October 3, 2023

Nina Freeman, who grew up in Ipswich, Massachusetts, spent a lot of time playing video games with a pair of close friends, and the twin sisters’ basement was a marathon venue. “My friends and I were nerds,” she recalled. “We played a lot of game. Final Fantasy XI is like Second Life to me. “

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 poets of the New York School, appreciating how they communicated through witty, chatty The verses record their own life and confession all at once. She encountered a similar tone when she began her career as a video game designer, creating lyrical games that explore memories and intimate moments.

exist”How do you do it? ,” In a 2014 game, Ms. Freeman put players in the role of an embarrassed teen trying to figure out how sex works while playing with a doll. There are no levels to complete, no dragons to kill, and players score points by smashing dolls together. This game is what you get from the gunfights and fantasy quests that have been the most popular releases.

“I think games are pretty much a little stage, or they can be,” Ms Freeman said on a warm afternoon in the back garden of her townhouse in Frederick, Maryland, as she and her husband Jack Living with Jeffries, Jack Jeffries is an artist and programmer. “You can put yourself in a different position and play a character. I can put the player on the stage and give them a script, and the script is the game.”

She said the game she had been working on recently with Mr Jeffries would have a tinge of horror. It’s based on that vaguely awkward experience shopping for clothes with your mom.

“You’re in the dressing room and your mom wants you to try on these clothes, but you’re like, ‘Oh, I hate the way I look in this dress,'” Ms Freeman explained. “With these mannequins following you, you lose all your clothes and nothing fits you. I’m trying to explore your physical discomfort and the trauma that comes with it.”

Her vignette-like game won’t launch on Play Station 5 or any other big gaming platform. “Nothing I did was a huge financial success,” she said. “I’m not a rich man. Never. I’ve never been motivated by it.”

Her next game, “Nonno’s Legend,” will be out in August. It was inspired by the time she spent with her Italian grandfather. He put a globe on the table, and Ms. Freeman would watch it spin. In video games, the Earth is magical, and players can create new versions of the Earth.

Ms Freeman made the game for this month Triennale Games Collectiona part of Milan Triennale, Milan’s annual exhibition dedicated to architecture and design. Featured game designers invited to work on the series include others specializing in alternative: Fern Goldfarb-Ramallo, Llaura McGee, Akwasi Afrane, and the team of Yijia Chen and Dong Zhou.

Ms. Freeman creates her games in a home office filled with her collection of Japanese comic books, Disney Tsum Tsum plush toys, and vintage board games including “Squirt” and “Contack.” She lives with Mr. Jeffreys and their two miniature dachshunds, Auron and Kimahri, named after characters from Final Fantasy 10.

The house has a lack of furniture, just moved in quality. For much of the pandemic, the couple had been living nearby with Mr. Jeffreys’ parents after leaving Portland, Oregon. Ms Freeman said they chose to live in Frederick, a city of about 70,000 people in western Maryland, rather than living not only because it was close to family, but also because it was affordable for self-employed artists place.

She says she lives a simple life by selling her games through sites like this steam and itch; she also makes money as a host on the streaming platform her twitch channelWith around 12,000 followers, she spends hours at a time interacting with fans in her home office while playing a range of games, including action-heavy titles like Rise of the Tomb Raider and Elden Ring. She said she still has a real love for those games, even though she has no interest in making them herself.

Her outsider status may only add to her standing in the world of indie games. “Her work has inspired me a lot and is important to the industry as a whole,” video game designer Francesca Calletto-Leon said in an email.

Ms Carletto-Leon, Course Leader Password ConferenceThe company, which offers online courses in video game design, added that Memoir-like games are gaining popularity among a new generation of developers.

“Many of my students feel that Nina’s work has had a major impact on the type of work they want to create,” she says.

Last year, Ms Freeman released her most personal game,”last call,” which she produced in collaboration with Mr. Jefferies. She said it stemmed from her experiences about six years ago when she was in a physically and verbally abusive relationship.

The player begins a “Last Call” in a nearly empty apartment filled with moving boxes, about to leave a relationship; the player then provides via a snippet of a poem Ms. Freeman wrote specifically for the game Clues piece together what happened. As the game progresses, players are prompted to speak into the microphone to verbally confirm “I see you” and “I believe in you.”

Los Angeles Times video game critic Todd Martens lists “Last Call” as Essential games for 2021“What’s so powerful about it,” he wrote, “is that we have to speak into our computer microphones to get around the house and let our protagonist know we’re there for her.”

A lighter tone injected into another recent game,”we meet in may,” is a wistful, humorous reenactment of four scenes from Ms Freeman’s early relationship with Mr Jeffries.

Ms Freeman is well aware that her game is not for everyone. They lack a clear purpose and in some ways challenge the basic tenets of most video games. Speaking of her game of dolls in 2014, she said: “‘How did you do it?’ was a minute’s game. People still get mad at me for it.”

She is part of a group of designers who are using the video game format to focus on moments that are more likely to be explored in memoirs, novels, poetry or indie film plays. This method includes “Dyslexia“Anna Anthropy’s 2012 Game About Game Makers’ Hormone Replacement Therapy, and”Cart life,” about a street vendor trying to balance work and family responsibilities. Even Gears of War, the third-person shooter from mainstream studio Epic Games, was partly inspired by the divorce. According to its creator Cliff Bleszinski.

Ms Freeman entered the independent world after graduating from Pace University around 2012. She started attending gaming conventions, where people get together to make a new game based on a theme over the course of a weekend. While pursuing a graduate degree in Integrated Digital Media at New York University, she began to incorporate personal life into her early game. “Sibele,” from 2015, about a 19-year-old character, Nina, who meets a crush online, has sex with him and gets dumped.

“Nina was at the forefront of a wave of confessional games,” said Bennett Foddy, the indie game designer who made the internet so popular.QWOP,and is one of Ms. Freeman’s professors in graduate school. “A very important thing ‘Cibele’ does is put you in Nina’s body. Video games are still a medium dominated by male voices and experiences. Putting heterosexual men in the life experience of a teenage girl is a bit radical. “

He added: “There is this raw sense of vulnerability in all of her work. It takes a brave artist to do this kind of work. Especially in a medium where there is a problem with cyberbullying.”

For Ms Freeman, revealing herself “was natural because my background is poetry,” she said. “So, for me, I didn’t even think about doing that in the game.”

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