Artist and Game-Maker Breaks Video Game Boundaries

Artist and Game-Maker Breaks Video Game Boundaries

Toronto-based artist Kara Stone loves a good serious issue.

Stone has her MA in communication and culture with a focus on mental health, affect, feminism, and videogames. She also has a BA of Fine Arts in film production, but her projects are mostly expressed through forms of interactive art and videogames.

Stone began experimenting with interactive video and web design before she would become inspired to create games. After hearing Toronto-based group Dames Making Games co-founder Cecily Carver speak about the organization, Stone realized this could be the perfect path for her to follow.

She was a little bit aghast when her realization came to life.

“It had never occurred to me that I could [make games],” she says. “I’d always loved video games and maybe somewhere in the furthest reaches of my brain I thought it would be cool to write for a video game company. But beyond that, I had no idea. It was never offered to me even though I was doing all this art and tech stuff.”

Stone attended her first workshop through DMG and that is where the first skeleton for her first and much acclaimed game Medication Meditation was developed.

Medication Meditation
Medication Meditation

“It’s about the mundane daily living with mental illness and the sort of boring things you have to do on a day-to-day basis to just be able to keep living,” says Stone.

The game has five levels with small interactions: taking your medication at the right time, talking to a therapist, breathing at the same time as animated lungs to name three of them.

Stone relayed her personal experience with these day-to-day actions, describing them as incredibly tiresome.

Medication Meditation became a way for Stone to explore those themes and to express them through art.

Although Stone’s work often deals with “a good serious issue,” she says she tries to balance that with the funny, weird and strange.

“I try to approach these things that are really important to me but also infuse a bit of my own way of looking at them,” she says

Sext Adventure is a more recent game that Stone worked on with developer Nadine Lessio, and certainly falls under the serious-silly description. The non-linear text adventure is played through the player’s own cell phone and essentially allows them to partake in a sexty simulated conversation with a robot.

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The game has 20 different possible endings and explores “current cultures of mass-mediated sexuality and speculates on the sexual identity of artificial intelligences.”

Sext Adventure I think deals with the really serious issue of sexuality and the human constructs that we put on top of our desires,” said Stone. “But it’s also really funny and weird.”

Sext Adventure was displayed at an exhibition as part of Vector 2015 this past month, a games art and new media festival based in Toronto. It is still viewable and playable at InterAccess on Ossington Ave. until March 13 along with many other interactive techy game art pieces.

Stone’s work has been featured in Vice, Wired, The Atlantic and NPR to name just a few. Her acclaim thus far has resulted in her participation in many events and exhibitions in North America.

After returning to Toronto after GDC, she is scheduled to speak at the next Interact event put on by Interactive Ontario. IO puts on an Interact event the second Sunday of each month, with March’s focusing on Boundary Breaking Games.

Stone told me about her next few projects with excitement, and I must say they all sound pretty awesome.

Moon Witch - Art by: Yifat Shaik
Moon Witch - Art by: Yifat Shaik

Moon Witch is one of her biggest games yet. “Big in terms of indie-big,” she says. With artwork by Yifat Shaik, the game is about a witch who’s been exiled to the moon and who must set up her new life there.

She’s also working on a game that deals with similar issues as does Medication Meditation, called Cyclothymia. Still speaking about mental health, this game will reframe it in terms of astrology, stars, space and cycles.

Finally, she’s working on a digital Ouija board multi-narrative game with Gabby DaRienzo, where the player is the spirit in charge of contacting humans.

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Whether it’s breaking boundaries in games through using difficult or complex subject matter, reversing the role of the Ouija board player, or giving a talk at an event with that exact name, Stone’s bound to keep popping up in the industry with thought-provoking indie art games that will make you cringe, laugh, question and think a little more about the medium that is videogames.