Womenize! – Inspiring Stories is our weekly series featuring inspirational women from games and tech. For this edition we talked to Kerstin Schütt, CEO at Twisted Ramble GamesShe speaks about her transition from computer science to game design, emphasizes empathy in games, and shares challenges and rewards in co-founding Twisted Ramble Games. Read more about Kerstin in this interview:
Hi Kerstin! What inspired you to transition from studying Computer Science to pursuing a career as a game designer and what advice do you have for people aiming a similar career path?

To be honest: I wanted to work in game development from the start, ever after I played games on PC that had level editors! But I also loved programming and I had a great teacher in school in computer science. It was my favorite subject and she was really good at teaching. I studied computer science first mainly because everybody told me it’s more secure and I wouldn’t make enough money in game development. But after my bachelor’s degree I knew that I didn’t want to work in software development. The thought made me feel quite miserable. And then I found out that at the HTW Berlin, a public school of applied science, they have a game design course. That meant it was affordable because private schools cost a lot of money – on top of your basic living costs. And it was something I could convince my parents to support me doing. It took them a while to get on board with my game design career, but they supported me nonetheless all the way and I’m very grateful for that!

My advice for people wanting to pursue a career in game development is to know what you want and find your own way to make it work. I don’t regret studying computer science first: I learned a lot and I’m able to program the games I want to make. If I knew that this was just my way into game design, I probably would’ve been happier during that time. I think it can work out similar in other fields, like studying at an illustration school to get into game art or studying journalism for storytelling or creating serious games. I encourage everybody to try and find their way, most of the time you’ll be happier that way. And sometimes that way doesn’t lead directly through a game design school.

What do you hope players take away from your games in terms of understanding and engagement with the socially relevant themes you explore, such as in “Duru”?

In a general way I hope our games encourage empathy. In Duru we focus on depression and its symptoms. For example, we show how the main character, Tuli, socially withdraws from her friends and how they react. Some feel hurt when it seems that she doesn’t want to spend time with them, others get angry when she, seemingly out of the blue, leaves events. We show how Tuli perceives these situations: she doesn’t want to drag other’s down or feels like a bad friend, not worthy of good company.

Duru being a cute, colorful serious game, we of course like to show how to handle these situations as well: another friend always reaches out to her, she walks with her, offers to talk or not to talk (which is so important as well). We would love for players to learn to get past the first impulse of being hurt or annoyed when a friend cancels a date last minute again and question if they might need help. Or provide just little, simple things everyone can to do help, like regular check ups by text, even if the other person doesn’t always answer. Even if everything is well, actively showing kindness never hurts.

In our next game, “Was it Poison?” (WT), which tackles the topic of toxic relationships and healthy choice of a romantic (long-term) partner, we like to show the dynamic of such a relationship and why it’s never as easy as telling somebody trapped in one to “just leave”. Also, there are ways to notice “red flags” during dating and getting to know a person so you can be more cautious and may not end up in such a relationship in the first place. Also, it’s a murder mystery dating sim with quirky animal characters. We are so hyped for this project!

What were the most significant challenges and rewards you encountered when co-founding Twisted Ramble Games with your former classmates, and how did this collaborative effort impact your personal journey?

Speaking from my perspective, I think it was rarely a challenge to balance work and friendship when founding Twisted Ramble Games. During our game design classes, we already worked on multiple projects together and knew that we had similar opinions on working style. Also, all of us have an open communication style and are very empathetic. I think it helps from time to time to say what’s on your mind, even if it might be something that somebody else said or did that bothered you. We often phrased issues like “I know you didn’t mean it that way, but I received X as Y and that bothered me”.

I think it is a huge advantage to be able to work together with people you love and trust, especially on a project that is as stressful and risky as an indie game. Or founding your company at the start of the pandemic.

The real challenges were nearly always tied to financial problems or bureaucracy. Our production had slowed down during the pandemic quite a bit, due to sickness and stress and a near burnout. We couldn’t secure additional funds at some point so we had to take on second jobs and contract work, leading to even bigger delays. But us being persistent (and too stubborn to quit) lead to everything working out in the end.

When creating a game about depression you also attract certain people, either online or at events. And we got to meet so many people, be it from the industry or gamers, that felt safe enough to share their own experiences with depression or burn out or distress regarding mental health in general. And talking about it in a light-hearted way, just how we talked about our own experiences, was just lovely to hear. I hope to meet many of them again when we exhibit our next game on conventions!

Thinking of my personal journey, I want to be more grateful for the way I’m able to work and enjoy it as long as its possible: I can do it together with one of my closest friends (we downsized from a trio to a duo, but don’t worry, we are all still friends :)) and I can work on games and topics that interest and matter to me and hopefully help some people in one way or another.

Thanks for this interview, Kerstin!

Kerstin’s links: LinkedIn

Womenize! – Inspiring Stories Feature by Madeleine Egger