Author Archives: Jane Pinckard

How Designing for Love Can Change the World

Hello GDC! This morning at 10am, dirolab co-founders will join Jane McGonigal, Chelsea Howe, and Michael Molinari in a presentation designed to hit the heart! We’ll talk about how to design for love, and how that can change the world! Come join us!

How Designing for Love Can Change the World
10am West Hall Room 2009

Interested romance scientists can come meet us at 5pm this evening at John Colins to discuss love and romance over drinks.


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How Deep is Your Love?

Zach Gage pointed out this fascinating video of researchers asking people to think about someone they love (or an experience of love) and then run an MRI scan. They stage this as a competition which I think is a bit odd, but the staging of the experiment is super interesting because each participant has such a different way of talking about what love is in the brief interviews.

The Love Competition from Brent Hoff on Vimeo.

It’s also intriguing to me that the participants found the experience so transformative, even being moved to tears. One described a sense of warmth just bubbling out of her; another said he felt like he was in outer space and he could have stayed there for a long time. Imagine being in a small chamber and focusing on LOVE for five minutes!! Is it overwhelming? Is it meditative? One participant said he felt “depleted” by the experience, that he had expended all his love. It seems simply reflecting on someone you love can be a powerful experience.

The brain is still full of beautiful mysteries!




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Well Played Call for Papers: Romance in Games

Welcome to the relaunch of Digital Romance Lab!

Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to reflect on love and romance! And to celebrate today I want you to think on the following: Well Played is doing a special edition on Romance.  Below is the Call for Papers. I urge you all to submit an essay!


CfP: a special issue of Well Played, edited by Jane Pinckard and focusing on the theme of romance in games.

ETC Press is accepting submissions for this special issue of the Well Played journal.

All submissions for v1n4 are due 14 May 2012 (5pm (EST).

Jane Pinckard, co-founder of the Digital Romance Lab (, is editing this special issue and encourages contributors to write essays that explore games that engage emotions associated with love, romance and flirting. Topics might include such themes as developing an attachment to an NPC, falling in love in-game with another player, critique of romance subplots, depiction of loving attachments, experiments in making love a core mechanic of a game, and more.

All submissions and questions should be sent to:

drew ( at ) andrew ( dot ) cmu ( dot ) edu

Continue reading


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Data and Dating

Yesterday at the Center for Games and Playable Media at UC Santa Cruz we had a speaker, Nic Ducheneaut, come give a talk on social science research in World of Warcraft. I wrote up an overview and will be posting the video and slides soon, but I wanted to zero in on the idea of compatibility and games.

Nic and his team were able to collect a massive amount of data on what gamers were doing, moment to moment, in WoW. They also surveyed a number of players and gave them personality tests. They discovered that you can actually predict fairly well what personality type the player is from reading their in-game actions (along with, it turns out, some demographic characteristics!) So what I want now is for someone to go through the data and look for correlations between personality and group affinity, because I’m curious about whether certain types of personalities that prefer certain play styles get along better with other personalities/play styles.

What you could do with this is help solve the biggest problem of both MMOS and dating sites: matchmaking that actually works! My idea is this: what if you built a dating site that had games on it; and people both played the games and took personality quizzes (a little like OK Cupid, who currently own the dating+data space, but with more actual clinical personality test support). They you start collecting data about which personalities tend to play with which other personalities — and I don’t know if like seeks like or if you can build complementary personality sets or what; and they start building a sophisticated matchmaking algorithm that suggests other players you might enjoy playing with. I would LOVE to build a start up around this idea! Or partner with the OK Cupid guys on this as they seem to really get the playful aspects of dating, and data.

This would, I think, make dating sites both more fun and more effective at helping you find truly compatible friends or potential lovers. Although one piece I don’t know if we can figure out from Nic’s WoW data is whether you can predict the success of a real-life friendship based on an online or in-game friendship. Hm….interesting stuff to think about.

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Romance Novel Challenge: Interactive Fiction

I started by thinking about a traditional Romance novel for my challenge— you know, beginning, middle, wedding, end. But this, after all, is the *digital* romance lab and I grew a bit restless even thinking about how much text 50,000 words is, all strung together in a line like christmas tree lights. So I started looking once again at Inform 7, the streamlined and highly efficient tool for interactive fictions writers, and wondered what it would be like to write, instead of a novel, an IF with 50,000 words (not sure whether that means text displayed or total text written, including the codey bits.) IF uses natural language so it’s great for non-programmers like me, although you still have to think like a programmer (understand logic, order of operations, defining objects, etc.) I’ve played around with it a tiny bit before but my problem is always that I want to do things way beyond my skill level; like wanting to play Chopin while I’m still struggling with Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.

My sister and I had talked about working on an IF around the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. We both love that story because it’s one of the few traditional tales that feature female agency and character development: it’s Beauty who has to make the hard choices, it’s Beauty who grows as a character and experiences a true transformation (that the Beast externalizes in his physical transformation.) Beauty is the one with the power to change the world. Beast is her prize. That’s rare. Even in fairy stories that nominally star female characters, the female characters are often just along for the ride — and I’ve always hated that the only reason anything ever happens to them is because they happen, by genetic and cultural accident, to be considered beautiful in their culture. Of course Beauty is (obviously) beautiful too; but at least she is more than that — brave, loyal, thoughtful, and most importantly, able to take action.

Walter Crane, Beauty and the Beast (1874)

But the problem with fairy tales is that you know how they end. How do we subvert the tale in an interesting way and also offer some meaningful choices to the player? I really liked Emily Short’s Alabaster, about Snow White. (Also check out her designer notes about the collaborative authorship aspects of the work — really interesting.) But then Emily is a master pianist and as I mentioned, I’m on Frère Jacques.

Well, so far I have succeeded in placing the Manor House north of the Avenue, with the Forest to the east. Wish me luck!


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Nanowrimo Challenge: Write a Romance Novel in a Month

Yesterday I realized that today is November 1st, which means the first day of National Novel Writing Month (although it can totally be practiced internationally as well!) The first or maybe second year of its existence I participated and wrote — although sadly didn’t finish — a novel starring my favorite Roman poet, Catullus. But I haven’t joined since then because frankly, writing is hard and writing 50,000 words in one month seems overwhelming.

But this year I also just finished reading Brian McDonald‘s book on the grammar of drama, Invisible Ink. (You can read the entire book for free at that link, and if you’re interested in storytelling at all I encourage you to check it out. It’s really good.) At the same time, I’m contributing to a game research project at UC Santa Cruz that is aimed at young women aged 18-21 that I decided should use paranormal romance as its theme. All of this is to say, I have decided my Nanowrimo challenge this year is to write 50,0000 words of paranormal romance. Through that I hope to deepen my understanding of the genre, as well as of romance plot development, character interaction, and how to better communicate with an audience — all elements I’m interested in getting games to explore better.

I am debating whether or not to post the dailies here on the site. It would be deeply embarrassing and probably boring for a lot of readers, but it would help keep me on track I think. Perhaps I’ll find another section of the site to do that on.

Here we go!

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Kiss Controller Update

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.

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