dating sim

nilson's picture

So I put my dating sim online


I'm not sure who would want to read this or anything,
or even if I should be saying this at all
but here goes:

There's an irrational fear to share games online because what if no one plays your games or people don't care about your games and all you really ever wanted to do was to connect with people and engage in a deep sharing--

I made a dating sim where the player dates different versions of myself (there's a barista nilson, an art student nilson, and a "boy" nilson) for a semester project in the MFA (visual studies) program I'm in last winter. The game's ok, but what I truly love is watching people engage with the game in person. The game exists now on a Mac in the school's computer lab, and I'll invite people over to play it, or my friends will play it on their own, or (the best) strangers will try to use the computer and accidentally start playing (dating) a game that was left open from someone else (and then recognize me later in the hallway, lol).

A few weeks ago, at the stroke of midnight, my friend and mentor visited the school (there was a great moment where Mary says to him as she walks out the door "have fun dating nilson" to which he had no reference to at the time...). We sat down and he started playing/dating. A few minutes in, he stopped and said "what do you want to be?" I laughed because I laugh. "What do you want to be?" I dunno. He holds me accountable. "An artist, right?" Okay. "Is this online?" No. "Why not?" It's very silly to explain why the dating sim wasn't online for so long, but it can probably be summed up by the word fear.

When we presented our work that semester for the public, some people would play the dating sim, and then walk away from the installation, leaving the date in limbo, the stupid-looking nilson sprite frozen and abandoned (a boy stripped bare). This is part of the exercise of being vulnerable (and I would never ask anyone to pay attention to me for more than a few minutes). Being vulnerable is tricky.

I loaded the dating sim onto a week or so ago. I at first didn't know how to price it... Charging money for something immediately feels unnatural to me - this is ironic because I serve people 7 dollar drinks every day, but I'm afraid to ask someone for a buck to play this game. A game that I worked on for months, and poured my body and my spirit into... surely this is worth a buck, right? But even a buck limits access (and who is really even paying attention anyway?). One of my best friends bought the game for $4.20 (thank you), and I think maybe 2/12 free keys I gave out were redeemed. It's not about making money, but one of the things we talk a lot about in school is "artist legitimacy." Ugh.

I've been antsy af ever since. I asked everyone about prices. "Make it free or charge ten bucks." I ended up putting a meticulously phrased sentence on the game's page saying if anyone wants a free key, send me a joke or something, a feeble attempt to connect tossed out into the void. I even made a post on itch's new game forums, lol. There's no right answer, there's no good answer.

If I want to "be an artist" so bad, I need to learn to share. The first share is the most difficult. I made myself as vulnerable as I could, but my project lacks networking, marketing. How do people connect with a community, and grow that community?

The best way to play Untitled Dating Sim (first three dates) is in bed with your friends, preferably with the game projected (light) on a wall. The game's funny, yeah, but it exists as an intense act of sharing (something I had to get over). It forces people who play it to get vulnerable as well. People who play the game see what they want to see in it - my one professor who thinks I'm some post-modernist derrida huffing warhol troll sees the game as a joke on the player... others see something more gentle, almost romantic. Certainly human.

Should it even be online? And what do I do with it now? A part of me says I need to move on. "It's just a project, and it's done. It's complete." It'll always exist now, on my website, on that Mac (hopefully), on itch, in the few people's memories who played it. I guess this is the point where (as an "Artist") I need to start applying to "shows." I need to start networking. All successful artists say "I applied 100 times and got accepted once." What galleries want this dating sim?

I recently saw a dating sim at squeaky wheel, so "it's out there." "Being an artist" seems like a heartbreaking job, until at least you're satisfied with your level of network. I don't think about networking when I'm making. I want to make games that kids on the internet like, mysterious software that transmits energy to them. I want to send CDs of games, mail art, to like-minded communities. I don't want people coming up to me and asking me "how do I win?" (unless I'm making JRPGs, then please PLEASE ask me about strats etc)... I dunno... I don't really have anything to be bummed out about, lol.

I just bought Anna Anthropy's rise of the videogame zinesters on amazon, so that'll probably re-energize me~

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