Poornima Seetharaman did not set out to be a game designer. After her engineering, she landed her first job at a South Korean mobile game development company in Mumbai. She was given a month’s time to come up with the design for a 2D mobile game along the lines of Neverwinter Nights. “Back then, there were barely any resources available. I found Chris Crawford’s Game Design Document template. The company also provided me with Dungeon and Dragons (D&D) manuals which are considered the Bible for role-playing games,” she says. It was enough to get her hooked on.
Today she has become the first Indian game designer to be inducted into the Women in Games, Global Hall of Fame. The Bengaluru-based designer has managed to break into a strictly male bastion. “On one hand, there is the struggle of breaking the invisible glass ceiling and on the other hand you do get some opportunities because you are a woman in gaming. At times, it is a struggle to be taken seriously or to be considered an equal or better. I’m here because I refuse to give up and I’ve a support system that treats me on equal footing,” says Seetharaman, who is currently part of the Zynga family as their Lead Game Designer.
In her almost 15-year-long career, Seetharaman considers Bioshock 3D Mobile—a remake of the original BioShock game for the BREW platform—the major turning point. Fitting a sprawling game into a feature phone with all sorts of restrictions was a huge achievement for her team and was one of the most rewarding experiences for her. It helped her grow as a professional, believes the designer, who is also visiting faculty, project consultant and curriculum committee member at the National Institute of Design, Bengaluru.
When not designing, Seetharaman likes to play Age of Empires II and Warcraft III, which according to her are “the reasons why I’m in game development today”. Quiz her about her dream project and she replies without hesitation, “Madhuram (sweetness), an infusion of Carnatic music with games, to take the player on a journey of Navarasa (nine emotions). The idea—inspired by my late aunt, Guru TR Balamani who devoted her entire life to teaching Carnatic music even as she sacrificed her concert career—has been brewing for almost six years now.
It shall hopefully see light of the day soon.” India is slowly edging towards becoming a gaming hub. But the prime focus is the mobile market that assures funding for companies that run fantasy sports, real money gaming, educational games ,etc. “The PC/Console game and generally the indie scene in India could use some more love. We have the talent and the skills. I’m setting up a community for women and marginalised genders in games,” says Seetharaman, who believes in using the power of gaming to create a meaningful and impactful change in thinking.