Game Jam Winner Spotlight: Nude On A Yellow Sofa

from the gaming-like-it's-1926 dept

Here we are at the last in our series of posts about the winners of the fourth annual public domain game jam, Gaming Like It’s 1926. So far, we’ve looked at The Wall Across The River, The Obstruction Method, Dreaming The Cave, Mr. Top Hat Doesn’t Give A Damn!, and A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle DECODED. Today, we look at the sixth and final game, winner of the Best Analog Game award: Nude On A Yellow Sofa by Nora Katz.

Over the years, these jams have had a few entries that incorporate the players making art as a game mechanic. It’s a fascinating way of bringing a strong creative and tactile element into the gameplay, and it can be used to great effect — but no entry has made it quite so central as Nude On A Yellow Sofa, which has the players creating a whole exhibition’s worth of artworks (as well as that exhibition itself) over the course of a couple hours. And while this could be fun within all kinds of different frameworks, and used to tell all kinds of stories, Nora Katz’s game uses it to weave a rich story about something that has been central to so much art throughout history: creative partnership, and the relationship between artist and muse.

Inspired by Henri Matisse’s 1926 painting of the same name, the game puts two players in the roles of two artists who embark on a creative partnership. Throughout a series of rounds representing periods of the collaboration over time (from The Beginning and The Collaboration, through The Struggle to The Fame, eventually reaching The Ending) each player will create eight unique works using art materials of their choice, while the final round tasks them with assembling a retrospective exhibit of the works set 100 years after their creation. Crucially, the question of who is the artist and who is the muse is left open: perhaps it will become clear throughout the game, perhaps it will forever be in the eye of the beholder, perhaps the question is impossible to answer.

It is in from very uncertainty that Nude On A Yellow Sofa mines its deepest themes: the separation between art and the human story of its creation, the way each can serve as a lens for understanding the other, and the way future generations will form their own opinions as both the art and the story take on lives of their own.

Despite how vast and amorphous these themes and questions are, the game provides ample framework for exploring them, using the pre-defined Periods and a set of Feeling and Image prompts that are randomly selected each round to provide a huge amount of scaffolding and inspiration for players without fencing in their creativity or the many possible directions of the story they are telling. The final round, in which players shed their initial roles and play as curators of an art museum’s exhibit, has them considering the art from new angles both literally (as they are encouraged to think about how the works are presented in relation to each other in a physical space) and figuratively (as they must answer questions about how these future curators view the work and the artists, and what they get right and wrong).

It’s a truly elegant piece of game design, simultaneously open-ended with great reliance on player creativity and agency, and carefully constructed with detailed rules and guidelines that all serve a purpose and enhance the game’s purpose — and for that, it’s this year’s winner for Best Analog Game.

Congratulations to Nora Katz for the win! You can get everything you need to play Nude On A Yellow Sofa from its page on Itch. That’s the end of our series of winner spotlights, but don’t forget to check out the many great entries that didn’t quite make the cut! And stay tuned for next year, when we’ll be back for Gaming Like It’s 1927.

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