- Could you tell us a bit about how you started out in the games industry?
I got started because one of my game design partners worked for Microsoft back in 2005/2006. He was working for Microsoft Research as an intern and as part of being an intern there you have to play a game called The Intern Game, which is basically an alternate reality game. So he spent the weekend with a bunch of other Microsoft interns running around Washington State solving puzzles and investigating and unravelling a mystery. He just loved the experience so much that he decided he wanted to do one in Toronto, which is where I was living at the time. I helped him out and got hooked.
That was kind of my entry into doing it and so we decided to start making games together, and it was because they were games you could make and didn’t have to have any technical skill, you could just do them. We also discovered that there was a huge community of people around the globe who were also making these types of games. They were all just self-taught people who were doing it for the love of it and they had festivals like Come Out and Play in New York. I was at a conference for something else while Come Out and Play was happening in New York and Jane McGonigal, a developer and game designer, I met her and she had a game that she was running called Cruel to Be Kind at the festival and I played that.
Those two experiences kind of made me realise that I could start doing it and I just started making games, like little tiny games and gradually as I did them as a hobby, they started to get more attention and started to get people wanting me to do them for them for various things, so like for the privacy commissioner of Canada, making a game for kids about privacy literacy and because these games are in the physical world there’s a community component to them which is another passion of mine – community engagement and community building.
I also work at FTI. I run the Games and Interactive Program there three days a week and I got on their radar because of the games work and community building stuff that I’ve been doing around games. So there’s all this kind of me following my heart and it’s worked out really well.
- What inspired you to join the industry? Was there a particular game you were obsessed with as a kid?
I was obsessed with many games. My parents didn’t have a computer when I was younger, so I think I started playing probably in the ‘80s/early ‘90s and the games that really stick in my mind were the really early Sierra games like Police Quest and King’s Quest and Simcity. My parents wouldn’t let me have a Nintendo, so I would go to my friend’s house to play Nintendo – I really liked Super Mario as well and I’d get my dad to take me to his office on the weekends and we had a computer there and I would play computer games on there and he’d do some work and I just kind of did it when I could get my hands on a game or get my hands on a computer or a console. But yeah, those Sierra games were my first memory of games because I’d spend the week trying to figure out how to progress in the game and then go back on the weekend and go “Okay, I’m going to try this and see if it’s gonna work”.
- What project(s) are you currently working on?
I just wrapped up an augmented board game, so basically I worked with Weerianna Street Media up in Roebourne, so they commissioned me to make a game about the Galera system, which is the skin system around Aboriginal governance to teach kids about rules of etiquette and rules of hunting and gathering and all that really cool stuff. So basically the game teaches how that system works, so you actually play – it’s a game of the system. It also has QR codes on the cards so you can scan them and get more information, so that’s the augmented part. I’m now working on, totally for fun, a Mulder and Scully live action speed-dating game where you’re Mulder and Scully and you’re trying to actually make a match, but all of these things like Mulder gets abducted by aliens or Scully gets abducted by aliens. We’re trying to get it done in time for the launch of the new series. There’ll be a bunch of actual people speed-dating and you are either Mulder or Scully and there’ll be cards that’ll determine what happens when you’re dating, so there’ll be some role-play, there’ll be some cards that give you some structure as to what’s happening.
- What particular types of games or aspects of interactive storytelling interest you?
I’m really passionate about social justice and sustainability and I kind of started making these games as a way to get people engaged with various issues, especially around public space and community and engaging with issues. Also, just fun, making people smile. I think that’s a good in itself. I don’t think games always have to have a purpose to make a difference other than making people smile and having a good time with other people. It’s making people smile and also the mischief component of it, like helping people do mischievous things or do things that they wouldn’t normally feel comfortable doing.
- Do you think approaches to interactive storytelling differ along gender lines? If so, how?
I don’t know. So, 50% of gamers now are women and the problem that we have, though, is that we only have 10-15% of actual games being made by women. I guess I could say that a lot of the men I see making games are more into the interactive, like the Twine narratives, but I don’t want to over-simplify it. I think it’s quite a complex issue. If you look at also the big interactive narratives like the David Cage games like Beyond Two Souls or Heavy Rain or even L.A. Noire made by Rockstar Games. Those are likely made by guys because most game developers are guys and the visionaries on it were guys so I think everyone really likes interactive narrative, so I’m not really sure.
- What are some of your favourite games created by a woman or featuring a female main character?
A few of them like Mass Effect is really awesome, the Mass Effect series. I say that because you can play either a male or female character, but I think the default is actually the female character. I think? But maybe I’m saying that because I always play as the female character. I grew up always playing with male characters. It was very weird to always do that, to always be embodying the male gaze when you’re playing games, I think, and frustrating. So Mass Effect 3, same with the Dragon Age series because in Dragon Age, again, you can pick whatever you want to be. It’s not restricted to a straight guy. You can be a lesbian, you can be a gay guy, you can be whatever you want pretty much, so that too. And then I guess games like The Last Us that has a strong female character there. I guess it’s more for me games where you can pick what you want to do. I like to have that choice. I guess maybe it speaks to the kind of game I like to play, which is a lot of role-playing games.
- Which upcoming games are you most looking forward to being released and why?
Well, I’m currently playing Witcher 3 right now, which I have to say even though you can only play a guy character, the female characters in it are really strong and awesome. You can also play female characters partly as well. I’ve been anticipating Fallout 4 coming out and I just haven’t gotten it yet because I haven’t had time and I want to finish the Witcher game first because I know that if I get it I’m going to end up stopping playing Witcher for Fallout 4 because I love Fallout 3.
- What are your tips for anyone wanting to break into the games industry?
Just start doing it. If you’re making pervasive games or video games or any kind of game, having a portfolio and if you want to start your own games company, actually just teaching yourself by doing it or having a portfolio to show potential employers are incredibly valuable. So, I would say just don’t wait for anybody to give you permission, just start doing it and all the people I see who are successful, all of them have said “I want to make games” and have just figured out a way to somehow make that happen for them.
- Are there any Twitter feeds, websites, Facebook pages, forums etc you could recommend for people who are interested in games and interactive storytelling?
I can recommend some local ones for Perth. So in Perth there’s the Play at Perth play-testing soiree that I run every month, where we get game designers to come and test their games. Game designers and just regular gamers can come and find out about the game design process and give them feedback. It’s a great social event if you’re kind of curious about what it’s like to be a game designer or want to meet game designers and talk to them and find out what the whole process is like. Letsmakegames.org is a really fabulous resource. It’s an organisation in WA for games of any kind and they run the Perth Games Festival every year. That’s a really really great Perth games festival for people in Perth to come and check out what’s happening. We all kind of do a lot of work with interstate folks, but there’s not really, I mean there’s the Game Developers’ Association, but those are more for people who are kind of already in the industry. It’s not really a way to get into the industry. It’s mostly very regionalised in Australia. There aren’t too many national organisations. I think that’s partly because we don’t have proper funding in Australia. It’s definitely very local and regionalised. I mean, if you go to playatperth.org there are links on the side and the Action Points podcast (theactionpointspodcast.com), there’s a guy who runs that. I think he’s done a link on his page to people who are doing work in the game space, so kind of links to board game developers and associations across Australia, so he’s kind of compiled a resource so that you can go to a page and see what’s happening where you live.