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Catching up with the V&A’s first ‘games designer in residence’

Sophia George from Swallowtail Games has recently been appointed the first ‘Games designer in residence’ at the V&A museum. We sent her some questions about her career, her taste in games, and the groundbreaking new role…

How did you get into games development? 

I always wanted to develop games growing up, so when I moved into higher education I did the Games Art and Design course at Norwich University of the arts. It was there that I found out about the Dare to Be Digital competition which I thought was a great opportunity to learn about game development. After winning Dare I went on to study for a Masters degree in Game Development at the University of Abertay Dundee. I then started my own company with some of my Dare to be Digital team members.


What’s been your favourite project so far?Sophia2

My favourite project is definitely Tick Tock Toys, which started off as a Dare to be Digital competition entry and ended up as a released product. This is a puzzle game for iPhone and iPad where you help a toy robot reach his goal by clearing a toy box. My team worked on this game over a long period of time, so it’s been such a huge part of my life, and has taken me on many different journeys!

Another one of my favourite projects was a game called Space Whale that I worked on at Abertay University with other students. You can play it online, and it somehow made into onto the PC gaming website Rock Paper Shotgun! I would love to do another whimsical project like that.

What will you be doing at the V&A?

At the V&A, I will be using the Britain 1500 – 1900 galleries to influence a game design, which will be built at Abertay University next year, once my residency has finished. These galleries are so incredibly diverse so it will be a lot of fun experimenting with different ideas. I will also be running some public participation activities at the V&A, such as game jams, school sessions and industry events.

What are you most looking forward to about the residency?

I’m excited to do my game design work in a museum, almost like a living exhibit! It will be a lot of fun talking to the visitors and letting them help shape my design ideas. I think that this kind of opportunity will allow personal development too, so I’m excited to see how I’ll grow as a designer.


You’ve mentioned that the V&A’s appointment of a game designer signals a raise in status for games; what is it about games that makes them so culturally relevant today and are some more relevant than others?

 I feel that games are now more culturally relevant than ever before with so many people playing games – whether on traditional games consoles or on their phones. Also, with games making tools becoming more accessible, I feel we will start to see more variation in game content, as we will have different types of people making different types of games.

For me, games is the most exciting industry to be involved in – it’s in a constant state of change, it’s flawed, but there is so much discussion happening every day. It also marries lots of different art forms together (such as music, animation, sculpture, acting, architecture scriptwriting etc.)


What’s your view on the debate around ‘narrative’-led games vs puzzle/non-story games? Is there a way of reconciling the demands of a progressing story with free action and challenge?

 The ‘Ludology vs Narratology’ debate was a fairly big deal a few years ago – I studied it as part of my undergraduate course. Personally, I think that there is room for narrative focused games and more abstract gaming experiences to exist together. However, there are a lot of developers working hard to combine a great story with non-linear gameplay, and I fully support their efforts.

I’m a big fan of games that use ‘emergent narrative,’ such as The Sims and Animal Crossing, where stories emerge as you play them, creating a unique experience for each player.


Why do you think it’s important for people to take an interest in game design?

I think that games design has massive potential to go beyond just entertainment. I’m a big fan of game designer Jane Mcgonigal, who creates games that are designed to improve people’s real lives and solve real world problems. She also wants to see a game win a Nobel Peace Prize! Her ambitions are really inspiring to me, and make me think that games design is very important.


Which aspects do you think are most important when you’re designing games? 

Above all, I think that the user’s experience is most important in games design. As a designer, there’s nothing more satisfying than watching someone genuinely have fun with your game.


How does the creative process of game making begin, for you? Does the idea begin with an image, a story, a gameplay mechanic, etc? 

I always start with the gameplay mechanic first (as I feel it’s most important), but recently I’ve wanted to explore the idea of beginning the process with a character in mind first, or maybe even a style of art.


Have you played any good games recently?

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been playing Fire Emblem Awakening for 3DS and the latest Humble Indie Bundle, which has some amazing gems including Thomas was Alone, Proteus and Hotline Miami.

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