Felicia Day Is Just What Gaming Needs

As I watched Felicia Day interact with a video game version of herself, I was struck by the degree of existential weirdness that was going on in front of me. What must it be like to come face to face with a pre-recorded, interactive version of yourself? I tried to imagine having a branching, BioWare-style conversation with my own video game doppelgänger and couldn't quite make the leap. Would I be aggressive? Kind? Flirty? Would I push my on-screen likeness around just to see what happened?

I soon realised I was seeing something else as well -- here was a talented writer, musician, and actor getting a substantial taste of the world of video game development, watching as her longstanding views on the power of interactive fantasy were spun into a new kind of reality. Gaming needs people with fresh artistic perspectives, people who bring a wealth of game and non-game influences to bear on their work, who can push the form in interesting new directions while still respecting the traditions that have led it to this point. In other words, gaming needs people like Felicia Day.

An actor, writer, musician and producer, Day is best known for her roles web-based TV works like Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog and her own series The Guild, which is a lighthearted romp through the lives of six online gamers. The Guild was Day's creation, and in addition to writing and producing it, she plays the main character, a nervous, unconfident gamer named Cyd "Codex" Sherman.

Looking at Day's intimidating number of Twitter followers (as of this writing, she is at 1.86 million), it is tempting to call her "Internet famous." That is something of a loaded term, in that it implies that internet success is somehow less substantial than the "real" success of Hollywood. Day does have several television credits, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer and more recently Eureka, but even without them, her legions of devoted fans present a compelling argument that whatever its origins, her fame is anything but insubstantial. (For example, Day shared the story of a recent Comic-Con attendee who had her sign his calf, then used the autograph as a template for a permanent tattoo.)

***

"We celebrate all aspects of gaming, not just things that a person on the street might see as 'A Gamer.'"

I met up with Day last week in San Francisco at an Electronic Arts-sponsored press event. The meeting had been put together to promote two different products: a chunk of downloadable game content for EA's role-playing game Dragon Age II called Mark of the Assassin, and web series called Dragon Age: Redemption, which was written and produced by Day. Both the game and the series centre around a character named Tallis, who is played by Day.

Sitting in the hotel suite that EA had set up to show the game, Day certainly didn't look the part of a geek glamor girl or a hollywood actress. She was dressed casually, sporting jeans, glasses, and a t-shirt, and wouldn't have looked out of place in one of the game-strewn freeplay rooms at the Penny Arcade Expo.

Immediately after I arrived, she got right down to it, picking up the controller and working her way through the opening minutes of Mark of the Assassin. As she played, she regarded the game with a mellow, thoughtful intensity -- this may have been a promotional event, but her enthusiasm was never less than genuine. At one point in the demo, Tallis (and therefore Day) had to emit a dragon's mating call -- it was a hilarious bit of awful voice-acting, something between a goose and a dinosaur cry. Everyone in the room was laughing by the middle of the scene, and Day was laughing perhaps hardest of all.

I asked her about how EA approached her to write Redemption, and how the whole rest of the deal came together. "I have been reluctant to do other projects, but when I heard that I would be able to work with Dragon Age… I'm a huge fan. I played Baldur's Gate; I'm old-school. I played all six origin stories in Dragon Age: Origins, I was hardcore about it."

Gaming culture can be very suspicious of outsiders who glom onto geekdom in an effort to make a quick buck. Whenever an attractive, successful actor espouses his or her secret, nerdy childhood, we become rightly suspicious. But unlike Day, most celebrities didn't become well-known by telling stories about the goofy lives of a bunch of online gamers. "Sometimes I'm just 'talent'" she told me, "I'm just an actor. But for the things that I create from scratch -- to me, that's more fulfilling."

"The highlight of my gaming world is creating my avatar. Because I am projecting myself into that world. In that world I can be all-powerful, I can behave the way I want."

Day said that when writing Redemption, she made a concerted effort to do her homework and build a story that was true to Dragon Age. "Whatever anybody says… I researched this," she said. "I read original forum posts, the grandfathered-in, old forum from before Dragon Age: Origins, was released. I read practically every single post that [BioWare writers]David [Gaider]or Mary [Kirby]did on the Qunari for research. I went into my first meetings with [Dragon Age II lead designer]Mike Laidlaw and the other BioWare people and I was like, 'Here are my questions,' which were very specific about the lore. I wanted to make sure that they knew that I was looking at their world as sacrosanct. I want to take the zeitgeist of what they did, and put it into the narrative of the web series. So when I looked at writing a scene, I said, 'would this be similar to a player character interacting with a non-player-character in the game?' Just so that spirit was alive, because it's been an iffy thing with adapting video games into a narrative [in the past] ."

It was an enjoyable challenge coming up with party members for the web-series who were worthy of BioWare's high standards. "The companion characters in Dragon Age and Mass Effect, and all BioWare games, that's the appealing thing, you're creating a family. So when I was sitting down and constructing those character relationships, and how they would play off each other, and how they would compliment each other in a narrative way, that was the most fun and challenging part of it. Making sure that if there was somebody who might be a love interest, that they would qualify in a BioWare way. If I was playing the game, this is someone I'd want as a companion. That was sort of my baseline."

Another challenge was the task of recreating the vibe of the Dragon Age universe on a web-series budget. "It was a challenge being able to scale it appropriately so that I did service to the Dragon Age world, which is a huge, epic fantasy world. But you know, [in a web series]we can't build the whole city of Kirkwall!"

***

One of my own favourite moments in The Guild comes at the end of Season 3. In an all-or-nothing Player-vs.-Player showdown with an evil rival guild, Day's character Cyd winds up her team's last woman standing. She completely panics, and in doing so blacks out and awakens in a parallel reality, face-to-face with her in-game character, a mage named "Codex."

"Stop moving me like a total spaz," Codex admonishers Cyd. "Stop playing me like I'm you."

"I am you!" Cyd protests, confused.

"You wish," Codex replies. "I'm who you are in-game. Who you want to be. Confident, in-charge, naturally wavy hair… You're playing me like I'm Cyd! Twitchy, self-conscious… just relax and be me for a minute. Reality is kicking your arse right now."

Of course, immediately after hearing this, Cyd snaps out of it and wins the day. It's a wonderful bit of commentary on one of the things that games allow us to do -- we build versions of ourselves that exist only in our imaginations, and sometimes, our lives would be improved simply by acting more like our digital counterparts.

I was reminded of that scene while watching Day interact with an digital version of herself in the real world, so I asked her about it. "I think that different people approach gaming in different ways," she said, "but I think that especially if you come from a role-playing game background, to me, as a gamer, the highlight of my gaming world is creating my avatar. Because I am projecting myself into that world. In that world I can be all-powerful, I can behave the way I want."

"When I created The Guild," she continued, "I wanted to celebrate what we were. We celebrate all aspects of gaming, not just things that a person on the street might see as 'A Gamer.' Somebody who doesn't know anything about gaming sees The Guild and says, 'All those different kinds of people play? I had no idea.' But a gamer watches and says "Oh my gosh I know a Vork!' or, 'That's such a cliché, that whole Clara character.' So it is a fine line to peel back the curtain and show the world that gaming is universal, gaming is enjoyed by so many different kinds of people and also engage hardcore gamers, to show that familiarity."

***

"Sometimes I'm just 'talent' -- I'm just an actor. But for the things that I create from scratch -- to me, that's more fulfilling."

Like so many effective creative people, Day operates largely in terms of collaboration and teamwork. She wasn't always an actor -- in college, she double-majored in mathematics and classical Violin -- and her musical training carries over to how she approaches her creative work today. "The thing I love more than anything is chamber music, kind of doing trios and quartets, being able to be a part of a whole and produce something together. And I think that infuses everything that I do. Filmmaking is the same thing. You're getting a bunch of people who have disparate talents, and bringing them together to make a whole. That's filmmaking, that's an orchestra, that's making a video game." She sees playing a game in much the same way. "The dynamic when you put four people together into a party [in a game] , each of them brings a different quality and they create a whole. If you have four sassy characters or four shy characters, it's not going to be a fun party."

Now that she has dipped her toe into video game production, it's hard not to wonder what she'll get up to next. As the video game industry continues to grow and diversify, we need fresh perspectives and new energy to help it along. Whatever the end result of her partnership with Dragon Age, Day's move towards the creative side of video games is heartening. She is a thinker and a doer -- at 32 she has written and produced two different web series, performed in television dramas and musicals, and regularly demonstrated her rare grasp of the wonderful weirdness at the heart of video games.

Career pressures and financial considerations may dictate a move towards more film and television work, but it's hard not to hope to see Day's name in the credits for a few more games, as well. We've got our Spectors and our Miyamotos, our Levines and our Hockings, but there's always room for new voices. Video games could use a little bit more Felicia Day.


Comments

    If she were a normal looking bloke, no one would give 2 shits.

      Cynical, but I can't help agreeing.

        As much as I like (some of) her work, sadly I too, have to agree.

          I never even thought or gave two-shits about her before New Vegas. Even after, I never understood why people were swooning over her.

            Yeah i don't understand it, she's nothing special to look at, shes a redhead ffs.
            Her voice is actually annoying and not at all easy to listen too.

              In the name of the gloriously hot gingers who populate this planet (including my wife), I respectfully slap you sir, upside the head.

                Being a redhead has nothing to do with my indifference for her.

                  I was replying to DNR.

                LOL i contemplated removing that comment, i too know the odd attractive redhead... its like 1 in 1 billion tho.

                  I am a terrible attractive redhead and I resent your comments. TERRIBLY ATTRACTIVE.

      I'm over it. Also, she was in House.

      Not her fault, she's great and all, but every neckbeard around has a huge crush on her that, frankly, should make her hire armed guards at all times.

      Could be worse. Could be Lisa Foiles who using nothing but her looks and carefully selected tight tanktops to get noticed.

        Kotaku US just hired her.

          My hubby and I play WoW together. We have since just befroe BC came out. If you two don't want to start from scratch and level all the way to 80 from 1, and trust me, its becoming a huge pain in the ass for my 61 huntard, then you can schill out some $$ and buy the server transfer as well as a faction change or race change. Plus, if you plan on doing the server transfer and want a new name, befroe you start the transfer, go make a new toon on the server you're transferring TO with the same name as the one you're transferring. Free name change

      Ah, but she is not a 'Normal looking bloke', which is why this article does a good job of highlighting the double-standards of game journalism.

      On one hand we have the posts going around proclaiming a moral high ground with "Bewbs - get over it",

      ...And yet here we have a cunningly-disguised post that is oozing a subtext that states "Look! An attractive female who plays games! You should read this!"

      Gawker makes money off this, you know. At the end of the day, as much as the uptight will argue that the sky is purple for the sake of looking good and pretending that they think there is nothing to fuss about, we are still dealing with a demographic that has a very large cross section of people that like looking at boobs.

      If Gawker (and the gaming media in general) were serious about deconstructing the 'myth of the female gamer', then people like Felicia Day wouldn't be doing pointless interviews.

      ...To which the obvious point emerges: Why is Felicia Day in Dragon Age to begin with?

      Bewbs.

        Because nerds will cream their jeans and buy all the DLC she's in?

        I think it tells you a lot about the state of gender politics in the video games industry when someone can be notable for being good looking. But then again, this is also how Gabe Newell got into the industry.

      Very true.. i also think she's slightly odd looking - but that's probably just me? :S

      +1 to that. Despite lack of interest I can't seem to escape her thank to Fallout and Dragon Age. Still she if she can market herself and be a sucess then good luck with that.

      It could be worse. Paris Hilton could still be relevant and be doing this stuff! :p

      Yes.... and No.

      Take a look at Wil Wheaton. He's probably just as famous as Felicia Day, in the same circles, but also not really famous for doing much. Sure he was that kid in Star Trek, but that's about it. He's more famous for being an uber geek.

        Yes, but nerds don't want to bang Wil Wheaton in the droves (at least I hope not). And he doesn't get a fraction of the amount of adoration thrown at Felicia Day via convention appearances and idolatrous articles like this.

      She's a big deal because of the cute girl who might actually talk to you image she gives off, but she actually does deserve some credit for being talented. I think the big problem isn't that she's getting noticed for being a girl, it's that people doing as much or more aren't getting noticed at all because they aren't cute girls.
      For pretty much everyone else it takes either bombarding the press for six months, a position of ridiculous power (or a ridiculous abuse of what power you have) or leading AAA accomplishment before you'll get anywhere near the attention she does. Hell, it takes that much just for their name to be recognisable.

      The industry is full of fantastically talented people who get about as much credit as the guys cleaning the office and if we're talking about what needs to change in gaming then that should be much higher on the list than Falicia Day.

        Agreed.

        She's cute in a quirky way and has gamer appeal but if she was a talentless hack then she wouldn't keep getting hits on such a diverse range of personal projects. I quite liked that this article focused more on how she approached the game and displayed her professionalism for it rather than just sticking up a few sexy pics with a oneliner attached.

    I would smash her dot soo hard

    Felicia Day and Nathan Fillion should have a child.
    It would be the nerd-messiah.

      I hate you so much for that image!

      And by Nathon Fillion you mean Bruce Campbell. Yes?

        I think you mean Bruce Campbell and Bruce Campbell should have a child. It will be the Bruce Campbell of Bruce Campbell's.

          sagest words i've heard today.

          I'm pretty sure Bruce Campbell could do it, too

            One sly twitch of that magnificent cookie-duster and you'd have the Second Coming faster than you can say "Cheesemaker".

          A seething mass of chins, insanity and out of context but hilarious one liners.

    I still don't know who this is other than some name that people seem to keep saying every now and then.

      Yeah I know. She gets mentioned a lot so I feel like I should know something about her... :/

      She was in Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog, and I think she wrote The Guild or something... But the first part is the only really noteworthy thing.

        She was also in the Epitaph One and Epitaph Two episodes of Dollhouse, which were two of the better episodes of the show.

        Ok, Dr Horrible I know. The rest are just other names that appear alongside hers that have equally little meaning :P

      Check out The Legend of Neil. That's when I first came across Felicia Day. Very funny series, and Felicia is great in it.

    Meh never really liked her. Nothing specifically against her, just doesn't do it for me, find her irritating. Gaming doesn't need one specific person, though I get the underlying point.

    First I heard was "OMG FELICIA DAY ANIMATED DRAGON AGE SERIES" and I went "....what an awful idea."

    Then I saw a Gametrailers TV "interview" being hosted by one of the ditzyest persons I've ever seen in relation to gaming, blabbing to some lady about an elf with lousy VA.

    I'm not trying to be mean here either. Well, except for the GTTV inanity, that was mean. And I'm ok with it.

    Great article.

    you had me at bruce campbell.

    I wonder how many of the people complaining about her being famous because she's hot are men?

    I think it's easy for a guy to turn around and complain that she's only popular because of her boobs, but what about those of us who also have boobs? I love Felicia Day, mostly because as a long time female gamer who's sick of people asking her on WoW if she's "rly a grl?" I see her as someone to look up to, putting a face to female gamers everywhere.

    About 40% of gamers are actually female, and the industry needs to get over this idea that games are only played by 15 year old boys and sadder older men. The existence of someone like Felicia Day, who is a regular, functioning adult woman who plays games is key to the industry realising that there is a market for female gamers outside of "Barbie as the Island Princess". I'm not saying that we need to absolutely change games to suit female gamers, most games are just fine (sure some of them have shitty female characters but meh) but I wouldn't mind just a little to not be embarrassed when I buy the next Dead or Alive.

      My question to you is how paying people like Felicia Day attention with an interview-because-you're-a-girl does anything to solve the problem?

      It puts what is otherwise a perfectly normal person on to a pedestal that is not in any way deserved.

      She's a passionate gamer who produces what amounts to very good fan fiction.

      This does not make her special.

      What makes something special is a media agenda that paints it as such, which is very much what we have here.

      There can be such a thing as "too much" equality, where the scales are tipped beyond the point of balance, and start drifting in to the territory of favouritism.

      I do not dislike Felicia Day (And I've always found "Hate" a word that is too easily thrown about) but really... Ask yourself the question "Why is she so popular?" and I seriously doubt the answer is because 1.8 million twitter followers consider her a decent role model.

      It's called tabloid press - which is very much what this article is.

        Are you suggesting that this article was only written because Felicia Day is female?

        The more straight forward explanation is that she is voice acting in some new DLC for a game, and has produced a web series the complements the same game.

        Given that the game's developer set up an event that provided an opportunity to do the interview, surely that is enough reason to publish a story.

        That's total bullshit, there's no Kardashian like media agenda pushing Felicia Day down peoples throats that this article represents.

        People like her because she's likable, she's creative and active in what could roughly be called the 'geek community'. She writes and stars in one of the most popular and longest running web series of all time.

        She's not famous because the media decided to maker her famous, she's famous for what she does.

          I'll just pick the fattest, boldest quote directly from the above article:

          “The highlight of my gaming world is creating my avatar. Because I am projecting myself into that world. In that world I can be all-powerful, I can behave the way I want.”

          This sterling, insightful statement of the obvious is important... why? The above could have been uttered by any and every gamer who has ever played an RPG. I standby the assertion that the tone of this article is absurd given the context.

          And you think this article is in no way pandering?

        Exactly this. She's just another pretty girl the gaming industry is interested in; how is that in any way a reversal of the status quo? What the gaming industry needs is female designers / programmers / artists, and it's gaining more of them all the time. But somehow they don't make the news, while the elf with the taped up cleavage does.

      Don't worry. It's not the fact that Felicia is female that is the source of the complaints. I think it's just a reaction against the celebrity worship that's evident in the article. All the anecdotes of fawning fans is rather tiresome, you know.

      Felicia obviously has talent; you don't attempt a double-major in violin and mathematics unless you've got some ability. She's obviously worked hard to get to where she is. I like her, and I think she'll do well.

      I'm not sure she'd appreciate being the face of female gamers, though. That's some responsibility. Plus, it is a slightly awkward face. Not that there's anything wrong with that. ;)

        But talent is not the same thing as perseverance. I can acknowledge Felicia Day's hard work getting where she is, and bringing gaming to the mainstream (even if it is appealing to the lowest common denominator).

        But is she more deserving than more talented than other, more geeky female gamers? The Guild has proven that she can't write, Dr. Horrible has proven that she can't sing, and from the look of this DLC, she can't exactly act either. So why am I supposed to fawn over this talentless woman again? Oh right. Because she's a cute girl who likes games. It's insulting.

          Plenty of people enjoy The Guild and plenty of people enjoyed Dr Horrible and her singing. Don't pass opinion as fact.

      The issue was never about gamers being innately misogynistic and hate girls. The problem is Felicia Day, specifically. You're right, there are millions of more deserving, smart and legitimate female gamers out there. So why can't we have one of them? I don't recall there ever being as much derision targeted that Veronica Belmont or Hex from Good Game. Why? Because they're bona fide nerds who know their shit, not a cute girl who thinks that alone is enough to attract nerds.

      So why does the face of female gaming have to be Felicia Day? She was the worst thing about Dr. Horrible, can't write for shit (The Guild was the most amateurish thing I've ever seen), can't sing or act. 90% of her legion of fans are teenage boys who idolise her because of the perception that she's a cute, geeky girl next door who would probably date them. It's wish fulfilment at its finest. The other 10% are the female gamers who want the adoration foisted upon her.

      Olivia Munn did exactly the same thing, using her questionable geek credentials on the likes of G4 to gain exposure and move into mainstream media. It's pandering to her target demographic, nerds. It's the same way politicians pander to their constituents.

    A lot of hate floating around this article.

    Personally, I would like to see more articles about interesting people in games (male, female, interesting looking or not) rather than less... and this is as good a place to start as any.

    FD has her gaming creds: she finished DA:O six times! I found a save-eating bug about 2/3 in and never finished it even once. :)

      It's confusing, I thought the article was well written, I like Felicia Day and was pleased to learn about the DA2 DLC which I previously did not know about.

      But the comments here reek of, I don't know, sour grapes maybe? Or the bull crap Aussie tall poppy attitude of 'I don't know enough about you to know why you deserve to be interviewed so I'm going to bag you'.

    Aww... there's nothing like hating on something popular to make you feel better than the rank and file, huh guys? Super win!

    Ugh... I hate Felicia Day. I also hated The Guild.

    Then again, I hate shows like Big Bang Theory , too.

      You hate her why exactly?

    But, remember that girls go mental over those twilight "men".....

    The edward man and the werewolf guy.

    Well... I like her. And I liked Dragon Age 1 and 2.

    The Guild? Liked. Dr. Horrible? Liked very much.

    Day is cute, and sassy, and obviously knows a thing or two about gaming. I wouldn't throw myself in front of a truck for her or anything, but good luck to her!

      The Guild is a horribly written piece of shit that wouldn't even deserve a pilot. It's a webseries for a reason. The only reason people like it is because they themselves are nerds and think there's something poignant and accessible about it.

      Felicia Day is cute and... well, that's about it. She's not not particularly geeky, certainly not moreso than the millions of other female gamers out there. She's just parlayed that into exposure and nerds get wet every time she does some other crappy project. Olivia 'Epic for the Win' Munn did exactly the same thing.

    Can't hurt to have more women in gaming. But The Guild was legit dogshit. Really, properly hard to watch.

    "a Mage called Codex"... Ok did this guy actually watch The Guild or just look at her credits on IMDB and Google image search?

    I would.

    That's really all I have to say about it.

    I don't understand all this talk of 'geek credentials'. Why does a gamer have to be a 'geek'?

    "a talented writer, musician, and actor"
    From DLC trailer it doesn't looks o much talent there. Throw in a few jokes in screwed up situation, how "dangerous" road to end it is, and there you have it DLC Mark of the Assassin. (Though that works for any fast-money-making DLC)

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