|Hye Yeon Nam demonstrates the kiss controller.
At IndieCade I participated in one of the Well-Played sessions, which was a wonderful experience. Aside from the fact that I love IndieCade — it’s fun, sincere, full of good feelings — I’ve long been an admirer of the Well-Played essay series put together by Drew Davidson at CMU ETC. (As a side note, I’ve always wanted to contribute an essay on FAQs as an aspect of the meaning of “well-played” but I have to admit I’ve never been able to finish that essay — not yet! But someday!)
However, we digress. My idea of how the Kiss Controller could be “well-played” was in the sense of wanting that first experience of a game playthrough — or first kiss — to be special. If it’s a highly anticipated game, we want that sense of wonder and enchantment and discovery that can only really come the first time we play something. But there’s this other side to it too — that sometimes, the first time you play something you are really *bad* at it; and that it’s hard, and you don’t know what to do and where to go; and you feel awkward and clumsy because you don’t yet have the hang of it. (This is what most non-gamers feel, incidentally, when they pick up a controller to play a core game, regardless of gender.)
And that’s what it felt like to play the Kiss Controller. It was hard; it was an interface I’d never tried before; I didn’t have the hang of it, and it was frustrating! Add to that the fact that the entire audience is watching and telling me, “go left! GO LEFT!!” and you have an experience which is pretty much the opposite of romantic!
There was a disconnect, I felt, between the mechanical act of affection and intimacy — the lips touching, tongues touching — and the game goal of trying to manipulate a virtual car on a racetrack. Actual kissing has very different goals, more abstract and flexible. In the Q&A session afterwards, also, the audience pointed out that the way this particular game was configured, the control is directed pretty much solely by one person. I think Scott Jon Siegel, who was in the audience, put it like this: “Seems like one person just stands there while the other shoves a tongue around in the person’s mouth.” Yup, that was pretty much how it is, although I do think there is probably a way to play more co-operatively.
In the Q&A session, creator Hye Yeon Nam explained that she is working on the next iteration of the game, which will include second-player input; the first player will “drive”, while the second player will control acceleration by touch; and each person will have a monitor to look at. I think that’s a really intriguing idea, although the action of the kiss itself, which I believe ought to be co-operative in real life at least, will still remain an action dominated by one person.
Hye Yeon Nam also stated that she got inquiries from couples — mostly older — who didn’t want to try it out in front of people but who were interested in purchasing it to try at home. She believes it may be an aid to rekindling a spark that might have faltered in many longterm relationships. It could be! It’s unquestionably intimate to hold someone’s face in your hands and move your tongue around in their mouth. I’m very excited at what Hye Yeon has done and the direction she is going in, exploring the power of physical touch and tying it to game-like experiences. And you know, my experience — while not exactly romantic — was intriguing enough to make me want to try again. And get better at the game! But I can’t tell if that’s my gamer side or my romantic side coming out.