“I think I’ve always wanted to make games more than I’ve wanted to play them," says games designer Jenny Jiao Hsia. "Growing up, I watched my dad and younger brother play a lot of Guild Wars and Age of Mythology together. Their pastime drove my mom nuts: sometimes she would threaten to break their computers because they would stay up late to play the game. So that’s how I saw video games for a long time – as a waste of time.”
Jenny is telling us about her introduction to the creative medium that’s shaped the last few years. The games that Jenny makes under the pseudonym Q Dork are bold, bright and beautiful, a million colourful miles away from the browns and oranges which dominate the palettes of endless Call of Duty iterations your teenage brother locks himself away with night after night.
From relationship simulator Chat With Me to the self-explanatory Wobble Yoga via the food-focused Hungry Buddy and Unipug an eat ‘em up where you play the titular half-unicorn, half-pug, Jenny sets out to make delightfully weird games that are as weird as they are delightful.
The 22 year-old Chinese-American game developer, who is currently studying for a BA in game design at the NYU Game Center first came to It’s Nice That’s attention when we visited the V&A’s Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt exhibition back in September. She describes the inclusion in the show as “an honour” and tells us that from time to time, she receives DMs on Instagram that feature photos and videos of her work in the show.
Presented alongside big budget titles developed by huge studios, Jenny’s idiosyncratic work felt like a breath of fresh air. These were small and perfectly crafted titles that reminded us that video games can be as fun, unusual, and downright odd as their creators want them to be.
Jenny’s foray into designing games began by using Processing and Unity. “I tried to follow online tutorials,” she says, “but it was really tough and I didn’t get very far because I didn’t know how to program well.” However during a non-digital game design class as an intro to game design, Jenny was "only allowed to use non-digital materials such as dice, cards, pens, markers, paper, etc,” she says. “I think using pen and paper made designing games more approachable. I liked cutting things up and having tangible pieces to move around on the table. Since then, I’ve gotten better at coding and use a mix of both digital and non-digital tools.”
For the designer, there seems to have been a slight shift in what gamers want out of the games they play in recent years, with an emerging sense of openness to “stranger, weirder” games. However, she also notes that: “I think with every new console, there has always been a slew of weird, experimental stuff. Maybe what’s changed is that the tools for making games have become more accessible. Now, more than ever, you can download these game-making tools yourself (for free!) and go and create whatever you want. If you wanted to make a game about a talking dog who eat eggs… go ahead, buddy! Nobody’s stopping you!”
Her latest game in progress is Consume Me, a title which emerged from Jenny’s experiences with dieting and body image at high school. Inspired by autobiographical game makers like Nina Freeman and Anna Anthropy, Jenny set out to produce a game which deals with a sensitive topic in a way that’s engaging – and fun. “I hope that people will laugh at the dumb jokes and resonate with the characters and my experience when they play the game,” she says. “Maybe it’ll also help those who haven’t gone through this experience understand what it was like to be me when I was 16 years old.”
Still very much in development, Jenny is now working on Consume Me with fellow US designer, AP Thomson. She candidly tells us that she has to finish the game as, “I’ve dug myself into a grave and there’s nothing else I can imagine doing in my life at this very moment.”
We can’t wait to play it.
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