Kanane Jones isn’t your typical game developer. For one thing, she makes games without the help of a larger team. She’s also more likely to describe Final Girls and love/space as ‘visual novels’ than video games, betraying her larger artistic ambitions. Perhaps most unusually though, she’s frank and open about her own history as an abuse survivor. There, in part, lies the inspiration for Final Girls, a browser game which sees some of horror’s finest surviving heroines gather as a support group to discuss their intimate experiences. Hoping for some therapeutic insight myself, I quizzed Jones on claustrophobia, virtual reality, and the healing power of horror. Here’s what she had to say.
TEG: Both Final Girls and love/space are set in confined spaces, one being a small room, the other a small spaceship. Was this a conscious decision to create a feeling of claustrophobia, or a design constraint? What’s your personal relationship to closed spaces? What do ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ mean to you?
Kanane Jones: For Final Girls, it was intended to create a sense of intimacy – I was hoping that players would be able to feel as if they were there in the room talking with their friends. For love/space, it was both – I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on art so I could focus on writing, but it’s also a game about intimacy, and I wanted the focus to be on the interactions with the AI. In both cases, the focus of these games is really on the interior of the characters – what’s going on inside them is the focus, their thoughts, feelings, memories. Outside is a construct and only useful for informing us about what is inside.
TEG: Both of your games feature characters exploring their pasts in an attempt to better understand their present situation, as if they were on self-assigned emotional ‘fetch quests’. How would you define success within the framework of your games, and how does this relate to the kind of success you can achieve in a classic RPG or adventure game?
KJ: I think self-discovery is the best sort of quest! It’s a frustration of mine that more traditional games set goals that are mostly related to external events rather than personal growth. You can only save the world so many times, you know? But you can always learn new things about yourself and about human nature.
TEG: What kind of public reactions have you experienced to the level of emotional nakedness in Final Girls?
KJ: The reactions have been mostly positive! It was a little terrifying to put it out there but I really didn’t think anyone would play it, so it’s been a huge surprise that it’s gotten such a wide and positive reception.
TEG: If you were offered the possibility of creating Final Girls in virtual reality, would you do it? Do you think that level of immersion is worth it, or will it make us all more lonely as humans?
KJ: I would definitely do it, especially if I could get the actresses to do the voice work, haha, (oh man, that would be SO great). I think that level of immersion can add something to the experience, but it all depends on how it’s handled. I think technology in general brings us closer together, rather than making us more lonely. I have so many friends that I wouldn’t otherwise have without the internet. I think it mostly makes us feel lonely when people reject our experiences, and I hope that by creating more connected experiences I can help people feel less alone.
TEG: Do you see gaming as playing a role in healing the gamer? What about the developer?
KJ: Absolutely. I and many of my friends have had the experience of playing games to help us get through rough times, and I think the more games that handle significant human experiences, the more chance it has to create healing experiences. Anything that helps us understand ourselves and each other better can be healing. I think this is true for developers too. Working on Final Girls helped me get through a breakup by giving me something creative to channel my feelings and thoughts into.
TEG: What is it about the horror genre that most captivates you? Does horror have the capacity to heal?
KJ: I think horror appeals to me because it’s a way of taking control of fear – horror in media is a contained experience so you know that it can’t hurt you beyond the momentary fear. The other thing that I really like about a lot of horror is that you usually have a protagonist who starts out as the only person who knows or understands what’s going on, and eventually there comes a moment where someone believes them. This is hugely cathartic to me, and possibly to other trauma survivors, because we have these horrific experiences that are so hard to describe or understand. So having this moment of “yes, someone believes me” is incredibly powerful. As far as healing, I think it really depends. Some horror reinforces some really terrible notions about women (and people in general), so that sort of horror isn’t that beneficial. But horror that questions institutions and provides insight into the human experience is really powerful and beneficial.
TEG: What are your favorite games and what got you hooked on them?
KJ: The Mass Effect series is among my favorites. The power of that series for me is in the relationships your character builds with the NPCs; by the third game, when I re-encountered my shipmates, it felt like running into old friends. I’m not at all ashamed to say that I cried several times while playing those games.
TEG: What is the game you’re most ashamed of enjoying?
KJ: I don’t really feel any shame about enjoying games. Some of them are definitely better than others, obviously, but I feel like there’s something I can learn even from the bad ones (whether badly designed or poorly written or whatever).
TEG: What is the game you’re the most proud of enjoying?
KJ: I don’t know that I feel proud about enjoying any games, but there are definitely games that make me feel proud of my fellow creators for doing meaningful work. My friend Amy Dentata’s A Night in the Woods (and I am really looking forward to her upcoming games Trigger and Sunshine), Caelyn Sandel’s Bloom, Freebird Games’ To the Moon and Christine Love’s Analogue: A Hate Story are all games that really inspire me in terms of the themes they explore and the way they handle narrative design. They give me a lot of hope about the future of games.
Pay what you want for your own copy of Final Girls, and play love/space right here on Kanane Jones’ website.