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. 

Dare to Dress Up: A Day with Cosplayer Ren Tachibana

Alright guys. It's October. And you know what that means. It's time to talk about costumes!

One of the very best experiences I had while I was in Japan this summer was meeting up with an unbelievable cosplayer who goes by the name Ren Tachibana. When she agreed to meet me in Shinjuku, I was actually half surprised since I only knew her through Twitter. Meeting online in Japan isn't as common as it is over here, but she said she was excited to share her interest in geeky things with someone from outside of Japan. (You can visit this site to check out more of her work.)

The first thing that I noticed about Ren was how thoughtful she was. As my boyfriend put it, "She's a perfect gentleman...gentlewoman." Always holding doors for people, secretly picking up the tab at lunch, buying an extra umbrella for us when we were ill-prepared for the downpour--the list goes on. Not only that, but I was also impressed by the interesting array of things she was doing with her life: designing and hand-sewing incredible costumes, modeling and attending cons, editing for a gamer magazine and working as an aesthetician. In a former life she was even the illustrator's assistant for the famous manga Knights of Sidonia. Phew! I'm telling you, this girl was cool.

Now I can't say that I personally have a lot of experience doing cosplay, but I've always loved dressing up. As a nature enthusiast, I made up all kinds of crazy Halloween costumes as a kid including an aspen tree, a cumulus cloud and a rose garden! Later I eventually got into more character-based ones, such as the Link costume which I actually wore to a formal university lecture on Halloween day.

Anyway, instead of just talking about cosplay Ren decided to take me to one of Tokyo's most famous costume department stores and to show me the insane array of materials available. Seriously, there was a different floor devoted to almost every category you can think of. Contacts, lashes, wigs, makeup, material, buttons, clasps, patterns, everything. Here I am getting my education:

I know you can get all this stuff online, but it was amazing to see it all collected in one place, and it was cool to see materials that were geared toward cosplay specifically. Pink isn't my favourite colour, but I honestly couldn't resist this wig. Of course I could barely get the damn thing on, but luckily Ren was an expert! 

I would have to say that after spending the day together, it was almost impossible not to get interested in trying out cosplay. Everyone on the planet likes a character of some kind. 

About two days later, we met up again and this time she actually brought several of her costumes. We're not talking cheap, made-on-the-assembly-line stuff: we're talking high-quality, custom-fit pieces made with beautiful materials. I always wondered where people bought costumes of more obscure characters, but according to Ren that's where the real artistry and devotion comes in. She makes every last detail of each costume herself. I was especially curious about the armor, so she brought in this piece:

...and here I am looking significantly more hilarious in the same outfit:

I was lucky enough to get a private mini tutorial on how it's made. Would you guess that it's light as a feather? Here are a couple shots from our makeshift karaoke booth studio!

I have a wonderful interview with Ren that I'm looking forward to sharing with you (though we did it in Japanese, so it'll take a little time before the subs are ready). 

For something that some people consider childish, I think they would be amazed at the craftsmanship and love that goes into this art. Costumes of all sorts are worn in cultures around the world and there's something about them that's powerful and playful at the same time. That's something which Ren embodies beautifully.

A Vignette of my Visit to Ubisoft Montreal

A couple of hours ago, I walked up to a beautifully restored red brick building on Boul St. Laurent. I had been up since five, so I was hoping I looked a little less disheveled than I felt. It had become an impromptu road trip with my dad, since I'd decided I could use some moral support (and more than one camera angle) for my interviews at Ubisoft Montreal.

I was admiring the industrial-chic vibe of the lobby when I was presented with a long video release form. Ok, I don’t have the energy to decode this right now, but as long as I can still make the documentary, we’re good, I thought. I tried to mask the scuttling of my suitcase on the hardwood floors as we wound our way through the endless departments of people hard at work. Lots of screens. Giant gaming figurines. Awards all over the wall. Everything had its place. Everything was cool. Everything was perfectly branded.

When I arrived at the interview room it was bright and spacious, if a little dull and corporate. No problem—all the more incentive to focus on the interviews instead of the scenery, right? I go through the usual ritual: talking to myself at various volumes, testing, testing, fiddling with the lights, fiddling with buttons, trying not to leave anything unhooked, unplugged.

I think I’m ready. After 10 months of filming—bussing across the city, flying across the ocean, juggling odd-looking bags of equipmentI'm ready. After the electric highs and lows of so many interviews I am ready for the boss. Well, bosses.

Ok by boss, I don't mean the kind you talk to at a meeting or the kind you fight in a dungeon. I mean those people who totally own at what they do. In this case, three incredibly chill, bright young women who are part of the biggest video game dev branch in the world.

On my right: Anouk Bachman, Bio Jade Adam Granger and Stephanie Harvey. The minute they walk in the door they break the ice with open smiles. Instead of getting straight down to business, they want to hear about the project. I don’t feel the need to plead my case for She Got Game. I don't have to stand up and defend my personal gaming history or offer solutions to all of the industry’s gender issues. These women get it. I I’m ready to dive in, because this is the last chapter of something that has completely consumed my life for the past year.

After Saturday my interviews for the documentary will be done. Wait, what? I can't believe it. I’m not always the best interviewer. I have the horrible habit of getting excited about certain topics and interjecting. I have a tendency to be more casual and personal than objective, if that’s considered a virtue in documentary filmmaking. But at the very least I do my best to represent the messages of these women with accuracy, humility and artistry. This is where I’m at with She Got Game right now.

As I see it, my responsibility is to make people feel comfortable so that they're able to discover something new in the process of talking. There's nothing more gratifying than seeing someone wake up inside as they get carried away with the conversation. Something great happens who you see people forget about the reserved, well-arbitrated answers they'd prepared and start to learn something about themselves through our interaction.

You're like, "Ok that's nice, but what about the interview!?" I know I know I know! I'll be posting it soon, I promise. I just wanted to capture the feeling before it disappeared completely. I can tell you, I've almost never had such a good time and learned so much in one sitting. I can’t wait to share these segments with you. Anouk, Bio and Stephanie are absolutely kickass.

So what’s next? As October ushers in the cool winds of hibernation I’ll be madly working away at my editing station. Somehow I'll weave together the dozens of stories I’ve collected and figure out how to make them make sense to you.

Thank you so much to each and every single one of you who has made a contribution to the production, content or my motivation for this project. I needed you all in order to get this far, and I hope I will give you something that you will be proud to be a part of.