Izzy Penston: Storytelling Through Game Design
The Girls Make Games Alumna Narrating a Life Through Code
Before the Girls Make Games Summer Camp in 2016, Izzy was just an Alameda high school freshman who had no clue where engineering could lead her. Fiddling with RPG Makers, writing stories, and playing video games, she arrived at the GMG Summer Camp with an eager mind wanting to learn more about creating cool games. Along the way, she started to code cool games, too.
Growing up in Alameda, a small island near San Francisco, shaped her to be creative, open, and curious about the evolving technology industry right across the bridge. This is the attitude she brought into her Girls Make Games camp, where she designed a grand-prize winning game on National Demo Day. Combining her passion for mystery, storytelling, and video games, Izzy took on a dual role as developer and lead writer for her creation — Interfectorem. This interactive video game tells the story of Alis, a young sheriff-in-training, investigating the murder of her sister Sali.
“When I first started working on Interfectorem, it was really cool because I’d never really considered myself someone who could create such cool things. It was kinda shocking, but in a cool way.”
As a young high school student, designing and writing your own video game is no easy feat. New college graduates hoping to break into the industry have to rely on their impressive portfolios and close-knit connections. Normally a whole team of artists, graphic designers, and programmers with years of experience have to come together to make award-winning games, but Izzy proved with a bright mind, a lot of determination, and a bold imagination, she could accomplish this feat by herself on her own terms. While she admits Interfectorum was not the most perfect game, Izzy learned a lot from the experience and set an example of what other young students can do when they set their minds to it.
“I feel like a lot of kids, especially girls, look at things they like and think, ‘That looks so fun and cool, I wish I could do it.’ and with a lot of stuff, like video games, you actually can. And it’s really not as rare as you think it would be, I go to school with kids who’ve made successful apps, voice act, edit audio for animated shows, have webcomics, write screenplays, etc. And they aren’t rich or otherwise advantaged; the reason they are able to do this is because they try.”
Many recognize Izzy as a brilliant game designer and storyteller who has conquered multiple challenges as a woman in technology. One of those challenges is having Friedreich’s Ataxia, a neuromuscular condition that affects things like handwriting, walking, and talking. It causes extreme fatigue and muscle weakness, and because of this, she uses a motorized wheelchair. Joining the champions who conquered physical or medical barriers, like renowned physicist Stephen Hawking and influential artist Frida Kahlo, Izzy is allowing her creative work to be what defines her, not her disability.
“People say I’m an inspiration and I just don’t get that. I’ve always lived like this and I’m just making the best of a bad situation, like literally everyone else.”
Moving forward from Girls Make Games and Interfectorem, Izzy wants to pursue what she truly loves — storytelling. Crafting video games allowed her to hone her skills and revealed her true aspirations for screenwriting and cinema arts.
A word of advice from Izzy: “Just do it if you want to man. Nothing’s stopping you. Well, don’t kill people. Literally everything is stopping you there.”