I Used to Work on Other People's Ideas
I used to work on other people's ideas. This is probably because I have always been painfully shy. Three years ago while shipping Child of Light I was diagnosed with cancer. A friend who I admired fiercely and deeply had just died of cancer and my mother had died of cancer at the same age as her and as me. It seemed bad. I kept busy with shipping the game and had the tumour removed the day the reviews came out. It turned out to be very minor and I'm fine now. But after that experience everything that seemed difficult about life started to peel away. I stopped trying to care about anything I felt I should care about but didn't. And I started to figure out what I truly cared about.
Later that year I had the opportunity to do my first talk, at the last Gamercamp in Toronto. I had things I wanted to say but I didn't want to be the one to say them because I hated being the centre of attention. A friend told me that I was approaching it all wrong and that every single person should experience at least once in their life what it is like to stand in front of an audience and receive applause. That first talk wasn't great but it contained the beginning inklings of everything I do and care about now: the purpose of my company, the theory behind the games we are making, and the things I write and talk about now. It was called "What Do Women Want?".
In 2015 I violently ripped out of my life everything I no longer cared about. I quit my job and left my home. Free from snake pit politics, I wrote the first good talk I'd ever given, the opening keynote to GCAP 2015 in Melbourne. I discovered that I can perform somewhat well when my talk is honest. I talked about how lonely (and frustrating, and dangerous) it had been to be a woman in an industry dominated by men who are all so similar to each other, and how I had found a way through art and through good friends to leverage that loneliness into an asset. I talked about how having a unique perspective is more valuable than being the same as everyone else and can be used to design a more interesting future for yourself and for others. That talk was called "Crafting the Future".
Following that talk I spent 2016 traveling the world for a year to meet other indie developers and discuss our ideas and what we want from games. I began to understand more clearly why I hate guitar solos and what the common thread is between my love for Skyrim and my love for Two Dots. In fact there is a tight connection. I wrote a new talk starting to hint at what this connection is. I wrote about how shock is less culturally interesting now than care. It was called "Video Games Are Boring". Two friends helped me arrive at that title.
I gave the "Video Games Are Boring" talk a few times over autumn 2016. The first time it fell flat. I rewrote it to speak more clearly to underrepresented people and not to dudes who are already so heavily wrapped in their blankets of ignorance and bravado. By the third or fourth time I gave it, at the Maghreb Game Conference in Casablanca, I experienced something new. I felt a sense of connection with the audience stronger than my talk at GCAP. Some people in the audience cried. Sharing a connection with an audience like this is unlike anything else I have ever experienced and feels both terrifying and like my reason for living. It gives me the energy I need to put into my game projects.
Being back at Montreal this winter was hard. I am watching multiple friends go through the loneliness and frustration and danger that I did. Our industry is sick.
At GDC just now I did one of the Microtalks. The theme this year was "Playing With Our Hearts" and it was the perfect time to discuss the science connecting my love for Skyrim and for Two Dots. I'm working on the article version of this talk now so I won't go into it here. But what I want to talk about is how incredible it feels to go from being very shy and very bored to finding people who care about the same things as I do. Some people in the audience cried again. It was only a five minute talk! We connected like that within five minutes. It feels so very good to be seen and to be heard and to let other people know that they are seen and they are heard.
I've been extremely lucky that I'd been able to build enough money and power to leave horrible work conditions and try to create better ones. I'm not sure all my friends are so lucky. I think some of them are stuck working with horrible bros with horrifying opinions. But as the tools become even more accessible the industry is changing and maybe one day we will all have the safety that I have found. Until then, all I can say is that we are growing in number and we see each other and we care about each other.
EDIT: The article that grew out of my Microtalk is here.