Friday April 26 2013 12:00 pm
Emily Short is an award-winning game designer and author. She makes beautiful games with strong narratives and a dedicated attention to the mechanics of language; she works to develop thoroughly interactive, open-ended conversations in natural and humanistic ways. Her work in games has received the attention of numerous luminaries within the gaming business, and she’s spoken at PAX, GDC, and other conferences and events. One of her best-known works is “Galatea,” a one-room work of interactive fiction in which the player character converses with an NPC in the form of the classical character of Galatea. There are numerous endings and no obvious single “winning” finish — it’s open-ended and the degree to which the player can win is open to interpretation.
So here’s why I admire her:
1) Emily worked as an independent game designer for decades on a hobbyist basis (inasmuch as anything could be a hobby when it’s such a passion) before she started to make a living in the industry. Her career is a testament to the power of really hard work and networking; she seems to have a natural drive which I can only (and rather pitifully) describe as an intense and enduring interest. By this I mean that she is curious and analytical; she researches constantly and she is always working to find the best solutions to the problems she faces in merging the processes of computers and the dynamics of story-writing in ways that are immersive and creative.
2) In an industry that is not only male-dominated at the professional level but also male-centric in its approach to game content (cf. anything barely-worn by any woman in just about any game, ever; the fairly limited options for female POV characters, even in RPGs; the over-sexualized dynamics presented in game narratives), Emily writes female characters who are cool, competent, and vital. Her characters — both player characters and NPCs — have personality and agency; they’re not just objects, they’re people.
3) Her work does not aggressively strive to inject a feminist agenda into the industry. That’s really not her main focus: her interests lie more in narrative and language, and in playing with it. She takes joy in vagaries, double-meanings, subtext, conversation dynamics — even in spelling and puns. Her recently-released “Counterfeit Monkey” has a game mechanic that works on the Thurber-esque premise that things can be materially changed by changing the letters in their names. Her current work with Linden Labs, “Versu,” allows the player to take part in mannered conversation and narrative by underlaying the reactions and speech of NPCs with intricately woven dynamics related to narrative and story development, subtle (and not-so-subtle) shifts in mood, and a lot else that takes place behind the scenes to create a constant flow of activity that shifts, either subtly or dramatically, from one game to the next.
In the now-well-established and big-money industry of video and computer gaming, it can be astoundingly difficult to find works which really go against the tide and create something new. Games that are intellectually challenging at any level are rarer still. Emily’s games somehow manage to do these things while remaining fun and alluring — and constantly breaking new ground that keeps getting her noticed by the industry.