Ipswich, Mass. Growing up here, Nina Freeman spent a lot of time playing video games with her close friends, twin sisters, whose basement served as an arena for marathon sessions. “My friends and I were fools,” she recalls. “We played Too much Of sports. ‘Final Fantasy 11’ was like a second life for me.
Many years later, when she was a student at Pace University in Lower Manhattan, Ms. Freeman was drawn to the work of Frank O’Hara and other New York school poets, praising how she documented her life through humorous, conversational verses. And confession all at once. She took a similar tone when she began her career as a video game designer, creating lyrical games that evoke memories and small, private moments.
2014’s “How Do You Do It?” In, Ms. Freeman puts the player in the role of an awkward twin who is desperately trying to figure out how sex works when playing with dolls. There are no levels to complete, no dragons to kill, and the player gets points by combining dolls. This game is all you can get from gun battles and fantasy quests that have been the content of the most popular releases for a long time.
“I think the games are almost small stages, or they can be,” said Ms. Freeman Frederick, Mo. Said a warm afternoon in the back garden of her townhouse here, where she lives with her husband, Jake Jefferies, an artist and coder. . “You can step into another person’s shoes and act as a character. I can put a player on a stage and give them a script, script is a game. “
The game she’s been working on lately, in collaboration with Mr. Jefferies, will have a terrific touch, she said. It is based on the vaguely embarrassing experience of buying clothes with your mother.
“You’re in the dressing room, and your mom wants you to try on these clothes, but you’re like, ‘Hey, I don’t like what I look like,'” Ms. Freeman explained the set up. “These are statues that come after you and you lose all your clothes and nothing will fit. I am trying to find out the discomfort and trauma in your body. ”
Games like her Vineet cannot be booted on PlayStation 5 or any other major gaming platform. “I’ve never had great financial success in what I’ve worked on,” she said. “I am not rich. Never was. And I was never inspired by that.
Her next game, “Nonno’s Legend,” comes in August. She was inspired by the time she spent with her Italian grandparents. He placed a globe on the tabletop and Ms. Freeman stared at it. In video games, the world is magical and the player is able to create new versions of Earth.
Ms. Freeman created the game for this month’s Trinale Game Collection, which is part of the Triennial Milano International Exhibition, an annual show in Milan dedicated to architecture and design. The select group of game designers who were invited to participate in the collection include others who specialize in offbeat: Fern Goldfarb-Ramlo, Laura McGee, Aquasi Afrane, and a team of Yizia Chen and Dong Zhou.
Ms. Freeman creates her games in her home office filled with a collection of Japanese manga books, vintage board games with Disney Tsam Tsam stuffed toys and “Squirt” and “Kontak”. She and Mr. Jefferies live with their two mini dachshunds, Aaron and Kimahri, who are named after characters in “Final Fantasy 10.”
The home has a less furnished, freshly moved quality. After leaving Portland, Ore, the couple lived close to Mr. Jefferies’ parents, not only because they were close to the family, but because they were an affordable place for self-employed artists.
She said she lived a decent life by selling her games through sites like Steam and Ich; She makes money as a host on Twitch, a streaming platform. On her Twitch channel, which has an estimated 12,000 followers, she spends hours in her home office interacting with fans while playing a number of games with action-heavy hits such as “Rise of the Tomb Rider” and “Alden Ring”. She still has a passion for those games, she said, although she’s not interested in making that kind of thing herself.
Her outdoor status can only enhance her position in the world of indie gaming. The video game designer said “her work is very inspiring to me and important to the big business.” Francisca Carletto-Leon Stated in the email.
Ms. Carleto-Leon, head of courses at Code Cowan, which offers online classes in video game design, added that memorable games are becoming more and more popular among the new generation of developers.
“Many of my students have said that Nina’s work has a big impact on the way they want to be produced,” she said.
Last year Ms. Freeman released her most personal game, The Last Call, which she created in collaboration with Mr. Jefferies. She said it was from her experience six years ago when she had a physically and verbally abusive relationship.
On the way out of the relationship, the player starts the “Last Call” in an empty apartment filled with moving boxes; The players then combined what happened with the hints provided by Ms. Freeman through pieces of poetry written specifically for the game. When the game starts, the player is asked to speak into the microphone to give verbal confirmations such as “I see you” and “I believe in you”.
Todd Martens, a video game critic at the Los Angeles Times, named “Last Call” an essential game of 2021. “What makes it powerful,” he wrote, “is that we need to talk into our computer microphones. At home, let our hero know that we are for her. ”
In a lighter tone, “We Met in May” is another recent game, an exciting, humorous re-enactment of four scenes from the early days of Ms. Freeman’s relationship with Mr. Jefferies.
Ms. Freeman is well aware that her games are not for everyone. They have no clear objectives and in some ways, most challenge the basics of video games. Referring to her 2014 game about playing with dolls, she said: “‘How do you do that?’ This is a one minute game. People are still angry with me for that. ”
She is part of a group of designers who are using video game formats to focus on moments that are likely to be discovered in memoirs, stories, poems or indie-film plays. This approach includes Anna Anthropy’s 2012 game that provides information on the game maker’s hormone replacement therapy and a street cart vendor trying to balance “cart life”, work and family responsibilities. The third-person shooter “Gears of War”, released by mainstream studio Epic Games, was also inspired by divorce, according to its creator Cliff Blazinski.
Ms. Freeman found her way into the indie scene around 2012, after graduating from Paes University. She started going to Game Jam, where people get together and create new games based on one theme over the weekend. While pursuing a bachelor’s degree in integrated digital media at New York University, she began studying her personal life in her early sports. The 2015 “Sibelle”, 19-year-old character follows Nina, when she meets an online crush, has sex with him, and is dumped.
“Nina was at the forefront of the wave of confessional games,” said Bennett Foddy, an independent game designer who hit the “QWOP” on the Internet and was one of Ms. Freeman’s professors at the graduate school. “What matters is that Sibelle puts you in Nina’s body. Video games are still a medium dominated by masculine voices and experiences. There’s something radical about having a hetero cis male in a teenage girl’s living experience. ”
He continued: “There was a sense of insecurity in all her work. It takes a brave artist to pursue such work. Especially the medium in which cyber bullying is a problem.
For Ms. Freeman, revealing herself “came naturally because my background is in poetry,” she said. “So, for me, I never thought of doing that in the game.”