Womenize! – Inspiring Stories is our weekly series featuring inspirational women from games and tech. For this edition we talked to Mariza Dima, Senior Lecturer in Games Design at Brunel University London. She speaks about the benefits of having an interdisciplinary skill set while working in the games industry. Read more about Mariza in this interview:

Hi Mariza! Do you have any valuable lessons to share, which you consider essential for students wanting to join the games industry?

Thank you for having me! I guess the first lesson that comes to mind for people entering the industry is: keep expanding your horizons and your skills.
Games courses equip students with critical ways of thinking, skills and tools to get started in the games industry but the industry landscape changes so rapidly, creating opportunities for new skill sets. So while one can train their skills and gain experience in their area of expertise, it is important to keep up to date with state-of-the-art developments in the field, look out for slightly different roles that offer opportunities for growth, reflecting at the same time on what you really like to do. Some things will stick, others won’t. It takes some trial and error to find out your direction, all the while the process teaches you so much about yourself. 

Do it as a surrealist! I have learned that personal and professional growth comes from the ability to put yourself in uneasy situations and embrace the discomfort that comes with it. Situations that put us out of our comfort zone and require us to think creatively eventually push us to innovate.
Examples of this can be participating in a project where you are required to use a new skill, changing roles (expanding horizons!), or experimental methods that require blending different things to see what will happen (e.g. I am running a class where students look at New Yorker articles to come up with game design ideas). I have learned to view these situations as a time for playfulness, learning, invention, development, although I often start by feeling anxious, insecure and often lost. Nevertheless, I like putting myself deliberately through them, be it in my work, in order to discover new understandings and gain new knowledge, or my career, as a way for opening horizons and directing my research interests in different ways.  

In all these, collaborations have been fundamental. I firmly believe that innovation is a collaborative effort. It is rare that I have done a project all by myself, not only because it would be impossible to do the design, implementation, and dissemination (let alone maintenance) but because I am keen to discover what other people offer, learn from them, create together, and flex my teamwork skills.

How do you benefit from your various studies, such as applied mathematics and media, in your day to day job?

My journey has been particularly interdisciplinary and I couldn’t have done it otherwise, as one interest led to another. My applied mathematics undergraduate studies taught me a lot about thinking outside the box, and cultivating what is called ’design thinking’. I have found mathematics to be very similar to design. Maths is a wonderful world that trains you in how to think abstractly, find patterns and connect them, think creatively about solutions, while working in imaginary (n-dimensional) spaces.

Mathematics also helped me later in programming when I was developing computer graphics. Having a solid knowledge of linear algebra, discrete maths and other areas, it was much easier to create algorithms for interactions in 3D spaces. I was acquainted with computer programming long before university and the combination of maths and computers (together with my love for video games) led me to want to create interactive 3D worlds. So my next adventure was to understand better how we design these worlds.

However, my first stop was not games but virtual walkthroughs of ancient historic sites (I have a particular love for archaeology). My masters in Design and Digital Media opened my eyes to the world of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), which was all about methods and methodologies for designing interactive systems, and media and culture studies which provided me with the theoretical backdrop to bring creatively the engineering aspect of HCI to cultural contexts. All my projects start from an arts and humanities perspective – I am interested in how we can use technology to create meaningful and fun experiences for people, often experiences that educate and fight social injustice. The engineering aspect comes second, serving the main goal(s).

What does the role of Interaction Designer entail?

In principle, this title (and designers, oh we love titles) comes from HCI and the role involves the conceptual design and often development of interactions between humans and technology (and between humans through technology).

An interaction designer is someone who would design the way audiences interact through technology in different contexts, for example in a participatory theatre play, or devise ways to tell stories through a 5 min walkthrough of a historic site with smart glasses. It is the person who will ask questions such as: What kind of interactions will there be? What is afforded by the space, the technology, the audience expectations? How do potential ideas align with the stakeholders’ vision and expectations in the project? Gathering requirements, analysing and synthesising, and creating a blueprint of the experience is part of the role.

Like myself, many Interaction Designers do not work by themselves only or as ‘experts’ but in collaboration with the stakeholders. Then you need more skills in workshop facilitation, orchestrating inter- and trans-disciplinary collaborations, conducting design research (inventing new design methods so basically viewing the project at a meta level as well the whole time). There is lots of reading and learning at the same time and that is the part I cherish most as I grow my knowledge in different fields (I am a polymath!). Learning also lots of transferable skills is a plus and this is something that I like about the profession as it inherently includes this. I can work with the same methods in different contexts, culture, heritage, health, environment, education etc.

Thanks for this interview, Mariza!

Mariza’s Links: TwitterLinkedInWebsitePodcast

Womenize! – Inspiring Stories Feature by Sophie Brugmann