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.