How to (not) make a slumber party video game

When you think of slumber parties and gaming, you might mull over slumber parties involving video games, but you're unlikely to think of the reverse. While there are examples frittered around here and there, like Sleepover Party and the much maligned We Dare on the Wii, slumber party video games represent a genre - if you can call it that - which hasn't been explored properly. At least, that's the feeling of KnapNok Games' Lau Korsgaard, one of the designers of the 2013 Wii U downloadable Spin the Bottle: Bumpie's Party.

If you've not played it, the above trailer summarizes Bumpie's Party neatly. Two to eight players take turns to spin a virtual bottle on the Wii U Gamepad, and the players selected have to complete one of many physical challenges. Things like pushing Wiimote buttons with your noses, or holding controllers behind a friend's back while both of you try to jump in sync - you get the idea. If you're wondering what the inspirations for Bumpie's Party's unusual design are, Ubisoft's We Dare was a big influence... but not for good reasons.

According to Korsgaard, who was speaking at GDC Europe, Ubisoft "missed the target in many ways" with We Dare. Korsgaard explained he sees slumber party games like Spin the Bottle, Twister, and Pass the Orange as activities that exist between innocent games for all ages and straight up sex-games; they're not overtly sexual, but they're not overtly innocent either. With We Dare, from its box art with the furry handcuffs and slung-over bra to the nature of the mini-games themselves, there's no room for misinterpretation. Not only does it limit the audience, but as Korsgaard explained, it's a much more direct proposition than most slumber party games are.

"The brilliance of slumber party games is that they're excuses to kiss each other, to flirt, to touch each other," Korsgaard said. "That game, that box art, is not a really good excuse. Walking up to people and saying 'do you want to play a sex game?' That's not a good excuse for flirting."

Korsgaard also criticized We Dare's stereotypes, like how you select avatars like tomboys, femme fatales, jocks, etc. "It's not that I'm against playing around with stereotypes - that could be fun - but somehow you start taking offense, and that's awkward."

Korsgaard pointed to a battle of the sexes mini-game, in which the women got asked questions about make-up and fashion, while the men were asked about cars and alcohol. When he and his friends tried the game out, neither of the sexes did well. "The boys failed at being boys, and the girls failed at being girls. And that's not flirty fun, when we're failing at being boys and girls in the way the game's telling us to be."

One last nail in the Korsgaard's We Dare coffin was how it makes players perform pre-defined dance moves while staring at the TV. "That doesn't really have much to do with dancing, actually, and it certainly has nothing to do with flirting."

In contrast, Korsgaard said, KnapNok looked at what We Dare did wrong and thought about how slumber party games really are. Firstly, the studio saw the GamePad as an opportunity to have players sit around in a circle and look at each other rather than the TV, which is of course more intimate. Secondly, KnapNok strived to make Bumpie's Party gender neutral - to Korsgaard, part of the excitement of games like Spin the Bottle is that anyone could be in contact with anyone. That was also reflected in the game's abstract avatars, which Korsgaard described as some being masculine, some feminine, some bits of both, and "a bunch of avatars that were ... neither."

KnapNok also referred to the "first rule of naughty games," and that's not to call them naughty games. Unlike We Dare's to-the-point presentation, KnapNok strived to ensure Bumpie's Party maintained an acceptable appeal to all ages, like Twister - even though it has a more mature value, too. To that effect, the studio only included mini-games that its programmer was able to play with his kids. "I actually played the game with my parents, and it wasn't that awkward," Korsgaard joked.

While Korsgaard believes KnapNok succeeded with Bumpie's Party, he conceded the studio may've made a mistake with Spin the Bottle in the title. "It has been really hard figuring out how to frame [the game] right. For instance, it hasn't been received that well in the States ... it has been received okay but a lot of people thought it was too naughty. Spin the Bottle in America has all the sexual subtext of people kissing each other, so I don't think parents would let their children buy this game and play it. So I actually think maybe we shouldn't have called it Spin the Bottle but just Bumpie's Party or something like that."
[Image: KnapNok Games]

This article was originally published on Joystiq.