Designing video games for people who don't like games

Photo: Brie Code.
Brie Code (BSc 01) built her career as lead programmer on the hugely successful Assassin's Creed game franchise. But a chance conversation with her cousin changed her entire view of what a video game could, and should, be.
  • Brie Code
  • BSc 01

How did you become interested in video games?

I had the game The Colonel's Bequest, about a young woman who goes away for the weekend to a mysterious, decaying mansion full of secrets. The game was all about characters and the connections between them, and not about mechanical skill, timing or fighting. I played it over and over, trying to discover all the possible scenes and locations. This set the tone for me of what I still look for in games: Helping characters, or, in more technical terms, something the game designer Sheri Graner Ray calls "mutually beneficial outcomes to socially significant situations." After The Colonel's Bequest I found similar experiences in The Longest Journey, Morrowind, Skyrim, and This War of Mine

Now you’re making games for ‘people who don’t like video games.’ Why? 

My cousin Kristina and I have most of the same tastes and interests. But I like video games and she doesn't. I used to think it was because I was just more of a geek than her. But a few years ago I convinced her to play Skyrim, a medieval game of sword fighting and dragons.

Three weeks later my phone rang. I answered and Kristina was crying. She said to me, "Lydia died." We have no Lydia in our family. She was talking about a character in Skyrim. The conversation that followed changed my career. Kristina said to me that all these years that she didn't understand my career. It wasn't that she didn't like video games, it was that she didn't know what they could be. She didn't know you could develop a deep emotional attachment to a character in a game. I decided to launch TRU LUV and reorient my career around investigating what people like my cousin might enjoy in video games or other interactive experiences. 

What advice would you give to women interested in designing games?

Women and non-binary people who are interested in making video games should go for it! The tools are easily available and there are free tutorials on the web. Some great places to start are itch.io, GameMaker, Construct 2, or Unity. Or you could start by talking with organizations such as Pixelles, Dames Making Games, or Game Curious. We’re just beginning to define what we can do with this new medium. Video games are a new form of entertainment and play. They may become a new form of education, or even a new form of work. We need more people to be in this space, defining the future.