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Taking on the challenges of being a mom in game development

January 23, 2014 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

"Flavors of bullshit"

More inclusivity for mothers working in games might help the way the experience of motherhood is portrayed, suggests Sampat. "The way popular culture portrays motherhood is bullshit. We've gotten better, more varied maternal stereotypes in recent years, which means we have different flavors of bullshit now," she says. "I don't know, maybe a lot of guys making media are more influenced by other popular portrayals of moms than they are by their own wives, so we get these copies of copies of copies."

"My motherhood is intense and personal and it's buried deep in the core of me. It's the kind of thing I don't share, which of course means it probably influences every game I make in ways I don't even see," she says. "My indie games are always about things that make me feel vulnerable, and I'm at my most vulnerable as a mother -- but on the other hand, I'm 32, I'm still working through my feelings about being someone else's child and sister too."

Sampat's tabletop game, Deadbolt, is "basically all about creating intimacy and honesty between people," she explains. "It's the first game that I've made that I've thought, you know, I want to play this with my daughters someday. I told my best friend that if I die, he gets Deadbolt, and he has to play it with the girls when they're old enough. I want them to feel like they can be vulnerable, and to understand that there will be a world of love and acceptance waiting for them should they choose to be vulnerable. In that sense, Deadbolt is about motherhood, I guess."

Maher suggests Portal is in many ways "a very good mom game" ("it's also just a very good game"). She also points to Merritt Kopas' Conversations With My Mother ("it's little, but it's beautiful"), and notes the foster-motherhood of Beyond Good and Evil's Jade. "I hope we get more games about moms," she says. "I'd like to see a year of the mom game; I'd like to see moms portrayed as strong, heroic, wise, conflicted, self-interested, talented, selfish -- anything but nurturing or nagging, which seems to be the only two personalities they're allowed in much of media."

In her own work, she and her friend Soha have sketched a small game called Sprout, still in progress, about a single mother-creature living inside vintage photo albums. "We made it at a Mother's Day game jam last year at [Toronto's Dames Making Games] -- little things like that could change things, slowly."

After Glyph Quest, Leanne Bayley is already thinking about games she can make that her child will enjoy. "I think a lot pf people get into games because they have a game in mind that they want to make, and mostly it's a game that they want to play," she says. "Becoming a parent changes how you look at and think about everything so I think it's a natural evolution that I'm now thinking about games we can make for kids. I'm even playing more games for children -- I've been playing a lot of Toca Boca lately!"

"I hope we can make games that the baby will enjoy playing and learning from as they grow up, and as they become interested in creating and learning new ways of play themselves," says Bayley. She's inspired by collaborations between adults and kids (like the popular "Axe Cop" comic), and hopes the new addition to her family will join their parents in the joy of creating.

Sampat's oldest daughter, age 10, recently started expressing a wish to become a game designer, after some collaborations with her mom. "It just scares me to death," she admits. "I can't even voice why, because I love being a designer, and I couldn't imagine doing anything else. All I can think of is that you always want better for your kids, you know?"

She's a strict teacher, too: "She'll want to prototype a new board game and I make her write a game design document first. She's ten and I have her writing specs before she's allowed to bust out the posterboard," Sampat says. "But she's made a bunch of Twine games, and she's learning GameSalad and Javascript, and as much as this isn't what I want for her I'm so proud of her I could burst out of my body sometimes. I'll be cleaning up her drawings at the end of the night and find a diagram for a new Ilomilo level that actually looks playable, and I'll melt."

"All I really want is for my kids to grow up to be their own people, so if this is what Gwen wants, I'll support her. But if I want better for my kid, I guess it's my job to make it better."

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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