Get to Know a GameDev: Kara Stone
The games industry has struggled with inclusion and diversity, but as a result there is a strong contingent of game devs fighting to bring these issues into the spotlight. Kara Stone, an artist and game developer with a focus on feminism and mental health, creates projects that aim to inspire a dialogue. With a background in film production, Kara’s work is beautiful, fascinating and daring – the perfect type of video games to qualify her craft as both art and entertainment.
Based out of Toronto, Kara Stone is also an active speaker and games mentor. Curious about her past and current projects, as well as what motivates her unique and often personal work subjects, we chatted with Kara in our latest Get to Know a GameDev. Enjoy!
How do you describe your role in games?
Artist. When I do public stuff I usually talk about mental health, feminism, or videogames as art.
Have you always worked in games?
I was doing film production, working as an assistant editor and making some of my own stuff. I came across a talk from Dames Making Games and was super into it. I had always played videogames but they never seemed like something I or anyone I knew could make. I signed up for a long-program workshop with them where I made a skeleton of my first game, Medication Meditation. Since then I’ve been making games and teaching others how to do the same.
That’s so inspiring, especially to those considering game dev! Do you remember how you came across Dames Making Games?
I was part of Junicorn, in… 2013 or 2014? I don’t remember, but it was 10 women and non-binary people making our first videogames with the help of Toronto indie games community at Dames Making Games. There were so many helpful mentors that I owe so much to.
So before making games, what originally attracted you to film production?
Originally I wanted to be a screenwriter and director but I got sidetracked and pulled into production jobs and picture editing. At that time in my life I found it hard to admit what I actually wanted to do because I was scared I wasn’t good enough, but even as I was working those jobs, I would find myself writing spec scripts and making little experimental videos.
I was really inspired by feminist filmmakers like Barbara Hammer, Chantal Ackerman, Claire Denis, Allyson Mitchell, Joyce Weiland, and I loved that a lot of them also worked in different media like crafting because not being tied down to one medium is freeing. It helped me open up to the possibility of working in videogames.
What was your first game, Medication Meditation about?
Medication Meditation is about daily living with mental illness and the boring, mundane but life-draining activities that have to be done in order to maintain life. The player goes through different sets of activities like talking to your therapist, taking medication, and breathing exercises.
That’s a great concept. What are your current projects?
I’m working on two projects right now, Ritual of the Moon and one that has yet to be titled. Ritual of the Moon is a 28 day long multi-narrative about a witch who has been exiled to the moon. The other project is a physical piece consisting of an interactive deconstructed computer with hand-crafted elements, called Live Among Ghosts. For that I’m working with craft and digital artists Rekha Ramachandran, Kathleen McLeod, and Julia Gingrich. It was funded by ReFiG, Refiguring Feminists in Games. I feel really fortunate because I’m working with an amazing team on both projects.
Ritual of the Moon sounds really interesting; anything else we should know about the game?
Ritual of the Moon is a game following a witch that has been exiled to the moon with the power to destroy or heal the earth. All the visuals are hand-crafted and digitally manipulated by the artists Julia Gingrich and Rekha Ramachandran. Each word was embroidered or wood-burned by me – which took a very long time but was a beautiful process that acted like a very slow proof-read. The meditative and futuristic music was made by Halina Heron and Maggie McLean, and everything was put together by programmer Hope Erin Phillips. It is such a good team and I feel so fortunate to be working with all of them!
Feminist Confessional was born out of a conversation me and my best friend had about the stupid things we used to believe about gender politics, and how it’s almost taboo in anti-oppression circles to admit that you didn’t come out of the womb with perfect politics. In middle school I thought abortion was wrong. I’ve obviously learned and changed a lot since then, but it’s important to recognize change in ourselves so we believe and give others the opportunity to as well.
Have you noticed a shift in videogames with respect to mental health, feminism or art since you started making them?
I don’t think videogames are a better medium than others for expression or connection. Each art media has its own benefits and all can be incredibly expressive and connective. I personally am drawn to videogames because I like working with interactive technology and I like making narrative based work, but that’s not unique to videogames.
I look at feminist performances artists and the amazing interactive work they’ve been doing since the 60s and I feel like that’s what games should look like. It’s not really about the medium itself but the culture that I think is important to work in.
I think it’s so crucial that videogame culture changes so the medium can open up and flourish. People are so stubborn about what games are and they have all these ridiculous rules, and it’s so dominated by white men. I’m so indebted to all the women, trans people, people of colour, queer people, and all the combinations thereof who have been fighting for diverse games and safer spaces in gaming culture because it’s shit without them.
Are there any games that made an emotional impact on you?
Probably the Mass Effect series. It was the first game I played where there were emotional character choices and NPCs were supposed to have emotional values to the player. I also really liked Mountain – it is funny and super simple, something I try to bring into most my games.
Why do you value simplicity when it comes to videogames?
It’s easier to communicate and transfer ideas and feelings if it’s simple. I think the strongest most affective art pieces are super simple. They’re the ones that really dig deep into your heart. In videogames in particular, having overly complicated control s and controllers can distance people or scare people off from playing, which is one reason I love mobile and touch games. Many people already own and are familiar with their phones and tablets so it makes play much more accessible.
Thanks so much for sharing with us. Do you have any upcoming events or speaking engagements where people can see more from you?
I’ll be at the Queerness and Games Conference in LA (Spring 2017).
Ritual of the Moon and Live Among Ghosts will be at the Feminist Art Conference in Toronto this month (January 2017).
Do you know someone in the games community with a cool project? We’d like to talk to them!
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- On January 13, 2017