San Francisco - Game Designer
You don’t have to read too far into the interview to see that Jenny leaps at life. She’s actively traveling the world, immersing herself in totally soul-awakening experiences and catalyzing and nurturing community every chance she gets. Jenny’s a professional game producer and founder of a community pop-up experience called Score. As a game producer, she creates and runs hundreds of interactive games a year, designed to enrich individuals, corporate teams and communities. Recently, she’s been passionately exploring how games can help increase the disaster preparedness levels for individuals and communities across the country. At Score, Jenny creates totally epic parties. It’s not your traditional party, though. Score brings thousands of people together to swap rad fashion, art, music and more, eat great food, dance to feet-blistering DJs, and raise money for charity.
TSP: Can you please share a little bit about your past? Where you’ve been? What you’ve done?
JG: I’m a 4th generation San Franciscan, but we got priced out in the first tech bubble so my family moved to a town of 100 people in the sierras when I was 10. I moved to NYC at 17, got a degree in something nerdy at Columbia, accidentally became an embedded reporter in a violent student revolt in Chile, produced a roving graffiti gallery in a U-hauls, sang on a Lady GaGa acid trance spoof track that became briefly popular in Ukraine, and spent the next 4 years throwing parties - raves in dim sum restaurants, midnight vinyl-only disco sailboat cruises, pig roasts in the Gowanus, warehouse parties, Summerstage, etc. You get the idea. Then, I started a company that produces pop-up swap parties for charity. A few years ago I got a job producing adventure games around the world. Now, here we are!
TSP: That’s amazing. If there you were to point out one key theme and lesson in the above, what would you say that is?
JG: Parties are important. That’s the theme! When I was in Chile in 2006, I became buddies with the leaders of the largest student movement since the dictatorship. I started following them around as they were organizing protests and occupations during the day, and throwing punk shows at night. They would forcefully take over their schools, board them up with desks, coordinate 24-hour lookout teams posted on the roof, and make stockpiles of rocks to defend themselves during police attacks. Meanwhile they would host soccer tournaments, dance parties and potlucks. It was fascinating. Just this month the president of Chile announced sweeping education reform. The students changed the course of their country! And essentially, they did it while partying. I have this running theory that all great movements throughout history were started or propelled by people getting together and partying. Picasso and Stein, Ginsberg and Kerouac, Dylan and Seeger, Ali and Brown, etc. Now, all the time I’m thinking how do we get shit done and have a great time doing it.
TSP: Your incredible journey has without doubt given rise to very powerful lesson, and idea. What are you up to now?
JG: I design interactive games around the world. Best way to describe it is like the Amazing Race meets The Game (with Michael Douglas) meets America’s Funniest Home Videos. The company I work for - The Go Game - created this game platform that uses a complex algorithm to send people around a designated area, like a neighborhood, a city, a park, a state, or a building. Almost like a dynamic, interactive ballet. The games can be played for a variety of purposes, from training, to team and community building, to branding and marketing purposes. The games are played in the real-world, but the teams are guided by their smartphone to complete specific challenges. It’s a total 360 assault on the senses! And best of all, it’s super fun.
TSP: Okay, wow. So for each game, what do you do?
JG: I’m the game producer, so I have to make sure it all comes together! My job is to scout locations for the game, hire actors as “secret agents” and build challenges unique to the location and goal of the players. Like turning downtown Denver into a live-action Pokemon game for 6 year olds, creating a game about "finding purpose" in a 600 year old temple in Beijing, or producing a week-long city-wide scavenger hunt in Seattle.
TPS: So you choreography the ‘ballet’. Groovy. Are there any other projects you’re working on?
JG: Trying to tackle disaster preparedness with game design. A few years ago, I produced a Zombie Apocalypse Disaster Preparedness game in San Francisco. We armed players with nerf guns and challenged them to run around the city completing missions they received on their smartphones. Some of the missions were ridiculous (zombie brain bashing target practice with... piñatas), but most were designed to foster basic disaster skills (learn how to bandage a burn wound, learn how to pack a survival kit, memorize emergency radio stations & plan evacuation routes). Meanwhile we hired actors dressed as zombies to chase them, and the game culminated in a Thriller dancemob at a local park.
TSP: Nerf guns? Zombies? Disaster and emergency training? That’s a powerful blend of ingredients.
JG: It was a blast! Then, Memorial Day Weekend, I produced a Wildfire Preparedness Game in my hometown (adorable photos on Facebook HERE) After the terrifying Yosemite fire last year, I wanted to do something to support the community that is so near and dear to my heart. Plus, who doesn’t want to organize a water balloon relay?
Up next is another project that’s very important to me: Score! Pop Up Swap. We have a party coming up August 21st in SF. Come one come all!
TSP: Would you mind expanding a bit on Score?
JG: So Score! is a community pop-up party / department store where everything is free. The purpose of the event is to reduce waste, re-brand the idea of sustainable fashion, support local entrepreneurs, raise money for charity, and have a fuckin’ ball. Attendees pay a small fee at the door, and when they go inside they drop off their donated items at different ‘departments’. Each ‘department’ has a brand affiliated with it that curates the experience. For example, in the past Nylon Magazine curated the clothing department, Etsy curated the Craft Department, local librarians curated Books Department, etc. The proceeds from the event go to our charity partners. At the end, all of the items left over are either recycled or re-purposed. In addition to all of this, there are DJs, live screen printing, nail art stations, photo booths, food trucks and a whole of ton of other stuff going on – it’s a party!
TSP: Where do you hope to go next?
JG: In the past 3 years, I have produced over 300 games around the world with The Go Game. During that time, I’ve pursued and learned a lot about my passion: Empowering communities through play. Over the next few years, I really want to develop and launch a new concept - Disaster Preparedness Gaming.
JG: Because games connect people; games foster engagement and interaction. And studies have shown that building a strong social connection within your community can save lives.
Organizations like the CDC and FEMA have already tested the waters of innovative training strategies with online quizzes & graphic novels. But the problem is, these initiatives don't create muscle memory, they don't excite the imagination, and they don't bind people together.
But real-world adventure gaming gives individuals the chance to meet new people, learn new skills, and simulate positive outcomes. Will you remember emergency trivia from a quiz you took on a FEMA website? Maybe. Will you remember how it felt to assemble an emergency kit while being chased by zombies? No question.
TSP: The Wildfire Preparedness Game looked like a great success. How do you plan to continue to step towards that goal?
JG: In August, I'm embarking on a train trip from Portland to NYC to gather data from first responders and community organizers across the country. With this information, I'm developing game prototypes that will address tornados, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, earthquakes, etc.
TSP: Is the trip the Millennial Trains Project?
JG: You guessed it! Definitely check it out: Millennial Trains Project
TSP: How can we, the TSP community, help you get to where you want to go?
JG: My strength is in design and production, and as you can see, my storytelling skills are extremely dorky.
I'm looking for videographers, photographers, and journalists to help me tell this story of Disaster Preparedness Gaming. Whether it’s writing an article, doing a profile piece, creating a photo essay or helping to produce a video around the story of Disaster Preparedness Gaming, I need support to galvanize a greater discussion around the importance of being prepared for anything. I'm also working on an article that explores the intersection of preparedness strategies and game psychology.
Up until now, the "disaster narrative" has been centered on terror, helplessness and destruction. I believe we can change that. Let's focus on heroism, resilience, teamwork and triumph. We're all in this together, so let's do it with grace, sweat, empathy, and a healthy dash of humor.
If any of this excites your brain, let’s collaborate!