FAQ: Jo Twist

FAQ: Jo Twist
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

August 3rd 2011 at 2:00PM

Channel 4 maestro gets the rapid-fire question treatment...

[Develop’s archive of FAQ interviewees can be found here]

Who are you and what do you do?

I am Jo Twist, commissioning editor for education at Channel 4. We commission soft learning and life skills for 14-to-19-year-olds. We try to do things that will help them survive the next five years. We reach them in their fun time outside school so a lot of what we do happens to be games, but not all of it.

It’s just that games are massive magnets for them and learning through play is something we all do. We work 100 per cent with independent developers and production companies who do anything from games that help teens think and talk about death, to games that let you run a sweatshop, and even games that make you money savvy through racing squirrels.

What are you working on right now?

Of our 16 projects for 2011, seven of them are games and a couple more are game-like or have mini games as part of them. I’m really looking forward to our games taking on attitudes to fast fashion and entrepreneurship.

Sweatshop by Littleloud is a tower defence style game which puts you in command of a sweatshop, making moral decisions about how much you use labour to fulfil fast fashion demands. Another is something Preloaded has just started working on, which is a shoe crafting game to help young people to understand social success is just as valid as financial success in business.

It’s underpinned by a social enterprise triple bottom line model. Another I love playing at the moment is Yes Chef  – working title – from Player Three. It’s a subversive 2D platform puzzler to help boys understand what effects food they eat have. I am also trying to get a cat in every game. It’s just a thing.

What was the first video game or product that you ever worked on in the industry?

When I worked for Newsround online I co-devised a couple of games. One, Poacher Patrol, is still live and kicking. We had a lot of fun playing with crocodile spit. But really, as a technology journalist, I wrote about games more. I did a few women in games features which is how I met Aleks Krotoski and Alice Taylor.

Where I could, I wrote pieces which played on what I explored in my PhD: online communities as social contexts for identity play. I also wrote about games like Myst being used in the classroom for learning.  I loved being a journalist and interviewed so many heroes such as Will Wright. That was an awesome day.

What was the first video game you ever played, and did you enjoy it?

It was Pong. Yes, I am that old. I had a bad squint aged five and on so my very forward thinking optician recommended to my parents that instead of wearing a ‘bully-magnet’ eye patch, they should buy me an Optim Sport – which is still in my cabinet – and play Pong with my good eye covered up. It worked. Kind of. I migrated onto a series of Game & Watches. I was fascinated by all things gadgetry because I grew up in Hong Kong.

What is your favourite game ever, and for what reason?

A close competition between SSX Tricky and LEGO Indiana Jones/Star Wars because I don’t really die. I have very little patience and a short attention span, but I love what LEGO does to some of my favourite childhood films. Generally, I love social games and what they do to people’s faces in a room when they are sharing that play experience.

What do you enjoy about the video games industry today?

I am immensely enjoying what apps are doing to games and I binge games on Facebook purely for research purposes (currently it’s Ravenwood Fair). But I also love the aesthetic and the emotion which is driving games like Limbo and Heavy Rain: beautiful stories and works of art.

What disappoints you about the video games industry today?

That game design expertise has not influenced what telly does. Designing for playful experiences, especially when we are thinking about designing systems that help people gain insight or skill, is such a fine art.

It’s a skill that needs to spread beyond
one industry. Somethin’ Else and Preloaded did it really excellently with one of our projects, Superme.

What hobbies, collections or interests do you have that are completely unrelated to video games?

Cats. I have the best playlist of cat videos on the internet. I have never owned one, but I make up for that in getting a cat into every commission. I am obsessed with all kinds of media distractions and need to be playing or listening to something at all times. Podcasts, Drop 7, or Naughty Bear usually. I also have a fantastic Smurf collection.