How to share memorable experiences through video games
Aug 10, 2023

How to share memorable experiences through video games

Lisette Titre-Montgomery of Gameheads shares how she teaches others to create immersive, empathetic experiences.

The artists, producers, designers, and others who make your favorite video games have the technical chops to make it in the industry.

But they also bring their personal stories and experiences to the job — and they’re able to take players along.

Gameheads, a nonprofit based in Oakland, California, is teaching the next generation of developers how to do that, encouraging them to incorporate themes from their own lives, like gentrification and mental health, into the games they create.

Lisette Titre-Montgomery is a veteran art director in the game industry and a Gameheads instructor. She shared how she got started and why she’s helping others break into the business of making games.

This interview was originally part of Marketplace Morning Report’s “Skin in the Game” series.

It kind of happened by accident. I was in high school, I saw the first “Toy Story,” and a light just went off in my head. And I was like, “That’s what I want to do.” So I moved to California with two suitcases and a computer I built for myself. And my first job was in games, and I fell in love with it. And I went from being a passive viewer to an interactive player and still love it.

There are a few things about Gameheads that keep me coming back, primarily community. Two, I really just believe in a place where particularly youth of color can play in a safe space, and more importantly, they can create for that space.

We try to encourage them to learn the craft of games by evoking an emotion or an experience — and then you get to make money. If you don’t do the first thing, you don’t get to do the second thing. My last game was Psychonauts 2, and the major theme of that game is mental health. You know, you’re fighting your fears, your doubts and your nightmares and a bad idea. What does that look like? How does it play into something that a player can understand? And so we have some help them boil down to the essences of what is necessary to illustrate the point of that topic.

I think there’s this, this [misconception] that games are only supposed to be fun. Like they’re Tinkertoys that you pick up and play with and put away. But they’re full of storytelling experiences and they’re interactive. So they’re an empathy exercise for a lot of people. And I think you’ll see that come through the topics because these are the issues that are affecting our students right now. I think for me, it’s not my job to tell him what kind of games to make, it’s to help them figure out how to make the ideas that are important to them. Our job is to find a new way for this industry to be and a new way for our youth to express themselves in this place.

I’m learning from them, you know, I’m not a spring chicken. Like, I’ve been in industry for 20 years. And so you can get really set in your ways and see the industry a specific way and how it should be. And they’re always challenging that. And I think that’s good for me.

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The team

Daisy Palacios Senior Producer
Daniel Shin Producer
Jesús Alvarado Associate Producer