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#WildWomanGamer

Games offers a powerful, immersive and empowering platform for storytelling and activism. The stories we tell have the power to shape our present and future. Having agency over these narratives is vital. Bringing together amazing creators, makers, thinkers, and advocates working in video-game development and research, #WildWomanGamer invites us all, whether we are gamers or not, to engage in dialogue and creative exchange around the games we play, and looks at the potential of meaningful, authentic, women-led narratives as an agent for radical change.

#WildWomanGamer is positive-focused, open-minded, authentic, and unapologetic in its celebration of the inspiring women working, and creating positive change, within the gaming community. 

An introductory message...

Welcome to #WildWomanGamer! We are so excited to see where this conversation takes us and how this creative work-in-progress evolves. Initially, we aim to introduce a new #WildWomanGamer on the last Sunday of every month, featured here and in our #WildWomanGamer monthly newsletter. You can subscribe to the #WildWomanGamer Newsletter for free by following the link below. For regular updates, the best place to follow us is on Twitter and Facebook. If you would like to make contact, or suggest someone to feature on #WildWomanGamer, please use the form at the end of this page to drop us a line. 

Wild Woman Gamer #3 Tabea Iseli 
AVA - a story about transformation

By Tabea Iseli (CEO & Lead Developer -- Stardust)
Zurich
December 2020

This is the story of AVA, an interactive fairy tale based on tarot cards and our personal experiences. It’s quite a long story and I won’t deny that it’s hard for me to condense all this into 800 words. Which details are important? Which ones are most interesting? Do I just focus on one aspect that is important to us? But no. Let’s take another route. This format is about change, about evolving and growing, about shaping our present and future. So let’s look into how AVA came into existence, how it changed and evolved, and how it also changed our lives.

The Star - image credit Stardust

So who even is “us”? At the beginning, it was just me. That sounds lonely, and to be honest, it really was. It was 2017. At that point, I was working in the game industry for around three years. But I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be in it for even just one more day. The three years were equally filled with joy, meeting wonderful people from around the world, and the feeling of finally working a job where I shine, but also with crunch (the industry term for working overtime constantly), abusive management, and sexism. Lots of sexism. If you look at the statistics of how long women stay in the game industry, it wouldn’t have been a surprise if I left. But then there also is the fascination of video games and the passion I had and still have for them.

The Lovers - image credit Stardust

The more I talked about these experiences and feelings with my peers, the more I realised how I’m not alone at all with this. I also realised that exchanging and sharing was a healing experience for me and my peers (this was pre #metoo, so talking about it wasn’t really that common at that point, at least not in my environment). And so the desire to build a project around this formed. I wanted our voices to be heard. I wanted other marginalised people to know that they are not alone. I wanted others to understand our situation. I wanted a dialogue. This is how AVA was born; a game that is based on these experiences, a story about being marginalised and harrassed, but also the story of the burning desire to overcome, thrive and belong.

The Shadow -- image credit Stardust

A team formed around this vision, and we started to build an interactive fairy tale game. I won’t go much into the details about why a fairy tale, how it’s connected to tarot cards, and how the whole game works. Let’s just say we found something we thought is unique, well suited to talk about serious issues in an entertaining way, and also appealing to a diverse audience; thus allowing us to start the dialogue. Then #metoo happened. We were thrilled! Of course, not because of all the horrible things which came to light, but because this was something which got the conversation going on a large scale. Because it was proof to us, that we’re working on the right thing. 

The Curse -- image credit Stardust

The longer the conversation went on however, the more we realised how lost and hopeless we felt. Everybody could see how women around the world, in every field, were experiencing this. Yet the change seemed to be small, punctual and slow. Months and even years passed, but again and again, similar stories popped up. So we felt the need to use AVA not only to start a conversation, but also to create actual change. But how can a small indie game create actual change? We were just a small team with a very limited reach. The more we talked about this, the more we realised that it wasn’t about us encouraging others to do something, it was about us doing something. So AVA had to become more than just a game, it needed to be about the people behind the game, the things around the game, and the opportunities that arise from us creating that game

The Crown - image credit Stardust

Looking back, this was the most important decision we took in AVA as a project. We are proud of AVA. It has become a beautiful, unique game, and everything we could have hoped for in a debut title. But AVA is so much more. It was a project which allowed us to turn our negative experiences and the feeling of powerlessness in a world full of inequity into something creative, into something we love and which grew. It allowed us to work with over 20 wonderful artists from around the world. It allowed us to fund a company, to hire diverse, talented people and to strive to give them a welcoming workplace. Last week, our 6th team member joined us, and together we’re embarking on the journey of our second game. All of this because of a small game idea about fairy tales and tarot cards.

Introducing #WildWomanGamer 3
Tabea Iseli
CEO & Lead Developer - Stardust

Tabea studied Game Design at the Zurich University of the Arts. She wears many hats and that’s exactly what she loves about her job. Tabea has a background as a print production professional and graphic designer. She worked as a programmer and game designer for multiple renowned Swiss game companies and Universities, such as Blindflug Studios and University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland. In 2019 she founded Stardust, an indie game company creating meaningful games for a diverse audience. Tabea has a strong focus on gender and diversity in everything she does, and is also a Women in Games ambassador.

(photo credit  - Tabea Iseli)

#WildWomanGamer 2
Interesting Conversations

By Jordan Erica Webber
Leamington Spa, UK
November 2020

I’m the eldest of eight siblings, four girls and four boys, and we’ve all played video games all our lives, so I didn’t know that other people thought it was a masculine hobby until I grew up. Sometimes it feels like I’ve built a career around tackling misconceptions about video games and the people who play them. I used to work in video game retail, gently advising parents on what was and was not appropriate for their children to play, and then I ended up writing about video games in the Guardian and talking about them on BBC Radio 4.

Jordan Erica Webber -- The Gadget Show

Now that I’ve been discussing video games professionally for more than eight years, I’ve become tired of having the same conversations over and over again. I don’t want to be called on to defend video games against hyperbolic accusations from people who haven’t bothered to learn anything about them, but I also don’t want to play the part of video game evangelist, insisting that games are some kind of superpowered force for good. My goal is to find and create space for the kinds of interesting and nuanced conversations that are afforded to other media, without having to explain or justify the existence of the entire medium beforehand. Hopefully, some of the work I’ve done reflects that goal.

Jordan Erica Webber -- What is Fortnite?  -- The Architects Underground 

The book I co-authored with Dan Griliopoulos, Ten Things Video Games Can Teach Us explores philosophical thought experiments through the lens of video games. I’m inclined to believe that society could do with more philosophers, and I’m sure the great philosophers of the past would see the potential for video games to playfully demonstrate and test their theories.

Jordan Erica Webber -- Ten Things Video Games Can Teach Us About Life, Philosophy and Everything

My podcast, Talking Simulator, is a series of short conversations about video games with interesting people who play them. In the first series I interviewed Katie Chironis about turning a Shakespearean tragedy into the time-looping adventure game Elsinore, and talked to Keza MacDonald about how video games treat parents and how parenthood changes one’s experience of games. In April 2020, at the start of lockdown, I released a mini series in which I interviewed five of my friends about Animal Crossing: New Horizons within the game itself. I’m currently recording the next series, and the conversations I’ve had so far have buoyed my 2020-depleted spirits.

Jordan Erica Webber - Talk Simulator

I’m especially grateful that BBC Radio 4 has given me space to have more interesting conversations about video games. I’ve been reviewing video games on Front Row for years, and have even been able to bring games to the table when I’ve presented Saturday Review. And my recent Radio 4 documentary, Playing with the Dead, explores memorialisation in games—whether by accident or design—and what it’s like for people to come across the digital traces their lost loved ones have left behind, an experience one interviewee described as “sacred”.

Jordan Erica Webber -- Playing with the Dead (image taken from That Dragon Cancer

One reason I like writing and talking about games is that they continue to surprise us, perhaps in part because of those preconceptions people have. Despite the cyclical nature of some conversations, there’s so much more to say that hasn’t already been said. I see a lot of people who seem to get into writing about games because they want to make them some day, but I don’t really have that desire myself. I’m happy to let other people do interesting creative work that I can then go and tell the world about.

Develop -- Jordan Erica Webber / Jade Raymond

Introducing #WildWomanGamer 2
Jordan Erica Webber

Jordan Erica Webber is a writer and presenter. She has been the resident gaming expert on The Gadget Show (Channel 5) since 2017. On BBC Radio 4, she presents documentaries and guest presents shows like Saturday Review. She hosts multiple podcasts, including Wild Wild Tech (Spoke Media) and her interview show Talking Simulator. Most of her writing about games can be found in the Guardian, and she has also co-authored (with Dan Griliopoulos) a book called Ten Things Video Games Can Teach Us. In her spare time, she bakes, sews, and performs in local musical theatre productions in Leamington Spa.

(Photo credit -- Dave George at GeorgeCreative.uk)

#WildWomanGamer 1
Before I Forget

By Chella Ramanan & Claire Morwood (3-Fold Games)
South West UK
October 2020

We are 3-Fold Games, a micro games studio, consisting of Chella Ramanan and Claire Morwood. Chella Ramanan is our narrative designer and Claire Morwood is our programmer and artist. Together, working mostly remotely and without funding for the majority of the project, juggling full-time jobs and life, we made a game over the past four years. It’s called Before I Forget and it’s about a woman with dementia. And we finally released it in July 2020.

(image - 3-Fold Games)

In 2016, two women wanting to make games signed up to the XX+ Game Jam in Bristol, UK. A game jam, for those who don’t know, is a weekend-long creative event where people are thrown together to make a short game or prototype based on a given theme. This particular event was open to women and non-binary people, in the South West of England. And we both signed up.

We were put in a team together with another woman and spent the next 24 hours or so, making a game based on the theme ‘borders’. We tossed around a few ideas but finally settled on the idea of a woman with dementia, in a house. The idea was a story concept Chella had been kicking around for a while but had done nothing with. Often, an idea needs the right medium to find the story it’s meant to tell and this was the same with Sunita, the protagonist in what would become a game called Before I Forget. A lot of Chella’s writing explored connections between memory and identity, asking what happens when we lose our memories. Who do we become, when we forget who we are or the people around us?

(image -- 3-Fold Games)

The concept sparked lots of ideas for Claire, who had experience as a programmer and artist. She introduced the colour spreading element, which became a core motif for the game. As players interact with objects in the monochrome house, colour comes back to that part of Sunita’s world, representing a lucid moment, as her memory is triggered.

By the end of the game jam, we had a proof of concept prototype that introduced the story of an Indian woman, Sunita, who came to the UK in the 1960s and married a man, Dylan. Dylan is represented by music, as she looks for him. Players enter a monochrome house at the beginning, but trigger Sunita’s memories when they interact with objects, letters, photographs in different rooms. This allows them to piece the story together and find Dylan. It was a scrappy prototype but it was effective enough that Before I Forget won the ‘audience choice award’, as the game people at the jam would most like to see finished.

(Image - 3-Fold Games)

If it hadn’t been for this game jam, we’d never have met. But if it hadn’t been for that award, we almost certainly wouldn’t have continued making Before I Forget. That moment just shows how important it is to have validation from your peers. For someone else to respond to something you’ve made and recognise something in it is invaluable. High on the win, we looked at each other and smiled and said ‘So, shall we carry on and see how far we get?’ 

We spent almost the next four years working on Before I Forget. We founded 3-Fold Games and found a good creative partner in each other, which is essential when you’re working remotely. The stresses of working on a project in evenings and weekends, with no funding, meant we saw the best and the worst of each other. When one of us was down, the other one was up, and vice versa. 

We did apply for funding but that just became a disheartening time-sink for a game that didn’t fit the mould for traditional games investors and felt ‘too gamey’ for arts funding. We tried to make something that was more suited to the market but quickly felt like we were losing the heart of our game and just decided to make the game we’d started at the game jam.

(image - Gary Kings)

Through 2020, we’ve all discovered that working remotely does work but for creative projects, we found that the weekends we spent together at Chella’s house were so much more effective. There’s so much creativity that sparks from being in the same space and hashing out a problem while slurping soup in the garden, or throwing another log on the fire and making a cup of tea, or walking through the snow together. We worked remotely 90% of the time, but that other 10% was crucial.

Every year, we thought that would be the year we’d launch but 12 more months would slip by until we finally got some finishing funds from Humble, which helped Claire work on the programming full-time and get it finished.

(image - 3-Fold Games)

The game focuses on celebrating Sunita’s life outside of her disease, while not shying away from the realities of living with dementia. We collaborated with medical experts during development in order to refine the portrayal of Sunita’s symptoms and timeline of events, including a partnership with Alzheimer’s Research UK.

(image - Gary Kings)

We are interested in telling those stories that don’t get the space they deserve within games. By exploring diverse narratives, we are expanding the perception of games and the types of stories they can tell. That’s what we tried to do with Before I Forget and hope to do with our future projects.

Trailer -- Before I Forget (3-Fold Games)

Introducing #WildWomanGamer 1
3-Fold Games
Chella Ramanan & Claire Morwood

Chella Ramanan is a narrative designer of Scottish and Caribbean heritage. She wants to tell stories that represent her own experiences and explore underrepresented perspectives. She currently works full-time for a AAA game studio, in Sweden. She is a former games journalist and co-founder of POC in Play, with awards, including the Evening Standard Progress 1000 influential Londoner for her work in diversity and inclusion in the games industry. 

(photo credit - Dave Tucker)

Claire Morwood is a self-taught programmer and artist and is currently freelancing. She has been making games in her spare time for most of her life and is also passionate about helping others do so by organising game jams and workshops. She is involved in a local meetup for women in game development and enjoys giving workshops there as well as at other events. She has also run talks and workshops at several international games events.

(photo credit - Dave Tucker)


Before I Forget was released on Steam and itch in July 2020 and will be coming to consoles in 2021.

3-Fold Games is proud to partner with Alzheimer’s Research UK, to raise vital funds and awareness for dementia research, this World Alzheimer’s Month.

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