Veteran game designer and teacher Brenda Romero has officially been awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to work with Ireland's game industry and its educational institutions. We think she might even be the first game developer to have been awarded the prestigious grant, but thanks to Gone Home developer The Fullbright Company, Google research becomes a bit tough[*].
The Fulbright Program provides funding for research, study and teaching to students, scholars and professionals. It's sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, and application involves a thorough battalion of forms. Approval places you on an official candidate list, where you then wait to be selected by a location that might need you.
Romero was a perfect fit for the Irish office's needs: "When I read the application and what they were looking for, it sounded so much to me like someone had said 'if we wrote Brenda's dream job application, what would it sound like'?" She enthuses on the phone.
Romero, who teaches at UC Santa Cruz, also developed Siochan Leat: The Irish Game, a board game rooted in her own heritage in Ireland. The game is currently on exhibit at the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, NY. "That was my family history, inside of a game," says the creator, whose analog game designs focus on challenging the preconceptions players bring to them and subverting their expectations.
Ireland's Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is tasked with developing the nation's game industry, and wanted to appoint a Fulbright specialist to better interface with educators. In this new assignment, Romero will meet industry representatives, learn about the region's skills requirements, lead workshops and give guest lectures, and help advise key people on the further development of a local games industry, including collaboration with institutions such as IT Tralee, University of Limerick, Ballyfermot College of Further Education, Dublin Institute of Technology, IT Carlow and Letterkenny IT.
She'll be able to take on this new project later this year in August, without meaningful overlap for her work at UC:SC, which will continue unchanged ("I'm not leaving my job at all -- I'm still heavily involved there," she says). She and husband John Romero will take a trip to Ireland by boat, something of a "second honeymoon" for the game design power couple. While in the country she plans to return to County Cork, from whence her family emigrated three generations ago, to continue seeking her roots.
"The industry [in Ireland] is already pretty solid, or as solid as any game industry is," Romero says. "The question is making sure they have the talent to build the projects, and the industry in conjunction with various institutions there that have game programs, are getting together and doing this."
"This is going to be blissful," she adds.
[UPDATE: Actually, Die Gute Fabrik's Douglas Wilson, folk game pioneer, was awarded a Fulbright in 2007-2008 to study games in Denmark. We're still going to blame Steve Gaynor.]