Indiecade, as a festival, can sometimes be a festival of themes. Though not every game or player shares the same thread, an ebb and flow to the selection process sometimes creates a motif that binds the festival together. This year -- perhaps more needed than years before -- the theme seemed to focus around relationships, and the physical and nonphysical ways people interact.
There was Redshirt, a PC game that simulated life aboard a Star Trek-esque space station as told by a virtual social network. There was Coffee: A Misunderstanding, a “queer and socially awkward interactive play about the weirdness of online friendships that aren’t really friendships.” And there was How Do You Do It, a microgame where a young girl mashes together two Barbie dolls in a confused simulacrum of sex. Completing this game gives you a points indicator for how many times you “completed sex.” One time it was 56, another time it was 86. Not even the developer, Nina Freeman, could fully explain the code that generated the numbers.
How Do You Do It was created during Global Game Jam 2014, inspired by Freeman’s own experiences as a child.
“I sort of connected the theme to the idea that we project ourselves onto objects.” Nina explained. "So I thought 'When have I done that in my life?' and I started thinking about how when I was a kid, my parents didn't really talk about sex ever. And so I used to hide under my bed when my Mom would go out, and make a fort and, play sex with my dolls. I would kind of mash them together, and go 'Oh, is this sex? I don't know?’"
Freeman herself told me about her next game, which focuses on a girl forming an online relationship through an avatar in an online game. “I think a lot about identity as mediated by digital space, and I think that's something that is becoming more and more relevant to people's lives with Facebook and Twitter where we really are building these online identities that are really closely tied to our lives. I don't know if I have anything revelatory to say about it but it's such a very important thing to say about our culture."
When chatting about the bigger context of relationship-oriented games and developers willing to tackle the language more frequently, Freeman saw it as a sign of the medium’s growth. “I think it's really cool, you come to Indiecade...and obviously, people have been making games about sex and relationships forever, but we haven't been talking about them very much until recently, so I think it says a lot about the state of the medium that here's a bunch of those games here today. I think that's really exciting, because the more games about more things there are, the better games are going to become as a medium and that's awesome."
Love, it seems, was in the air. Glancing at the heart-shaped graphic hanging on the banners, friends bantering about and hugging after meeting for the first time in person -- from games about falling in love on Facebook to doll sex, romance and relationships can exist in video games outside dialogue trees. How opportune it is that Indiecade's next event in New York will be held on Valentine's Day weekend.