Jessy Jo Gomez is a 23-year-old coder, game designer, and teacher who is sharing her passion with students in her community. She spoke to us about what led her to become a game design teacher, how she makes time for her own art, and advice she wishes she’d been given sooner.
You work as a game designer and a game design teacher. How did you get started in the field?
As early back as I can remember, I have been playing video games. I never felt like I fit in, and had a hard time with self-acceptance, but video games were an amazing outlet for me: you could let all your worries fade away and lean into the reality of a game. Video games were my escape. I was constantly drawing characters from my favorite games. I carried my sketchbook and GameBoy everywhere I went (and still do) so that I could play and practice, creating spin off storylines and characters of my own.
I was always interested in learning and took advantage of every opportunity around me that could possibly lead me into becoming a game designer. In middle school, I had a coding class that made me realize I was just as passionate about the creation of games as the storytelling and character design. I realized that with knowledge in design, and coding, I could become a game designer!
Now, I’ve realized what a difference having teachers who cared made for me, and I want to be that role model for kids in the same position as I was.
What made you choose to become a teacher? What is the most rewarding part about teaching game design?
I love working with kids because I love showing them that you can be yourself – completely yourself – and be successful. When you are unapologetically yourself, you show other people that it’s okay to be themselves too. It’s also okay to make mistakes. Mistakes can be wonderful. We can learn from our mistakes and teach others, and sometimes the results of a mistake can be better than what you originally imagined.
I want to be a role model for young girls, but I also want to be a role model for any young people who don’t necessarily conform to a single gender, or to any gender at all. Growing up I wasn’t sure what it meant to be a girl or if I even was a girl. When I got older I realized that being a girl, or being of any particular gender, really just means being yourself. Something I love to tell the kids – especially when they feel stumped in designing their games – is to unapologetically be themselves. Your uniqueness and what you as an individual bring to the table will help you to generate unique work.
Game design uses more tools than many outside the field realize. What tools do you use to express your creativity?
I like teaching game design to young people because there are so many different aspects to the creative process. I place a high value on teamwork and supporting your peers. It becomes really fun and interesting when you think about teaching young people how to work independently on a role while still being part of a team. Everyone in the class learns a little bit about everything.
You can work on a team of people who all have different strengths on different aspects of designing a game. One person could be the main programmer, another person could make all the art, another person could work on the level design, etc. Learning a little bit of everything is really helpful when working with people who have advanced skillsets outside of your own.
Which social issues inspire your creative work?
The social issues that drive me to create are representation of mental illness and gender identity. Being open and honest about my experiences and what I go through creates a lens for other people to peek through. With my art I hope to generate empathy. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me, I want people to try to imagine how it is to be me because, when I interact with people, I think about what could be happening in their life and how it’s my job to make it better, not worse, with my work.
As a female designer in a male dominated industry, what challenges have you faced?
An extremely large percentage of video game protagonists are portrayed as cis-white-hetero males. Gamers in general are usually marketed and portrayed to be those same people. Erasure is real, and it doesn’t feel good to keep playing video games when I feel like they are not for me. Of course, one reason to play games is to make you take on the role of another person, but it becomes tiresome when it’s always the same archetype of a video game protagonist. I am not a cis-white-hetero male, and I do not identify with any of those terms. Most of my friends playing video games do not either! Where are the video games about people who don’t identify as a male? Where are the games where most of the characters are people of color? What about games that portray non-hetero relationships? That’s where we come in.
What advice would you give young designers looking to produce meaningful work?
Getting started on a project, especially one that aims to have a social impact, is difficult. My advice to students is to partner up. Working with other creative people is a great way to generate energy. Teamwork is essential for all the different design skill sets that go into a game. Coding, animation, level design, storytelling: you don’t have to do it alone. Young people should know that they have the power to make a difference with what they create.
Voice your ideas to as many different people as possible. All the feedback will be extremely useful. Document everything! Iterate. Document your iterations. Reiterate. You’ll learn about the things that people actually care about, and be able to use this information to design an even better game.
Hero image by Chris Garcia