Geek-of-many-trades Shanna Germain was kind enough to answer a few questions for GeekMom this week about games, geekhood, and more! Please help us welcome her.
GeekMom Mel: Welcome to GeekMom! Tell us a little about yourself.
Shanna Germain: Thanks so much! I’m a writer, editor, and game designer by both passion and trade. Right now, I’m the creative director and co-owner of Monte Cook Games, where I’m designing a storytelling game for families called No Thank You, Evil! I’m also a pretty big geek—I love books, games, TV shows and movies, and all things word-related. I even own a dog named Ampersand.
GMM: How did you get into gaming? Was it something you were interested in as a kid?
SG: My grandmother was a big gamer—she loved card and board games especially, so games have always been part of my life thanks to her. She taught me a lot about how to lose with dignity, win with grace, and play with style. I liked games when I was a kid because I was very shy and socially awkward, and having a way to interact with other people where I understood the rules really helped me overcome a lot of that.
GMM: What was the game that started it all for you, like your gateway drug into gaming?
SG: For storytelling games, it was definitely Bunnies & Burrows, which is a game based on the novel Watership Down. You could play a bunny in the game, which I thought was the most incredible thing ever, and you did martial arts moves called “bun fu.” My babysitter introduced me to it; I had no idea what a role-playing game was, but she told me I could pretend to be a bunny, and I was like, “Yes, please!”
GMM: What is your favorite game now?
SG: I don’t know that I could choose just one. I use different games for different needs. When I need a quick break, I’ll play an iPad game like Words with Friends. When I want to work out, I play a computer role-playing game like Elder Scrolls Online or Borderlands on my treadmill desk. When I want to immerse myself and spend time with friends, I play a role-playing game like OD&D and Numenera.
I tend to play a lot of games all the time, because they open my own way of thinking about games and game design.
GMM: I’d say it’s safe to say that the majority of our readers here have kids, and many of those kids have some geeky aspirations. If a kid came up to you and said they wanted to be a game designer when they grew up, what would you say to them?
SG: I would say that they should follow that dream by playing lots of games, thinking about games, and creating their own games. You’re never too young to start drawing maps, creating characters, and writing adventures. Get all of your friends to help you, and then play together.
GMM: Any other advice for young geeklings out there? How about for their parents?
SG: I think that it’s really easy for geeky kids to feel like their interests are weird or uncool. Thankfully, we live in a time where being a geek is cool. So to young geeklings, I’d say: Love what you love. You’ll be surprised how many other people love what you love too.
To parents, I’d say: If you’re already supporting your kids’ interests and want to find a way to do more, or if you’re unsure how to support the geeky things that your kids are into, consider looking into school programs and gaming clubs that support geeky interests, attending conventions that have a family focus, and finding geeky role models that your kids can look up to.
GMM: You are a writer, editor, gamer… how do you make time for all of your passions? Is there one role you identify with more than others?
SG: I feel like I could ask that same question about so many people I know, and I think we would all have a similar answer: I have no idea. It’s a tricky balance. If I don’t have enough going on, I lose that sense of pressure and am much less productive, but if I have too much going on, I get stressed about all I have to do and can’t seem to accomplish anything. Sometimes I think that there’s a perfect point of busyness—just busy enough to keep the pressure on, not so busy that you start to fall apart—and if you can walk that tightrope, you can accomplish everything. I have a hard time asking for help, and that is something I have to keep learning, because sometimes having someone else just take one thing off your plate can save you from falling off that tightrope.
Writing is my first passion, and has been since I was old enough to smash letters and words together. I’ve always wanted to tell stories. The medium doesn’t matter. I love writing fiction as much as I love writing games. It’s all about stringing words one after the other to tell a story that moves someone else in some way.
GMM: Tell us a little about your involvement with the new game on Kickstarter, No Thank You, Evil!.
SG: No Thank You, Evil! is a game of creative storytelling for families. I’m designing it, along with Monte Cook. Designing a game for families is really different than designing a game for adults, and it’s wonderfully challenging. Kids are so creative and so smart, and they intuitively understand how to pretend to be someone else. So the game doesn’t need to teach them how to role-play—it needs to give them the space to let their creativity shine, while also providing them with solid boundaries and guidance.
It’s also really important to me that all kids and families can play games, so one of the things that we’ve been working hard on is making sure that No Thank You, Evil! is accessible to and inclusive of children with cognitive and physical concerns like autism, dyslexia, and color blindness. We’re using fonts and colors that are easy to read and discern, creating art that depicts a wide variety of characters, and making sure there is no one right way to “succeed” in the game. Creative solutions are encouraged, so a player who’s nonverbal can draw or act out their character’s actions, while a more verbal player can do a robot voice, repeat a favorite phrase, or sing a song instead.
GMM: What project are you most proud of? What do you hope to be remembered for, and what is your dream project?
SG: Right now, I have to say that No Thank You, Evil! is my dream project. We’re right in the middle of play-testing, so I get to watch all of these amazing kids interact with something that I’m creating, and they just keep blowing me away with their creativity. When you write a book, the reader goes away to read it and you may never know what they thought of it. When you write a game for adults, you might hear afterward how much they liked it. But watching these kids at the table, when they get excited about their character or they get a really good dice roll or do something that saves the day—there’s something incredibly special about that energy and enthusiasm. It’s like you’re getting to watch their minds expanding right in front of you.
GMM: Anything exciting coming up for you?
SG: I’m still working on No Thank You, Evil! for a little while longer, and then I’ll start working on two new books for Numenera, which is the first game that we created at Monte Cook Games. One is a sourcebook and the other is a novel, so I get to do a little of each of the things that I love at the same time.
GMM: Thanks again for taking the time to chat! Best of luck to you with your Kickstarter and all your future projects.
SG: Thank you so much!
Shanna has worked as a writer and editor for nearly 20 years, and has six books, hundreds of short stories, and a myriad other works to her name. Over the years, she’s won numerous awards for her work, including a Pushcart nomination, the C. Hamilton Bailey Poetry Fellowship, the Utne Reader award for Best New Publication, and 7 ENnie Awards.
The creative director and co-owner of Monte Cook Games, LLC, she is currently designing a creative storytelling game for families called No Thank You, Evil!