Writing the Future
I am writing this down so I can will it into existence. I am writing this down because, for the first time in my life, I have dreams of a future, and those dreams are within my reach. I am writing this down because the power to live this future exists somewhere inside of me, and if I put these words on paper, some cosmic force will hold me accountable.
So here I am, at just shy of 22 years old, having very recently discovered that maybe a lifetime is worth experiencing. Graduation is in a few months, and with my shiny new BFA I will be thrust into the world outside of Champlain College. I’ll be sticky with the amniotic goop of academia and skinned at the knees from dragging myself across the finish line.
And then what?
Part of me wants to stay in school. I’ve toyed with the idea of going directly into graduate studies, furthering my specialization in poetry through an MFA in Creative Writing. I could move out West and try to grow new roots in Vancouver or Seattle, some rainy city on the coast, and work a menial job while studying for a few more years. In my dream life, I live there. It’s not a matter of “if,” but a matter of “when.” And I don’t have the faintest idea when that “when” is going to be.
I don’t think that I’m ready to leave Burlington. When I think about my relationship to this town, I see something unfinished, like a letter never sent. I have loved my time here, but there is so much that I have left to do. I am only slowly learning how to engage with people, and I want to see these relationships through. I want to spend time in Burlington that isn’t confined into a strict schedule of work and school. Exploration hasn’t been high on my list of priorities, and I know that Burlington is rich with opportunities to do so. I will likely spend another year or two here, if I don’t get sucked in like most naturalized Vermonters do. I recently got an exciting and interesting job working with Medical Marijuana patients at a dispensary, so I will be able to sustain myself financially (and intellectually -- the cannabis industry is fascinating in the current socio-political landscape) for some time.
This is not what I want to do for the rest of my life. My job is rewarding, but it’s a job, not a career. When you boil off the excess, it’s still just retail. And while I will cherish my time there, a few years down the line I will itch for a change. By then I hope I am ready to leave New England. Not for good -- especially while I still have my parents. One day I’ll come back to Burlington, maybe as an old lady. Maybe as a jaded 30 year old. Who knows, but I’ll be back.
I came to Vermont to learn how to make video games. After three and a half years here, I can say that I have done exactly that. Maybe not much else, but I did get that accomplished. I went from having never programmed in my life to being able to competently design and build my own games. These days I am a narrative designer and creative director for a Champlain College Game Studio senior production team. I am working very closely with this team to create a meaningful, story driven interactive experience. My own capstone project will be a book of original poems with an accompanying game. This project is one of my first examples of what I really want to do with my life, and my time as an artist.
The game that I am making has few rules, and is largely exploration based. The player can discover the poems from the book, assembling them with greater context and narrative understanding. It will be a different sort of video game, with hardly any pressure at all to perform well. The story will follow the pace of the player. In doing so, I will create a multimedia art piece about my journey with PTSD. Using multiple mediums to develop a deep sense of place and emotional vulnerability is my ideal artistic expression. I want to immerse my audiences in a feeling and a moment, and in doing this, I will expose them to discourse surrounding trauma, gender and sexuality, and intersectional and environmental justice.
I understand that having the freedom to create such art is a privilege, and that I cannot expect to be doing it for a living. If I want to create highly political art games, I will need to do something else to pay the bills. If all goes well, that something else will be narrative design at a well-known game studio. A triple-A studio in the Seattle area, such as Nintendo of America or Bungie, or tabletop game pioneers Wizards of the Coast, would be a dream job for me.
Unfortunately, I may not be a good fit for a studio like that. In the male-dominated gaming industry, women do not hold many creative positions. Industry averages are around 7-15% women, and these statistics include clerical workers like secretaries and HR representatives. In addition to these bleak rates of employment, women face severe sexual harassment in many major game studios. The “boys club” effect in most STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) industries prevents women from pursuing these careers, and perpetuates the norms of sexual harassment in these workplaces.
I am not the kind of person who will tolerate overt or systemic discrimination or harassment at my place of work. Even if I were not directly affected by gender based violence, I would still have a moral issue with representing such an organization. This makes finding a good match in a game studio a challenge, involving much more effort than I have time or energy to exert. Because of this, I have considered opening my own game studio/publishing house.
This is, as some would call it, a pipe dream. But it is a risk that I may one day take, if I find myself in the correct circumstances to do so. A mentor of mine recently reminded me that “nothing happens by accident,” so if I want to find the correct circumstances to open my own studio, I have to create them. And I will.
My studio would be more than a game studio -- it would be a creative space. Combining the concepts of a game studio, in which many people are working together toward a team goal and creating a single product, and an art studio, in which individuals pay for the space and resources to create their own products, would make my establishment unique. Creatives on the game development team would work in a collaborative space with creatives from the greater community, fostering art in all media.
As a media publishing house, my organization would seek to publish innovative written work and art-focused games. There is not a large market for art games right now, especially not for experiences that are art first and game second. I would like to develop this market. By seeking out the voices of marginalized groups, especially the LGBTQ community, I will use games to prompt social change, and by focusing on the audience experience, I will highlight games as an artistic medium. I will be able to bring together my main values as an artist: immersion, intersection, and inclusivity, and I might just be able to pay the bills while I do it.
I don’t know where my timeline falls exactly, but I know where I am going. Whether my studio is in the suburbs of Massachusetts (down the street from my best friend) back home in Connecticut (a bus ride away from my parents), in the heart of Seattle, or Burlington, or somewhere I’ve never been before, some things in this dream are constant. My studio serves good coffee, and I will come home every evening to Kieran, my partner, and all nineteen of our foster dogs.
Nineteen is a bit much, but I highly doubt there will be less than three dogs in our home at any given time, after we both establish career paths. Rather than children, I will be raising rescue dogs. My heart sings when I remember that I have a partner who wants the same. He is the foundation of this dream. Yes, this dream, my dream about myself and what I will one day achieve, is based around him. Not because love is all-important and all-powerful, but because he is the one who showed me that my lifetime might be worth seeing through to the end.
The chapters of my life thus far are something like this: “Fairies and Fiction,” “Early Depression,” “Trauma,” and “Burlington: Part One.” The Burlington chapter is very quickly nearing its end, but the remaining pages are blank. Following this chapter is a stack of notebooks, as there isn’t even a first draft yet. I don’t know where the chapters “Grad School” and “Vancouver” live, and I haven’t decided if I want to do an online degree, or get another degree at all. I have an outline for the “Studio Manager” chapter, but I know that “Business Training” probably should come before. Poetry publications will appear like footnotes, not an afterthought, but a constant, small reminder.
I’ll shuffle the loose pages around some more. I have time to write this all down.