It was a joy to be interviewed by Lucy O’Brien, IGN Games & Entertainment Editor. We had a very reflexive conversation about some of the challenges that women face in the video game industry. What makes her piece stand out is that she examines deeply at our roots, our first spark of delight at finding game development as a viable path, to the systemic barriers, and finally to the actionable elements that can help us as an industry improve. Ms. O’Brien had interviewed 55 women and non-binary game developers from around the globe, and it’s extremely empowering to hear the stories that resonate with me. If there’s an equivalent to a palatial mural of our times on women’s experiences today in the games industry, this is that article.

 Read about it here!

 

An excerpt:

The no-girls allowed reputation around video games is further encouraged by years and years of mainstream advertising that has turned its back on the female gender (or sleazily revelled in its aesthetic). As video games continue to be primarily marketed towards boys and men, boys and men continue to primarily develop them.

… “To be honest, I would like to see a whole change in the way games are marketed,” says Vee Prendergast, a game developer from Perth. “Mainstream game advertising is still so male-oriented despite the target audience having completely shifted.”

This viewpoint is shared by Tanya Kan from Toronto, a game developer who frequently contends with the ill-educated idea that video games are, by default, ‘shooters’ or ‘gun games’, an idea as archaic as believing every video game console is called a ‘Nintendo’. “The moment I tell a bunch of strangers or friends I’ve not seen for a while that I make video games, they immediately think I’m going to make the next Halo,” says Kan. “I’m like, ‘I make pacifist games.’”

You brought her to the ocean edge.
She wondered how much it would hurt
If she held her breath without any peace.
If she trailed into the waves on her own,
Met mantle crusts that squeeze her side
Just for imagining different shore lines.

Times you’ve shared pilgrimage in virtuous lines,
Couldn’t say she was so much on a constant edge.
You’d say you’re a worldly friend to be by her side;
Only faraway carrion calls sounded the hurt.
But she said, “I can make it on my own”,
Smiled and prospered like flowers of peace.

There are such words to wound the peace,
Insincere, power-hungry, carnal lines,
To those that rob legitimacy of her own.
The futile silence becomes an edge
That only scrambles in betrayal and hurt
And fear of reprisal shackles her in-side.

Wondered how selfish you were in-side,
To break a pristine and platonic peace.
Prideful with lust and coiling with hurt,
You pried at her armor and broke border-lines.
Won’t let her descend to her own dreamer’s edge
And extol with her beholder’s eye on her own.

She’d once weathered mirrors to a world of her own:
Upbraided expectations that she’d shake off her side,
Kept the levies high to maintain her own edge.
Taught from dusk to dawn to keep the peace
With the boys and their machismo lines.
Her body heat chose solitude without hurt.

Now your emotional dishonesty that did the most hurt:
Tilting deafened eyes and ears, poured by your own;
How asking her for permission never lines
Your mouth as you clenched fingers up her bed-side.
Is this not the bleached desecration of all peace,
As you brought her to the ocean edge.

(As one goodwill drops off the saline edge,
Eventually turns into a tidal, pitiless peace
Emptying like sediment onto her corroded side.)

 

A sestina is a poem with six stanzas of six lines and a final triplet, all stanzas having the same six words at the line-ends in six different sequences that follow a fixed pattern, and with all six words appearing in the closing three-line envoi.

The fixed sequences:
1. ABCDEF
2. FAEBDC
3. CFDABE
4. ECBFAD
5. DEACFB
6. BDFECA
7. (envoi) ECA or ACE

GDC17 was a great time, and I was happily surprised by the positive reception to Eviction Notice! Because of this, I want to share some of the core elements of design that drove me and the art direction that I pursued with this small-scale VR project.

Eviction Notice’s design premise is very simple. It is primarily a linear narrative where voice-overs are triggered by gazing at objects around the room, which causes them to vanish. The story is about a young woman who is being forcefully evicted from her home for political reasons. So the overall feeling is that the space becomes more claustrophobic as it empties out, even as you examine artifacts that bring up feelings of nostalgia, whimsy and melancholy.

Compared to some other interactive projects that I’ve created, the core design of the project remained the same today as it was from its outset. From the feedback the game received, it worked really well within the core strengths and technical limitations of the Oculus Gear VR (without controllers).

Here’s the first pitch I ever made on an open channel for the Dames Making Games #hyperreal game jam:

And this is an excerpt from my original game design doc, and further iterations of it really helped further tighten the core vision:

I went with an aesthetic that was developed from my other works associated with Vivid Foundry: Painterly, with colours like a more muted version of Wong Kar Wai’s films (In the Mood For Love, shown below). I wanted to create a sense of homeliness and of a fleeting moment in time (as sociopolitical impressions upon a person often are). Thus, the scene is set with a kind of smoggy, urban dusk.

I’ve always loved setting up lighting, and creating colours in both raster textures and shaders in Engine. Because this was built for mobile VR, there’s a lot more limitations for post-production, but it was thus an interesting challenge adjust the look between modelling programs and Unity constantly. That’s the fun part of being the sole level builder, to really have the fine adjustments and control over the look of the game.

Additionally, when I was travelling in East Asia in 2012, I spent some time with the Society for Community Organization, a non-profit organization for the life and dignity of those in poverty and an advocacy group for public and grassroots housing. I must’ve shipped back hundreds of dollars’ worth books from SOCO and overseas, many of which I offered to friends of the East Asian diaspora.

When reading their publications, I was struck by how the interior spaces photographed create deeply anthropological documentations to underprivileged groups, while simultaneously tell deeply personal, social stories about loss in family and community. I’ve also had the privilege of speaking to volunteers and locals there to discuss the plight of both the working poor and the shrinking middle class in East Asia, and the civil society ramifications of this. These themes thus embed inside my writing for the entirety of Eviction Notice.

These were originally research for Solace State, but some of my writing, stories and inspirations that didn’t make it inside Solace State made its way to Eviction Notice. Thus, the two interactive experiences share very similar visual language as well. In many ways, Eviction Notice is suffused with “happiness within sadness”, while Solace State is about “sadness within happiness”.* I’ve also studied civic engagement for a good few years both during and after my academic career, and sought to create an accessible story that doesn’t take the political complexities for granted. It was in having conversations with people regarding their expectations of public policy and civil society that helped me bridge the gap between writing academically to writing for interactive narratives. It’s conversations about family histories, their hopes and fears for the future, and how they seek to protect the things that are most important to them.

Thus, one of the biggest changes to the game from initial planning to its current iteration was actually the script. My friends Kwan and Jason offered the feedback that our early build with a voice-over soliloquy comes off as a lecture (which is only engaging if my politics are very similar to the viewer’s), as a cerebral experience rather than an emotive one. It led to one of my most important design changes, which was to implement an “I-spy” narrative framework to pick out the objects in a somewhat linear manner, with another voice in the room guiding the player.

Here’s one of the lines from my first script:

Compared with this one, after my design changes:

Following this, I’ve also had the privilege to work with Kaitlin Tremblay, whose narrative editing ensured that the dialogue is as evocative and natural as it can be. Afterwards, Chris Donnelly recorded Erika Szabo and I as the two characters whose voices now occupy Eviction Notice: Erika’s voice acting brought to life the owner of the flat, who is politically detained and fears for her possessions in her flat; My voice is that of her friend and the player character who helps her pack away her belongings.

Eviction Notice has proven to be an interesting project for me to direct, design and develop because of its small scope, but still maximizing emotional impact through visual and narrative design.

*Original quote about happiness/sadness attributed to Jungkook in a video behind-the-scenes about Run music video versus I Need U. 

 

He was tremendous to me, once.
Told me everything I wanted to hear.
Into the long night, it was
Where everything was analyzable.
We scrutinized every silence and
Lorded over that time, that space.
We seemed unafraid to speak our
Minds: Restless, young, brash.

There were silences when we
Watched each other breathe,
Wanted to stay awake just so.
We talked about dreams
But forgot about the nightmares.
Flourished in play but negated
Grief and minute, intricate shames.
Eyes closed first, then the ears, and
Neglect became the most
Unforgiving silence of all.

There are many such silences.
A singular in a multitude.
A drop cascaded into a movement.
The streets creased unseasonally,
A stop-start jerk of arrested action.
There are some that hear not,
And twist the hearings.
There are blackouts.
There are lines that shouldn’t
Have been struck, erode the stories
Of the fallen and the meek
As noise.

In retaliation,
There are the silences of protests,
A bubbled time in a streetwise candle,
And of remembrance.

Then there are the silences
Of contemplation in a “temple” of the self.
Or: A behemoth in muffled lightning,
That roils with relentless challenges,
With drops of calm like oil in water,
Breathing deep against the tide of time.
There’s pressure, easing and honing in.
There’s scribbles, loose-leafs, coiled spines,
Which all get shuffled and satedly vandalized
On the way to create new memories.

[coda]

And then there’s you.
My newfound silence in newborn shyness,
In a staccato heartbeat of quiet hope.
A singular glance poised for harmony
Of endless discussions in crafted havens.
It runs full color arpeggios in my imagination,
Eliciting a gasp of paradigm shifts.
A question fluted on the lips, wondering,
If the meaning I make is meaningful to you.

      D.C. al Coda

[coda]

Sometimes (time and time again),
Allowing one’s truest self to Become
Is but the silent grace of listening.

Unseasonally that winter,
The heat burnished street corners
Into a filmy, snow-less static.
Songbirds twisted their heads
In confusion, as pedestrians
Gestured at one another
In hesitant notes and climes.

I think I waved at you then,
Just as your heels stuck to the mud.
For that moment, it was as though
No cars moved, nor a single reel.
And everyone spoke to each other
With an outpouring of relief and tears.
I can still feel your weathered hands.
They’re forged and calloused by
The banners you’ve hoisted,
The fences you’ve climbed,
The shields on their side and yours.

I offered you a drink to soothe
The voice that shouted against, for, with,
In a thunderclap of orations.
But you smiled and said, “I’ll tell you
Everything, after all’s said and done.”

Something glimmered that sundown,
Softly blushing, giving grace to fear,
A past participant of beauty
In the midst of calamity.
The movement of the trams restarted,
Jangling with scheduled purpose,
While I was still standing with my
Hands outstretched.

(We’re all still standing with our
Hands outstretched.)