Lauren Warren: Co-Host of Nerds of Prey Podcast on Women of Color in Gaming and Screenwriting
"I enjoy telling stories that reflect the world that I live in. I’m forming a production company and I’d like for every project on my slate to create opportunities for people to pursue their passions – especially for people in marginalized groups that have traditionally been or are prone to exclusion."
I was thrilled to interview, Lauren Warren, who is a writer, gamer, and one of the hosts of the Nerds of Prey podcast who loves storytelling. In this interview, she shares about what makes the podcast unique, how her parents influenced her gaming, women of color in the gaming world, feminism and gaming, and her screenwriting ambitions. I'm excited about her continuous creations and their positive impact in nerd culture and the world!
First, you are one of the hosts of the Nerds of Prey podcast. I'm loving the podcast so far, by the way! Tell me more about how and why you got in involved in the podcast. How is it going for you so far and where do you see its future?
The podcast started with just a simple query from Shannon Miller to CG, Mel, and Jamie Broadnax (Founder of Black Girl Nerds) on Twitter one day.
“Any of you know of a podcast hosted by black women that’s strictly about all things geeky?”
The answer: crickets.From there, we started kicking around ideas and ultimately it came down to did WE want to be that podcast - and it was a unanimous “Yes". We're five shows in and it’s great! I’m so excited and proud of it. We have lots planned for the future and our dream guest list grows every day. We’re just glad to bring something different to the podcasting table.
Your co-host of Nerds of Prey, Shannon Miller, said that there have been several nerd-focused podcasts led by Black women but that there wasn't one that had all that she was wanting. What makes Nerds of Prey unique?
We each have an area of expertise: anime, comics, gaming, film, television, writing, cosplay, fandom, the list goes on. We talk about it ALL. This sometimes makes the shows a little long in length (J), but the discussion is always lively. It also opens us up for more potential guests.
You are a big gamer and so was your mom. Tell me more about how your mom's gaming influenced your own? What else led you to this passion?
Both my Mom and Dad were avid gamers. They got our first “family” console back in 1984 – an Activision Intellivision. They both enjoyed playing, would have “competitions” (that would get pretty serious sometimes) and a mini trophy to pass around to the winner. Their enthusiasm was contagious and as a little kid, it really grabbed me. As I got older, I learned to appreciate the storytelling and music. I loved books as much as I loved games – any form of storytelling really. I loved the challenge games presented, whether it was Super Mario Bros., Mortal Kombat or Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. All were welcome and the whole house joined in to play.
"The lack of women of color in the final product is often the result of their lack of representation in decision-making positions, the writers room and other key places."
What's the representation of women of color in the gaming world? Where and how does it need to improve?
In terms of their representation in content, I think the best word I can find at the moment is abysmal. Big companies and developers are taking the smallest of baby steps to resolve it. Indie game developers have had major success in developing content that reflects a wider segment of their consumer base and the real world.
The lack of women of color in the final product is often the result of their lack of representation in decision-making positions, the writers room and other key places. There’s no one to advocate for representation and actually bring forth an accurate (not canned or trope-filled) character. The sooner we get more women of color in those positions, the sooner we’ll see more changes. It won’t be immediate, but the foundations for change would be established.
Tell me more about the gaming content you are creating to feature women leads.
I’d like to see more women as protagonists and better portrayals of women in general. Something I’ve been playing around with is that current game franchises with male leads easily reworked to feature a woman as a protagonist. Would probably be best to have a woman handle that, but it would be a great way to revitalize older titles.
In terms of better portrayals, I use the Tomb Raider reboots as an example. The franchise got a facelift because of writer Rhianna Pratchett, and the difference shows. Lara Croft became a young woman on a journey of growth and self-discovery. She discovered her strengths. It wasn’t just about her being eye candy anymore.
I’d ultimately like to see more of that reworking in games and bring that to another medium like TV. Again, that’s still just in outlining stages, but on my to-do list.
This question connects to the last two, but how does feminism and gaming intersect?
Women make up a large part of the gaming demographics. As such, it’s getting harder and harder to exclude them and discount their importance in the development process and once product hits the market. Any and all opportunities extended to male developers, creative types, key players, etc. should be extended to women - ALL women. If your brand of feminism isn’t intersectional, it’s not genuine and is more harmful than helpful. How one can expect to be successful without that is puzzling to me. The same could be said for representation in games also. Any element of storytelling applied male protagonist should be extended to female protagonists as well.Using cost and time as excuses for not doing so is no longer valid.Women make up 52% of the gaming population. I’m not saying it’s required ALL the time, but given our purchasing power, it would be nice to see a return on the investment from time to time.
What are your favorite games and why?
I’m a fan of older, retro games. The classics never get old. Tetris, Super Mario Bros.,Super Castlevania IV are equal parts frustrating and fun. I’m convinced older games are more difficult than those out today.
For newer titles: Halo Reach because I welcome the chance to play a female soldier. Bioshock Infinite was a challenge in terms of game play and the content. Still amazed by the ending.
I love Skyrim, Fallout 4, Grand Theft Auto V because they’re all “open world” games. The amount of trouble and adventure that I find is totally up to me. I can do as much or as little as I’d like. However, that last one is such a problematic fave, but I’ve invested a lot of time into it, so I’ve included it. Its issues stem from the lack of women present in the creative process, but after playing through it a few times, I think I’ve come up with how it can be fixed (because that’s what a Type A Leo does) and have already started.
What are your favorite feminist games and what makes them feminist?
Well, I’d say Halo Reach, Skyrim and Fallout 4 – each allow you to play as a woman. You have just as much of a right to be a soldier (Halo), explorer (Skyrim), post-nuclear war survivor (Fallout 4) as any man. Your trials and tribulations are not different. The world around you does not treat you better (or worse) just because you are a woman. Your character isn’t reduced to a damsel. You are the hero. That doesn’t happen often, so it’s always a treat when it does.
You're also a screenwriter. When did you start screenwriting? What have you written and what are you currently writing?
My love of writing and films goes hand in hand with my love of games. As a young one, I loved movies like Aliens and Die Hard. Give me an action film over something animated any day. I wrote my first screenplay at 12/13. I was enamored with Terminator 2: Judgment Day. ENAMORED, I tell you. I watched the VHS tape with my brother almost daily. I thought I could come up with my own version of a sequel so I wrote (literally by hand) a big chunk of my version of Terminator 3 with plans to mail it to James Cameron when done.
I switched majors in college and got a degree in Screenwriting. Access to the industry after I graduated from college was difficult to say the least. After a while, I got discouraged and went corporate. I’ve only just begun writing again in 2014. Looking back, I’d say that break was good. It was nice to get some life (in all it’s glory and tumult) under my belt and it’s made writing quite interesting and rewarding. My characters are better for it and the final product is more flushed out than before.
Right now, I have a few projects that I’m juggling. One is a comedy based on my experiences in corporate America. I'm hoping to do a web series with that. The others are drama, action, and video game adaptations tailored for television. Never tackled a feature film script because of time limitations. I believe in having time for world building, establishing relationships, telling your story as concisely as possible and getting out.
Do you want to direct the screenplays you write? Why or why not?
Never thought about directing. Writing? Always. Acting? Sure, I’m game. I think there are so many directors (especially women) who are grossly underutilized and better qualified. I’d like to see them flex their genius instead and I’d be honored for any of them to work on a project that I’ve created.
You're a contributor for Black Girl Nerds. Tell me more about your contributions with them.
I’ve done everything from a piece on embracing your inner nerd, a few game reviews and a piece on the last season of Project Greenlight. The most successful and well-received pieces have been those for the Diversity In Gaming series. I came up with that aftera heated discussion surfaced on Twitter on the state of minority/marginalized representation and the creation of #GamesSoWhite.
"Maybe there’s a teen who wants to get in to game development, but is hesitant because they don’t see someone who looks like them and thinks it impossible. If it helps them, then my job is done."
Rather than debating with trolls who responded with “Why don’t you people make your own games,” I decided to highlight those in marginalized groups who were doing that very thing. I thought it could reach others, create networking opportunities, link players online. Maybe there’s a teen who wants to get in to game development, but is hesitant because they don’t see someone who looks like them and thinks it impossible. If it helps them, then my job is done.
Where did you grow up and what was that experience like?
Because of my dad’s military career and my own wanderlust, I’ve had many addresses, so many. I was born in Virginia, count Puerto Rico, Germany and Kosovo as my favorite places to live. All were at different ages, so the takeaway from each differed. There’s something about being immersed in different cultures that’s just eye-opening. I was fluent in German and Spanish, learned enough Albanian to get by. I met people who became life-long friends and learned things that can’t be taught in classrooms. It made me observant and more aware of how to approach people and unfamiliar situations. I feel very lucky to have experienced it all.
What is the future of Lauren? What are your ambitions, goals, and desires?
I enjoy telling stories that reflect the world that I live in. I’m forming a production company and I’d like for every project on my slate to create opportunities for people to pursue their passions – especially for people in marginalized groups that have traditionally been or are prone to exclusion. Storytelling isn’t just limited to words on a page. It’s a group effort: writers, directors, actors/performers, producers, costume designers, art directors, etc. I’d like to see everyone get a chance to do what they love. Really, I just want to create. As long as I get to do that, I’ll be happy.