In the Blog
Erin Robinson: Creating the Games We Want to Play
Every other Thursday I profile a new incredible woman, each from a different walk of life. Different professions, causes, backgrounds, ethnicities, orientations, and anything/everything else!
So without further delay, let me introduce the awesome Erin Robinson…
Creating independent games since 2005, Erin Robinson’s work has been featured by both Boing Boing and PC Gamer UK. Erin has also spoken at multiple conferences, including GDC where she, along with Heather Kelley, presented the winning design in the annual Game Design Challenge last year. Erin’s game Nanobots was a much-lauded indie title, and she is now working on the casual adventure game Puzzle Bots. She’s most definitely a Shameless Woman.
What drives you to do what you do?
I started making games because no one was making the games I wanted to play. I love a game with a strong narrative arc, and I’m fond of the logic puzzles you find in old adventure games. So I started putting together a game about a little dead girl who needs to rescue a live goldfish. I didn’t know anything about programming, and the only art tool I had was MS Paint, but I was stubborn and forged ahead anyway. Eight months later, thanks to some internet collaboration, I released my game “Spooks”. Since then I haven’t been able to stop, and it’s been almost five years.
I’ve chosen to pursue independent means of funding my games, which is good and bad. Bad because I’m always worrying about how I’m going to make money. But good because I’m free to make weird little games about robots, dead girls, and communists.
How does being a woman empower / challenge you?
Going to my first GDC (Game Developers Conference) was incredibly eye-opening. There were thousands and thousands of attendees, but I think I only talked to about 15 women. And maybe it isn’t just that women are scarce in game companies, but also that they aren’t the ones being sent to conferences. That’s a shame, because conferences are an unparalleled way to connect with other people who love games. I walked away from that week feeling more refreshed and inspired than I had all year.
That being said, there was never a moment when I didn’t feel like an anomaly. There was a bit of culture shock from getting so many curious stares. I said to a friend, “I feel like I’ve got leprosy or something.” And he said, “No, it’s more like…reverse leprosy.” I think it was a compliment.
I’ve discovered that people are very interested in why I choose to make games. At first I was insulted, as if my reasons would be any different from my male colleagues. But now I see it as an opportunity to talk about my work. Being out of the ordinary seems to be a good way to get noticed, so geek girls take heart.
What advice would you give to young women who want to follow in your footsteps?
Start with a small project. It’ll be easier to finish, and you’ll be able to put what you learn into your next project. The most important thing isn’t that you have the best art or the best gameplay…just that you finish the game. Seriously. Also, make something you care about; it’ll be much easier to stick with when it becomes tedious. If you’re new to games, you might consider working on a collaborative project (lending your skills as a programmer, artist, designer, etc.). Web forums for independent game developers are a great resource. If you can get people excited about your project, they might volunteer their time.
As with anything creative, you open yourself to criticism, but you can listen to as much or as little as you like. Constructive criticism is usually worth reading twice, and hurtful criticism you can just ignore (it gets easier with time). And I know this is the internet and everything, but I’ve found that people are generally respectful when giving feedback on my own website or on forums. And remember, as long as you like the game, it counts as a success.
Name one person, place, or thing every young woman should know about?
The graphic novel “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi. It’s her autobiography about growing up in Iran during the 1979 revolution. She uses the simplest black and white drawings to illustrate all the heartache and absurdity of the “grown-up” world. It’s one of the most genuinely moving things I’ve ever read.
What is the most important thing we can do in order to change the world?
Don’t be afraid of what people might say. Or do be afraid, but don’t let it stop you.
For all of Erin’s awesome games, check out her website at www.livelyivy.com.