SAN FRANCISCO--In an industry dominated by men, leave it to women to come up with the winning idea in a contest to create a concept for a video game about losing one's virginity.
On Wednesday, at the Game Developers Conference here, the two-woman team of Heather Kelley and Erin Robinson won the Game Design Challenge with just 36 hours of preparation, while their competitors had weeks to come up with concepts for a game about "your first time."
This was the sixth straight year of the design challenge, hosted annually by New York-based game developer Eric Zimmerman. The contestants are generally top-tier game designers like two-time winner and Spore and The Sims creator Will Wright, Deus Ex lead designer Harvey Smith, or 2008 winner and Leather Goddesses of Phobos creator Steve Meretzsky.
The contestants are generally given several weeks to come up with a concept for a game based on some sort of unusual challenge posed by Zimmerman. Past themes have included a game about love, a game based on the poetry of Emily Dickinson, and a game that could win the Nobel Peace Prize.
"We are in a medium that is just incredibly plastic," Zimmerman said. "We can put anything up on the screen...Still, we find every year that most of the money being put into games is put into a relatively narrow (set of) genres" that tends to include monsters, dragons, and the like.
Zimmerman added that the purpose of the challenge is "to think about how we can create games that really break away" from what's been done so many times before.
Sex and autobiography have been constant themes in literature, film, and theater, Zimmerman argued, pointing to "Lolita," the work of Henry Miller, Chaim Potok's novel, "My name is Asher Lev," and the films of Fellini and Woody Allen.
But while Zimmerman touted the widespread historical acceptance of the theme of autobiographical sex, he noted with some dismay that veteran game designer Kim Swift, who works for Valve and who created the award-winning Portal, had originally been slated to be among the contestants but had eventually been pressured by Valve to withdraw due to the theme.
"I'm saying this as a fan of Valve," Zimmerman said, "but I do find it frustrating and disturbing that Kim would be pulled from the panel."
Still, he said, after word got around about Swift's withdrawal, Lapis designer Kelley and independent developer Robinson volunteered to step up and compete.
The two ended up facing off against Meretzsky, on hand to defend his crown, and Habbo Hotel lead designer Sulka Haro.
And in the end, while all three submissions were well-received, the duo of Kelley and Robinson were judged by the audience to have very closely beaten out Meretzsky.
The two women came up with a concept for "Our first times," and presented it as a two-level game, one level for Kelley's experience and the other for Robinson's. They imagined a series of mini games that could be played on Nintendo's Wii, or possibly on Apple's iPhone.
Kelley began by explaining that her game would commence with the player having to pick an outfit for a date that was intended to conclude with their deflowering. It would have to be the least complicated outfit possible, she said, nothing with zippers that get stuck, or too many buttons or ties.
Then, there would be a mini game in which players would have to shave their legs, making especially sure not to miss the all-important spot "by the knees." Next up, dinner, and making sure to remove all the garlic from the meals, something the main character--clearly a female, since the game was presented from a woman's perspective--would have to do because of the general cluelessness of the boyfriend in question. … Read more