Who are you, what awesome things do you do?

My name is Shoshana Kessock. I’m a game designer at the NYU Game Center studying to get my MFA degree. I’m also the creator of Phoenix Outlaw Productions, an independent game company focused on tabletop and live action roleplaying games. I’m the author of an upcoming tabletop RPG called Wanderlust, co-creator of the upcoming independent video game Octavia and contributor to a number of live-action roleplaying and tabletop games from companies like Eschaton Media and Evil Hat Productions. When I’m not doing all that, I’m a freelance blogger for Tor.com covering comics, geek culture, gaming and television. I’m also a writer, mainly working on short stories these days, including one that will be published shortly in a charity anthology by Galileo Games called The Lost.

How did you fall into your life?

It all started when I was eight and got really sick. My dad saw I wasn’t feeling well, so we wanted to help me less miserable, so he went to the store to grab some ice cream and came back with a stack of comic books too. He didn’t know what he was giving me, so I got a smattering of Batman, Justice Society, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and what would become my favorite, X-Men. After that, I was on my way to becoming an all-around giant nerd. I started gaming in high school online in a Marvel chat room RPG, which lead to my love of roleplaying games and in college I discovered live-action gaming. When I discovered you could become a game designer, I took my love of writing and merged that into games and decided I wanted to make it what I did for a living. Along the way, I figured out I really felt strongly about women’s representation in all my nerdly hobbies and I started making it my business to speak out about the topic, including women in comics and video games.

What do you hope to get out what your doing?

I hope to not only provide awesomely fun products that I can share with my fellow geeks out there, but I want to create products that give voice to my particular take on games and writing. I make no bones about being all about positive representation in geek culture, not only for women but for many marginalized or ill-represented groups, and I believe that through creation those ideas can be expressed. That, and I just honestly love creating and storytelling with others, whether that’s through games or stories.

Why is it important to talk about the role of women in these narratives?

I think it’s always been important to talk about the role of women in all kinds of narratives, but especially in comics and what are traditionally considered ‘nerd narratives’ like fantasy and science fiction. Comic books hold a particular place in the hearts of kids who grew up reading the adventures of characters like Superman and Batman, stories that were larger than life and had a huge impact on the way they thought about the world. But in those narratives, women always occupied strange and sometimes very uncomfortable places. They were the damsels in distress, the bad girl femme fatales, the sidekick moms and two-dimensional girlfriends. Even those female heroines were framed by the male-influenced gaze that produced decades of scantily clad, hyper-sexualized bombshell super women who, despite having their own powers and stories, were never really free to be their own people. Women in comics, super powers or no, have always been created to market to a male-driven narrative – written for men and largely by men. And what those stories create have informed those generations of readers on a woman’s place in a narrative – as the secondary character or the emotional crux upon which a man’s story can be built.

The good thing about all this is that things have been changing. The conversation about women in these narratives is definitely happening these days across our culture, especially in the geek community. The discourse about women’s roles and their representation has been a huge controversy for years but nobody was talking about it. People would roll their eyes and say things like “that’s just how it is.” These days, however, people – but especially women- are standing up to be the change they want to see in the world, and are talking about how media has been really uncomfortable in their representation of female roles in society for ages. That conversation is going to inspire them, and the next generation of creators, to put forward more diverse, healthier representations of women in narrative so the full breadth of female characters can be explored.

Some of your favourite examples of positive change?

Really good examples of positive change can be seen in writers like Marjorie Lu and Kelly Sue DeConnick at Marvel Comics, or the incomparable Gail Simone over at DC. Comics like Captain Marvel, Batgirl, Batwoman, the new all-female X-Men run coming up and a lot of the work being done by Marvel with the X-Women characters, all point to a great shift in mainstream comics and their female representation. I’d also shout out to The Walking Dead comics and Invincible by Robert Kirkman and Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga as having some intense female characters with great diversity representation. Great creators like Joss Whedon, writers like Jim Butcher, Neil Gaiman and Greg Rucka are always putting forward incredible female characters. Series like The Hunger Games and Harry Potter provided great female protagonists for a younger generation to grow into and explore too. Even Game of Thrones, which has been super controversial for it’s representation of women, is continuing the discourse about what constitutes a positive female narrative and has both positive and negative representations of female characters. Plus there’s great TV shows out there like Continuum, Once Upon A Time, Orphan Black and Doctor Who to sink your teeth into too, and older series of course like Babylon 5, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The West Wing and Firefly.

What are you reading at the moment?

Right now I’m in the middle of a lot of non-fiction for my gaming work. But for fiction, I jump around a lot between books so I’ve got a few I’m in the middle of. I’m reading NOS4A2 by Joe Hill, The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch and Stephen Blackmoore’s urban fantasy novel Dead Things. I recently also finished The Art of Wishing, a YA novel by Lindsay Ribar which has a great young female protagonist.

What books or authors do you recommend?

I have a ton of favorites. I’m a completely devoted Stephen King fan. I love Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and Codex Alera series and I dig fantasy writer Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Hill and Brandon Sanderson a whole lot. Anyone who knows me knows I eat, sleep and breath the Game of Thrones series by George RR Martin, and adore The Hunger Games. Then I go old school and dig The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle, C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and Jane Eyre.

 

You can find out all about Shoshana’s various projects here and she’s on twitter @shoshanakessock