The theme for this year’s GDC Game Design Challenge was “My First Time,” and it was about exactly what you think it was about. Apparently the intersection of sex and autobiography is too hot for some to handle: Portal’s Kim Swift was apparently pulled from the competition when her employer, Valve, refused to let her participate in something so naughty as a semi-jokey game design panel. Luckily, Heather Kelley and Erin Peterson were able to step in and maintain gender balance among the panelists.
Some people seemed disappointed with this year’s challenge, complaining that the games weren’t actually very gamey. For my money, though, the challenge is less about the games that come out of it, and more about the way that it lets you look into the heads of the participants and remember that every designer has their own way of thinking about and attacking an idea.
While the panelists’ games may not have been completely prêt-à-jouer, it was fun to see Sulka Haro present a game revolving around social storytelling, Steve Meretzky spin his own long tale about growing up geek (complete with a This American Life-style turn at the end), and Kelley and Peterson kill with wit. Kelley and Peterson ended up winning the prize with their Wario Ware-ish gauntlet of pre-date rituals, each one more hilariously appalling than the last. If McGonigal is right in her assertion that embarrassment is a gateway to happiness, then getting a bunch of game design nerds into a room to talk about their own sex lives is a good way to throw those gates wide open.