Lyst Summit Write-up (part 1)

I’m certainly embarrassed by how long it’s taken me to get around to my Lyst write-up – things have been very busy in recent weeks – but in some many ways, it’s taken until now for me to actually process the glorious things which happened there. What follows is more of a travelogue than a simple game jam recap, split into two parts for your convenience.

Lyst Summit is a unique gathering on the subject of love, sexuality and romance in games, and its first event was held in early June aboard the MF William Jørgenson – a boat moored in København (Copenhagen), Danmark. I was honoured to be able to attend, so taking part in a fascinating series of talks, followed by a 48-hour game jam unlike any other. It was my first time visiting the Danish capital since a very brief change of trains last year, and I’m pleased to say it was as rich in friendship as it was in inspiration and creative output.

The "Love Boat" at Holmen
The “Love Boat” at Holmen

My journey began at Stockholms Centralstation. Rather than making my journey more grim, the fact I had to attend on a budget actually justified my taking a night train for the first time in my life. Only weeks after I’d made the same (daytime) journey to Nordic Indie Game Night, SJ nattåg 1 brought me from the Swedish capital to Malmö – this time with sheets and a bunk provided.

Back in Malmø - seeing the station before 6am once again. It's becoming a habit.
Back in Malmø – seeing the station before 6am once again. It’s becoming a habit.

From here, the plan was to catch the Öresundståg directly to Københavns Høvedbanegård (Copenhagen Central Station), but a strike was limiting all rail travel over this link between Sweden and Denmark, and so my journey took in a few extra Metro stops and that most familiar of British concepts: the rail replacement bus service.

Still, I got there in one piece, and as I restored my sensibilities with breakfast just outside the station, I had time to contemplate the last time I had visited København. The very definition of a flying visit, I hadn’t even seen outside the station before, because it is here we changed trains on our journey from Hamburg to Stockholm, back when my partner and I first moved to Sweden. Now perhaps you can appreciate why I linger upon this part of my journey – it wasn’t just about trains for trains’ sake.

I’d made a point of crossing the Danish capital on foot as much as possible, given that a game jam is not the best excuse to see a new place. My walk took me through some rather beautiful places, and while the architecture there may have much in common with the old town in Stockholm – now rather familiar and welcoming to me – it’s spread around a canal network which is much more evocative of Amsterdam. It’s easy to see how a place like this can be such a hotbed of avant-garde culture.

Nyhavn proved to be a particularly captivating node on my journey.
Nyhavn proved to be a particularly captivating node on my journey.

The last step of my journey was a havnebuss (harbour bus) from beautiful Nyhavn, right up to Lyst Summit’s gangplank at Holmen, just off the Bohemian district of Christianshavn. So, the tone was set for our exploration of all things erotic, familial and romantic in games.

As has been mentioned, the first day of Lyst Summit was a series of talks. Our host was Richard Lemarchand, who lead us through a fascinating range of experiences: from radio play sex mechanics in LARP (Jaako Stenros, Game Research Lab) to games ignoring platonic love (Dr. Esther MacCallum-Stewart, Uni. of Surrey), and from slumber party fun (Lau Korsgaard, KnapNok Games) to robotic dildos (Johannes Grenzfurthner, Arse Elektronika).

Richard Lemarchand at the summit's commencement.
Richard Lemarchand at the summit’s commencement.

To my mind, what cemented this all was Ernest Adams’ talk on the “Mechanics of Love”. His talk reminded us that, according to Greek philosophy at least, there are four branches of love to be considered: storga (familial), agape (unconditional), philia (friendship) and eros (passion). The final talk of the day added yet more food for thought, as Dr. Hanna Wirman (Hong Kong Polytechnic University) described her work, communicating with non-human species.

With all this in mind, the summit came to a close and the attendees broke into some games, including a rare, interactive performance with the Indie Bird Game Collective – a group which formed around their Lovebirds project at Nordic Game Jam earlier this year. Although the game was demonstrated at Nordic Indie Game Night in May, it benefits immensely from a more intimate setting, and particularly from a player base and audience who’ve just been contemplating human affection and emotion for the past 7 hours.

A hands-on, pre-dinner game which thrust my Weighted Companion Cube into the limelight! Photo by Martin Nerurkar.
A different hands-on, pre-dinner game which thrust my Weighted Companion Cube into the limelight! Photo by Martin Nerurkar.

It’s hard to describe Lovebirds, and even harder to do the game any justice in such a description, but its staging involves live music, wonderfully macabre masks, and a gentle nature documentary host. In all, I believe some 13 players were involved: 9 lovebirds, and about 4 trees. I had the privilege of becoming a lovebird for the evening.

As the music started, the host introduced the lovebirds to the audience: their mythology, their temperament and their goals. We, the lovebirds then set about our task: a surprisingly intimate one, involving rubbing the beaks of our masks gently against other lovebirds’ in order to find out who we were romantically compatible with. This was to be done under the private shelter of umbrella-style trees, and the only way we could know a mate from our lovebird threesome was to communicate about a single glowing light on our ‘faces’ – which only our partner could see.

Once a threesome was found, the lovebirds were instructed to gather for a grand procession – the culmination of the performance. I had the unique pleasure of a Lovebirds threesome with Richard Lemarchand, and Patrick Jarnfelt of the Copenhagen Game Collective. That’s something you don’t get at any other games event.

 

As night finally began to fall on København, we of the weekend-long Lyst Summit settled into our game jam groups – decided by the colour of our delightful, hand-made heart badges. I became part of a small group, with Ene Esgaard (freelance illustrator) and Ida Toft (Copenhagen Game Collective). Our planning was decidedly alcohol-fuelled, but also refreshingly open. The games we designed were meandering, ambitious and personally enlightening in a way I haven’t felt since Boob Jam. With all this philia (and a little eros!) saturating the atmosphere, it’s little wonder we made what we did – but that’s a teaser I’ll fulfil in part two of my round-up.

Those of us who stayed on or near the boat ended day one with a rather respectful few rounds of Strip Poker.
Those of us who stayed on or near the boat ended day one with a rather respectful few rounds of Strip Poker.