Brianna Code is the Lead Programmer for one of my new favorite games—Child of Light. I’ve written about it before, and highly encourage you to check it out. I reached out to Code to ask her a few questions about Child of Light, female protagonists in games, and what goes into making games for young people.
Keezy: How did you get involved in making games? What drew you to them?
Although it was unusual in the early 80s, I grew up around computers. One of my aunts was studying computer science and my father was a programmer. I’ve always loved video games. I loved video games as a kid for the same reasons I love them as an adult: because they are new worlds to explore, full of puzzles to solve, and a safe space for creative self-expression and experimentation.
I always felt torn between my love for the arts and for computer science in school, but decided to do a computer science degree because it was more practical. When I landed a job in the games industry it was a dream come true, since it is both a creative field and one in which we solve some of the most interesting and challenging technical problems. When I think of making games for my nearest and dearest non-gamer friends, I think of making games that are welcoming, intriguing, and relaxing for those not already immersed in gamer culture.
Keezy: You said you’ve made it a goal to make games that appeal to your nearest and dearest non-gamer friends. What goes into a game like that?
To be both welcoming and intriguing to a non-gamer, a game should not rely on previous knowledge of games in its learning curve, nor its atmosphere, humour, etc. The art style, music, and controls should be considered here. I think a hand-illustrated art style and Coeur de Pirate’s piano music work well in Child of Light to be welcoming to everyone, and to convey a sense of personality and invite more exploration.
To be welcoming and intriguing, the characters and story are also important. The game should have a broad mix of non-stereotyped characters, and a story with depth and something unique to say. I know for myself, if a game franchise consistently excludes women or uses them only as motivation or rewards for the male characters, I definitely lose interest.
And finally, when I think of my friends and what they like, I think they are looking more for a relaxing experience than a fight. I think gameplay that involves exploring environments, meeting characters, and unlocking stories is interesting here. Girls and women are massively underrepresented in games. Games with male protagonists are marketed more and sell more, and it’s a chicken-vs.-egg argument. Are the games not selling because they are not marketed, or because they have a female protagonist?
And it’s not just video games. The whole toy marketplace is so strongly gendered. Girls get nurturing and pink and boys get construction and a rainbow of colours. But I think most people have a range of what are thought of as feminine traits and what are thought of as masculine traits. And feminine traits and masculine traits are equally valuable and kids should be able to explore all their own natural traits. My favourite toys growing up were Lego and Barbies. And my favourite colours were black and pink. I’m really glad that my mom encouraged me to play with whatever toys I was drawn to and vehemently disagreed with the idea of girls’ toys or boys’ toys.
Now, half the toy market is girls, and half the video game market is female. This argument for including more female characters in games is often countered with the fact that most of the AAA or console game market is still male. To me, this is not a valid counter argument but quite the contrary. It seems like a great argument to stop marketing to men only, and to try to also reach those girls and women that are now playing games but have no AAA games being made with them in mind. There is money to be made there.
Keezy: Aurora isn’t your typical AAA game protagonist. Why is having a female lead in a game important?
I think it’s not necessary to have a female protagonist for a game to appeal to women. And I think a female protagonist will not dissuade most men from buying a game. But a female protagonist is one way to signal that a game is different and may not contain the same off-putting tropes that may make girls and women feel unwelcome. And a well-rounded female protagonist is a great example for both little girls and little boys to see.
And by the way, when I watch Twitter for Child of Light tweets, I do see that a broad range of people like the game, from parents and kids to teens, from male to female. She doesn’t seem to be off-putting to boys or men, while at the same time signalling to girls and women that this is a game that is made for them too.
Keezy: Child of Light is a great example of a game that appeals to a large age range of people. How is making a game for kids different from making a game for adults?
I think Child of Light’s appeal to different ages reflects well the personality of our creative director. Pat Plourde is a big fan of Japanese RPGs and a very knowledgable gamer in general, and knows what makes a game good. He’s also a devoted father and knows what he likes to share with his family and what his son likes. He’s bored of having to wait for his son to go to bed to enjoy his hobby. He wants to share it with his family! He wants games that bring families together, that create dinner table conversation.
Two major inspirations for us when it comes to making something that appeals to adults and to kids are Pixar and Disney. Pixar and Disney both do very well at putting layers into their movies that appeal to parents and to kids. So we thought about these layers when we created our characters and character development, plot points, humour. We thought about it especially with the gameplay, and with the addition of Igniculus’s character. The Igniculus character is designed to be less difficult for little hands but just as fun. And we hope the game is fun to play alone, but even more fun to play in coordination with a helper.
Keezy: Is there anything you would like parents to know or understand about video games?
If you are a parent and aren’t a gamer, I really encourage you to give some games a try. It can give you something else to share with your kid, and you might even learn something, have some fun, and even pick up a new hobby along the way. The first game I would recommend trying is Journey from thatgamecompany. This game is an excellent example of how games can tell a story without any words, and it’s heartwarming and just so lovely.
The Unfinished Swan is another beautiful game to share with your kids. My favourite game I played with my parents when I was younger was Mario Kart. And maybe you’ll like this little game called Child of Light as well!
You can find Brianna Code on Twitter at @briecode.