Fingle is an iPad game that is probably best described as "uncomfortably social," a "social" game in the truest sense of the word. Instead of demanding asynchronous, pseudo-intimacy over the Internet; this game asks its players to engage in something considerably more primal: Actual human contact.
A thumb thrusts against the interspace of your fingers. You close your palm across the back of another's knuckles, your digits wiggling through the gaps to make contact with cool glass of the iPad. There is no mistaking what the motions are alluding to. Nervous giggling entangle with the suggestive, 70's-style soundtrack. A telltale moan, one that leaves nothing to the imagination. You move to the next stage.
Developed by Game Oven, Fingle is kind of like Twister for the hands, except with moving boxes and cheesy 70's music that would make Austin Powers proud. It's a game that's probably inappropriate to play with an errant grandmother. (Unless, of course, you enjoy the idea of geriatric hanky-panky. We're not judging. Honest.)
You might scoff, but it's true. In spite of the video game industry's fascination with the idea of building better multiplayer components, few games actually promote physical connectivity. Avatars may tussle on a daily basis, but gamers seldom touch in the physical world.
According to Adriaan de Jongh, one of the two chaps responsible for Fingle, that was pretty much how Fingle was conceptualized. "During my graduation project, I was looking for games that 'went beyond the screen.' Before that I happened to have co-created a game on a big multi-touch table, and noticed during a playtest that people didn't like to touch each other - they would back off. I wanted to make a game about that!"
The people behind Game Oven weren't the first ones to have stumbled over that epiphany, or the desire to push players beyond their comfort zones and into the privacy bubbles of their peers.
Die Gute Fabrik's Lead Game Designer Douglas Wilson has enjoyed an extensive affair with the idea of physical games that pushed the envelope. In 2008, Wilson and a number of his friends created a game called Dark Room Sex Game. “It was a no-graphics erotic rhythm game designed to make players feel awkward.” Wilson quipped.
Given that the general idea behind Dark Room Sex Game is for players to work together towards the pursuit of a mutual rhythm, one that would steadily increase in tempo up till the point of orgasmic success, something easily discernible from the game's armament of, err, moans and haptic cues.
Dark Room Sex Game was also responsible for igniting a fascination with what Wilson described as the 'face-to-face' dynamic. “The most interesting part of [Dark Room Sex Game] was that players would end up looking at each other, rather than at the screen.”
When questioned about the community's seeming aversion to touch, Wilson noted, “In general, I think most people (at least in American and European societies) - not just people who play games - are hesitant to touch one another. The magical thing about sports and games is that they can act as a kind of cultural ‘alibi’ where it's less awkward to engage in physical contact. Beyond the game system itself, this sociocultural context of gaming opens up some powerful design opportunities.”
Wilson enthused about how motion-controlled games need not be entirely screen-based. “Like, take the PlayStation Move. For me, it's by far the most radical console gaming technology in years. That LED light at the end of the controller means that each player carries with them a giant pixel. Essentially, the controllers serve as a fluid, distributed screen! That's wild. But nobody is really exploiting that property - at least not in a commercial context.”
“I'd like to see more games that treat motion control not just as a "natural" interface, but also as deliberately unnatural interface. Here, I mean games that coax players into doing strange things and acting the fool.”
Wilson's wish is certainly coming true. In 2011, Hye Yeon Nam introduced the Kiss Controller, an experimental project that would allow users to control a bowling ball or a race a car through the movements of their tongues. In that same year, Ubisoft brought the ill-fated We Dare, a game the company described as a 'sexy, quirky, party game that offers a large variety of hilarious, innovative and physical, sometimes kinky, challenges', to the world.
The momentum of such releases has yet to decrease. Last month, we saw the release of even more games that met Wilson's criteria. The first was Sword Fight. Unveiled sometime last month at New York City's Eyebeam's playtest for Come Out and Play, Sword Fight is a physical game designed to be played with a pair of crotch-mounted Atari 2600 controllers. To win, players (who can choose to have their wrists handcuffed behind their backs for an extra layer of challenge) would need to activate a button on their opponent's controller with their respective joysticks before their adversary can do the same to them.
In an interview with Indiegames Blog, the folks behind Sword Fight observed, “The amazing thing ... was how immediately playful and intimate the space between the two players became. They grabbed each other's hips once they realized how difficult it would be to win and they started this awkward dance where they were shifting their balance and their hips trying to hit the other person's button. It's kinda cooperative in the sense that both players have to get close, but then it becomes competitive because one person wants to win.”
“When players are unleashed on each other, they engage in a physical conversation that culminates in a very unique experience. People aren't used to being touched (especially in such a private place), and when they finish, they have this very relaxed expression on their face, like they had this emotional release of sorts.”