This week I have the honour of interviewing a pretty amazing woman who invented a pretty amazing game! Meet Jen Desmarais!
(Please note that responses to my questions are minimally edited to preserve the integrity of the author’s answers.)
You are the inventor of the Blush game, which teaches kids (and many, many adults . . . cough) about sex and more! What inspired you to create it?
I began the game in fall 2008, in a class at University of Ottawa called Adolescence. It was taught by Professor Santor. He gave us a very broad topic for our independent study at the end of the semester; anything that related to adolescence.
So I put my thinking cap on, and wondered what I would have cared about when I was in high school. That actually was a fairly easy answer: sex.
I knew very little about sex when I was in high school; I was fortunately very shy when it came to my crushes, and so my lack of information wasn’t detrimental to my health. Sure, I knew that when it came to PiV sex (penis in vagina), I was supposed to use a condom to prevent STIs and pregnancy. But I didn’t know how one was supposed to be used. I didn’t see one until at some point in university when I got a free one and took it out of the wrapper to look at! And I didn’t know anything about protecting myself during other parts of sexy times! And that’s just talking about the physicality of sex—I knew very little about sexuality, genders, consent, and so on.
I started writing my essay, researching the benefits of parents having The Talk with their kids, at what age, how to make The Talk easier, and I found out that families who play board games together are better at communication (I think Table Top by Wil Wheaton started this year, so it was a logical jump to check on research about this). I finished my essay in two days—it was the easiest paper I think I have ever written—I decided to build a board game to submit with my essay. It actually took a lot more research than I realized, and I only had about 100 questions, and it was very lacking in the gender and sexuality departments. I learned so much doing this research, incidentally!
I planned on doing a play test with several different family members: a father-daughter, a mother-son, and a mother-daughter, but they all cancelled at the last minute. My parents and sister stepped up and the four of us played, and they gave me feedback to submit with the essay and game.
My professor played with his TAs, and he liked it so much that he tried to get me a grant to develop it (without telling me)! The only problem was that I was no longer eligible for any grants through the university because I had already graduated from one degree. So he made me promise to look into developing it on my own.
Fast forward to summer 2015, and Caro [Fréchette] and I were talking about projects in school that we were particularly proud of. Obviously, Blush came to mind, and when he heard that I actually had a working prototype, he asked if he could borrow it to play with his wife. Of course I said yes.
When he brought it back a couple weeks later, there was a contract with it.
One of my stipulations for getting the game made was that I didn’t want it to be the way I had initially made it—it was too much like Trivial Pursuit for my tastes, and when Caro and Joelle (his wife) suggested how to make it a card game, I jumped on the idea. It was perfect (and cheaper to make)!
So that’s a long-winded way of saying that my inspiration came from my own lack of sexual education and an awesome professor of a course at UofO.
What feedback have you received from players/purchasers of the game?
I’ve had a few people tell me that they thought they would know more than they did. Others have told me that they thought they would be more embarrassed than they ended up being. Some said that the lack of “male/female” words confused them at first, but that they understood the need for it after playing—inclusivity!
People should know that you also run a Blush blog that about sex and sexuality. I was honoured to write for you about sex and disability. What other topics about sex have you explored in your blog?
I do! I started it not too long after I got my contract, because I put out a request for anonymous questions to include in the updated version of the game, and I got a LOT of people responding to that! I realized that some of the questions required more than a one-line answer, and so the blog was born! And it was a good way to raise interest in the game. The variety of questions covers everything from blue balls, hymens, poly relationships, BDSM relationships, sexual harassment, communication, menopause, consent, and some recommendations. (I’m not really limited by anyone!)
I know you are an educator and a staunch advocate for consent. We need people like you! Now that you’re a parent of an awesome wee kid, how do you plan on teaching your little one about consent? Also, what message do you want to make super clear to us adults—and us spoonies?
I actually wrote a blog post about consent and my daughter a couple weeks ago! We were at a family birthday party in September, and she was very excited to see other little people—so much so, that she tried to hug one little cousin constantly, even though he doesn’t like being touched. So we’ve started explaining to her that she needs to ask before she touches, just like we ask before we pick her up, hug her, hold her hand, or touch her in any way. She understands more than we realize, but she forgets easily, so it’s a matter of repetition at this age.
I guess the message about consent would be that you should ask anyone, from babies to the elderly, before touching them in any way. Don’t be offended if they say no (or scream, if it’s a baby). And it’s 100% okay to withdraw consent at any time.
Speaking of spoonies, what was it like to finally admit to yourself that you are also one, too?
I still feel a level of guilt at assigning the label to myself, because I feel like I’m appropriating it and have Imposter Syndrome, if that makes sense. But there’s also a huge amount of relief to know that my invisible disability is acknowledged by others.
In addition to creating games, you also write. Where can we see your work?
I write for my blogs on http://www.jeneric-designs.ca. I have a short story that won an Arts Scholarship at Geek Market in Spring 2016. You can read it here! But other than that I don’t have anything published or publishable yet. (Other than fanfiction and some other fiction under my pseudonym, but I’m not sharing that! Sorry!)
Will there be a Blush, The Sequel? Do you plan on creating more games?
I’m hoping to write a game about pregnancy, with the brilliant title given by Cait Gordon: Push. But I have no idea when I’ll have time to even pitch that to Renaissance Press, let alone research and write it! Beyond that, I haven’t really thought about writing others.
Okay, it’s SHAMELESS PLUG TIME! Please tell us how we can embrace the Jen-ness and learn more about you and your creations!
You can follow the JenEric Designs blog, where you will find my Blush, Fandom Travel, and travels of the crocheted TARDIS pages, as well as my husband’s writing page. My crochet creations and my husband’s coffee can also be viewed and purchased there. The link to buy Blush is also there!
I’m on Facebook as JenEric Designs, CON Creative Ottawa Nerds (a craft show that I organize), and my personal page as myself, and rarely on Twitter as @edhelwen1 (personal), @jenericDesigns, and @CreativOttNerds.
(Edhelwen is Tolkien elvish for elfmaid—my nickname for myself since 2003 when I tried to learn elvish.)
A consummate student, Jennifer Desmarais has three degrees and just graduated from her fourth. These include a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and Chemistry, a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and a Bachelor of Education from the University of Ottawa. Following her passion for travel, she just completed her diploma in Tourism and Travel at Algonquin College.
She works for AJ Travel in Ottawa, and loves helping clients design trips with a geeky/nerdy theme.
Co-founder of JenEric Designs, she creates unique geeky crocheted items and writes bi-weekly articles on sexuality and bi-weekly articles on Fandom Travel. She is also one of the co-organizers and founders of CON (Creative Ottawa Nerds craft fair).
She is the lead copy-editor (How did that happen?) at TEGG, and has edited two books in the Hellmaw line to date. If you know her at all, you know that horror/thriller is REALLY not her thing, so she considers this a big accomplishment.
Jen has written one short story that won a contest in 2016. You can read it here.
She lives in Ottawa with her husband and their library of over 2700 books. They had their first child, a daughter, in September 2016.