Each year, GDC challenges select game designers to create a game based on a difficult theme -- whether it's creating a game that could win a Nobel Peace Prize or be inspired by an Emily Dickinson poem. This year, contestants Sulka Haro (lead creative on Habbo Hotel), previous winner Steve Meretzky (notably of Infocom) and duo Heather Kelley and Erin Robinson were asked to design a game based on their own experiences with sex, hence the apt “My First Time." Notably absent from the panel was Kim Swift, creator of Portal, who was apparently asked not to participate thanks to the um, controversial nature of the topic. What the topic inspired, however, isn’t so much controversial, as humorous, voyeuristic and slightly self-deprecating.
As a last minute replacement for Swift, Heather Kelley and Erin Robinson paired up and created their game in under 36 hours rather than the several weeks allotted to everyone else. What they came up with is a WarioWare-esque minigame foray into the intricacies and awkwardness of that special night including shaving legs, choosing the right LP (you know, old school iTunes), unbuckling the belt and counting all the Terry Pratchett books on the shelf (a more humorous take on counting ceiling tiles, amirite, ladies?). Your score (oh, the puns just flew around in this session) is based on how high you can get your humiliation meter without actually reaching the point of abject failure.
Next up is Sulka Haro, who began his attempt by researching sex via Wikipedia and delving into genetics, as well as a game called “Epigentic Racer." You steer a sperm shaped vessel, avoiding damage to your genetic structure before realizing it had nothing to do with the autobiography element of the challenge and shifting focus to something a bit more say, voyeuristic. His concept, inspired by our modern propensity for sharing via online communities, asks four anonymous players to select a photo based on a topic like sounds, smell or a partner that reminds them of a particular sexual memory. Everyone votes on their favorite photo, then submits their story, which are voted on again. Haro tested his game via email and found a range of stories from the sweet to the pornographic. It may test the boundaries of what we define as a “game," but it does proffer an interesting look at the human sexual experience. Unfortunately, I think PostSecret beat him to the basic concept years ago.
Last to present is the winner of last years challenge, Steve Meretzky, who earnestly offered up his own frustrations of being a “nerdgeekloser” and eventually finding his way in with regards to the opposite sex. His game, following some joke concepts that were very un-autobiographical like “Call of Booty," is titled “WAIT. Time passes…” It draws its inspiration from text based adventures, eventually finding a platform in Second Life. His concept is contained in several acts, high school (where you actually can’t win), college (where you might) and post-college adulthood and the transition out of geekhood, or at least knowing enough to make geekhood seem cool (it is!). His goal would be to make the NPCs seem like real people and simulate the adventure not just of getting laid, but of finding happiness. His game, he says, teaches the lesson of hope, and no matter how bleak things seem, you will “find happiness and your place in the world." "Heartwarming" might not be the adjective most frequently used in conjunction with GDC, but its highly appropriate here.
So who has won the hearts at GDC? Audience applause meter says: Erin Robinson and Heather Kelley (I could have sworn I heard more for Steve Meretzky. But hey, applause voting is stupid and both games were extremely impressive). The pair got their choice of the sex game theme prizes, bedroom dice, truth or dare, or sex cards. And I’ve got enough sex/game puns to last a lifetime.