A Game Room of Our Own


There’s a bit of discussion going around regarding how to make game design more accessible to women and other minorities. Our Stephanie Bryant laid out a take-down of those issues in her blog here, and it breaks down into: time, creativity, experience, confidence, extra people, and money. While there’s been quite a bit of focus on the money aspect, what about the rest? Since at least some of us are attempting to make games of our own, let’s hear some thoughts on the subject!  

What inspired you to make a game of your own?

Sarah: I went to the Indie Hack Night at GenCon, and lucked into a really great team. We came up with a solid concept for an Apocalypse World hack, and decided to complete it outside of that one night. During introductions, I stated up front that I was pretty waffly on the whole designer thing, but wanted to give it a try and see if I liked it. I mean, I like playing games, and illustrating and designing for them, so this is kinda the next step, right?

Stacy: Oh man, that’s a hard question to answer. I’ve wanted to do it for a very long time. Back in the 90s, I ran a MUX called Purgatory. A MUX is a text-based version of a virtual world. My MUX ran a Frankenstein’d version of World of Darkness all mashed up with Cyberpunk 2020 set in a city that had multiple levels. The lower you got into the city, the more lawlessness there was… and at the very bottom, Vampires just had a field day. There was also some Shadowrun in there, and I was reading a lot of William Gibson at the time, so the game rules and setting were huge amalgamation of everything I liked at that moment.

The MUX eventually shut down, but I’ve always wanted to revisit some of those ideas and build a tabletop game based around those ideas. When I started Precious Dark, it was supposed to be that, but since then it’s grown into a whole other being.

What problems have you run into so far?

Sarah: Since I’m working as part of a team, it can be a little difficult for everyone to meet. We all have full-time work as well as side-projects, so our calendars are a little full. Marissa has been a god-send in terms of making sure we are all on the same page regarding next steps and following up. It would be really easy to just be adrift here.

Stacy: My biggest enemy is lack of time. I don’t have any kids to sap away my time, but I do have my job, Randomocity, two podcasts, and ConTessa to handle… and I kinda like to actually play games every once in a while, so I quickly run out of time. The worst time suck is work, though. It’s tough to have the energy to be really creative after developing marketing web pages all day long at work.

Have you gotten any pushback? This includes any nagging doubts in your own head. Imposter Syndrome is a real thing.

Sarah: I am super familiar with Imposter Syndrome. I kinda feel it right now, just writing this. Otherwise everyone’s been really awesomely supportive. My partner is very excited for me, and I went to Metatopia like a real aspiring game designer or something.

Stacy: I question myself all the time. Imposter Syndrome is something I’ve struggled with in everything that I’ve ever done. As Neil Gaiman mentioned in his 2012 Commencement Speech, I’m always waiting for some guy to come to the door with a clipboard and tell me the gig is up. What makes it go away long enough for me to get some stuff done is the excitement of the people around me. My husband is my biggest cheerleader, but I’ve also made a great support network of friends in the online gaming community who like to hear what I have to say, and ramp up my excitement by being excited themselves. I can not tell you how many times I thought about canceling ConTessa, only to read or hear the right words from the right person at just the right time. Support networks are important!

How are you managing time on your project?

Sarah: I treat it like my other projects. I have some time-tracking software I use for my freelance projects, and it has its very own category. The team has a shared Google Drive folder, and I have a doc on my computer with all my notes before I’m ready to share them. We collaborate directly on the shared docs, with comments and adding to each others writing, but we also have live meetings via Hangouts every week or so.

Stacy: Err… managing time? Ha! Seriously, though, I don’t even try. I pick it up when I’m in the spirit to do it and put it down when I’m not. Part of that is that it’s my baby and I don’t want it to feel like work, and part of it is that other things like my job, ConTessa, and Randomocity have many more time-sensitive projects attached to them, so my game tends to sit in the back seat to wait until I’m done with all those things.

I am, however, solving the ‘lack of time’ issue by changing the how I work. I’m a contract web developer. The ‘contract’ part is what’s changed. If it all goes well, and all signs are pointing to ‘yes’, I’ll be working until May, and then taking the summer off to write and work on other projects, then I’ll pick up another project in July or August. It takes some creative accounting, but it’ll be nice to have two stress-free months to do nothing but work. The rare times I’ve been able to sit with Precious Dark for an unrestrained amount of time were awesome.

Do you have experience with game design? Game hacks?

Sarah: So I made this Monster of the Week hack where you play as Hellboy and the rest of the BPRD. Not really a hack, as the archetypes are based on Hellboy, but I changed the text some and borrowed some of Mignola’s art. Let’s call it a hacklet. But the part that makes it mine is the scenario I wrote to go with it, where Hellboy and team go to Innsmouth and find that the locals have moved back in and everything goes sideways.

Then I made a Dungeon World hacklet where you play as the Rat Queens. I play Sawyer and then some non-comic NPCs, but the scenario is one the Rat Queens could totally find themselves in. I put some quotes from the comic on the character sheets so even people who weren’t into the comic could get the overall feel. It’s been a lot of fun.

But my very first game was Underbridge, a microgame I designed for the first ConTessa. You play as trolls lurking under a bridge trying to grab fat goats trotting by. Hmmm. Now I’m hungry.

Stacy: Hacking is kinda just part of GMing in my world. I’m never absolutely and completely happy with a game system right out of the book, so I adjust it to suit my needs. Most often, that’s because I want to change the default setting to something else entirely.

Beyond that, I haven’t had a whole lot of game design experience, and I’ve been learning as I go. It helps that I always see new and interesting things coming into the G+ gaming community at large. It’s like a big, crowd-sourced inspiration mill.

Are you playtesting, and if so, who are you corralling into that experience?

Sarah: We just started the playtesting phase for the Apocalypse World hack, and the first bit was at Metatopia with other game designers and seasoned players, which was amazing. I also have been running a Dungeon World thing I made. It’s a little adventure you can insert into a longer campaign, with a cast of NPCs and a host of problems. I made my regular IRL group play it, and then my limited run Thursday night group played through it. Each play is only making it better.

Stacy: I’ve done all of my playtesting for Precious Dark over hangouts. I ran the very first two sessions during the first ConTessa. After that, I ran a bi-weekly hangout gaming night with a group of five people from G+ who signed up when I asked for playtesters.

Then, at the last ConTessa, I ran for one more group. I try to look for opportunities to run it for things like conventions so that I can get several groups of people playing it rather than just one playtest group. Doing this has proven absolutely invaluable to the design process because I’m the sort of person who learns in a very hands-on manner. For that reason, I started playtesting before the Alpha was even done.

What kind of final product are you envisioning?

Sarah: The AW hack will def be a published thing, with art and nice layout. I have no plans to do anything with either of the hacklets, and Underbridge is a free pdf. I’d like to release my Dungeon World adventure as a published thing in the future.

The thing is - I’m a professional graphic artist. Illustrations and layout are my job, so I bring those skills to the table. It also means I can’t put something out that looks bad.

Stacy: Ideally, I’d like Precious Dark to come out like a gaming book you’d be happy to have on your coffee table. I want it to be beautiful and a work of art in its own right. For that reason, I’m willing to let it take as long as it needs for me to get it done, find the right artists, pay the right artists, and get some extraordinary layout. This may take me some time, but for me this is a labor of love and I don’t mind that at all.

What kind of support did you find?

Stacy: I’ve made a lot of friends over various conversations, projects, events, and games played via hangouts. The fact that I consider them friends is super important because friends tend to be more honest about how you’re doing than strangers. The easiest criticism to take comes from my friends, who almost always also offer ideas with their criticism.

Sarah: I’m creating the AW hack with two women who work and play in the industry. It really brought out how short the steps are between who I know and who I should know. One aspect of support I found was when I thought about applying for the scholarship for Metatopia. I was having major Imposter Syndrome over it, and the people who rallied around and told me I should do it were amazing. Then there’s the scholarship itself. I probably wouldn’t have been able to go to Metatopia otherwise, and it exposed me to a whole new world of how this game design stuff works. Game designers are accessible now through social media if you’re bold enough to talk to them. Most of them are friendly and approachable.

But my partner and friends have been invaluable in this. Everything from simple encouragement to indulging in my droning chatter over game mechanics has been really important to keep me going.

How can we encourage other women to make things?

Sarah: I wanna do another Hack Night! Providing mentoring to women seems very important, as my personal experience of being able to sit with a published designer one-on-one was amazing.

But a little thing we can do is just talk about what we’re doing. If more female game designers talk about how they make games, it will encourage a wave of “Huh, I can do that”, to sweep through some minds, and then suddenly we’ll be knee-deep in women-created games. Or at least, I hope that’s what happens.

Stacy: When I first started ConTessa, I felt very, very alone. I didn’t really have any female friends in the tabletop gaming world. While I’ve always had good relationships with men as well, it’s a really lonely place to be in when you feel like you’re all alone. I craved that interaction, but it can be so hard to find because we’re so spread out.

During the first ConTessa, I had to do absolutely everything myself. But, along the way I met several women who volunteered to help out and did an extraordinary job. They became so passionate about the project that when I asked them if they’d become staff, they said yes. Better yet, they all became my friends. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this changed my life.

I can not overstate how important it is to have projects I work on with only other women. They remind me I’m not alone, and that helps minimize things like Imposter Syndrome in a big way. Plus, we’re always pushing each other up, so there’s someone there whenever I need a little energetic pick-me-up to keep going. We also answer a lot of questions for each other and share information that we gain freely, and we can vent to each other when things get really frustrating.

Support networks may not be able to solve time and money issues, but they sure as hell go a long, long way towards solving confidence issues. It can be hard to find like-minded women, so it would be great to see more events, organizations, and communities that specifically aim to help us find each other.

Game DesignStaff