November 28, 2023

Growing up in Ipswich, Massachusetts, Nina Freeman spent a lot of time playing video games with a pair of close friends, two twin sisters whose basement served as the arena for marathon sessions. “My friends and I were obsessed,” she recalls. “We played Much of games. Final Fantasy 11 was like a second life for me.

Years later, as a student at Pace University in lower Manhattan, Ms. Freeman was drawn to the work of Frank O’Hara and other poets at the New York School, admiring how they documented their lives through clever, conversational verses. And recognition every time. She gained a similar tone when she began her career as a video game designer, creating lyrical games that explore memory and the small and special moments.

in “How do you do that?” A game from 2014, Ms. Freeman puts the player in the role of an awkward boy who is desperately trying to figure out how sex works while playing with dolls. There are no levels to complete, no dragons to slay, and the player scores points by smashing dolls together. The game is about the most you can get of gunfights and fantasy missions which has always been one of the most popular versions.

said Mrs. Freeman on a warm afternoon in the back garden of her home in Frederick, Maryland, where she lives with her husband, Jake Jeffries, an artist and programmer. “You have to put on someone else’s shoes and play a character. I can put the player on stage and give them a script, the script is the game.”

She said that the game she’s been working on recently, in collaboration with Mr. Jeffreys, will have a touch of horror. It relies on a mysterious awkward experience when 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 how I look in this,'” said Mrs. Freeman, explaining the setting. “There are these models who come after you, and you lose all your clothes, and nothing fits you.” . I am trying to explore the feeling of discomfort in your body and the trauma caused by that.”

Its short screen-like games cannot be played on Play Station 5 or any other big gaming platform. “Nothing I’ve worked on has been a huge financial success,” she said. “I am not a rich person. He was not. And I was never motivated by that.”

Her next game, “Nonno’s Legend,” will be releasing in August. It was inspired by the time she spent with her Italian grandfather. He kept a globe on the surface of a table, and Mrs. Freeman stared at it and made it spin. In the video game, the Earth is magical, and the player can create new versions of Earth.

Ms. Freeman made the match for this month Triennale game setpart of Milan International Triennale, the annual exhibition in Milan dedicated to architecture and design. The select group of game designers invited to participate in the group includes other offbeat game specialists: Fern Goldfarb-Ramallo, Llaura McGee, Akwasi Afrane, team Yijia Chen and Dong Zhou.

Ms. Freeman created her games in a home office filled with her collections of Japanese manga books, Disney Tsum Tsum stuffed toys and vintage board games including “Squirt” and “Contack”. She and Mr. Jeffries live with two dachshunds, Auron and Kimahri, named after characters in “Final Fantasy 10.”

The house is not well furnished and has just been moved. During most of the pandemic, the couple lived with Mr. Jeffries’ parents nearby, having left Portland, Oregon. Ms Freeman said they chose to live in Frederick, a city in western Maryland of about 70,000 residents, not only because it was close to family, but also because it was an affordable place for self-employed artists.

She said that she made a modest living by selling her toys through sites like steam Itch as she earns money as a host on the Twitch broadcasting platform. on her Twitch channelShe, who has nearly 12,000 followers, spends hours at a time in her home office interacting with fans while playing a range of games, including action games like “Rise of the Tomb Raider” and “Elden Ring.” She said that she still has a real love for those games, even though she doesn’t care about making that kind of thing herself.

Its outside prestige may only add to its standing in the world of indie games. “Her work has been a huge inspiration to me and important to the larger industry,” video game designer Francesca Carlito Leon He said in an email.

Ms. Carlito Leon, Head of Curriculum Department at Coven codewhich offers online lessons in video game design, added that memo-like games are becoming increasingly popular among the new generation of developers.

“Many of my students report that Nina’s work has a huge impact on the kind of work they want to create,” she said.

Last year Mrs. Freeman released her most personal game, “final call, which she did in collaboration with Mr. Jeffreys. She said it arose from experiences she had when she was in a physically and verbally abusive relationship about six years ago.

The player initiates “Last Call” in a completely empty apartment filled with moving boxes, about to leave a relationship; The player then puts together what happened through clues provided by parts of a poem that Mrs. Freeman wrote specifically for the game. As the game continues, the player is asked to speak into a microphone to give verbal affirmations such as “I see you” and “I believe you”.

Los Angeles Times video game critic Todd Martens chose “Last Call” as Essential Game of 2021. “What makes it powerful is that we have to talk to our computer microphones to advance through the house, letting our protagonist know we are there for her,” he wrote.

A lighter tone lends itself to another game lately,”We met in MayA sad and humorous re-enactment of four scenes from the early days of Mrs. Freeman’s relationship with Mr. Jeffreys.

Ms. Freeman is well aware that her games are not for everyone. They lack clear goals, and in some ways pose a challenge to the core principles of most video games. Referring to her 2014 game about playing with dolls, she said, “How do you do that?” It is a one minute game. People are still mad at me for that.”

She’s part of a group of designers who are using the video game format to focus on moments that were most likely to be explored again in the memoir, fantasy, poetry or independent film dramas. This approach includesDis4iaA 2012 game by Anna Anthropy tells of the game’s maker’s hormone replacement therapy, andcart lifeAbout a buggy salesman trying to balance work and family responsibilities. Even Gears of War, a third-person shooter released by major studio Epic Games, was partly inspired by the divorce. According to its creator, Cliff Blizinski.

Ms. Freeman found her way onto the independent scene around 2012, after graduating from Pace University. I started going to the jam game, where people get together and make a new game based on a theme over the course of the weekend. While pursuing her graduate degree in Integrated Digital Media at New York University, she began working on her personal life in her early gaming. “Sybilfrom 2015, follows 19-year-old Nina’s character as she meets an internet fan character, has sex with him and gets dumped.

“Nina has been at the forefront of the wave of recognition games,” said Bennett Foddy, an independent game designer who has become a huge hit on the Internet.QWOP,He was one of Mrs. Freeman’s professors at the Graduate School. “What ‘Cibele’ does that is important is that it puts you in Nina’s body. Video games are still a medium dominated by male voices and experiences. There is something radical about placing the heterosexual male into the lived experience of a teenage girl.”

He added, “All of her work has had this sense of vulnerability. It takes a brave artist to pursue this kind of work. Especially in a medium that has a problem with cyberbullying.”

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

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