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Inside Bounden, the iPhone app that tricks you into dancing

Andrew Hayward | May 22, 2014
Physicality defines Game Oven's mobile apps, and the studio focuses on much more than mere taps and swipes. The Dutch studio's first release, 2012's almost lurid-sounding Fingle, encourages intimate touching of fingers as two players solve puzzles together on an iPad screen. Last year's Bam Fu is more aggressive, as up to four participants tap frantically on colored pebbles on the same screen. And the more recent Friendstrap forces two players to each keep a thumb planted on a phone screen while discussing awkward topics as prompted--until one feels the urge to pull away, thus losing the showdown.

Designing choreography for each song that resembled actual dancing offered a real challenge, in part because the device has no knowledge of each player's positioning or full body movements — just the way it's being rotated. "We tried hard to find a bunch of 'tricks,' really, that make people do all those weird movements that the phone doesn't have control over," de Jongh explains, "and that is what most of the choreography in the game consists of a sequence of rings smartly placed on a ball to trick you into dancing."

Expectedly, the initial results didn't look all that much like dancing, even if the occasional move rang true. To solve that conundrum, Game Oven reached out to the Dutch National Ballet, whose Junior Company choreographer Ernst Meisner was recruited to help concoct several routines.

"It was a challenge for both of us; he had to stay within the constraints of having the phone guide his choreography, while I had to make sure that his choreography would fit in the game, too," says de Jongh, who would stand near Meisner's dancers and mimic their movements with his device in hand. In addition to helping develop the dances, Meisner lent the routines more of a balletic feel — a level of finesse and elegance to help bring it all together.

Trick or not, the results are exuberant, emotional, and unexpected. My wife was reluctant to play, but there we were in the kitchen, both holding the iPhone and giggling as we swayed and fumbled together as one. In those initial moments, it certainly didn't look like dancing; it didn't even necessarily feel like dancing. But the sensation was stirring and beautiful. It's like nothing I've ever played, and whether your working with your soul mate or a stranger, Bounden seems likely to ignite something between partners.

Which is exactly what makes the months of iteration and hard work meaningful for de Jongh and his partners. "That small moment when people get it, when they suddenly understand how the game is tricking them into dancing, is really divine to me," he admits. "The smile on people's faces the moment they start rotating the phone, or the various moments when they figure out how to do the movement in a way that feels correct — those are the moments that motivate me to continue making the weird games we make."


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