Deirdra Kiai

Today is Ada Lovelace Day 2010, and the woman in technology whom I’ve chosen to celebrate is Deirdra Kiai, a video game developer, programmer, blogger, and musician in Vancouver, B.C.

Deirdra is a friend of mine * and that fact made this quite a bit harder to write. Although I had the idea to write about her in January, it’s now the night before Ada Lovelace Day, and I’m still writing myself into and out of corners, trying to get this just right. The problem is that I keep trying to write an objective piece of reporting, when what I want to do is dissolve in puddle of subjective mush. I feel I ought to write a compelling, fully-documented argument as to why you should click over to her website, read her archives, and play her games, but my argument boils down to “Because she’s AWESOME and I love her!”

I use the word awesome far too much, to mean too many things, so let me get specific: ‘awesome’, in Deirdra’s case, means honest, direct, introspective, passionate, opinionated, and creative. She’s thoughtful, working hard to figure out the world and her place in it, and that comes through in the games she creates. She has a deep sense of justice, and when she feels strongly about something, she cannot keep quiet about it; she describes this as a ‘lack of filters’, but I’d call it moral courage. In group discussions, on panels, and on Twitter, I’ve frequently been grateful for the way she steers discussions to make sure important, but potentially uncomfortable, points don’t get overlooked.

The tagline on Deirdra’s site is “Socially conscientious, personally meaningful video games”, and if you think that’s a strange pairing of goals and medium, well, go play a few of her games. You’ll see what she’s getting at pretty quickly. Deirdra is concerned about the really big issues in life (e.g., racism, oppression, equality, feminism), but she’s not one for pontificating or abstract theorizing: she focuses on the people behind the ‘isms’, the real-life effects of being somehow Other than what society considers the norm. She uses the personal to illuminate the political.

If I wrote a game about poverty or war or genocide or any other form of institutionalised oppression I have not experienced, how would I do it without having at least some semblance of knowing the answers? How would I know whether said answers were doing good rather than harm to those oppressed? Would the people I portrayed even be able to play the game? Or would I merely be appeasing other privileged people through some form of armchair activism?

This is why, when writing game stories, I firmly stick to writing what I know. I deal with conflicts that are personal. Familiar. They may not be significant conflicts in the grand scheme of things, but many of them are representative of a much bigger and scarier state of affairs.

~ from Deirdra’s post “Privilege, Racism, and One Person’s Story”, April 6, 2009

Respectful, honest, deeply admirable: I’m amazed at how much of herself she’s willing to put out there. That courage is what makes her games so authentic and relatable; they give you a sense of the person behind the game. She’s reaching out with her storytelling, trying to make real connections. She declared her intentions in a May 2009 post titled “I Want to Make Games…” (which is well worth a full read):

I want to make games that are funny but not frivolous, and serious but not melodramatic…I want to make games that speak of the injustices we face in our world, while at the same time inspiring us to make a difference…I want my friends and other like-minded people to join me in this endeavour to make games that are more than just games. We’re not doing it to be famous. We’re not doing it because we want to elevate the medium to some abstract ideal of “art”. We’re doing it because we want — no, need — to express ourselves. Make our voices heard. Maybe even change the world while we’re at it.

Who’s with me?

I’m SO with her—are you?

*And also, through a quirk of gaming timelines, my storyworld great-great-granddaughter, a relationship I proudly claim. Especially if it means I can be “grandmothered” in for Canadian citizenship.**
**As long as I’m disclosing personal entanglements with my subject: I’m also a backer of her next independent game project, Life Flashes By, a community-supported venture she funded through Kickstarter. It’s not a money-making venture; the only profit I’m in line for is the pleasure of playing the finished game, and I’ll happily cut any interested parties in for a share of that.

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8 Responses to Deirdra Kiai

  1. Ramona says:

    What a thoughtful contribution. I tried to think of someone I know for Ada Lovelace Day but came up blank.

  2. Tinky says:

    You did a beautiful job–and I think subjectivity is always helpful as long as we call it that.

    Happy Ada Day! I’m going to Deirdra’s website…….

  3. kaizerin says:

    Thank you! Ramona, I did the same thing–decided early on I wanted to write about someone I knew, rather than a historical figure or just someone ‘famous’ in the field. Reading through some of this year’s contributions has given me a lot of great ideas for next year, though!

    Tinky, thank you for reading and for leaving such a nice comment. I’m so glad the post inspired you to check out Deirdra’s site.

  4. Grad says:

    Kaizerin, why haven’t I found your blog before? I found you through Tinky’s wonderful blog and I’m so happy I did. I’ve been reading some of your old posts. I wish I’d have seen yours on The Robber Bride earlier (I got my copy at The Big Book Sale our library has every year – for $1!). I got side-tracked about 1/3 of the way through it with something else (so many shiny new books to tempt one away) and now I want to go back and finish it. Look forward to your upcoming posts.

  5. Grad says:

    Oh, and this is weird. Your quote from Louisa Mae Alcott, “She is too fond of books…” That’s the quote on my blog as well. Just noticed it! What is that quote about great minds?

  6. kaizerin says:

    Welcome, Grad, I’m glad you found me! Seeing as we’ve already had a meeting of the minds over dear Louisa May, I will definitely add you to my reading list.

    Do circle back to Robber Bride when you’re in the mood; it was a very interesting read, especially when you keep one eye on the underlying fairy tales. Atwood is such a great writer.

  7. Deirdra says:


    Just have to say, I’m deeply flattered that you wrote such kind things about me. Makes me think I must be doing something right with my life! 🙂

  8. kaizerin says:

    You are, Deirdra, and more power to you!

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