Working in indie games expanded my capacity for love.
"I am scared to go into games because of how badly I see women in games treated sometimes and I don’t want it to happen to me."
I’ve heard this sentiment more often than I wish - and not because I think it’s necessarily incorrect, but because it’s common enough to be a real concern for a lot of people. Even today while I was being filmed for a documentary going about my normal workday, I got a google alert that was someone saying they wanted to organize a game jam around how awful I am today. And I know my face fell, and I feel like that’s almost a good thing to have on camera because it’s a documentary and it’s honest. It’s become a part of my work day, and as tough as I can be it still gets to me.
But I’ve talked enough of that on here. What I want to talk about is the man asleep in the other room right now.
When people ask me why I keep going, why I keep doing what I do anyway, I usually talk about my love of my craft, then my responsibility to stand up and fight for all the young people I’ve helped learn how to make their first games - that this is not the culture I want them to inherit, and that I feel that for me it’s not enough to just teach someone the tools to make their first games, I want to make the environment they’d be coming into a better and more welcoming one on top of that. But there’s something else. Something that not only helps me fight, makes me feel like I can take on the world even in my darkest times, but gives me all of the reasons to stay and keep doing this maddening thing I love so much even when it hurts to do so.
When I was a kid, I grew up in an incredibly small town. I didn’t have the benefits a lot of kids have, I didn’t really grow up with games cause we were too poor and my mom thought they were for boys anyway. But my dad did get the odd computer part from his clients sometimes and knew I was a nerd so I started building these crappy frankencomputers from a pretty young age. But I always felt so weird and alone. I didn’t have friends I could go over and visit and play games with, I had hand me down books and the woods. I did however steal the nintendo powers out of the local library (sorry library that was super uncool and past me is a dick) and I used to take out those long cross sections of levels and put them on my walls and imagine playing them even though my family was too poor to get a nintendo. A kind uncle (the kind of uncle who is not really related but is just really good friends with your dad) used to drive a truck for KB Toys and made a gameboy “fall off the truck” and I was absolutely in love with it. Eventually I got a 3DO that my dad picked up at a yard sale for $25 bucks, and I wished more than anything that I had someone to play any of the multiplayer games with. I was just the lonely, quiet, nerdy kid in a small mountain town that always felt like an alien that crash landed on a planet.
I guess in hindsight it’s not too shocking that I ended up in games. I’m still kind of on the weird side of the games industry in a lot of ways, and I don’t always feel like I’m accepted (and am told enough that I outright am not and that what I make doesn’t even count as a game) but in spite of all the bullshit that’s been thrown my way (most of which I don’t even talk about publicly) I still feel like this is my home. Like this is the place I’d wished I could go to when I was little, even if it isn’t perfect.
I’ve known the man in the other room for a few years now, but we understood each other immediately. We’ve formed a bond I wasn’t sure was possible before I got into games. He’s my emergency contact. I made a game for him today that only he will ever play. He was born on the opposite side of the country in completely different circumstances to mine. But because of games we met, and we’ve grown alongside each other as people and as artists. I have tremendous respect for him, and I don’t feel weird or awkward around him, and am inspired to keep fighting the good fight and push myself harder and in turn try to push the medium harder too.
During that same documentary shoot, I got a google hangout call out of the blue from some other indie folk that are also in the doc. These are people saved under my “family” contact list, people I exchange “I love you”s with when we hang up phones, people I will be living with next year, people who have stood up for and together with me in times of crisis, and people I would do anything for. And three of them were all on the other side of the screen, while I took the call sitting next to yet another. And there’s even more, in places across seas and 20 hour plane rides away. But it feels like they’re right here with me. They’re never far from my mind, and their friendship makes me a better person.
Yes, going into games can come with a lot of extra bullshit. Absolutely it can. The last thing I want to do is try to sugarcoat that aspect of it. But, if you want to get into games and are worried about it, I feel like I should at least tell you this - you might find the people you’ve been looking for all your life here, if you’re looking for other people who have the same burning passion for making weird interactive art or retro games from your childhood, or simulators trying to illustrate what it’s like to be you or any of the myriad things games can be. I went from a lonely girl pretending to be Samus while running around in the woods to wanting to cry out of happiness today on the other side of the country from where I was born, surrounded by brilliant artists who I love like family. I count myself as extremely, extremely lucky on that front, and I know not everyone gets that, and even then I had to carve out my own little place and figure out who and what I jived with, but holy shit I am so glad I stuck around.
Maybe, even if I don’t know you yet, I might have that relationship with you too someday. Maybe not. But holy fuck there are some amazing people here.
I had to write this because I was staring at the ceiling and felt too overflowing with love to sit still.
Oh shit I hear him waking up no one tell anyone I was late night gushing about love and friendship ohshi-