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Dinner Date:
Interview with Jeroen D. Stout

Valentine's is over, but we have another rendezvous for you: The Next Level Blog welcomes international guests again. After interviews with Pippin Barr, Jakub Dvorsky, Jonatan Söderström aka Cactus and Nils Deneken (Die Gute Fabrik) today we present you the fifth interview in a series by art critic Mathias Jansson. Mathias regularly contributes to the blog by interviewing the finest Indie Game developers from all over the world.

Today Jeroen D. Stout of Dinner Date fame talks to Mathias. The interview is about Jeroen’s inspiration and the Dutch Indie Game scene.

Be sure to have a look at Mathias’ past series of interviews he published at gamescenes edited by Matteo Bittanti: »Game Art Worlds: The Early Years« and »Game Art Worlds: Contemporary Practitioners«.

Stephan Schwingeler

Interview with Jeroen D. Stout from Stout Games

»You play as the subconsciousness of Julian Luxemburg, waiting for his date to arrive. You listen in on his thoughts while tapping the table, looking at the clock and eventually reluctantly starting to eat...«

Well it  doesnt’t seems much of a story for a videogame but Jeroen D. Stout’s Indie Game Dinner Date let’s you play a psychological experience of the main charachter in an interesting manner. The game could be described as a combination of videogame narrative and theater performance in which you play the main character Julian Luxemburg from a First Person Shooter view.

Mathias: What inspires you as an artist and game designer?

Jeroen: I mostly draw inspiration from people I meet and the arts – I truly enjoy 19th century painting, music and literature. It is easy with games to get sucked into the bubble of ‘games as way of life’, but I think day-to-day life and the arts are unmissable. I believe that all good ideas are composed of ‘borrowed’ smaller ideas and that an artist can do nothing worse than limit himself to one closed ‘scene’. When watching films or reading novels I do find that I stockpile small ideas that I hope will come out when I am making work myself.

There is a certain ‘sense of life’ you can get from art which is not directly a set of facts, but rather an experience that gives you an ‘understanding’ of a scene, situation or even country. Reading literature from different nations I find that the very way people think wildly differs in very beautiful ways – something I personally tremendously enjoy. These are all feelings and sensations which you could rarely stumble upon in daily life, and art can teach you how to find them.

I find I compose my artistic work with a form of empathy; a little pocket universe which I can believe in, that showcases some intriguing combination of ideas.

Mathias: You biggest success is the game Dinner Date which has been recognised and nominated for the IGF award. What is it with Dinner Date that makes it so special?

Jeroen: Dinner Date does not adhere to the common idea that in a game you drive the action, or that the game is battling against you. Rather, you sit at a kitchen table listening to a man’s thoughts as he waits for a date, while doing his subconscious actions; tapping the table, looking at the clock, eating bread. This comes from a more theatrical angle: the idea for an actor is to be the embodiment of a character, and in that way take a script and make it emotive.

Dinner Date was a first step to get players to pretend they are the main character on a more theatrical level. Because I do this, I can write the story more like a play, so I can construct a character arc and expect it to be played out in a certain way. It is very liberating in terms of narrative, but still inviting to a player who wants to be part of it.

Mathias: How would you describe the character of the game Julian Luxemburg?

Jeroen: Julian Luxemburg is a man whose perception of himself seems to hinge on a date. He ultimately has several questions and problems with the way he sees life, and the game is ultimately about unravelling this; trying to figure out why Julian is who he is, and why he is so hell-bent on getting a date. I always considered the end of Dinner Date the end of the character as far as my writing goes; I wrote him enough to sustain the arc of Dinner Date but I think he is in that sense a puzzle that makes sense when you solve him; and after that you no longer need any further puzzle pieces. I am working on a new game with two new characters, which is very exciting, as I can do the same trickery and slowly reveal who they really are throughout the game – show not what they do but who they are.

Mathias: What about the Dutch Indie Game scene? The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam has worked with artists and game designers last year, for example. Do you feel that artistic Indie Games are recognised as an art form in Holland?

Jeroen: I know the Netherlands are quite fond of its indie scene – there is a tremendous amount of schools and a lively group of people. But I must admit I am no longer sure what it means to be ‘recognised as an art form’. Sometimes people on game forums are very open to ‘art games’ and sometimes the contemporary art scene is open to games, but in a way which to me makes it questionable whether they even understand games. I spend most of my time away from contemporary art scenes because, frankly, I find it mostly incoherent and meaningless. The ‘badge of honour’ that the word art implies is not something I even care to receive from the current art scene.

My own frame of reference is the likes of Bouguereau, Hugo or Tchaikovsky; and what I am working towards is to make work that may be judged on that level. As to who will do this judging I am not sure – but I speak with many people who would not mind an ‘academic’ revival, and perhaps games will ultimately be an essential part of this.

Mathias: And what do you think about the future for Indie Games?

Jeroen: Ultimately, I think it will simply take ‘time’ to build the infrastructure. At the moment everybody I meet knows about computer games at least second hand. In a few decades there will be a tremendous group of people who play games and who know how to find them; and the whole way in which we finance things may have changed away from requiring the big publishers. Digital distribution and crowd-financing along with a public that is aware in how they may find things will ultimately make it possible, I think, for small teams to make small things for a selected group, and finance their lives with it.

Mathias Jansson


Interview series with the finest Indie Game Designers by Mathias Jansson on the Next Level Blog:

Part 1: Interview with Pippin Barr – »The Artist Is Present«

Part 2: Interview with Jakub Dvorsky – Creator of Samorost and Machinarium

Part 3: Interview with Indie Game Designer Cactus

Part 4: Interview with Nils Deneken from Die Gute Fabrik