A chat with Brie Code about possible futures in the world of AI and games

Talking to Brie Code was one of the privileges and highlights of the year. I’m a fan. The CEO of TRU LUV is one of the pioneering women in the gaming universe, often cited as the woman who led the team that created none other than Assassin’s Creed II. Just to be clear, she was often the only woman on the entire team.

Always ahead of the times, she understood that she couldn’t always be the only one, and at the head of a team that at least included 25% of women, she created Child of Light, a game that moved in the world of fairies and had a female protagonist. The awards confirmed that it was on the right track: bringing inclusion and diversity to a predominantly male universe. And it wasn’t enough.

For Brie, who discovered the world of games at a young age, the connection between characters has always been what motivated her the most, not so much mechanical skills or fights, but changing her focus and creating TRU LUV was a decision made after a conversation with a cousin. She didn’t even play very often, but she became emotionally attached to a specific character and Brie realized that there was an important field to be explored, for those who enjoy games or not. In his company, the projects are experimental games with goals such as taking care of plants, or other daily activities. The important thing for her and her team is to create something that, through technological interfaces, helps to find calm and friendships instead of encouraging reactivity and division.

With Brie’s experience and talent, with so many doubts about technology, with Games getting adaptations for film, TV and so many things, obviously it’s interesting to hear from her. And she agreed to stop to talk exclusively with CLAUDIA, even with an ultra-tight schedule. Brie speaks of an expanded compassion, of Artificial Intelligence as a tool for personal and social transformation.

– You have been a pioneer in developing games that are extremely successful and you have often been the only woman on a team for a long time. Have we come a long way? How was it then and how do you see the present future in regard to inclusion?

Since I graduated with a computer science degree in 2001, I have often been the only woman in the room. Since 2015, I’ve been working with my own company, TRU LUV, where we have purposely built a diverse team. Now, whenever I go to a conference or an industry event and experience bias, sidelining, stereotyping, or other forms of sexism or misogyny, it takes me by surprise! My day-to-day at TRU LUV is about collaboration, creativity, mentorship, and getting the best out of each other, and not about competition. We’re busy building something beautiful and don’t have time or energy right now to deal with industry sexism. The future of technology will be more inclusive because it is the currently unexplored perspectives held by previously marginalized people that will drive the next waves of innovation. Especially in tech and games where we need to explore more forms of collaboration and visionary solution-finding and move away from divisive platforms and depressing stories, innovation will be driven by people who were previously marginalized.

– The storytelling for games is any different from movies and series? What are the key differences?

The fun thing about storytelling in games is that you can use the interaction mechanic to convey storytelling ideas without using words. You can convey emotions and even very complex realizations using a well-designed interaction. For example, in the massager RITUAL in our first experimental app from 2018, #SelfCare, we have a mechanic where you fill in a circle with your finger, repeatedly, while aspects of the circle and the pen underneath your finger change over time. We tune these aspects such that it feels like you and the circle are getting to know each other, and are totally getting each other, falling in love a little bit in a way. This is a complex feeling that we conveyed with a simple interaction!

– How did YOU start working in this field?

In university, I found that computer science was a subject in which I could guarantee I could get high grades. I could just stay in the lab until my program worked, and I could tell whether it worked or not. Other subjects that I enjoyed more, like English or psychology, were more subjective and my grades depended on the person doing the grading. And I had to keep high grades to keep my scholarship. I had no money and really wanted to get a degree. So, I majored in computer science. I thought I would work on the web when I graduated. However, a few months before I graduated, we had the dot com crash and there were no more jobs on the web. I worked at the university for a while, and then went traveling on a credit card, and then came home with no money and some debt and needed a job. I was lucky enough to get a job at a great games company in Vancouver, Relic Entertainment, and I never looked back. Game development was exactly the mix of culture and psychology that I was looking for while using my training in AI and systems design.  

– A lot has been discussed about Web3, AI, and Metaverse. People are often dealing with a mix of concern and awe, not truly grasping what is all about. How do you see the present and the future of entertainment with all this?

The present and future of entertainment will be what we want it to be. I think it’s important for each of us to dream, and to take responsibility for creating the futures we want. After watching movies like Ready Player One, it is easy to be concerned about the future. Once, a venture capitalist pitched to me that he felt that after universal basic income, no one will have any meaning or purpose and they will spend all their time grinding in addictive video games in AR, hating themselves and hating their lives, but not being able to quit playing. I think he had seen Ready Player One. I don’t believe this future is actually possible, even if someone tries to build it because this vision ignores one aspect of the psychological function of play: People play to resolve identity crises, and when the crisis is resolved they stop playing as much. We play to learn.

For example, after a student graduates from university, they may become addicted to a video game for a few months, and their loved ones may become worried. However, the vast majority of such students will eventually emerge from the game ready to make the change from being a student to being an adult. They needed magic, another place to experiment with new identities and figure out what kind of adult they would be, and then they didn’t need that magic, another place anymore.

When we did focus groups exploring why people consume entertainment, we found that what they look for in entertainment is to explore ways of being and to learn and grow and change as a person. Any future of entertainment must allow us to do this, and to follow our natural inclinations to thrive and to co-create.

I believe the future of entertainment will augment what is good about being human and being alive on a planet. We will reorganize the ways that we learn and the ways that we work to be more fun and creative! Just like animals, we will learn through play. We will find ways to contribute to causes we care about in fun, playful ways, drawing on our natural strengths and talents that light us up inside, and achieve real, tangible results. We’ll help people. We will see progress on issues we care about in beautiful displays in AR as we look out across the city, and we will feel and create deep purpose and meaning together.

Going a little back, “Child of Light” was a game that had a female protagonist and a 25% female development team. Could you share a bit of how this came about, how did you think of the story and recognition that it got?

For Child of Light, we purposely built a diverse programming team so that what would unite us was simply our shared purpose. It was the smoothest development I’ve ever worked on, very fun, and much of the programming team still keeps in touch with each other this many years later. It was an honor to work with them on that game. I love how our team came up with very unique innovations, such as Aurora’s hair, or the mixed 2D/3D pipeline we needed to get the feel right. I don’t think we would have come up with such creative solutions if our team had not been as diverse. Diverse teams lead to more conversation, more wild ideas, and more creativity from all team members—both team members from marginalized backgrounds and team members who are more traditional experts.  

-Adapting games to Series or movies is NOT a “new thing”, but truly is a trend that is still strong. It feels that often the stories don’t really “carry into” the films or series as perfectly as games, but quoting a recent title – “The Last of Us” – seems to be a unanimous success. What are the challenges to adopting these contents? “Assassin’s Creed”, had mixed reactions. Are people now more open to this kind of storytelling?

TRU LUV is working on a new model for technology, beneficence, that is all about love and human flourishing, as an alternative to gamification. Our challenge is great and I am very focused, so I have not watched many movies, played games, or had a social media account in a long time! Since I am studying the reflection and amplification of love for our work, any time I am not working or studying, I am with my friends, my dog, or in meditation.

– Many of the games are either fantasy or, as you have pointed out, dystopian. How do these stories impact the perception we might have of ourselves and society? Your concern about this led you to create Tru Luv and bring optimism and well-being back to the fold, focusing on care and character. Could you share how this came about, how it is, and what do think could be “what’s next”?

Most of our thinking happens subconsciously, and our subconscious minds are pattern-matching machines. This is why imposter syndrome exists—when we haven’t seen examples of people like us doing our jobs, our subconscious minds thrash around without being able to make comparisons. It’s also why when something new and very weird happens in your life it may feel cinematic—because you’ve only seen such a thing in the movies. The fastest way to get rid of imposter syndrome is to create stories that fill the gap for your subconscious mind, whether that is through journaling, visualization, hypnotherapy, or simply finding a mentor who reminds you of yourself. Likewise, it’s very important that we fill our minds with positive visions of what futures we want—otherwise, it is too easy for us to create the dystopias we see, like the VC who had seen Ready Player One and wants to create it. What if he had seen a different vision?

At TRU LUV we’re working on a secret new project that is a tool for people to collaborate with each other while developing their natural strengths and talents. It’s all about making the invisible visible: Seeing our talents and interests, seeing our dreams, seeing our relationships, seeing our impacts. Once we see something, we can create with it more directly, and we can make our dreams come true.

– Could you talk a little bit about how is it “emotionally conscious AI”?

One of the components of our secret project is an algorithm we call DEEPEN. DEEPEN is an AI algorithm that helps you identify your feelings and interests and leverages these into real change in the world. Imagine if the flow of content in your social media feed was designed for your flourishing rather than to addict you, and felt more like a dance than something you needed to train. DEEPEN isn’t ready to show yet. I’m looking forward to it.

– The gamification usually inspires a competition that needs high scores and winners, but you have also been working on ‘virtual meditative rituals’ such as laundry, tarot cards, and a cat. How does that work?

Classic gamification assumes that you need rising tension or rising challenge to keep someone engaged. In our 2018 experimental app #SelfCare, we proved that we can also use deepening connections to create an interesting experience. In our RITUALs, instead of puzzles that get harder and harder, you have interactions that themselves naturally invite certain emotions, deepening over time. We currently have a library of 125 interactions where each is intended to invite a specific subtle emotional state. A specific example is the massager ritual described above.

In gamification, you often leave the experience at your most frustrating: either the tension or challenge gets too high, or you finish the experience and wish it wasn’t done. In #SelfCare, we designed our rituals so that they become gently boring after about 3-5 minutes, and you leave at the moment you are feeling most calm and connected rather than the tensest. We are continuing this work in much deeper and more transformative directions in our new secret project! I’m looking forward to when we can show it.

Do you have any advice to share with women who dream to work in the tech field and follow your path?

One of my friends told me once: The way that you are successful is by just not giving up. This is how I got my degree when I had no money; how I survived many years being the only woman in the room and often treated oddly; and how I finally got to have my own company making my dream technology with really incredible and inspiring people.

To do this, you have to build your strength. I know from the science of love and compassion that the best way to build your strength and your resilience is with love. For example, love makes the difference between whether trauma is likely to result in post-traumatic stress disorder or post-traumatic growth. Self-love, a loving community, and a loving pet are all roads to strength. So is accepting that bias exists and having compassion for those who ignore you, while also choosing what you want to change and focusing your attention there.

To learn as much as possible, to break glass ceilings, to forge your own path, and to find ways to express your own values in an industry that may not, do not expect it to be easy, but do expect yourself to find ways to be strong enough to keep getting up each time you get knocked down. If you make it to the expert level, your perspective will be more valuable than others because of your unique background and unique traits, and you’ll have the chance to really impact the world and to find deep purpose.


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