Game Designer at 17: How SAY Sí Changed My Life

Posted by Chabriely Rivera, Sep 11, 2017 0 comments

When I first heard about SAY Sí, I had no idea where I was headed—but SAY Sí gave me direction. As an artist, I felt like I didn’t have a clear voice. My ideas were there but I never invested in them or gave them purpose. While developing my craft with the help of my teaching artists, I realized how passionate I was about social justice, and how it resonated in my work. I was able to amplify my voice and my vision. The opportunities I’ve had and continue to experience are beyond comprehension. Within two years, I’ve collaborated in a series of works, supported other students while getting to know them better, and done things I never knew I was capable of.

I found SAY Sí after receiving a Silver Key at the San Antonio Scholastic Art Awards in 2016. I saw SAY Sí’s recruitment flyers, and I jumped at the opportunity, automatically going around and asking staff and students how the program benefited them, what I could gain from it, but most importantly, how and when I could join. So, I applied, got interviewed, and waited as patiently as I could for a response. I still have my acceptance letter to this day.

My first day, I didn’t really know what to expect. I could call my instructors by their first names, and Monday meetings brought all the studios together to listen and engage with staff, students, and others. It surpassed all my expectations, and helped develop who I am today.

At SAY Sí I’m part of the HIVE New Media Studio, which stands for Home for Innovation and Video Ecology. It’s a mouthful, I know, but in shorter terms I work with tech. In the short amount of time I’ve been at SAY Sí, they have made a great impact in my life. We do everything—from brainstorming to storyboarding. I’ve learned to communicate my ideas, to respect deadlines, and understand what I’m capable of. In my first project, I learned to rotoscope (tracing over footage, frame by frame, to recreate a film). I even collaborated with another student to write and record a song for my self-portrait animation.

My largest accomplishment in the HIVE has been being the Lead Designer for an original game, Date Me Super Senpai. Date Me Super Senpai is an open-world dating sim, revolving around high school romance and drama for super powered teens. This is by far SAY Sí’s longest project, lasting a year. At the start of this project, I had never programmed or coded before, so naturally I was terrified. But with help, I learned how the language worked and soon found myself quite comfortable. As the Lead Designer, I managed the team, made decisions, but also got input from others. Even as time progressed and we got burnt out, we had days where we stayed late and ate pizza together to relax because we earned it. 

Within the first six months we had a Beta that we exhibited at PAX South, and we were introduced into the Video Game Developer Community, which was made up of local indie game developers who shared similar passions. I’ve spoken at a panel, and presented myself as a creator of Date Me Super Senpai. I was an exhibitor at Alamo City Comic Con and will make an appearance at San Japan to promote the game. From this I’ve learned how to pitch a sale, market, reach out to people to get feedback, send emails, recruit, and promote the game. We released the game on itch.io this summer—a game that is inclusive and that is ours. We did everything from scratch, from the maps, to dialogue, to the art. And as a video game developer, what I can do now is see how mechanics work in other games and see what I’ve done in my own game (compare and contrast, you know the deal). Beyond that I’ve gained so many connections and branched out as an artistic individual. Date Me Super Senpai is by far one of my greatest achievements and only my second project in the HIVE. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

I’m only 17 and I have done so much. At SAY Sí I am a hired WAM (Working Artists and Mentors) mentor, so on Saturdays I teach sixth through eighth graders. I’m also a HIVE studio liaison, and I act as the voice of my studio and the link from students to staff. I’ve modeled and walked a runway in a performance art installation about the conditions in sweatshops for SAY Sí’s Stories Seldom Told Exhibition. Through Adobe Project 1324, I also got to work with a dancer from India and perform choreography that connected two celebrations of death, Día de los Muertos and the Indian Holiday, Pitru Pakshawe.

SAY Sí has made me aware of my environment and my ability to influence as an activist for my community. The arts can mold and change perspectives only to be interpreted differently and we need to embrace the idea that art is capable of influencing the world. I think all youth deserve a creative outlet to express and evolve a future that is woke and powerful. 

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