Jane Cocks

Jane Cocks.jpg

  1. Could you tell us a bit about how you started out in the games industry?

Well! I have had quite a colourful work & educational background, mainly in psychology in a research context. I have always played games, and in my youth, was an avid game designer, with boardgame prototypes as far as the eye could see. However, my formal introduction to the games industry came when I realised that I wanted to combine my expertise in research & psychology, with my lifelong passion for games and interactive media, so I applied for a PhD, and I got it! My PhD is focused on how we can combine the fields of psychology and game design to create new media for positive change. I think of my position as a bridge between industries, I’d like to bring psychology to games, and games to psychology!

  1. What inspired you to join the industry? Was there a particular game you were obsessed with as a kid?

As a kid, I was obsessed with games in general. I was always creating new games and rewriting rules for existing games. I think I really fell in love with the idea of games, and saw how magical they could be, when my big brother started playing Dungeons & Dragons. Although I have never, to this day, actually played through a game of D&D, I used to spend hours creating characters and exploring what their backstories could be. I love the idea of combining stories, imagination and play. Probably the most powerful catalyst for me was in 2010, when I saw Jane McGonigal’s TED talk. That was the moment I realised that I could combine my skills with my passions and (hopefully) work towards creating positive change for people.

  1. Could you tell us about some of your experimenting in making games with Unity and Twine? What did you learn?

Up at the University of the Sunshine Coast where I am enrolled, we have a thing called The Lab Of Awesome. The goal of the Lab is to encourage people to experiment with new techniques, and learn new things. So my very first Lab of Awesome session had me installing Unity and completing it’s most basic tutorial – the Roll the Ball tutorial. It only took me about 4 hours (probably a lot longer than the expected time.. ha!). The main thing I learned is that there are SO MANY learning resources out there. If you would like to learn, you can! As for Twine, it is a fabulous tool for creating interactive narratives. It’s web-based, or you can download the software, it’s free to use, and there are free hosting platforms. You can keep it as super simple as you like, connecting story portions together is as easy as inserting hyperlinks; or you can really get stuck in with CSS and imagery to make your interactive narratives visually spectacular. There really are so many tools and resources now; I just need to make time to play with more of them!

  1. What particular types of games or aspects of interactive storytelling interest you?

You’ve almost anticipated my answer with your question! I love games that tell stories. I’ve always loved reading and writing, and I think games allow us to immerse ourselves deeper into that story, and transform it from passive engagement to an active experience. I love that with interactive storytelling in video games, your choices can have an impact on the remainder of the story. A game I finished recently – Life Is Strange – is a great example of game combining these choice/impact elements, whilst leading you through a relatively structured storytelling experience that you see with traditional narrative arcs, and all at the same time as building in game elements such as puzzles and problem solving. These are the kind of experiences I look for in a game.

  1. What can you tell us about writing for boardgames vs video games or interactive narratives?

Not very much, I’m afraid! My knowledge is growing, but is mainly theoretical, rather than practical. I would love to know more about writing for each of them! Incidentally, as I’ve moved further along in my phd, I’ve decided that one of the first things I will dedicate some real time to afterwards, is to put my theory knowledge to use, and develop a tabletop RPG (role playing game) to help PhD students with their research, and their wellbeing while they do it. It could just be another one of my million ridiculous ideas, but right now, I plan to make it fly.

  1. In what ways does a games academic interact with the games industry and developers?

I can only speak for myself of course, but as far as I am concerned, the more engaged we are with the communities & industries that we are involved in, the more we can all learn from and help each other. Being a woman that is researching & working in the games industry, I am part of a minority – only 8.7% female representation – and as such, it is really critical to connect with other women to learn from and support each other. Apart from this supportive connection, having industry connections is really important from a research perspective, as my planned research this year will involve consultation with designers. So there are certainly formal reasons for the connection to industry, but for me it’s mainly about the community connection and shared learning opportunities.

  1. Do you think approaches to interactive storytelling differ along gender lines? If so, how?

Without having any reference material, or research to back up what I’m saying, I’m going to say yes. We know that different perspectives arise from different gender orientations, and so it must be the case that art/media created from these perspectives must necessarily differ. I guess the main difference is going to be to do with relatability and representation. The more diverse our game and story creators are from each other, the more diverse and rich our story arcs and game play experiences will be. I’m sure a PhD could probably be written about this question. 🙂

  1. What are some of your favourite games created by a woman or featuring a female main character?
  • Queers in love at the end of the world – Anna Anthropy (http://auntiepixelante.com/endoftheworld/). This is literally a 10-second game, and I think it is my favourite game ever. It is the perfect example of how a combination of story and gameplay elements (time winding down) can engender strong emotional responses. Play it, you’ll see.
  • Everyday Misanthropy – Liz England (https://lizengland.itch.io/). This delightfully obtuse game plays with misery in a really dark but funny way. Really makes you think about how the little decisions you make regarding your behaviour and what you say, impact on the people around you. It’s only a few minutes long, give it a try. 🙂
  • Life Is Strange!
  1. Which upcoming games are you most looking forward to being released and why?

Life Is Strange, Season Two!! Why? I spoke about this earlier, but essentially because it is a beautiful blend of traditional fixed story arc, game elements like puzzles and interesting mechanics that contribute to the story (the time-rewind mechanism), and the choice/impact factor. It is probably the most elegant realization of a digital interactive narrative that I have seen, and I look forward to more games like it. (And just quietly, I hope to make some just like it one day)

  1. What are your tips for anyone wanting to break into the games industry?

It depends on what the goals are, but I have a few tips!

  1. Connect with industry professionals on social platforms like Twitter. The Australian Game Development scene is very welcoming and almost always happy to engage in conversations about game design and where one can begin
  2. If the goal is to become a game developer, start by doing some experimenting yourself and share your work. There are online pop up communities – like #screenshotsaturday – that are about sharing the work that you’ve made, and from what I see of it each week, all involved are very supportive and encouraging.
  3. Look up your local chapter of game industry meet-ups. There’s IGDA chapters in Melbourne, Sydney & Brisbane. In Adelaide, we have a group called ARGGGH. We’re basically pirates. Just kidding; it stands for Adelaide’s Really Good Gathering of Game Developers. We meet monthly, and are all a friendly bunch of people interested in involving newcomers in the goings on.
  4. If you are a player of games, and don’t know where to start with game development, you could always just start writing about games! You could start your own blog, or you could submit to other public websites. There are many that allow you to pitch your own stories / reviews. One of them (shameless plug here) is my new Australian Games Industry website called PlayWrite.com.au. I created it to provide a free hosting platform for people in any corner of the industry to write about games in any capacity – playing them, designing them, reviewing them, studying them etc.

I think that’s probably about it to begin with. Mostly – have fun with learning new things!

  1. Are there any Twitter feeds, websites, Facebook pages, forums etc you could recommend for people who are interested in games and interactive storytelling?

I’m glad you asked! Here are a few starting points 🙂

  1. A beginner’s guide to making your first video game – http://kotaku.com/5979539/a-beginners-guide-to-making-your-first-video-game
  2. Want to make games? Here’s some free tools – http://playwrite.com.au/want-make-games-heres-free-tools/
  3. The GDC Vault – http://www.gdcvault.com/free
  4. Twitter resources:
    1. #gamedev is a very active hashtag of game development related tweets
    2. #screenshotsaturday
    3. The Interactive Storytelling list – https://twitter.com/icids/lists/interactive-narrative
    4. Australian Game Industry list – https://twitter.com/kindofstrange/lists/game-industry
  5. Facebook resources:
    1. IDGA Melbourne – https://www.facebook.com/groups/igdam/
    2. ARGGGH (Adelaide) – https://www.facebook.com/groups/382760981775174/?fref=ts
    3. Women in Games Australia – https://www.facebook.com/groups/21498998023/
  6. And lastly perhaps, tweet to me @jatosha – I’ll chat to you about anything game related! 🙂
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