SG: We work hard on representation and inclusion in all of our games, including Numenera. This often starts with the art—in our art, you’ll see people of all genders, sizes, body styles, races, sexual orientations, and more. This is equally true in the text. Because we’re creators who care about diversity and inclusion, the worlds that come out of our brains are worlds where it fits for all types of people to be represented and celebrated. Thanks to the technologies in Numenera, for example, it’s as easy to change your gender as it is to change your haircolor, so characters can be anyone they want to be.
The ability to see yourself in a game or a story is so vital and empowering. And so is the ability to see people who aren’t like you, because it helps you develop greater empathy and compassion. We believe gaming can make a better world, and one of the ways that we can do that is by making games that are welcoming for everyone.
MRM: You’ve written a novel based in the Numenera world called The Poison Eater (review forthcoming!). Can you tell us a little about it, and what was it like to write a novel based in an RPG world? Do you find the process of writing in an established world freeing or limiting?
SG: I’ve written a lot of short fiction set in other worlds, but this was the first time I’ve done a novel, so it felt really different. But also awesome, partly because I know the setting well enough that I felt like I could really jump off into weird and cool details and focus on my character’s growth and change in a new way.
Because Numenera is so narrative as a game, it translates easily into actual stories. You don’t have to worry about levels or dice rolls or whether a character could do something or not; if they have the tools or the abilities, they can try to do the thing. They might fail at it, of course, but what’s a story if the character isn’t failing along the way?
MRM: What’s it like to work at Monte Cook Games? Is it as amazing as it seems on the surface? OR DOES MONTE HAVE DARK SECRETS? ;)
SG: It’s as amazing as it seems—and then some. I mean, we work really, really hard, don’t get me wrong! But everyone is so passionate and creative and talented—and we laugh a lot.
It is hard having a distributed company—everyone is all over the country—but we make up for it by having really good meetings, talking on Slack, and spending lots of time together when we do get to be in the same place. Of course, every time we get together, we come up with more ideas for stuff we want to make, so maybe it’s a good idea we’re not in the place that often!
MRM: I’ve reviewed No Thank You Evil! and its expansions here. What inspired you to write this game? Has its reception surprised you at all?
SG: We were inspired by some of our fans, who were tweaking Numenera to play with their families. It made us realize that there was a whole generation of gamers who were playing RPGs with their kids. We really wanted to facilitate that. And as we started doing research into child psychology and kids’ games, we realized that we could try to do even more to help all kinds of families play—we used fonts and text styles that are suitable for children with dyslexia or other reading difficulties, used colors and symbols that support people with color-blindness, and created a system so that children who are non-verbal or who are on the autism spectrum can participate in ways that are comfortable and rewarding for them. We made sure that the art was inclusive all well—we have heroes in wheelchairs and with prosthetics, as well as characters of all genders, body types, and races.
Plus, it’s really fun to work on! I feel like I get to be my seven-year-old self for a little while every time I work on the game.
We’ve been really delighted by the reception. It’s so rewarding to see families playing together, and a number of organizations and schools are using No Thank You, Evil! to teach social skills, provide group therapy sessions, and more. That’s just been incredible.
MRM: As a fellow geek girl, I know first hand some of the challenges present to people of the feminine persuasion. I’ve gone through some phases, such as trying to suppress my feminine side at times, even to the point of scoffing at girlish things, or being all so much about fighting trolls that I didn’t get my creative work done. I think I’ve found a fairly good balance for myself, however, and I do look at you as something like a rolemodel, someone who is doing it right. Because while it’s important to address the issues of sexism and bigotry in the gaming community, it’s also important to remember NOT to let these things prevent you from doing what you love. Do you have any advice for people who are struggling with this right now?
SG: Oh, wow. Thank you for saying that—I feel that way about you too! And, yeah, this is such a hard thing. I’ve always believed in walking my own path, and really ignoring the naysayers. But that’s also really tough on the soul and heart. You have to build fierce armor, in the form of a support system and your own self-confidence. But, honestly, the thing that helps me the most is knowing that someone out there might be looking at me as a role model, and I want to honor that. I want to show that it can be done—you can be your true self and be successful.
Expect respect. Expect that you will succeed. Remember that your time and energy are powerful and finite—choose to spend them only on those who lift you up and light your world. Also, spread joy. Reach out to others. Shine bright enough for yourself and others will see it, and it will grow.
MRM: You do SO much. You write games, and novels, you are present on Twitter, you go to conventions, and even within all of those things, you have various roles (you write in a couple different genres, for instance). How do you plan your days so you get it all done? Do you have any organizational tricks?
SG: Haha! I wish. I do use a bullet journal and Scrivener, and I highly recommend them both for keeping track of ideas, to-do lists, big dreams… anything you want to remember or do someday. I also use Freedom, an app that locks me out of websites (like Facebook!) so that I can get work done.
I think the biggest trick I have is learning what times of day are best for me to do different things. It makes me twice as productive. Mornings—before email, before social media, before the world is awake—are best for poetry and creative work. If I don’t do it then, the day takes over and it won’t happen. I also know that when I feel burnt out on one thing, it’s a good time to switch to something that uses a different part of my brain. So, weirdly, part of my organizational system is to have multiple projects going at a time. If my brain gets tired of writing fiction, I can give it a rest while I tackle some editing or answer some emails.
MRM: Can you describe your writing process for novels a bit?
SG: Only if I can give the caveat that I don’t recommend my process to anyone! I want to be one of those people who sits down, writes an outline, and then makes a book. Instead, I’m a person who has no idea what I’m writing when I sit down. There are a lot of false starts, backtracks, and about 20,000 words of “what am I doing?” before things finally settle in and get moving.
I write a lot by instinct, following the hearts of my characters to try and break them (along with my readers’ hearts too, because I’m evil like that). I tend to putter a lot, writing a bit, and then going back and tweaking, until I get the voice and the language right, then writing a bit more. Really, not recommended! But figuring out your own system is probably the most important (and hardest to learn) part of writing, so once you’ve got that—even if it’s a bad system like mine—you’re most of the way there.
MRM: If a kid came up to you and said, “I want to be just like you when I grow up?” how would you respond? Any words of advice or encouragement?
SG: Go for it! I think one of the worse things we do to young people is to say, “You can’t.” But you can. It’s not going to be easy, but it will be worth it. Someday I’m going to grow up and be like all of my heroes (and even if I don’t, I’m doing a lot of things I love on the way to getting there). So, yeah. Try it. Don’t give up. And it’s okay if you’re afraid—we’re all afraid. Do it anyway.
MRM: When YOU were a kid, what did you want to be? How did it change as you grew up, and how did you wind up where you are today?
SG: I wanted to be a writer since I was old enough to read. I won my first poetry contest when I was about 7, by writing a poem about ICEEs—I got a coupon for a free ICEE and I was pretty sure I’d really made it as a writer! But then I got a little older, and realized how hard writing was, and I became afraid. All I ever wanted to be was a writer, and what if I failed at the one thing I wanted? So I did a bunch of other things—I worked on an ambulance and fire crew, got a degree in TV/Radio and another in psychology, did a lot of other jobs. I spent so much time running away from my dream out of fear.
At some point, I realized that I was more afraid of not trying than I was of failing. And that changed everything for me. I started following my dream again, telling myself that I was fearless (even when I wasn’t) and refusing to give up. It was hard at first—a lot of rejections, a lot of people telling me to give up. But I’m the kind of person that really rebels against NO, so in some ways that really pushed me forward. And I’ve had the support of so many people—I wouldn’t be where I am without their kindness and encouragement.
Be sure to check out the Numenera 2 Kickstarter!