A World Where Bears Mate With Dragons

What it's like to be a woman in the sexist gaming world, according to a German student; two Dutch sisters talk about the benefits of legal pot

Lena Werthmann.
Tomer Appelbaum

Lena Werthmann, 22, from Cologne; flying to Berlin

Hello, can I ask you how you spent your time in Israel?

I took part in a performance festival at Tmuna Theater [in Tel Aviv]. We wandered through the audience and worked on a computer game for which I did artwork. It was a bit scary and challenging, because I was the youngest and also the only one who’s still a student.

Who’s “we”?

People from all over the world. The game we worked on is called “Mating Season.” It’s for one player, and the idea is that there’s a small island where all kinds of strange creatures live, and you can make them fall in love and mate with one another. Let’s say a bear with a dragon, or a fox with a rabbit, and as the generations progress, the creatures look odder and odder. You can see combinations between of five or six different creatures. Sometimes the creatures get stuck and can’t stop mating, even though they have no offspring.

How did you get into that?

Through my studies. I’m taking game design, game art, design and programming, and also game theory, in a mixture between academia and actual application. Before that I studied architecture for a year, because I thought it was a creative profession where you get paid reasonably well, but it was a compromise. I realized that I can’t compromise and am not going to compromise, so I would do games, because that’s something I like.

How did you start gaming?

I always played games. My father had Diablo 1 on his old computer, though it’s a bit of a scary game for an 8-year-old girl. The game I will create for my thesis is something like it. Afterward came Game Boy and games like Voodoo Kid and Monkey Island. Of course I remember Super Mario and Pokemon.

Can you construct that kind of game?

I have to submit my thesis next semester, and you can submit an article and a game. So I am going to create a game that’s set in the Middle Ages, a kind of micro-management simulation, where what you see on the screen is a very empty world. There’s an ancient map with a forest and a street, and then someone moves there to live and starts a small settlement. People come and they have different professions, and if you want to build a church you need a priest, but he will stay there only if he falls in love with someone or if someone is nice to him. It’s going to be very simple visually. I want the whole user interface to be on the margins, with all kinds of icons of small dragons on the edges. Like an ancient medieval map with pictures around it.

What about the article?

I will write an article about games and toys in the Middle Ages.

What kinds of toys were there in the Middle Ages?

Young children had dolls, but there were no board games, and people didn’t play games so much then. It interests me to investigate the place that’s between a game with rules, like chess, and a game without rules – let’s say Minecraft, where there are no actual rules and it’s also impossible to win.

And after you finish school?

It’s not easy to find work in this field. You start with jobs like designing a cellular interface, all kinds of buttons of telephone apps, which is not so interesting. But anyway, I want to be my own boss and not work for someone else.

You go, girl!

Performance, music and gaming interest me, and I want to experience it all. I don’t want boundaries and want to do something that people don’t expect and that they can’t fit into a specific category of gaming, art or performance. I feel that in the gamer community everything is open.

Are there many women in this field?

It’s a hot subject.

Great.

The thing is that 50 percent of the gamers are women, but the games are made for men. That’s just my opinion, but I see that the majority of people who work in this field are men, even though in my school half the students are women and there are female lecturers. If you’re a woman you’re directed more toward art. There’s a lot of discrimination and sexism in the field. Women don’t care if they take on the character of a man or a woman, but for men it’s important. And when a man creates a game for himself he’ll do something he likes, and then you have characters who are unclothed and have big tits. If women create games for themselves, all the men will be real hunks. But I’ll create a game that involves building things because that’s what I like.

Ebelien and Berber Zweers.
Tomer Appelbaum

Ebelien Zweers, 22, left, from Groningen, and Berber Zweers, 20, from Utrecht, the Netherlands; arriving from Amsterdam

Hello, can I ask what you’ll be doing in Israel?

Ebelien: We’re here for a vacation with our parents. They decided on and organized the vacation, which for sure includes all the tourist highlights.

Berber: Jerusalem, Sea of Galilee.

Do you often travel with your parents?

Ebelien: We always go skiing together, every year around Christmas.

And you get along?

Ebelien: We’re sisters around the same age, so there are always quarrels, but I think that’s normal and also helps steel you.

Berber: One time I broke her arm, but by accident ...That was the lowest point in our relationship; most of the time we get along. For example, I remember when we were on vacation as girls and played together with a melon ... We made it our baby and fed it and took care of it for five days, until it totally rotted.

Ebelien: Another time we made a circus and invited our parents. There was a written program and tickets that cost a few euros. We made them come to two performances so we could make enough to waste on sweets. All our vacations used to be family affairs, but now we’re both in university, so it happens less. But now they wanted us to come and it was a good opportunity.

They miss you.

Ebelien: Yes, but Holland is a small country, and within an hour from the university I’m at home, sitting with my parents. Even if I were to bike, it would take a day at most.

Is it nice there?

Ebelien: We grew up in the north, near a river that also passes through Germany. The cities along the river are called Hanseatic cities. They are small, with lots of history and interesting buildings architecturally. All the cities were connected by the river and engaged in commerce thanks to it, so they became very rich.

It sounds like the past interests you.

Ebelien: I’m a third-year history student. I have one year to go. I’m going to write my thesis and go to South Africa. It will be a good year.

What will you do in South Africa?

Ebelien: My university has many partner universities overseas, and I want to visit a place that isn’t Europe. I love getting cultural shock.

Berber, what are you studying?

Berber: I’m in my second year of med school, so there’s a long way ahead.

Why medicine?

Berber: When I was a young I was interested in biology, in the human body and how the systems work. Besides that, as a doctor you can be meaningful for someone, even if you can’t necessarily help him get well.

Are the universities free?

Ebelien: Not anymore. It costs about 2,000 euros a year now, but I went when the government subsidized studies and paid each student 280 euros a month.

Berber: It’s sad that it’s not like that anymore.

Taking into account that grass is legal there, it sounds like you could smoke from morning to night.

Berber: I don’t use grass myself, but it’s good that it’s legal – it’s safer like that.

Ebelien: Maybe it’s less interesting for the Dutch because it’s legal. Holland was also the first to legalize homosexual marriages. That’s absolutely not relevant for me, but it’s nice that there’s freedom to do what you want.

What are your plans for after school? What will you be doing in, say, another 20 years?

Ebelien: I want to live in Amsterdam and maybe do an M.A. in international relations. I hope I have a nice career or a family and children, and that I’ll be happy. The rest of the details don’t really matter.