Welcome to Dames Who Make Games, Gamerwife’s interview series with the lovely ladies who make our video games. Whether you’re a QA tester or a company VP, we want to hear what you have to say. And remember to click “Continue reading” for the whole story.
This month’s Dames Who Make Games interviewee is the charming and talented Jenna H. of Little Worlds Interactive. I met her at PAX Prime 2014 when I was perusing the PAX 10 booth and was captivated by her tower defense math game The Counting Kingdom (review coming soon!). I was so happy when Jenna agreed to an interview. I’m sure you’ll agree this lady is going places!
Gamerwife: Let’s start at the beginning, what was the first game you ever played?
Jenna: I have no idea! It was probably an NES game; Super Mario Brothers would be a good bet. I played a lot of games with my brothers growing up, and have many fond memories of working together to get through The Legend of Zelda, Monkey Island or Loom.
GW: What made you decide on a career in games?
Jenna: I’ve always been really interested in both art and technology, and for a long time I wanted to work in computer graphics. I used to tell my friends in high school that they’d see my name in the Pixar credits some day! I was fortunate during college to get an internship at a gaming company, and I was immediately hooked by the tangibility of the things I made. Players wouldn’t just see my work on a screen, they would actively be a part of the world I built. As someone who is primarily driven by creating things, the ability to create a world is pretty astonishingly amazing.
GW: Where did you go to school and what did you study?
Jenna: I went to Bates College for undergrad and studied a lot of art and psychology. After working in the industry for a few years I went back to get my Master’s Degree from Indiana University in Telecommunications, where I studied game design. My thesis work was on fun in games, and how we communicate about the gameplay experiences that games create.
GW: What are the best/worst things about working in video games?
Jenna: I love the work of making games – coming up with an interesting idea, bringing all the pieces together and solving the challenges that come up along the way, and polishing everything until it shines brightly. It can be long and hard work, but when you see a game in the hands of a player it makes it all worth it.
I’ve found the indie game dev scene to be wonderful and warm and welcoming, but as an industry we still face some major problems. The demographics of the industry are still very homogeneous, though we’re seeing broader representation every year. There are also major problems with harassment, particularly of women and LGBT folks, which actively pushes people out of the industry.
GW: What made you decide to focus on educational games?
Jenna: Educational games weren’t really on my radar for a long time, but about a year and a half ago I accidentally stumbled upon the educational category in the app store. I grew up with amazing educational games like Treasure Mountain and Oregon Trail, and I was excited to see what the modern-day equivalents of these titles were. While I found a lot of great toy-like games for the younger kids, I was disappointed to see the lack of quality games for kids in elementary school. I felt that this was a place where I could make a difference!
GW: Have you ever had issues with harassment or discrimination as a women in video games?
Jenna: I have not personally had any issues with harassment or discrimination as a woman in this industry. I have certainly witnessed a lot of it online, but I have never been the target myself.
GW: What was/is the hardest part of founding your own game dev company?
Jenna: One of the toughest challenges that I face right now is getting the word out there about my game. My background is in game design, so I’m used to working in a studio where I have a marketing team to handle all this for me! We have a few different obstacles to overcome – this is my studio’s first title, so we’re still relatively unknown, and educational games can be a tough pitch to journalists. We’re slowly gaining ground; The Counting Kingdom was part of the PAX 10 at PAX Prime 2014, and we’ve had a handful of great writeups! Hopefully the momentum will continue to build towards our iOS launch.
GW: What advice do you have for other women who want to be involved in game development?
Jenna: Jump in and make games! Regardless of whether you know how to program or not, there are so many amazing tools available right now for game development. I would also strongly recommend checking out your local game community; in Boston we have a number of monthly meetups for indie developers where we chat and knowledge share. It can be tough being a woman in a male-dominated industry, so I would also seek out other female developers to talk to, whether it be over Twitter, Skype, or in person.
GW: What games are you playing right now?
Jenna: I’ve been having fun recently playing classic games that I never got around to when they launched. I finally finished Portal, and now I’m playing through the original Mass Effect. I try to play a really wide variety of games so that I’m constantly seeing new design patterns, but my favorite games tend to be management sims or experimental indie titles.
Jenna’s background is in fine arts and game studies, and in the summer of 2013 Jenna founded Little Worlds Interactive to make educational games full of fun and adventure. She advocates for user-centered design and for diversity in gameplay experiences.
Jenna has experience designing and developing across a number of platforms, and has worked at larger studios including Turbine and Stomp Games, as well as local indie studios.