»Making is fundamental to what it means to be human. We must make, create, and express ourselves to feel whole. There is something unique about making physical things. Things we make are like little pieces of us and seem to embody portions of our soul.« The Maker Movement Manifesto
The faint smell of burnt wires finding its way up your nose tells you that you’re at the Alt Ctrl game jam. This is where anything goes that abandons traditional user interfaces in games. Fancy making a remote-controlled tentacle? In the mood for designing a game featuring pacifiers on strings? Ready to knit a wrapping for a flex sensor? In an age where the wristwatch is smart and the internet is full of things that come with built-in gyroscopes, the possibilities of play are endless.
Spanning just two physical locations (Copenhagen and Skopje) and all virtual dimensions (online), the Alt Ctrl game jam is a comparatively small jam. Having taken place for the first time in 2012*, it is also fairly young. John Gavin Polson, one of the hosts of Alt Ctrl jam once said that “Games often feel as if they are built around the ways people can interact with them.” and he’s definitely right in that. Interaction is the part of the game that is closest to the player. One of the best recent examples of alternative controller games is Line Wobbler, which recently won the Game Design award at IndieCade**. Copenhagen Game Collective has been experimenting with alternative controllers since before the jam was around and continues to do so, as manifest in VIRTUAL INTERNET HACKER VR, DARK ROOM SEX GAME, MITT ROWDY and other projects.
Alt Ctrl is a grassroots movement in games that can point at a rich history. From dorkbot to the maker culture, from music to hacker ethics, appropriation is a strong driver for creativity. It is fundamentally about rethinking the medium. When the game maker has authority over hardware as well as software, the only constraint that remains is her creativity and her soldering skills. Every newly invented controller opens up possibilities to realise new games, new ways to play. Magic happens when you think outside the box. Alt Ctrl takes the box, smashes it, rips its guts out and reassembles them using copper wires and microcontrollers.
Alt Ctrl Jam 2015
This year’s Copenhagen gathering for the jam was held at ITU Copenhagen. Around 15 participants – mostly students – showed up to work on controllers. Thanks to generous support by BreakIT, the jammers had access to laser cutters, 3D printers, Arduino controllers and a host of tools. Right after arrival, people formed small groups and started brainstorming and sketching. Some soon headed off to never be seen again. Others headed off and returned with far-out ideas. A few of those were prototyped. A week later, a handful of people made it to a second meeting where finishing touches were put on the controllers. Movies were recorded. Uploads were loaded up. Deadlines approached. During a chaotic but entertaining closing ceremony, the winners were announced and a team from the Copenhagen gathering could score the second place with the most outstanding rethinking of the pacifier as a game interface to date.
Smooch Station, a game that joyfully invades your private space, turns pacifiers into game controllers. Two people rhythmically suck and tongue-pluck pacifiers, while looking into each other’s eyes. The intimate setup of a remote french kiss is elegantly contrasted by a scoring mechanic:
Trying out new devices is entertainingly demonstrated by another game created at Alt Ctrl Copenhagen: Eye am a Dragon. Using an eye tracking device, you “defend yourself from those insignificant humans by looking at them” and by roaring like a dragon, you cast fire upon them.
The winner of this year’s jam was the Zeppelin Game, realized by Berlin-based @finefingames and his kids. The game is proof that you can’t start too early to teach children that they can actually shape the world around them – even if it is the digital world:
Getting curious? All submitted games of this year’s jam can be found here.
Thanks to Kristijan Trajkovski, Dajana, John Gavin Polson and Martin Pupkov for organizing the jam.
* As far as the author can tell the first iteration happened in the halls of New York University in 2012.
** Line Wobbler was originally created at Exile Game Jam, by the way.