, it has primarily represented them as objects for the straight male gaze. The purpose of  The Boob Jam is to make a game that does not treat boosts simply as hypersexualized playthings for straight males, but instead looks at boobs in all their complexity. For example: What do boobs mean to a new mother, or to a new woman? To a person in actual, physical pain? What might they mean to a real superhero or armor-clad warrior? Or, if boobs really are sexual objects, who, besides straight dudes, can sexualize them?"

In other words, the point of the jam was to come up with something that's an alternative to this:

There was a pretty diverse group including both men and women and people with and without game-making experience. The first thing we did was have an open discussion about the idea of "safer spaces," obviously intended to make everyone feel as comfortable as possible, especially when dealing with a sensitive topic. It was the kind of discussion that you'd hear in a university classroom, but which I suspect doesn't make it to the boardroom of many major game dev companies.

One of the first things we did was talk about what actually bothers us about the boobs in games these days and the things that we'd like to see instead. There were actually a ton of really cool ideas that came out of that discussion. In the end, there were three groups which each came up with a very original concept. The games weren't fully finished when I was there filming, but as soon as they're posted online I'll let you know so you can try them out.

One group was working on a game about women who've had a mastectomy and who would like to decorate that part of their body with a tattoo. The player is presented with the body of a woman after surgery and you have a chance to read about her experience. Then it's up to you to create a beautiful tattoo design for her. This idea is based on a real-life practice that has actually become really popular. 

Here are some screenshots from the initial development (working title Tatoob)

Another group was working on a highly interactive game whose theme was on physical contact and consent (working title In Tune.) In the game, the two players are presented with various positions or poses, and both people have to navigate each others' consent to holding that pose for 20 seconds. Some examples were a hug, a slap to the face, grabbing the person's butt and whispering in their ear. Below is an example of one of the poses and on the right you can see a draft of the game screen: 

The team developed a way for the controllers to send feedback to the game about how long the two people were actually in contact. If players were feeling uncomfortable, they could stop at any time. After each pose, the players were also prompted with discussion questions about how they felt about it. 

The last group decided to take on a topic that every woman on the planet has had to deal with at some point: bra shopping. Maybe some women enjoy it, but a lot of us think it's a pain and it's hard to find exactly what we want. This is a game where you can custom build your own bras with modifications to your heart's desire. If you want a bra made of plants with 2 different cup sizes and 4 kinds of straps, this is where you're going to find it! Here are some of their research notes as they were trying to come up with as many variations as possible:

I have to say I was really impressed by the level of skill, commitment and creativity that everyone brought to the table. Even though the theme and format of each game was totally different, they each included something which I think is important in every game: choice. These are games in which the player is respected and given agency to do something or design something exactly the way he or she likes. And whether you have boobs or not, want boobs or not, like boobs or not, everybody thinks about boobs at some point. So it's pretty damn cool that somebody's making games so that you can at least think about them in different ways. 

Friday, 3 October 2014

Dare to Dress Up: A Day with Cosplayer Ren Tachibana

Alright guys. It's October. And you know what that means. It's time to talk about costumes!

One of the very best experiences I had while I was in Japan this summer was meeting up with an unbelievable cosplayer who goes by the name Ren Tachibana. When she agreed to meet me in Shinjuku, I was actually half surprised since I only knew her through Twitter. Meeting online in Japan isn't as common as it is over here, but she said she was excited to share her interest in geeky things with someone from outside of Japan. (You can visit this site to check out more of her work.)

The first thing that I noticed about Ren was how thoughtful she was. As my boyfriend put it, "She's a perfect gentleman...gentlewoman." Always holding doors for people, secretly picking up the tab at lunch, buying an extra umbrella for us when we were ill-prepared for the downpour--the list goes on. Not only that, but I was also impressed by the interesting array of things she was doing with her life: designing and hand-sewing incredible costumes, modeling and attending cons, editing for a gamer magazine and working as an aesthetician. In a former life she was even the illustrator's assistant for the famous manga Knights of Sidonia. Phew! I'm telling you, this girl was cool.

Now I can't say that I personally have a lot of experience doing cosplay, but I've always loved dressing up. As a nature enthusiast, I made up all kinds of crazy Halloween costumes as a kid including an aspen tree, a cumulus cloud and a rose garden! Later I eventually got into more character-based ones, such as the Link costume which I actually wore to a formal university lecture on Halloween day.

Anyway, instead of just talking about cosplay Ren decided to take me to one of Tokyo's most famous costume department stores and to show me the insane array of materials available. Seriously, there was a different floor devoted to almost every category you can think of. Contacts, lashes, wigs, makeup, material, buttons, clasps, patterns, everything. Here I am getting my education:

I know you can get all this stuff online, but it was amazing to see it all collected in one place, and it was cool to see materials that were geared toward cosplay specifically. Pink isn't my favourite colour, but I honestly couldn't resist this wig. Of course I could barely get the damn thing on, but luckily Ren was an expert! 

I would have to say that after spending the day together, it was almost impossible not to get interested in trying out cosplay. Everyone on the planet likes a character of some kind. 

About two days later, we met up again and this time she actually brought several of her costumes. We're not talking cheap, made-on-the-assembly-line stuff: we're talking high-quality, custom-fit pieces made with beautiful materials. I always wondered where people bought costumes of more obscure characters, but according to Ren that's where the real artistry and devotion comes in. She makes every last detail of each costume herself. I was especially curious about the armor, so she brought in this piece:

...and here I am looking significantly more hilarious in the same outfit:

I was lucky enough to get a private mini tutorial on how it's made. Would you guess that it's light as a feather? Here are a couple shots from our makeshift karaoke booth studio!

I have a wonderful interview with Ren that I'm looking forward to sharing with you (though we did it in Japanese, so it'll take a little time before the subs are ready). 

For something that some people consider childish, I think they would be amazed at the craftsmanship and love that goes into this art. Costumes of all sorts are worn in cultures around the world and there's something about them that's powerful and playful at the same time. That's something which Ren embodies beautifully.

Friday, 26 September 2014

A Vignette of my Visit to Ubisoft Montreal

A couple of hours ago, I walked up to a beautifully restored red brick building on Boul St. Laurent. I had been up since five, so I was hoping I looked a little less disheveled than I felt. It had become an impromptu road trip with my dad, since I'd decided I could use some moral support (and more than one camera angle) for my interviews at Ubisoft Montreal.

I was admiring the industrial-chic vibe of the lobby when I was presented with a long video release form. Ok, I don’t have the energy to decode this right now, but as long as I can still make the documentary, we’re good, I thought. I tried to mask the scuttling of my suitcase on the hardwood floors as we wound our way through the endless departments of people hard at work. Lots of screens. Giant gaming figurines. Awards all over the wall. Everything had its place. Everything was cool. Everything was perfectly branded.

When I arrived at the interview room it was bright and spacious, if a little dull and corporate. No problem—all the more incentive to focus on the interviews instead of the scenery, right? I go through the usual ritual: talking to myself at various volumes, testing, testing, fiddling with the lights, fiddling with buttons, trying not to leave anything unhooked, unplugged.

I think I’m ready. After 10 months of filming—bussing across the city, flying across the ocean, juggling odd-looking bags of equipmentI'm ready. After the electric highs and lows of so many interviews I am ready for the boss. Well, bosses.

Ok by boss, I don't mean the kind you talk to at a meeting or the kind you fight in a dungeon. I mean those people who totally own at what they do. In this case, three incredibly chill, bright young women who are part of the biggest video game dev branch in the world.

On my right: Anouk Bachman, Bio Jade Adam Granger and Stephanie Harvey. The minute they walk in the door they break the ice with open smiles. Instead of getting straight down to business, they want to hear about the project. I don’t feel the need to plead my case for She Got Game. I don't have to stand up and defend my personal gaming history or offer solutions to all of the industry’s gender issues. These women get it. I I’m ready to dive in, because this is the last chapter of something that has completely consumed my life for the past year.

After Saturday my interviews for the documentary will be done. Wait, what? I can't believe it. I’m not always the best interviewer. I have the horrible habit of getting excited about certain topics and interjecting. I have a tendency to be more casual and personal than objective, if that’s considered a virtue in documentary filmmaking. But at the very least I do my best to represent the messages of these women with accuracy, humility and artistry. This is where I’m at with She Got Game right now.

As I see it, my responsibility is to make people feel comfortable so that they're able to discover something new in the process of talking. There's nothing more gratifying than seeing someone wake up inside as they get carried away with the conversation. Something great happens who you see people forget about the reserved, well-arbitrated answers they'd prepared and start to learn something about themselves through our interaction.

You're like, "Ok that's nice, but what about the interview!?" I know I know I know! I'll be posting it soon, I promise. I just wanted to capture the feeling before it disappeared completely. I can tell you, I've almost never had such a good time and learned so much in one sitting. I can’t wait to share these segments with you. Anouk, Bio and Stephanie are absolutely kickass.

So what’s next? As October ushers in the cool winds of hibernation I’ll be madly working away at my editing station. Somehow I'll weave together the dozens of stories I’ve collected and figure out how to make them make sense to you.

Thank you so much to each and every single one of you who has made a contribution to the production, content or my motivation for this project. I needed you all in order to get this far, and I hope I will give you something that you will be proud to be a part of.



Thursday, 18 September 2014

Freeman+Szabo+Lollipop+Love: Get 'em on Your Radar!

Hey peeps, 

One of the biggest challenges of maintaining a blog, website, podcast, vlog series or any other form of media is that metaphorically, you're a grain of sand on the beach. You have to think, "Ok...what is it about me and my ramblings that could be important to people?" 

As a viewer or reader, you also have to grab the sifter every morning and go hunting for the grains of sand that are most important to you. To be honest, I don't follow a ton of bigwigs on social media. Not because I think they're unimportant, but because I eventually hear about them by osmosis anyway. 

I might be biased, but I also prefer to follow people who still have time to connect with their fans personally and who have worked hard to carve out their own niche. I love to get into quirky, personal, nitty-gritty conversations with people. And I love it when people share that kind of thing through their own writing, videos, games, music and so on.

This week I'm introducing you to 4 women who I want you to know about. Not only are they bold entrepreneurs, but they address a lot of topics with integrity, style, humor and passion. Between the 4 of them, there's a little bit of everything, so grab your morning coffee and play, watch, listen!

Nina Freeman

(Photocred: from Embed with Games)

Nina is an independent game dev whose work often focuses on sex, women's bodies and body image, family relationships, and childhood curiosity. For me, her work evokes some of the intimate excitement and discomfort we go through growing up, but she leaves coming-of-age cliches behind. Her games are simple, poignant and poetic.

She is also the co-founder and instructor at Code Liberation which was created for women who want to dive in to the world of game-making. 

Click here play Nina's games. (If you think Barbies are nostalgic but kind of weird play this one now!)

To learn more about her work, I also recommend reading this great interview she did for Sex Magazine (don't be scared away).

Erika Szabo
(Photocred: Our good friend Sam Motala over at MixTapePhotos. Recognize the character??)

Erika's one of those people who instantly makes you feel comfortable. Not because she sugar-coats things, but because you're bound to have something in common. Her YouTube Channel is down-to-earth and thought-provoking while still being pretty darn adorable. Not only does she have a vast wealth of gaming, comics, and anime knowledge, but she shares it with you in a way which makes you feel like you're hanging out together. Erika is a great person to follow or get in touch with for anyone who feels like they're lacking a geek community to relate to.

He's a sample just to whet your appetite:

Lollipop Geek

(Image cred: Mighty Ink Comics)

Ok so Lollipop Geek is not just one woman but actually three! Jennifer, Danielle and Kelly are a collective of geektastic friends who get together to discuss everything from gaming to books, movies, TV, comics and tech. Click here to listen to the podcast on iTunes (free). If you're the kind of person who'd rather spend Friday nights hanging out with the crew where you're free to let it all out, this is for you. If you're interested in hearing multiple perspectives and in-depth analysis on your favorite geeky things, this is for you. They're witty, hilarious and very real

I recommend the latest episode on female characters in gaming--something which I'm sure we all have a lot to say about! 

Christine Love
The title of Christine's site pretty much sums up her work: Lover Conquers AllAs an indie game developer, Christine writes narratives that delve into our secret desires and break apart conventional thinking about gender, technology, desire, privacy and romance.

It's rare that someone puts this much love and thought into their text and dialogues. I adore Christine's work because it proves that cuteness and controversy can go hand-in-hand; we can say the hard things we want to say and still make them beautiful.

Last winter, I had a chance to steal Christine away from her duties for an interview at the Fancy Video Game Party held at the Art Gallery of Ontario. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the video below should give an idea of the event (through our eyes anyway).

(Photocred: From Love's site, photos by Paul Hillier)

Fancy Video Game Party:

...and now for the interview with Christine:

Now my question to you is, who else should be on my radar? Feel free to post on the She Got Game FB page or to comment below if there are more amazing women in gaming who we should be following. Cheers.