#WeMakeGames interview series:
What is your background?
“My background is a bit atypical for the video game industry. I always wanted a job that would allow me to travel, play in the dirt, and experiment with dangerous chemicals. So, I ended up in grad school studying bioarchaeology. In my case, that meant biochemical analysis of organic archaeological material, primarily bone. My last job before joining my current studio was at a covid diagnostics lab.”
- Name: Mariana Muñoz-Rodríguez
- Age: 33
- From: Originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico, but “been living in Sweden since 2018, and lived in the UK and US before that”
- Interests: Mycology (mushroom science!), fibre arts, historical musical instruments, and cosy gaming
- Favourite games: “I love anything with heavy elements of storytelling, puzzle-solving, exploration, and simulation”
- Profession: World Building Researcher at Sharkmob
Why did you start working in the game industry?
“I realized halfway through my PhD that academia was not the right career path for me. Instead, I was keen on finding more creative applications for my research skills and expertise, such as TV, film, and video games. Before I landed my current position at Sharkmob, I had written an open application to another game studio in Sweden basically outlining the job I have now, but was turned down due to a lack of experience in the industry. Lo and behold, the planets aligned and that exact job spawned in Malmö instead. Being the in-house researcher at a game studio turned out to be a great fit!”
“I was keen on finding more creative applications for my research skills and expertise”
How has working in the industry been for you?
“It took me a while to settle into my role. For one, I have an unusual job that typically gets outsourced. So, there was no blueprint for what I do, nor did I have a predecessor or colleague doing the same work to guide me. Second, I had to learn about game development terminology and processes that were completely foreign to me. Yes, there were growing pains, but I would not be defeated by the unfamiliar so easily.
I think it would be fantastic if more people with academic backgrounds find similar opportunities in the games industry. Studios would only stand to benefit from hiring individuals with the diverse backgrounds you find in academia. In my case, being hyper-analytical and knowing how to differentiate between fact and fiction has been a major part of doing well at my job. Also, as a former bioarchaeologist, I was already doing a lot of world building for the past. That skill was easily transferable since it requires many of the same thought processes you might apply to a game world built from scratch.
However, I would recommend that people with backgrounds similar to mine try out some online courses to familiarise themselves with the industry. Enjoying games solely as a consumer is a great start, but it’s not always enough. Also, let’s not forget the vital role luck plays in finding a prospective employer that values your current skills above direct experience in the industry.“
What is a day in your work life like?
“The project I’m working on is still top secret and I can’t give you any details other than we make AAA multiplayer games. However, I can still discuss method. At work, I can be described as a ghost that haunts several teams. I listen in, contribute, and collaborate on many different aspects of the game development process. My job is to help make the game’s world feel believable and to inspire my colleagues in ways that further develop said world. This often comes in the form of topical presentations, addressing specific research requests, and what we call a ‘sanity check’. That’s when someone comes up with a cool idea, but they want to make sure it checks out in terms of the wider world building context.”
“My job is to help make the game’s world feel believable and to inspire my colleagues in ways to further develop said world”
What’s best with your job?
“My work is like a puzzle game in hard mode. I’ve got most of the pieces I need, but figuring out how to arrange them in a way that makes sense or resolves a specific aspect of world building is part of what keeps my work interesting. I get to research all sorts of stuff – from super mundane to super fascinating – and infodump on my colleagues. Then, there is the creative push and pull that occurs when you try to balance out what makes an immersive world and what makes a good video game. It’s a challenging, yet compelling, part of the process. I’ve grown to really enjoy the nonlinear aspect of working as a researcher at a game studio.”
How would you advise others that want a job like yours to pursue it?
“It would be neglectful not to point out how luck played a major role in where I’ve ended up. All it took was an unexpected combination of keyword alerts on LinkedIn and an employer who hired me for my skills, not just industry background (which was none at that point). The part that required less luck was being highly prepared. I spoke with people I knew in the industry and friends who are video game-obsessed as a form of reconnaissance. I consumed as much industry-specific media (blogs, interviews, articles, etc.) as I could and looked at countless sample applications so I could better tailor mine to the job. I also practiced for my interviews. These things can differ so much between industries, so doing your research is well worth the time and effort. However, my biggest piece of advice is to not undersell your hard-earned skills. Your experience, however far from video games it may be, is valuable and you should make sure that comes across as clearly as possible.”
The #WeMakeGames interview series allow individuals in the game industry to tell their story, about their current work, how they got to where they are and why they believe the games industry is such an enjoyable industry to work in. We move beyond programmers and level designers, to showcase the wide range of roles making up the studios creating some of the world’s best games – right here in south Sweden!