Ada Lovelace Day: Interview with Nicholle Young

Logo for The Tester

I have been watching The Tester, the Sony PlayStation Network reality show, since the series first started. In the show, cast members compete for a position as a Sony PlayStation Quality Assurance Tester. Nicholle Young is one of the cast members of The Tester, and she graciously agreed to take time out of her busy day and participate in this interview on extremely short notice. In this interview, Nicholle shares her thoughts on what inspires her in games, a career in the industry, and diversity issues in games. Read on for the interview!

Could you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from, and what’s your background?

I’m 23, I work now as a daycare Counselor and a part time student at my local community college. My hobbies consist of reading novels, listening to various genres of music and watching Japanese animation. I love movies. Sci-fi is my favorite genre, so anything Star Wars is a ‘must’ in my collection. I grew up on military bases, so I like meeting and learning about people and their cultures.

What sort of games do you like to play? Is there a particular genre you’re drawn to?

I love to play role playing games, first person shooters, survival horror, and adventure games with an open world theme to it. I dedicate most of my gaming to role-playing games because not only do I love level grinding, but it’s really the story that draws me in. I love being a part of it by making decisions—that have consequences—with various characters, and I like exploring new worlds.

Are you currently playing a game, and if you are, how are you liking it?

I am replaying Final Fantasy VIII. It’s just as good as I when I first played it. I received it as my Christmas present the year it was released. I’m not playing it to grind all my characters to max status. I’m just taking the time to admire the detail that has been placed into the game—not to mention, test out a theory a friend of mine presented. You can learn more about it at www.squallsdead.com.

One of the things that many people, particularly those in the games industry, said when they heard about The Tester is that the participants had no idea what they were getting into in terms of what QA Testers do. How did you respond to those statements?

I do understand what QA testing is, I have no problem in working minimum wage in an entry level position that may be temporary for some, but for others like myself, [it’s] a stepping stone into the career path that one might take into the game industry. I’m not saying I’m going to make the jump from being a Game Tester straight to Creative Director, but at least it’s a start—especially if the jobs in between them such as Game Designer and Producer are already filled up. Game testing may not be as high as being Game Designer or Programmer to some, but it’s a vital part of any game project. After testing phase, it’s all about wrapping things up in order to meet the deadline for the game’s release.

Something that really impressed me about the selection for The Tester cast was the fact that women and people of colour were well-represented. In an industry that is dominated by white men, this is noteworthy. Do you have any thoughts on diversity in the games industry and in the content of videogames themselves?

I believe that we have come a long way in terms of diversity in the industry, but that doesn’t mean we should stop. I think it’s awesome that women who are looking to get into the gaming industry can have examples such as Amy Hennig (Creative Director of UNCHARTED 2) to look up to, as well as the growing number of people of color that are now moving into producing games, such as Felice Standifer (Producer at Sony Computer Entertainment America). Many minorities are not encouraged to think about the gaming industry as a career option, so I can see how it has lead to a lack of visibility.

As far as games go—a wholly different story. Situational stereotyping is the norm in the gaming world. Take any first person shooter about being a soldier. It’s all about being the tough guy, or the one guy who has the most experience, or the rookie with ideals that are constantly challenged. Now apply a racial heritage to the tough guy such as Rico from KillZone. He’s now turned from the Average Joe tough guy to another hot blooded Latino that has a philosophy of “Shoot first and shoot some more”—[a character] who even has an intended racist view of [the] enemy, referring to the Helghast as “Higgers.” Now what could that possibly evolved from, hmm? Whereas, the white guy, Sev, is the one who is balanced, fair, and generally the stereotypical “real White Knight hero” of the series, even to the point of sacrificing himself in KillZone 2.

In a couple of comments you’ve made on games blogs, you’ve touched upon your financial resources. Do you feel as if people ignore economic class as a factor in access to games? Could you discuss your feelings and perspectives about this issue?

I think people tend to ignore economic class. After all, here we are playing nearly $65-$70 for games. On top of that, DLC ranges from $1.99 to $15.99. Despite the fact that I am a consumer, I am well aware that this is still a business. Yes, it is about fun and games but in order to exist, you need cash flowing freely all around.

As for my status, being laid off two years ago, and now working minimum wage to support myself, paying for bills and college, has sharply impacted my gaming. At first, it was just about not buying every title that I want  on the release date. Now it is debating whether or not to pawn or sell my games or consoles just to pay bills. The last major game purchase I made was Modern Warfare 2 in November of last year. Since then, I’ve sold it for gas, as well as few others. I’m holding onto my PS3 mainly because I know I can play PS3 demos and PSOne games I’ve downloaded, but also because I know how much it is worth used—I may need it to pay for bills if I can’t afford to do so with my pay check. There have been many titles that I would like to purchase, but right now I have priorities—to pay bills, have enough money for food, and go to college.

I’m pretty sure the game publishers are not missing my dollars that much. I think it’s rather interesting to note that games may not even been worth as much as the $65-$70, we pay for them brand new. Considering how many times I’ve seen GameStop advertise that you can trade two games in to equal the price of that not-yet-released title, which you can put on reserve for only $20… I mean what is that about? I guess that’s the business aspect of the gaming industry when it comes to consumers. I’ll probably understand more as I learn about the industry.

Why do you want to get into the games industry? What sort of profession would you like to get into?

I want to be able to contribute what I can to the industry that has been a crucial part of my life. I’ve been inspired by it, and I think it’s time for me to give back in any way I can. I would like to become a game Creative Director. I’ve already mentioned that it’s the story that draws me into a game. For me, it has always been about how the story can be different things—an escapist fantasy, a social commentary on today’s world, or a learning experience. It’s like something one would experience if they read a good book or watched an amazing movie. It’s an experience that I want to learn how to create for others to enjoy. I want to start in game design and work my way up.

Is there a game that had a strong influence on you in terms of inspiring your desire to pursue a career in the games industry?

There are two games, or should I say series, that had a solid influence on me, one is Metal Gear Solid and the other is Final Fantasy. They really broke the mold as far as showing how far can they take what would really be an ordinary game, and turning it into an experience that one has to play for themselves in order to understand.

For example, in Final Fantasy VII I  thought I knew everything. I expected the twist in the main plot not just being about taking down a corporate government. What I wasn’t expecting were character twists, especially learning that Cloud wasn’t really who he said he was. Since that revealation, Square gone to many depths and (sequels) to show how Cloud has evolved from his initial hero character persona.

You could apply the same thing to Raiden in the Metal Gear Solid series. By the middle of the story, you think you already know who he is: a naive grunt sent on some hostage-freeing mission. Then, you later find out he’s an ex- child soldier trying to block out the memories of his past, and is caught up in the conspiracy that has been developing for the past 50 years.

Are there any well-known industry figures you look up to for inspiration? If so, who are they, and why do you look up to them?

I mentioned two of them earlier, Amy Hennig and Felice Standifer. I also look to Hideo Kojima, Hironobu Sakaguchi, David Jaffe, and Katherine De Leon for proving that, through dedication and standing tall in the face of all obstacles, you can make an excellent game if you are passionate about it. Their ability to be honest and think outside the box have really made an impact on how I would like to approach a career in the gaming industry.

What’s the next step for you? Do you have any plans regarding your career aspirations that you’d like to share?

Right now, I am finishing up taking some introduction classes at my community college. Luckily for me, my college is starting a new program for an Associate in Applied Science degree. I, along with other students, requested this new program. The new degree is called Simulation and Game Development. I plan on choosing that as my major next year, and my electives will focus on game design. As I start my way into the gaming industry, as a Game Designer and ultimately a Creative Director, I’ll also continue going to college. I will be majoring in English, so I can gain more experience in writing stories. I’m also applying for game testing jobs to some studios in Raleigh for the summer as a way to gain some experience as well.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

In regards to diversity and gender I personally believe it’s all in a matter of perception and what people are exposed to seeing and experiencing. Even within specific racial groups, gender rules are influenced and experienced in a profoundly different way. Hopefully we can continue to have more honest dialog in the industry to address this, and not just simply outright deny that inequality happens or throw it under the rug as a “small issue”.

I would like to thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts.

Thank you again, Nicholle, for spending some time to talk about what inspires you, and your ambition to get into the games industry. Readers can follow Nicholle on her Twitter: @NicholleSoft.

This post is part of Ada Lovelace Day, an international day of blogging (videologging, podcasting, comic drawing etc.!) to draw attention to the achievements of women in technology and science. You can read more about Ada Lovelace Day at the website.

[This entry was cross-posted at The Border House]

  3 comments for “Ada Lovelace Day: Interview with Nicholle Young

  1. 31 March 2010 at 13:21

    I’ve also been replaying VIII recently with the Squall is Dead theory in mind. It’s not how I interpret the game, but it’s a pretty interesting way of looking at the narrative.

  2. 31 March 2010 at 20:27

    I understand what you mean, it’s just another perspective but it’s very cool how they managed to tie in certain things, because honestly I had my doubts too especially when it came to the boss battle of Norg and the lack of aftermath of it and the supposed mutiny of the Garden staff.

  3. 1 April 2010 at 12:52

    I’m at the part where you have to save Rinoa in space and the plot is just so WTF all over the space. Lunar Cry? Sealed sorceress? Floating around in space like you know what you’re doing then luckily finding an abandoned ship so you don’t die? It’s totally off the rails and the kind of bizarre crap that you’d find in a dream for sure! And NORG yeah, who knows what that was about. :-P

    Considering how many times I’ve seen GameStop advertise that you can trade two games in to equal the price of that not-yet-released title, which you can put on reserve for only $20… I mean what is that about?

    GameStop is ridiculous. As much as I like physical media, a part of me looks forward to watching GameStop’s business model go up in flames and gaming distribution moves more and more towards the digital side of things. Do you think going digital will make games more accessible to folks from lower income households? I hope that it will lower the entry fee to new games, but it also removes any possibility of reselling a title once you’re done with it.

    Also, your comments about POC being stereotypes and only white dudes getting to be the knight in shining armor, seriously. Ugh.

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