Brie Code interview
Video game creator Brie Code wants to help you learn to love your phone again, using #SelfCare.
Frank And Oak staff
Brie Code did what most of us only dream of: She quit her job to to travel the world. Only she didn’t leave Montreal to get away from it all. She circled the globe to speak at Sweden’s Inkonst Festival and SXSW, judge game jams in Tunisia and teach interactive media in Berlin, bringing a tender but vital message of care to the games industry.
Now she is setting up a studio in Montreal, TRU LUV, devoted to creating games, apps and experiences for people often overlooked by the industry. Her first work, #SelfCare, is due out this summer. It’s a relaxing tool to help fight smartphone anxiety, a gentle world of crystals, tarot and a character who never has to get out of bed. Here, Code talks about what inspired her to start her own studio, how others can make the leap and how queer gamers can find community.
It’s been 10 years since the release of the iPhone and it seems like we’re all having a bit of an existential crisis (including Silicon Valley developers and social media experts). What’s your own relationship like with your phone?
It’s definitely a love-hate thing. I know my phone is the most powerful tool I’ve ever had, but I feel bad about it. I know my phone has changed my life in so many revolutionary and helpful ways, but I feel stressed and manipulated by it.
Screenshot's from TRU LUV's #SelfCare app
Are “digital detoxes” our only hope?
Disconnection might be the only option right now to feel better about our phones, but disconnection as an ideal just sets us up to fail and to feel even worse in the long run. I live in the internet as much as I live in the physical world, and I have no desire to disconnect from it. As a queer person and as a woman who grew up in the Bible Belt, I see the value that the internet has brought in connecting me with like-minded people and creating movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #metoo.
Ultimately I won’t disconnect, because I won’t leave the tech bros to define our futures. I’m working towards a new, feminist paradigm of interaction design that allows us to act with intention and leaves us feeling caring, cared for, and connected rather than stressed and manipulated.
You founded TRU LUV to make games for people who don’t like games. Isn’t that an uphill battle, as a business model?
I’ve solved a number of life crises by retreating into game worlds to process. Play is meditative and expansive. Afterward, my intuitions are clearer and I am equipped with new perspectives, strategies and ideas.
I wondered if this generalized, so I convinced a few friends who aren’t interested in games to play my favourite game. Much to their surprise and mine (“I don’t watch Game of Thrones and I won’t like this”), they found glimpses of the same relaxation and insight that I did (“It turns out it’s not that I don’t like games, it’s that I didn’t know what games could be”).
So I made it my life’s goal to create games that will empower my friends the way games have empowered me. Although many games contain glimpses of relaxation and insight, they are still largely structured around stress.
The game designer Sheri Graner Ray coined the term “mutually beneficial outcomes to socially significant situations” and this is everything to us at TRU LUV. We reject frustration and conflict and embrace care and connection.
Queer kids have always had to find icons wherever they could, even if they were coded. Are there older games or characters that LGBTQ communities have embraced, or modern, canonically queer games that you can recommend now?
Relaxation and meditation apps are big right now. What are they doing right or wrong?
Most relaxation apps stress me out. They have too many options, they push me to pay, they don’t leave me feeling connected enough that I’m drawn back. Like games, most apps rely on stress and overwhelming options to engage and retain users. These don’t work for me.
As a queer person and as a woman who grew up in the Bible Belt, I see the value that the internet has brought in connecting me with like-minded people and creating movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #metoo.
Self-care is also a huge topic right now. How has it changed, as a concept, since you started making #SelfCare two years ago?
Audre Lorde said “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Women, people of colour and other underrepresented groups in the games industry face frequent harassment and I’ve watched a lot of my colleagues develop PTSD from it. To survive the industry – and in the world – we’ve had to develop very deliberate self-care practices. With #SelfCare, we wanted to create a tool for everyone out of the habits we’ve already established for ourselves.
How would you describe #SelfCare to someone who’s never used it?
#SelfCare is a relaxation interactive experience that is not quite a game and not quite a mindfulness app. In it, a character has taken a delicious day off – they refuse to leave their bed. They are surrounded by their favourite, sacred things. Each one holds a meditative interaction – breathing, self-massage. As you explore and interact, the character starts to feel better, and maybe you feel better, too.
You got rid of lot of what you owned when you started travelling. How did that process go?
I kept my books and my art, and the rest of the things I had an attachment to went to beloved and trusted friends. Now when I visit my friends I get to see bits of my old life being used in new ways and it is very sweet and warming.
Do you have a uniform?
Yes! I wear black. I spill on myself a lot and I like to own very little, so it has to all to work together. Black jeans, black men’s t-shirts, black underwear-as-outerwearand and black nightwear as daywear. Black runners or boots. And I like my hair to be the same colour as my eyes.
Do you have a definitive travel style or rituals?
I clean the house and put fresh sheets before I go. I have a packing list that I follow so that I can pack quickly and without forgetting anything. When I change climates I leave a few things behind and buy a few new things.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to anyone thinking of quitting their job?
Do it, and bring a journal and a pack of tarot cards and download #SelfCare. Have a few backup plans in place first, and warn your friends you need them. Throw yourself into your new plans.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone travelling the world?
New situations are a great opportunity to discover what parts of you are constant, what parts of you are a reflection of your environment, and what parts of you were repressed by your previous environment. Find your voice and find like-minded souls and speak together.
And if you can’t travel, find or create a game or online space that brings you the same sense of perspective and connection. Games and online spaces can be more expansive than travel.