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Gamer Boy, Gamer Girl: Angela

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Angela is a game designer, a gamer, a blogger, a mother, a wife, and all-around awesome. You can learn more about her on her blog Growin Up Gamers or tweet her @growingupgamers.

Name: Angela Hickman Newnham

Screen name: Nevarin, growingupgamers

Avatar of choice: I don’t have one.

Years gaming: All of them! I don’t remember a time when gaming wasn’t part of my life. I played cards and family board games from preschool age, moving on to Dungeons & Dragons and video games when I was about five years old!

Favorite male game character of all time: Mario

Favorite female game character of all time: Major Victoria Haley from Warmachine/Iron Kingdoms

First gaming console you ever owned: I had a hand-me-down Intellivision my uncle gave me in the early ’80s, but the first console that really felt like “mine” was the original N.E.S. I got when it first came out in 1985!

What game have you been most addicted to lately? After many years of prompting, my husband Randy finally convinced me to play a Warmachine/IKRPG scenario-based series of battles to fill in the gaps from where our long-running Iron Kingdoms D20 campaign left off. I’ve been eagerly awaiting each upcoming installation for the story bits and loving the awesome tactical gameplay during the actual battles.

What game have you played for the longest time, and what about it keeps you playing? That would be Dungeons & Dragons (and it’s offshoots and spiritual successors such as Pathfinder). This is the first time since I was a young child when I haven’t been involved in any active campaigns, and I am really starting to miss the experience of diving into a world and story with friends. I feel a bit that as my gaming tastes evolve, I’m growing away from D&D specifically and gravitating toward other more story-based RPG systems. Products such as Burning Wheel, Mouseguard, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition, and especially Numenara and the new IKRPG are stacking up on my game shelf, and I’m looking at them all with such a longing . . . anyone need a player?

What game did someone convince you to try that you just hated? Nothing really. There are plenty of games I’ve played that I didn’t love, but I don’t give them much attention and would rather move on to stuff I enjoy.

What game causes you to rage or tilt the most? I don’t think I really do that; I don’t often play games with a competitive mindset. Winning is largely irrelevant to me, and I focus on the interactions of systems, the puzzles, and the people. I’m far more concerned with being able to do something interesting than winning. I do sometimes grow really frustrated at myself when I’m playing a platform-type video game and I keep missing a jump or timing thing that I know I can hit, but that usually means it’s time to put down the controller for a bit

Do you have any gamer regrets? Maybe it’s a misplay or chance not taken. I can’t think of any. I quickly move on after a game and don’t spend too much time thinking about misplays. I’m a person who would rather try and fail, learn something, and try again than sit on the sidelines and live a life of regret. I throw myself into things one hundred percent, and I give it my all—no regrets, but many lessons learned along the way.

Trash talk: mandatory or unnecessary? It’s absolutely unnecessary, and in some cases, it’s harmful. I have experienced a culture of aggression in gaming that is perpetuated by “trash talking,” and I think we can do better and make the hobby more welcoming and inclusive. It’s very important to remember that words have power, and degrading, threatening, insulting, or attacking someone with words under the guise of “playing” a game doesn’t excuse that behavior. This is a topic I’ve written about in the past, and I would encourage people to think about the way they use words in gaming and how it might affect others.

Which one do you prefer: video games, TCGs, or board games? Can I pick roleplaying games? If not, I’ll go with board games. I really enjoy sitting around in a room with a group of people and playing together, and board games tend to lend themselves to that experience more than the others. I’d say Magic is my favorite game, and video games are what I enjoy spending my free time on when alone, but nothing compares to the feeling of laughing and telling stories with my friends and family.

If you could go pro in any game, what game would it be? Hmm, I am fascinated by the Magic Pro Tour. I love watching people play the game at that level—so many tight decisions and careful considerations of all the lines of play. It’s so intellectual, the players are so driven, and the stories that emerge from these intense competitions are very engaging. However, I lack that drive to win and competitive mettle. So, as much as the fantasy of being a pro Magic player appeals to me in a romantic sort of way, I don’t think it’s something I would actually enjoy. I just want to play Doubling Season and double all the things!

Tell me about the game you would create if I gave you unlimited resources. I’m actually making that game right now! While our resources aren’t unlimited by any means, my business partner and codesigner Julian and I found a way to include everything we could possibly want into our current project Storm Hollow: A Storyboard Game. It’s a combination of our really, really successful Kickstarter campaign and a publisher who believes in our vision that has allowed us to dream big and launch an entire product line. The game is a storytelling game set in “the world where all the stories happened” and is heavily inspired by folklore, fairy tales, and mythology from around the world. In many ways, it captures the experience of a good bedtime story or an engaging campfire tale, immersing players in the world and allowing them to use their creativity and work together to create the narrative. The game is playable by kids as young as five years old, but it has enough mechanical structure and “game-ness” to be engaging for adults. It’s a hybrid between traditional board games and roleplaying games, with some video game sensibilities, that plays in about an hour. This is really my dream project, with over three hundred unique illustrations (many on large tarot-sized art cards) that really brings our world and stories to life. I can’t wait to see what people create with the tools and ideas we’re providing; it’s a sandbox game, and I don’t think we’ll be able to even see all the potential until it’s in the hands of the players. The only thing unlimited resources would add would be more people to our team and a shorter launch timeline; it’s a massive project for just the two of us!

Whom do you consider one of the most sexually attractive characters (male or female) you have ever played? Was this based on pure artistic design of the character or overall character traits? I’d say my fem-Shep from the Mass Effect trilogy. I think there was something so captivating about a character in a world that needs her to step up and make the hard choices. She was sexy because she was so strong, but she had a touch of vulnerability that you would see in her interactions with other characters in the world. These little moments really made her relatable. The glimmers of uncertainty in this character who was so driven, burdened with the weight of the world on her shoulders. It was a combination of character traits, setting and story, and a good dash of projection on my part that made her so attractive to me.

If you could be any character from any game, whom would you morph into? I would be a Cygnaran warcaster in the Iron Kingdoms, a powerful mage with armies under my control, steam-powered mechanika armor, a huge stormglaive to strike down my foes, and a big target painted on my back . . . no, wait. I take it back. That sounds as terrifying as it does cool! I’d rather be a cute character in a peaceful world, like a happy villager in Animal Crossing. Check the mail, say “hi” to friends, dance to some music . . . Tra-lala-lala!

Do you see an issue with the portrayal of women in games, and why? Yes, absolutely. I think, overall, there is a lack of strong and relatable female protagonists, an over-sexualization of women, and a striking imbalance in nonplayer character genders in many games. This has been an issue of great importance to Julian and me as we’ve worked on Storm Hollow because we made this game first and foremost for our own children. Since both of us are parents of young girls and boys (we both have one of each!), we want to make sure that we create appropriate avatars that we would be proud to have our sons and daughters relate to. I think there are a lot of relatable avatars for boys in games, but less so for girls. We worked with our awesome art director and a slew of talented artists to create a cast of both male and female avatars who fit that mold. We also worked to populate our world with an equal mix of male and female characters in a variety of roles. Additionally, we made it a point to make sure female characters and avatars were appropriately dressed for adventuring—no chainmail bikinis here please! It has been a harder road than I thought it would be—there are a lot of expectations we’ve been bucking up against—but ultimately, I’m really proud of how things are turning out. There are a lot of people working to change the status quo and create games that are awesome and inclusive, and I’m happy to just be a small part of that however I can.

Describe what makes a central character in a story-driven game appealing to you. It takes interesting backstory, character customization options, glimpses of “ordinary” life, meaningful relationships (instead of just fighting and action all the time), dialogue choices, and relatability.

Have you ever cosplayed a character or could you ever see your future self cosplaying a character? Cosplaying is something I think looks fun, and I have been kicking around the idea of it for a while now. The hang-up is that I generally don’t want to be noticed that much, and cosplaying is basically like hanging a giant sign that says, “Look at Me,” around your neck. I think if I do take a shot at it, I’d be Gaige from Borderlands 2 because pigtails and goggles are awesome.

Have you ever related to any characters from a game you have played? I think I project a little bit of myself into every character I play in a story-based game. Video games and roleplaying games are the primary types where I find the most opportunities for immersion and engagement. In any game where I am able to make my own character, I usually chose some element of my personality or a characteristic I’d like to explore and make that a focal point of the character. It’s a great way to examine different aspects of yourself in a safe environment. I ask questions like, “What would it be like to live an adventurous care-free life?” and, “How would I respond to this situation if I didn’t trust the people around me and was always watching my back?” as those are topics ripe for exploration in games.

If able to choose a gender during gameplay, which gender do you usually choose? It depends on a lot of factors, ranging from the character design/concept to my mood at the time. Most often, my default is female, but I’ve played many male characters, too. I think it’s a cardinal sin of interactive game design to not offer players a choice or provide a cast populated by both male and female protagonists. There have been so many examples of clever ways to implement gender choice while still providing a great character-driven narrative experience, so there really isn’t a good excuse.

What book or series not already made into a game do you think would just kill it? I am a big fan of Warehouse 13, and while I think it would be a setting ripe for an awesome pen-and-paper RPG, I don’t think it would translate well to a video game or board game experience.

How have your friends and family supported your gaming or tried to change it? I come from a family of gamers, so my family was more than supportive of my gaming—they were the catalysts! Family gatherings are populated with card game tournament tables throughout the common rooms, roleplaying games in the garage, video games on the TVs, and horseshoes or botchi ball outside.

Gaming has been a vehicle for creating some of the most meaningful relationships in my life as well. I met my husband in a roleplaying group in college. The same is true of my business partner Julian and many other close friends. To me, gaming is a hobby all about the people. By nature, I’m a very playful person, and I’m drawn to other people who have that side to them, and playing games together is just an extension of that. I have not had anyone in my life try to change my gaming hobby—except for those who encourage me to try out a new type of gaming genre!

Did your family ever have game nights? Do your parents like any type of games? We didn’t have structured or scheduled game nights, but we played games together all the time. Countless hours of my childhood were spent talking with my mom over a cribbage board or sprawled out on the floor with video game controllers in our hands. We had the great fortune of sharing a home with my maternal great-grandma for several years when I was in elementary school. She was a card shark who thrived on competitive, intelligent games. She taught me many different games, but most of the time, we played Spite and Malice for “a nickel a card.” Summers and vacations were spent with my maternal grandma, who is a video game aficionado as well as an astute card player like her mother. In middle school and high school, I lived next door to another grandma, and we voraciously played board and card games, often for hours on end. She would take me with her to bingo nights at the senior citizens center because I loved all the pick-up card games with the other women. I didn’t encounter the idea that games “weren’t for girls” until I was nearly an adult because I grew up with all these awesome women encouraging me to play any and every game we could get our hands on.

Now that I have my own children, I’m excited to share my love of gaming with them. We frequently have family board game nights or spend an afternoon just geeking out with games. Since creating Storm Hollow, I’ve been able to share my love of roleplaying with them, and I’m starting to have opportunities to really play in their imaginations as they create their own adventures and stories. My daughter shares my love of Magic and has been playing with me for over three years now, starting when she was just four years old! We all love video games, too; the kids especially like open-world, sandbox-style games, and we have a lot of fun playing games like Minecraft that allow us to share our creative ideas and team up. It occurred to me a while back that I was raising the fourth generation of video game players in my family! It occurred to me that not many people have yet reached a point where a love of video games is something handed down through generations, and that is really exciting for me!

(I wrote more about this here.)

Can you play games with your significant other or do you find it ends up being too competitive between you? My primary gaming partner is my husband. We have our moments of competitiveness, but in general, we just have a ton of fun playing games together (and with our children).

Do you play any cellphone or Facebook games regularly? Facebook: no . . . not since my whole extended family went on a Mafia Wars bender a few years ago! iOS games: absolutely. I find more and more that gaming on my iPhone is the most convenient and accessible way to dive into a game. I always have my phone on me, the touch-screen controls are often very intuitive, and gameplay is regularly paced in such a way that I can jump in and out when I have a few minutes. I still love in-depth console games, the feeling of a controller in my hand with buttons to mash, and the big-screen eye candy, but watching how mobile games have evolved in the last few years makes me wonder how consoles will fare in the next decade.

What was your favorite game to play as a child? (It can be any type of game, from red rover to marbles to tag, and so on.) Anything! I probably spent the most time dreaming up worlds for D&D games, though. Those old-school D&D books with the lists of ideas just inspired me to create so many characters, stories, and worlds. I devoured fantasy novels and spent a significant portion of my childhood with my head in the clouds, dreaming up a lifetime worth of stories.

What kind of impact do you think MMOs are having on society? Would you change anything? The popularity of MMOs presents a really interesting design space for innovative people to explore and many opportunities for positive social change. The collective time, thought power, and effort put into MMOs is an amazing resource that has yet to be fully tapped into. I think games like Fold-It and Evoke are just barely scratching the surface of what is possible when gamers team up to tackle real world problems while games like Super Better and Remission have the potential to revolutionize healthcare. If game designers can find a way to make a compelling game like League of Legends or World of Warcraft that also incorporates learning or personal/social growth, it could have a revolutionary impact on society. For further inspiration on this topic, I highly recommend Jane McGonigal’s book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. Jane is one of my real-life heroes and someone whose work I really admire.

Do you believe there is a correlation between violence in videogames and violence in society? I think that, if anything, violence in video games reduces violence in society. This may seems somewhat counterintuitive (and possibly controversial), but I really believe that video games are a great medium for trying out different sorts of behaviors and personality characteristics. I expect that some people use video games as an escape from their problems, a way to release built-up tension and energy, and that this can be a healthy way to process emotions. I think other sorts of media, such as news reporters glorifying violent acts, have a far more serious and detrimental effect on society.

Can you rank what you would consider the top five games you have ever played? In no order: Dungeons & Dragons, Magic: The Gathering, Super Mario Galaxy, Warmachine, Agricola


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