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 edition of Dames Who Make Games is a little different because my subject, the amazing Gina H. considers herself primarily a film maker. However, through her work with the Technoculture, Art and Games Reasearch Center at Concordia University (a.k.a. TAG Lab), she found her way to games as a form of expression and has been a vital part of helping new comers and women feel welcome in the local independent game scene. Part of this mission includes co-founding and coordinating for GAMERella, a game jam especially for women and first time game makers that aims to lower the barrier to entry in game development and create a creative space where anyone interested in game development can participate, whatever their skills or experience.
Gamerwife: Let’s start at the beginning, what was the first game you ever played?
Gina H.: It was probably Prince of Persia (the original for norton commander) on a school computer. Later I remember I watched my cousin play video games, but he never let me play. Then I read walkthroughs in gaming magazines for years without having a computer or ever playing any games. The first game I actually owned was Age of Empires. I still love that game.
GW: How did you get into making games?
Gina: I don’t actually think of myself as a game maker. I studied new media art and I did a lot of very ‘game-y’ interactive art pieces. When I joined the Technoculture, Art and Games Research Center (TAG Lab) I realized, from a different point of view, that these works could be interpreted as games.
GW: Tell us about getting involved with TAG Lab.
Gina: I first joined the Lab during my MFA as a research assistant. I was interested in the roles of games in storytelling and in the exploration of connections between film, art and games. TAG is an interdisciplinary centre for research/creation in game studies and design, digital culture and interactive art. After graduating I was helping out with TAG’s game incubator Critical Hit, of which I am now the co-director.
Although I don’t have a background in games, I had worked with other interdisciplinary arts and technology centres before and I really felt home at TAG, so I understood the dynamics and connected with people very quickly.
GW: What inspired GAMERella?
Gina: I remember how intimidated I was at my first game jam and working at TAG showed me that it is not uncommon for women to feel similarly and to have a hard time going to events like jams, not to mention diving into the industry itself. GAMERella was conceived by Charlotte Fisher and myself to create an environment that is a safe and exciting for women, minorities, as well as anyone who feels they haven’t had a chance to make a (video or board) game in a city ruled by industry giants. Besides being a creative space, GAMERella also focuses on helping to improve people’s skills, to meet developers, and above all, to have fun.
GW: Where did you go to school and what did you study?
Gina: I studied new media arts at the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest and at The University of the Arts London in the UK. Then I studied at Concordia University’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. For weird and complicated reasons I have two master degrees, but no undergraduate degree.
GW: What are the best/worst things about working in video games?
Gina: The answer to both best and worst for me are the similarities to the film industry. I feel there is a lot I can learn as a filmmaker from game makers. I just gave a talk on this at RIDM. I don’t just mean that games have fascinating and unprecedented ways to tell stories, but also that the game scene (at least the indie one) has a stunning force within its community.
The worst? Similarities about gender inequality in both employment and representation.
GW: Have you ever had issues with harassment or discrimination as a women in video games?
Gina: Not personally, but there are way too many sad stories around me. Discrimination as a filmmaker? Whole different story. Just the other day a taxi driver didn’t believe me when I said I direct films. He thought I meant I was an actress. I’ve heard this dozens of times in my life. I find that this is a small symptom of a much larger problem within society, a problem which enables things like GamerGate. And it’s the same whether you are making films or games.
GW: What advice do you have for other women who want to be involved in game development?
Gina: Be persistent and stand up for yourself. Also, look up what impostor syndrome is!
GW: What games are you playing right now?
Gina: Mostly Minecraft. We have an insanely modded server at the Lab. I was just told it’s one of the most modded ones out there. I am also working on a short documentary about the lab members’ life on the Minecraft server and in reality and how they connect.
About Gina H.
Gina Haraszti is an acclaimed filmmaker and artist with a background in art & technology, interested in the experimental aspects and transmedial forms of visual culture. Currently she is a Art & Tech Researcher and Filmmaker at the Technoculture, Art and Games Research Center (TAG Lab) in Montreal. She is also the cofounder of the GAMERella game jam, a special jam aimed at women and first time game makers. Currently she is working on a feature length documentary about women who identify as geeks called Otaku no Otaku.