What is SWEAT?

SWEAT is a loose collaborative dedicated to making socially conscious videogames.

It was first convened on the US-Mexico border in 2000 to work on the game Crosser™. The participants were invited from a diversity of intellectual and practical backgrounds; graphic design, architecture, anthropology, printmaking and psychology. They were all living the experience that we wanted to comment on. It was, in essence, a “design maquila.” (International treaties created twin assembly plants, one on each side of the border.) In this project, collaborators came from both sides of the border. The collaborators provided the back story and taught elements of it to me and to each other. This first iteration was adjourned upon the completion of Crosser™.

SWEAT continues to exist, now in Denver, with different collaborators, and a new game in the making. What’s different about the second iteration of SWEAT is that the participants come from similar intellectual and practical backgrounds. One knows how to program, but can’t draw (he thinks); two know how to draw but can’t program (they think). All three are extremely eloquent and accustomed to handling difficult ideas, and all three are studying digital media and culture. But they don’t know the history of the region being modeled. The elaboration of the back story, of the cultural narrative, becomes part of the research and development phase of the project.

We are culturally engaged. We seek moments of empathy and of creative imagination in the mind of the player. Blurring the line between the fun and the social conscience. We attempt to create a tension, a dissonance between “game” and “critique”, between fun and serious, between glee (which I think is unself-conscious) and guilt (which is totally self-conscious). We try to put players on uncertain footing, without preaching, without piety, and open a space, an opportunity for the player to question the situation being presented. That moment of questioning, of sparking the use of intellect and of creative imagination in someone else is – we think – a radical act given contemporary political climates.