Asian Women in Games: Natalie Tin Yin Gan

In this Asian Women in Games series, we interview women who are currently in the gaming industry to learn more about them, their journeys, and their culture. We want to showcase the amazing women who are already driving change and representation in the industry by being themselves.

From indie studio sunset visitor 斜陽過客, we’ve got Natalie Tin Yin Gan with us—writer for their upcoming game 1000xRESIST (wishlist the game here!). We previously did an interview with the Asian women voice actors lending their voices to the game, and today we got to talk to Natalie to learn more about the story of 1000xRESIST and her journey into writing for video games!

So who is Natalie?

My name is Natalie (she/her), and I am one of two Narrative Designers writing Sunset Visitor’s indie narrative game,1000xRESIST. I live in so-called Vancouver, Canada, on the ancestral lands of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, lands that were never ceded—that is, we stole, and are under active occupation today. It is here that I am a dance artist, writer, voice teacher, and settler. I am a first-generation Chinese-Canadian; my mother is from Hong Kong and my father is from Malaysia. My chinese name, 顏婷妍, was given to me by my late paternal grandfather.

For the last decade I have been passionate about creating live performance work that centers, celebrates, and nuances diasporic experiences and expressions. I like to say that my practice “squats” at the intersections of ancestral spirit, somatics, and technology-induced melancholy. I am a co-founder of an interdisciplinary company, Hong Kong Exile, alongside two multimedia artists, Milton Lim and Sunset Visitor’s founder, Remy Siu. As a company, we query how interactive technologies in performance can tell Chinese-Canadian first-gen stories in new ways. Since 2019, I’ve shifted a lot of my creative energy towards writing as an extension of dancemaking.

In my spare time, I work furiously on my Cantonese fluency and fangirl my mother. I take the greatest pleasure in eating/drinking tasty things and supporting people with honouring the deep intelligence that is their bodies. 

Can you tell us more about what 1000xRESIST is about? 

1000xRESIST takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where a society of clones lives to serve the last remaining human on earth: the ALLMOTHER. The player plays as Watcher, one of a handful of chosen Sisters whose role is to bear witness to the ALLMOTHER’s memories. The game is about memory, legacy, and the complex ways that our past shapes us. For me, it is an ode to Hong Kong and to family.

What do you hope for players to experience?

I hope their hearts break open a few times, in some cool, unexpected ways. 

You’ve done a wide variety of multimedia art—what drew you to video games? 

Video games are extremely adept at drawing their audience into an immersive world and experience. Gamers exercise a high level of agency and sense of self; they feel the stakes of their participation. I think live performance yearns for this kind of engagement. In 2017, I was collaborating with a cognitive neuroscientist whose area of study was video game play. Because I’m not much of a gamer, it was from their research I learned the extent to which gamers experience illusory embodiment when traversing game environments, and the various profound ways that avatars become an extension of players. Since then, I’ve been ruminating on the political potency of this. How do we wield these tools towards anti-capitalist, anti-fascist, queer AF, emancipatory aims? How do video games participate in unsettling systems of oppression and power?

Tell us about your writing process.

I am, what they call, a gardener (as opposed to an architect). I freewrite until something surprising unfolds on the page that has imaginative momentum and/or resonates with me emotionally. I write best when I have somewhere to start, a sense of where I’ll end up, but without a clue of how I’ll get there. 

Being a gardener is not ideal for writing video games, as you might imagine. Some of the most challenging parts of writing 1000xRESIST was when I was tasked with scenes/chapters for which world-building, plot points, emotional beats, etc. were already mapped out. I had to find ways to hack my own process—trick myself into the recklessness from which I deliver my most interesting work. 

Something I’ve learned since identifying as a writer: if there is despair, then it means I’m doing something right.

What is the importance of working on a project where so many team members are part of the Asian diaspora?

It means unabashed and unapologetic centering and presencing of the Asian diasporic imagination. In the workroom, there is a trust, pride, and appreciation for our lived experiences as seeds for the stories we want to tell. There are culturally-specific jokes, shorthands, and codes that we don’t need to explain to one another. My co-conspirator, Conor Wylie, is of mixed heritage, and brings an essential perspective that reminds the project that the Asian diasporic experience is not a monolith.

A predominantly Asian diasporic team also means we are not writing from or writing for the white gaze. Yes, we are excited for anyone and everyone to play this game, but we are not translating Chinese-Canadian experiences to be palatable for a white audience. Instead, 1000xRESIST features badass Asian characters imbued with the honesty, complexity, and dignity that they deserve. 

You work best during the night. Do you have any advice for others who might also find they’re most creative at night and how they can juggle that with day obligations? 

Let me first say that I do not have children and my cat is fine with being neglected. I trust and treasure the moments when inspiration strikes. If your creativity thrives at night, then if at all possible, I say: STRIKE THAT HOT IRON. Carve that sacred space out like your life depends on it. But, it can be helpful to set a timer so you don’t ruin your work day the next morning. P.S. I really believe in resting. Also, create reliable systems for yourself to collect ideas waiting to be tackled.

The conditions for creative practice are rarely ideal and we live in challenging and often disheartening times. I think my biggest piece of advice is: be kind to yourself. 

Where can people continue to follow you and your journey? and on Instagram @pinki_yinki 

Thanks so much for having me.

Wishlist 1000xRESIST today!

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