Interview: Brie Code, game developer (English)

Brie Code is the founder of Tru Luv Media, a studio that makes games for people who don’t like video games. You can also frequently find her as a speaker at events, where she’s not afraid to provide us with her honest opinion. GamerGIRL spoke to Brie about her past at Ubisoft, her own studio and her notion that video games are actually boring.

This is the original English version of the interview. If you want to read a translated Dutch version, you can do so by following this link. Header picture credits: Richmond Lam

This interview with Brie is a part of a series of interviews with women who work in the games industry. We already spoke to Atusa and Judith of Girl Gamer Galaxy and Mirjam Bakker of Game Mania. Through these interviews, GamerGIRL wants to show that women are present in the games industry in all sorts of different ways.

This week we talked with game developer Brie Code. Almost any gamer will have heard of games like Assassin’s Creed and Child of Light. Brie was responsible as lead programmer for these games, until she decided to leave Ubisoft in 2015 in order to start up her very own studio, called Tru Luv Media.

Hi Brie, we can’t wait to get started on this interview. But before that, could you briefly introduce yourself?

“Hi! I’m Brie. I’m a speaker, writer, AI programmer, and the CEO and creative director of Tru Luv Media, a video game studio making games with people who don’t like games. I love video games but my friends find video games boring, and I want to fix that.”

Just a few years ago you left Ubisoft and started your own studio, Tru Luv Media. How did you come to this decision?

“Many of my close friends don’t like video games and have never understood my career. And then a few years ago I had a transformative experience where I convinced some of my friends to play some games. I asked my cousin Kristina, my friend who is perhaps the most dismissive of video games, to play Skyrim. I didn’t hear back from her for weeks and thought she didn’t play it, and then one day she called me, crying, because she had accidentally killed Lydia.”

“She had been playing obsessively. She said to me in that conversation that all these years, it wasn’t that she didn’t like video games, it was that she didn’t know what video games were. At the same time, she never would have picked up Skyrim on her own and there are a lot of elements to it that turn her off. I discovered some common themes to what my friends liked in video games and what they didn’t like, and realized there was no game out there designed for them. And I wanted to make one.”

Was it tough to gather the courage needed to give up your job at Ubisoft, in pursuit of your own goals?

“I don’t think it was brave so much as that I didn’t feel I had any other option. Once I had realized I could share the thing I love with the people I love, I couldn’t turn back from trying to make it happen.”

You often appear as a speaker at events and one of the things you talk about is the games industry. This isn’t always all positive. So, how do you personally feel about the industry?

“I can’t imagine working in any other industry. Interactivity is so new and so unexplored and potentially powerful and will become a very relevant form of art and entertainment if we take advantage of its potential. However, because the industry is not very diverse, we are squandering that potential. We are mostly white, mostly male, mostly geeks, and mostly hardcore gamers. We are making what we like, naturally, but we are stuck in a closed loop of ideas, making things by and for people like ourselves. What we make is boring to many other people.”

Even though there’s a lot of female gamers out there, there’s still not many women working in the games industry. How do you feel about this, with you being a woman in the games industry?

“I’ve felt extremely lonely for much of my career. I’ve found ways to be passionate about the systems I was coding and the teams I was leading, but I never belonged. Research shows that you need about 30% women in a work environment before women stop being sidelined and stereotyped. But only about 3 to 5% of game programmers are women. It’s important that we change this: the media we consume informs all of our unconscious biases and has very real effects in our lives. Women and people of colour need to be in the television, film, advertising, and video game industries for us to attain equity in our culture.”

Back to your time at Ubisoft, where you’ve worked on big titles like Child of Light and Assassin’s Creed. What did you learn from this?

“Shortly after I started at Ubisoft, I was asked to manage a team of programmers and designers and I was very surprised. I had always been more of a geeky, technical systems programmer and very shy. I said yes, but I was absolutely terrified. Over the next 7 years I slowly became comfortable with people management. I had access to a lot of good training and a lot of good mentorship. And this helped me, not only at work, but also in my life. I am much less shy than I used to be.”

“In my last year at Ubisoft I also got to work closely with three different creative directors and be mentored on how to pitch, how to make a game concept, some frameworks for thinking about game design, and other aspects of creative direction. Both of these experiences gave me the tools I needed to start my own studio. I also learned about corporate strategy and politics at Ubisoft, and how difficult it is for large organizations to innovate and how I would be better off experimenting in my own studio.”

Speaking of your own studio, Tru Luv Media. Can you tell us more about your projects? 

“Each project I’m making is co-designed with someone who doesn’t like video games. Because the video game industry is not diverse, the theory and frameworks that we’ve developed for thinking about games is not complete. Working with people outside of video games culture helps me break out of this bubble and challenge my basic assumptions. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had. We haven’t released any games yet. The first game we’ll release is called #SelfCare and is a sort of meditative Tamagotchi meets Wario Ware. I love it.”

On Twitter you mentioned you’re working on something called Heartificial Intelligence. Can you tell us more about this project?

“Heartificial Intelligence is my colleague Aleissia Laidacker’s side project. She and I are working on a game that encourages vulnerability and intimacy. I’m really looking forward to releasing this one, but I can’t say anything more about it yet.”

We’ll be looking forward to it. So what are your future goals for Tru Luv Media?

“I run my studio according to Lean Startup principles, learning and adapting my plans as I go based on what is necessary, what is possible, and what opportunities present themselves. But as of right now, the vision I am working towards is a sort of artist retreat where someone who doesn’t like video games can come and do a residency with a pop-up team of indie developers for three months, and at the end we release a small prototype game of their vision. We’d work with a variety of people – I could see an Instagram star, a refugee girl in Lebanon, a retired woman, et cetera. Then, for any games that develop a fan base, we would continue to develop that game further.”

That sounds really cool. Since you make games for people who don’t like videogames, is there a game you’d recommend to people who don’t like games? Also, is there something you’d recommend every gamer to try?

“Tastes are so individual and we are only just starting to scratch the surface of what is possible in games, so it’s hard to make recommendations. But here are some games I like: Cibele, Gone Home, ComingOut Simulator, Lieve Oma, 80 Days, The Beginner’s Guide, Skyrim, Journey, Viridi, and Neko Atsume. For gamers I’d recommend they try some things outside of games: see a movie in a genre they wouldn’t normally watch, go to a contemporary art gallery they wouldn’t normally go to, read a feminist book they wouldn’t normally read.”

Wow, that’s a lot of different games. What is your own personal favorite game and why?

“My favourite game is Skyrim, because I can create my character, craft and collect things, join guilds, and get to know other characters and their dramas.”

Lastly, do you have any advice for other women who are looking to make a start in this male-dominated industry?

“For women looking to make a start in this male-dominated industry, read up about stereotype threat and imposter syndrome and, whenever you feel out of place, remember that it’s normal to feel like that and learn to be comfortable with the discomfort. Build your networks of women colleagues and your support networks inside and outside of the industry. Establish good self-care habits: one I really like is The Morning Pages from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. Don’t let it get you down if you see less talented men moving ahead faster than you are, because that is just how it works, and if you are working on something you love you and if you are learning, you are in a good place.”

“Learn everything you can, collect as many good mentors as you can (men and women mentors), and remember that your unique perspective is valuable. One day, when you are an expert, you will be well positioned to leverage it. And if you aren’t experiencing any sexism, I didn’t for the first few years of my career, don’t discount the experiences of your women colleagues and don’t be hurt and surprised if you do eventually experience sexism, like I was. It (sexism) is not an insurmountable obstacle and with the right tools and alliances we can build a better industry.”

“If any of you reading this have any questions about anything, don’t hesitate to contact me on Twitter: @briecode.”

Oprichter van GamerGIRL. Kan urenlang doorpraten over de filosofie van BioShock, is een groot Mass Effect-fan en heeft een obsessie met haar PS Vita. Heeft behalve games ook een zwak voor films, televisieseries, gadgets en muziek.
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