Two Columbia students create video game with positive message

By Ivana Hester

Video games are sometimes criticized for obscene or vulgar content, but two Columbia students have created a socially conscious game that encourages players to step outside their comfort zone—literally.

“A Fitting” is an interactive video game meant to parallel the real life challenges of people who struggle with societal acceptance, according to creators, Amanda Dittami, interactive arts & media alumna, and Blair Kuhlman, senior IAM major.

Dittami described the game as an interactive theatrical performance in which the player imitates the body movements of a young woman in front of a mirror while an audience watches her in its reflection.

Players are challenged to contort their bodies into various poses along with an on-screen character, while at the far left, an insert of a virtual critic judges the player on how well his or her body aligns with the character on screen.

“We want to abstract the situation so the player becomes more aware,” Kuhlman said. “Hopefully, [the player] applies it to a real life situation where [he or she] will be able to catch themselves and realize, ‘I’m wearing this because it makes me look good, but then my feet get destroyed hours later.’”

The game is being tested in the Project Room at the 916 S. Wabash Ave. Building as part of a semester-long exhibition.

Philip Nadasdy, external relations coordinator of the Interactive Arts & Media Department, said he is often intrigued by Dittami’s and Kuhlman’s projects.

“Working with them has been fantastic,” he said. “They are taking the skills that we are teaching our students to [a] higher level and including other people outside of the video game realm in that process.”

Students from the Dance Department assisted in developing the character’s poses, Dittami said. Fashion design students are currently replicating the corseted costume worn by the game’s character for players to don during the game as an added challenge.

Kuhlman said she first realized what video games were capable of while at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she studied the history of video games.

“[The classes] made me see that, as an art medium, there are still a lot of different ways that [gaming has not] been explored,” Kuhlman said.

Dittami and Kuhlman also worked on a larger project composed of multiple games centered around social change.

“A Fitting” was a component of a project, titled “Gone From an Age.” Dittami said they decided to focus on one element of the larger project because of lack of time.

Dittami said Randy Rosenberg, executive director of Art Works for Change, an organization that creates exhibitions to address critical, social and enviromental issues, took an interest in the game because of its elements of social activism. Rosenberg extended an invitation to Dittami to feature the game on an overseas tour with the Art Works for Change exhibition “Off the Beaten Path: Violence, Women and Art.”

“They are a nonprofit organization, so they did not have the funds to provide for the hardware that would travel with the show,” Dittami said. “[The installation] would be very pricey, unfortunately.”

To raise money for the tour, the team started a Kickstarter page, a fundraising website for creative projects, on Sept. 6, but did not reach their goal of $15,000 by the

Oct. 7 deadline.

“We want to try and get [the game] out there as much as possible,” Kuhlman said. “The exhibition would be ideal, but even if we don’t raise the money, we still want to and [reach] as many people as we can.”

Dittami said she agrees and plans to use grants to raise enough money for “A Fitting” to go on local gallery tours.

Karlyn Meyer, an attorney at BARBRI, a program that prepares law students for the bar exam, donated to the game’s Kickstarter page. She said she enjoys following videogames that deal with feminist issues and felt that“A Fitting” is unique.

Meyer’s interest was piqued when she read about “A Fitting” in the online video game magazine Kill Screen. It was not until after she pledged her donation and promoted  the game on social media that a friend informed her it was created locally and was being play-tested at Columbia.

The game had an emotional effect on her, which she said she did not expect, even though she was familiar with the premise.

“The face of the man in the top of the corner judging and making comments about how I am doing affected my performance,” Meyer said. “I was doing what looked easy on the screen, but it was physically difficult.”

Surabhi Kanga, a graduate student in the New Arts Journalism program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, also attended a play test of the game.

“I didn’t expect to feel something different,” she said. “[But] I did because when you start doing the poses and people in the room are looking at you, it is a different feeling altogether.”

Kanga said she recalls having similar emotions  in everyday life.

“You realize [it] is the exact feeling that you get every single time that you decide what to wear when you dress up and go out,” she said. “This is the intended point of the game.”

Columbia alumnus Anthony Sixto, another play tester, said he thought the game was effective because it made him feel self-conscious.

“Obviously, a [female] audience is going to connect to it, but a lot of the issues aren’t just [female] issues,” Sixto said. “They can connect to anybody. It is ultimately about humanism. It is a game that delivers a message.”

The exhibition in the Project Room will close at the end of the semester, and Dittami and Kuhlman hope to develop two or three more prototypes before then.

“I hope that it brings some kind of revelation to the people who play it,” Dittami said. “[‘A Fitting’] is about getting people to think in a different way.”

For more information about future play-testings and fundraising efforts, visit and follow the project on Twitter @amandadittami.