Jun 30, 2020

My journey in the games industry: Lauren’s story

Every person’s journey in the industry is unique. In this personal essay, Writer Lauren Stone tells her story of how she went from being an actress to a game developerand that life never takes you where you plan – but maybe that’s okay. 

 

Most stories start with an inciting incident. They tell you that you need to have that for your story to not be boring. Life doesn’t really have inciting incidents, but they do have crossroads. For most people starting a career and building a life is full of these little moments that force you to make a choice that can take you either further down the paved road or redirected off the trail forcing you to find a new way home. My crossroad came when I decided to become a game developer.

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years? 

That dreaded interview question. 

It always seems so meaningless, frivolous and sometimes like a trap. 

Are you too honest? 

Too optimistic? 

Pessimistic? 

Ambitious? 

Self-aware? 

I think we all have the same answer to be honest, but no one wants to hear it. 

A: I want to feel secure, happy and love what I’m doing with my life. 

Some of us find that joy in leading a team, solving a problem, or writing a bark that makes us smile. 

Too often, we worry so much about the destination that we forget to enjoy the ride. If I had focused on the destination, there is no way I would have even gotten on this ride. 

When I was six, I wanted to be an actress. 

When I was sixteen, I was an actress. 

When I was twenty-six, I was a union actress going back to school to get my degree in creative writing because they didn’t really make movies or shows that featured, let alone showcased fat half Asian girls with autoimmune diseasesI decided I needed to create my own work. My own projects to show that people like me exist. That we can be of value. That you can be funny, smart, sexy and fat all at the same time. That was the goal. To create opportunities to tell the kind of stories that weren’t being told.

Too often, we worry so much about the destination that we forget to enjoy the ride. If I had focused on the destination, there is no way I would have even gotten on this ride. 

I ended up falling in love with a man who worked in videogames, and we started to build a life together. Part of building that life was engaging with his work. He wanted me to start playing more games, I had always been a puzzle junkie, gambler (for a short time a card dealer), and boardgame kid, but I never really got into console gaming because I didn’t have one growing up. I had an Atari and would play at arcades when I could, but my Gameboy was exclusively a Tetris machine because it was the only game I had. 

The myth that the only way to get into games is to play hardcore as a kid and then go to school for games and then the gamer will become the game-maker is dangerousAnd that definitely was not my path to games and if I believed that myth there is no way I would have the career that I have now. 

In 2010, my now ex-husband, sat me down, handed me his Wii controller and told me to try Zelda Twilight Princess. 96 hours and level 39 of the cave of ordeals later, he realized it wasn’t that I didn’t like games or wasn’t good at them, it was that I never had access. 


I had always been a puzzle junkie, gambler (for a short time a card dealer), and boardgame kid, but I never really got into console gaming because I didn’t have one growing up.

I found myself becoming a sounding board for my future ex-husband and we became creative partners. He was a narrative designer and a writer, and I was a writer and an actress. Three months before I finished my degree in 2011, my future exhusband got a job in Seattle at Undead Labs. I finished school, packed our apartment and moved into the house we bought in Seattle. Undead Labs only had three women on staff when we moved to Seattle and none of them were willing to do temp voice, so my ex-husband volunteered my services. 

Kevin, their audio engineer was like, “Sure your girlfriend is an ‘actress’ whatever, it’s just temp.” I went to his home audio studio to record the temp for six female voices. He set four hours aside to do the temp. We finished in fifteen minutes and he was like, “Oh, shit… you’re like an actual actress.” The next week, my ex went to lunch with his producer and was told that I had been hired to voice Lily Ritter in State of Decay. Lily was the first girl my ex and I ever brought to life together and five years later in 2017 when our daughter was born, we named her Lily after the immortal videogame character in the Zombie RPG with permadeath. 

So, I voiced Lily Ritter and on my way to record her last session found out I was also going to voice Becca Collins.

So, I voiced Lily Ritter and on my way to record her last session found out I was also going to voice Becca Collins because they couldn’t find “an Asian actress they liked.” The half Asian girl with Hashimotos hypothyroiditis who went back to school to create opportunities for herself ended up voicing a white girl with lupus and an Asian biker chick

 

State of Decay was the official beginning of my career in games. I helped fix some of the scripts when a new writer came on and forgot that Lily doesn’t swear, while recording pickups for DLC in Montreal. My ex got headhunted by Ubisoft before State of Decay was released, so we packed up our life and moved it to French Canada so he could be the lead writer on Assassin’s Creed Unity. 


It can be difficult to move to another country and start over as the “tagalong”. When we moved to Montreal, I was told I could do VOI was a union actor, I could work, they didn’t tell me I had to be Canadian before I could work in Canada as a union actor. So, after two years of trying to make things, producing plays and doing comedy, I decided I was tired of being poor and had another skill set that I was using in a really ineffective way. 

I messaged Ubisoft and was like, “Hey, you need writers?” 

And they said, “Yes, please.” 

I sent in a resume and a writing sample. A week later, I had a job interview. A week later, I started an eight-week contract to help out on Rainbow Six Siege. At the end of my first week they asked to extend my contract. Six weeks later, it was just me and the lead writer. Four weeks later, I was the narrative department. I took R6 Siege from Alpha to Shipping by myself. My first official job in games as a writer.

I started an eight-week contract to help out on Rainbow Six Siege […] Four weeks later, I was the narrative department. I took R6 Siege from Alpha to Shipping by myself.



I was alone and hungry to learn how I could support other departments. It’s a philosophy I have taken into my work as I moved to Sweden and onto The Division. Narrative is not just the words we say, everything matters. Barks matter. Art matters. Art textures and environmental art tell a story that can support or undermine what we are trying to do in the voiceover. We have to work together to make something cohesive and intentional. 

I take that into my work. On the surface it has to function, but it’s the structure that is more important than the trim work. In this time where things are so uncertain, we have time to reflect and that can be terrifying. We have time to be introspective.  

Art textures and environmental art tell a story that can support or undermine what we are trying to do in the voiceover. We have to work together to make something cohesive and intentional. 

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years? 

A: Married with a kid. 

Q: Where are you actually in five years? 

A: Newly divorced, with a kid. Living with my Swedish boyfriend and his son who is less than three months younger than my daughter so we call them the ‘accidental twins’, while trying to keep the dogs, the cat and the chickens alive, and transplanting seedlings from the greenhouse into the new hydroponic garden and the veggie garden while I write DLC content for The Division 2 and support a team at Ubi Toronto that needed some help to ship from the home office I built with my own two hands, one of which is missing sensation since 2018 when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. 

Life never takes you where you plan. 

But, remembering that today is just another day that you get to live and create and make small choices that add up to monumental life changes is important. It’s crucial to keeping hope alive and not losing your mind when the “accidental twins” start screaming at one another, or use yogurt as face cream, or start yelling at the dogs for NO REASON. It’s good to remember that the life you choose to live, and the people you choose to love are there because they have also chosen you. 

And if you move to another country, the best way to learn the language and assimilate is to start dating a local whose mom doesn’t speak English. 

Jag älskar dig, Jens. Min pojkväns mamma pratar inte engelska men hans mormor kan lite. Jag älskar min nya familj. 

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