May 11th, 2009

At GDC this year Eric Zimmerman ran a game design challenge entitled “My First Time,” which charged establishing designers with the task of turning their earliest sexual experiences into gameplay. As I reported back in March, the resulting ideas capitalized more on awkwardness than sexiness — though I appreciate any attempts to inject new blood into the pool of people thinking about adapting sex for games. The first time I interviewed Zimmerman was actually back in 2006 when I wrote about the salacious MIGS game design challenge he participated in, the same one that sparked Heather Kelley’s cupcake-filled masturbation adventure concept, Lapis.

In addition to participants Sulka Harro, Steve Meretzky, Erin Robinson, and that same Heather Kelley, Kim Swift (of Portal fame) was supposed to present her “first time” — until Valve pulled her from the panel. I’ve waited until now to post about this because I’ve been trying to prime Swift and Zimmerman for comment. The former is well hidden within the folds of the internet; the latter is busy closing down Gamelab. So I’m left with Zimmerman’s remarks from the even itself: “I’m saying this as a fan of Valve, but I do find it frustrating and disturbing that Kim would be pulled from the panel.”

The question that floated around at GDC wasn’t so much whether it was ethical for Valve to pull her though — presumably they didn’t want one of their young stars tied to sexual content, however harmless — but whether they would have done the same had she been a man.

Kelley, while she worked at Ubisoft, received flak for accidentally sparking rumors that they’d be producing Lapis for the DS. Male designers, on the other hand, have had support from their studios when participating in “questionable” design challenges. For those with XY chromosomes, it’s seen part and parcel of their larger-than-life artistic personalities. Us XXers, on the other hand, are stuck with bosses who worry about tarnishing our good names — and maybe for good reason. After years of writing about sex and games, I can attest to the gaming community’s potential for arriving, angry-mob style, on the doorstep of a woman who tries to combine video games and her “first time”… or any time.

Without comment from Swift, Zimmerman, or Valve, it’s hard to know exactly how things went down. Is it too much to hope that, from somewhere deep within the walls of Valve, Swift is designing something deliciously raunchy in revenge?

Tags: better late than never, design, events, GDC, gender, gripes, sex games, sexism, The "industry"

4 Responses to “Valve cockblocks Kim Swift’s “first time” at GDC”

  1. Andrew Says:

    Isn’t a better question “why did they pull her so late?”, I mean, it’s not like the people at Valve don’t know what their employee’s are presenting at GDC, they obviously know who is going at least!

    So why so last minute? Very confusing…I mean, it’s different if there is some offhand comment “We asked lots of leading industry figures to present this panel…blah others blah Kim Swift blah others blah” then to leave this bad taste in your mouth from the experience of having her pulled so close that an apology has to be made during the talk itself, and someone brought in last minute. :(

    It’s a big harsh for almost any panel topic, I don’t recall any others this year having that late-minute pull, except for absence.

  2. Bonnie Ruberg Says:

    It’s true, it’s very strange how last minute things were. Something must have happened, I assume, to make them change their minds. Still, I wish we could hear the other end of the story.

  3. Andrew Says:

    Oh well, it’ll be a mystery no doubt until someone has the nerve to ask her in an interview at some point where Valve developers are allowed to do interviews.

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