Blush Box Interview with Katie Stegs

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Are you a fan of sex, romance and games? Then you need to be paying attention to Blush Box – a creative collective of Australian lady developers who have come together to create games that are super fun and explore love, sexy and romance in games. We’re sure as hell on board. One of the co-founders, Katie Stegs, talks to us about the venture as well as their proposed trip to Lyst Summit in Norway where they plan to educate themselves further on these topics and bring what they learn back to the Australian gaming industry.

What was your motivation for starting Blush Box?

Kim Allom called me one day to ask if I had ever heard of Lyst Summit, which is an event held annually in Norway run by the Copenhagen Games Collective and the Hamar Game Collective. I looked them up and they were talking about all sorts of topics that aren’t really discussed here in Australia.

We realised that a summit on romance and sex was something we might be able to do here, so both Kim and I had ideas on who we’d liked to work with thanks to our women in games community. From there we created Blush Box as a way testing whether local people were as interested in making games about love and romance as we were.

We thought the best way to get started would be to go to Norway, attend the summit, make a game together there using what we’d learnt, and then come home  to set up a similar event for Australian developers.

How did you all come together?

The Lyst Game jam is by application, so we looked at the criteria was and thought about who we knew around Australia with the right combination of skills and similarly open mindsets to make a game.

We needed the full gamut: Kim is the producer for Defiant Development, I do a lot of marketing and design work, Bea Bravo is a talented comic and game artist, Lauren Fletcher is an amazing concept artist, and Shell is an absolute one woman-wonder, a superstar programmer and charisma flows out of her ears. And I run Lumi Consulting – a games marketing consultancy.

We put the call out and these ladies were keen, so we kicked off with a super motivating Skype call, followed by a Slack channel to explore where we could go. I set up the website, we put the call out for funding – and here we are! 😀

Why do you think the themes you’re interested in highlighting are largely overlooked or not focused on in games

I think there’s a hesitation for developers to include clearly feminine stories and mechanics in commercial and artistic games, but I feel a large contributing factor is that there simply aren’t a lot of female  and diverse developers working in the games industry – especially not in senior, creative direction and executive levels.

When you have an all-girl team like ours, with a common mission and vision that highlights content we care about, there’s none of that fear – and you get a different focus.

Do you think there is a large audience out there who would be interested in them?

Absolutely, look at any mainstream entertainment outside of games, from the history of art and music, to TV and film. There’s a vast body of work inspired in some way by love, sex and romance. I think that the vast majority of successful games are emotionally resonant with their players on some level. Games often reflect some facet of human experience, and romance and sex are just another part that we have yet to focus on.

When I was growing up, Newgrounds was a hugely popular website to play flash games, there were a lot of massively popular games on there that were cute and fun, and contained elements of romance or sex in a non-explicit way (there were explicit ones too though!).

Runescape, one of the early MMOs, would have players wandering around asking ‘ASL?’ There were so many examples of players finding a partner and going off to quest together. I feel they, and myself through my own experiences, were seeking an emotional connection in a lot of ways. I think the recent game Cibele explored this concept of early game-enabled connection really well. I haven’t seen these themes move on to mobile as a platform, though my research suggests there is a huge potential market of people out there who want this content. We know that 52% of gamers on mobile are also female, I’m sure they want more content that is confidently and clearly aimed at them.

Look at Kim Kardashian: Hollywood – there’s clearly an audience with an appetite for female focused games out there, and games that delight in womanhood and feminine expression – including player choice, in-game relationships and customisable avatars.

What games do you think are doing love, sex and relationships well at the moment? What are some of your favourites?

When I think of the ones that are doing it well they are either in AAA development, like Bioware games, or are very niche. Bioware’s mission statement is, To create, deliver and evolve the most emotionally engaging games in the world.” Games I think are doing this well at the moment would include Obscurasoft’s Coming Out on Top and Kitty Power’s Matchmaker, or even Hatoful Boyfriend published by Devolver Digital. As mentioned previously, Cibele by Nina Freeman is another great example, taking home an Independent Games Festival award this year. There are good ones out there, but we feel we need plenty more!

You’re currently fundraising to go to Lyst in Norway, what is Lyst?

Lyst is a summit on romance, love and sex in games held in Hamar, Norway. It’s run as a collaboration between the Copenhagen Game Collective and Hamar Game collective. Lyst has two parts; firstly, a summit, where they have a group of amazing speakers on the first day, covering a range of topics that fall within the theme. You can see the symposium talks here.

The second part is a Game Jam which goes from Friday until Sunday evening, where we’ll put the things we learned the day before into a game. They promised a chocolate fountain, so I’m also looking forward to that. 😛

What are you hoping to learn there and how will you apply it to Blush Box?

Personally I’m hoping to be inspired and informed on ways to include romance and sex in games in a way that isn’t contrived. I’ve seen enough awkward sex scenes from floating elves in Dragon Age to unicorn-enabled sex scenes in The Witcher 3. I’m really hoping to find a way to incorporate romance into game mechanics in a way that is fun, delightful and makes the player really feel invested in a character.

Bea: I’m hoping to learn what goes into a game, and the workflow of how each person contributes to it. I want to be able to make a video game that makes you have feelings and makes you think about it. Maybe even question what it means to be in a relationship and question if there’s more you can do.

Shell: I’m hoping to learn how sex and love can manifest in games in a way that specifically avoids a relationship being seen as simply another goal to reach, like defeating a boss or getting a new weapon. I dream of the day an NPC’s wants and fears can influence how you act with them and if the interaction with them alone can make you feel giddy. A jam of like minded people exploring these themes specifically is an invaluable resource for a game dev, as sex and relationships are something video games repeatedly do badly and are more often than not an afterthought in development.

Kim: Sexual empowerment is so important to me. Through romantic and intimate exploration I’ve become motivated to ensure the inclusion and happiness of people involved in my personal life. I’ve found my inhibitions dissipate, allowing me to open my world to new -sometimes challenging- experiences that generally end up being rites of passage of some form or another. Confidence is the biggest example that comes to mind. When I can connect with people on an emotional or intimate level, it flows out in my everyday life. Ultimately, I’m fixated over the idea of learning how to connect these emotions in meaningful ways to a medium that I love.

Are you already working on a/some games and if so can you divulge what they are about?

We have some ideas that we’ve been throwing around, one in particular has come up a few times about exploring different ways people can view intimacy. Perhaps there would be a variety of unlockable characters and to romance them you have to figure out how they view romantic relationships. We’re still very much in a concept stage.

We’re very inspired by shows like Adventure Time that take a very light-hearted approach to romance, think Finn and Flame Princess. I love how that show allows us to see Finn working out how to navigate the awkwardness of dating.

You can check out our inspiration board on our website where we post all the of the images that are along the lines of what we’re going for.

How can people get involved on donate to the Lyst fund?

There are several ways people can help us if they want to see us make games 😀

You can donate to our GoFundme

You can become a sponsor.

You can buy some of Bea’s comics!

If anyone is interested in suggesting ideas for Blush Box, we’d love to hear them! We’re always looking to meet and chat to other people who want to make or play these kinds of games.

Where can people get in touch if they are interested in Blush Box?

You can get in touch via the contact form on our website or through twitter 😀

Where can we find you around the interwebz?

You can find me @steggy_

Kim – @kimallom

Shell – @yoshellshell

Bea – @Beabravo

Lauren – http://lauren-fletcher.com/

Tegan

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