Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Women with Initiative: Kira Magrann

Today's Women with Initiative feature is with Kira Magrann. I met Kira years ago through Gaming as Women, where we both were bloggers. She is well-known for her involvement in Indie Games on Demand as an organizer, as well as for her own design work, art, and her work to create a more inclusive, diverse gaming community. Her games have a lot of feminist and queer concepts in action, and she also has a knack for creating sexy, intimate games that really engage players. I asked her a few questions about her work, and she provided some great answers!

How did you get your start in gaming, and how does it intertwine with your other hobbies and interests, such as art?

I got started in gaming when I bought my first Vampire the Masquerade book at a hobby shop. I took it home and tried to run it for four of my girlfriends and it was a hilarious disaster. BUT my mom then encouraged me to go to Origins (back when it was in Philly) 'cause she thought it would get me off those darn computer games. It worked! I fell in love with vampire larps and all the ridiculous people I met there, who were also spearheading the goth music and club scene in the late 90s in Philly. So that lead to me going to goth clubs and playing Vampire on the dance floor and, well, now I'm the ridiculous human I am now. So I guess to answer your question, there was a lot of crossover with Vampire larps, goth clubs, and kink culture when I was a teen getting into roleplaying. There definitely still is, but, less in the goth arena since Vampire larps aren't such a cultural sensation anymore.

I think the place where art intersects with my gaming is that it makes me want to make stuff for games! I'm a maker, so creating and designing games has become a thing I really enjoy. I can't really be a passive game player, I need to get involved and get everyone else involved too. Designing games is so much more complex than a lot of art making (and metalwork and jewelry ain't simple, lost wax casting involves so much math I can't even sometimes!). There are a lot of moving pieces in games, and its interactive. I think that challenge really gets my creative artistic side going. I also really like creating interactive art, which is why I enjoy making jewelry more than gallery work or illustration. The ability to make something that someone will wear and interact with is very personal and embodied in a way that is much more satisfying to me than other mediums.

[Interviewer note: I actually own multiple pieces of jewelry created by Kira, specifically my octopus earrings and necklace that I wear constantly. It's beautiful, and very meaningful, and it really is something that gives me a special connection.]

Your games all have an underlayer of intimacy, whether between individuals or with oneself. What helps you determine the right mechanic to use, or instructions to give, to encourage players to live out this intimacy in game?

Oh, hey, that's an interesting observation I hadn't thought of before! Intimacy in all my games!

For mechanics, I usually think about what I would like to do if I were playing this game I'm writing. What actions would I like to take as a player? Additionally, I think its really really important to edit mechanics to the most important ones, like maybe the top two or three, that people might be using. I want to highlight the things that are most important to the themes and characters in the game and create mechanics that support those. So I guess I think of theme and character first, then think of game mechanics that already exist in the tabletop or larp worlds, and then I try to piece them together until something works!

Specifically designing for intimacy though, I kinda cheat and use my sex ed, kink salesperson, kink community, queer community, and feminist theory expertise! I have a huge interest in how humans relate intimately in different settings, and like, how we communicate these things. For my game Strict Machine, which is a kinky power dynamic game where people play tanks that have to describe their body parts in sexy ways, the mechanic is based off of Dan Savage's rules to talking dirty: say what you're going to do, say what you're doing, say what you just did. So I get a lot of inspiration from things like that in creating intimacy mechanics for my games.

I think the best way to get players to interact with intimate mechanics is to get them over their initial discomfort or awkwardness. That first time might be a little silly or uncomfortable, because culture tells us intimacy and sex are that way, but keep pushing through that bias and see where it gets you. Consensually, of course!

You probably saw this coming, but I would really love to know: What did you use for inspiration for Selfie, and what prompted you to make a game about selfies in the first place?

Hahaha! Yes you love selfies! Geez, I do too.

Selfies are like this giant intersection of: new media, new technology, the female gaze, self care, and art making. So like, in the art world, there's been selfie exhibits and photographers I know haaaaaaaaaaaate them because they don't consider them art. And in the social media world, selfies skew very feminine and young in our cultural consciousness, but in reality they're actually very diverse in gender and race! What I love about selfies is that people have control over their own image, and especially feminine presenting people. Often the camera is controlled by cis men! It's like the first time I looked at a Frida Kahlo painting, or an Annie Liebovitz photograph, and thought YES THAT THAT'S HOW I SEE LADIES. So it's powerful to create your own image of yourself, right. It's like the first time I drew a self portrait and was like, oh wow, I'm kind of uncomfortable with analyzing myself that much, but whoa, that's how I look, and there's an intimacy in drawing every curve of my nostril and shadow of my cheekbone and line around my eyes. I actually used to be really shy about being in front of the camera, looking at myself, I had very low self esteem because I had bad acne when I was younger and thought I was ugly. Art and photography kinda helped me with that, and I feel like the Selfie self care phenomenon is really similar to that experience except more mainstream, and that everyone should experience it.

The technology aspect is super cool. Basically, our smartphones make us cyborgs, we carry around this technology that is an extension of our bodies and personalities and relationships. So talking about that in a game, and how we are using this tech to examine ourselves and our emotions, is really, really neat. Some ladies in Spain got together and played the game, and then posted their selfies to their blog, and I feel like that's the perfect example of how cool our level of global technological interactivity is.

Thank you so much to Kira for allowing me to interview and feature her here on Thoughty! It is awesome to share her work with my readers. Below is Kira's brief bio and some links to her contact information and work. Thank you for reading!


Kira Magrann creates jewelry at Anima Metals, organizes Indie Games on Demand, and creates sexy, feminist, queer and cyberpunk games. Some games she's recently designed are Strict Machine, Mobilize, RESISTOR, and Game of Thrones: Play the Cards. Follow her on G+ or twitter @kiranansi. Also on Tumblr as @kiramagrann.

Selfie is a part of the #Feminism nanogame collection currently featured at Indiecade.

Click here to buy RESISTOR, a cyberwitchy social justice zine.

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