Column: My second week of California State Summer School for Mathematics & Science

A Q&A with professors Mirek Stolee and Dani Wright, who discussed their passion for video games.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/skim0375/" target="_self">Soyeon Kim</a>

Soyeon Kim

August 31, 2022
[This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.]

Macrocosm (M): Could you introduce yourself to our readers? 

Mirek Stolee (MS): I’m Mirek Stolee and I’m a lecturer in both game design departments here at UCSC, Computer Science: Computer Game Design and Art & Design: Games + Playable Media. I teach many classes, including game design.

Dani Wright (DW): I’m Dani Wright and I just graduated with my second game design degree from UCSC, which are Arts and Design: Games + Playable Media and Digital Arts & New Media. One is a Bachelor of Arts and the other is a Master of Fine Arts. 

M: How long have you been teaching at COSMOS and how was your experience?

MS: Well, this is our second year teaching at COSMOS. We taught it together last year, and now this year. This year’s been very different because we taught online last year and now it’s in person.

DW: We used to have a voice call where we would go and send students to breakout rooms. We were very awkward.

M: What got you interested in game design? 

DW: I was in a computer science program in high school and my friend was really into game design. And then I thought, “What if I did a game for one of these projects?” Then I told myself, “Oh my god, I’m never going back. This is so much better than hanging out with CS people.”

MS: I got into game design game studies, the academic side of things. I wrote my undergrad thesis on a video game, which was like an analysis of the game. Then I went to graduate school here at UCSC and I’ve been teaching here for two years now. I’m starting my PhD in the fall.

M: What’s your favorite part of game design? 

DW: I like showing the things that I make to people and watching them interact with it. It’s fun, especially when I get the reaction that I wanted. It’s a very good feeling.

MS: I like teaching game design. I like making very silly little demo games to teach concepts. As far as favorite things to do when I’m designing games, I’m recently getting into the sound.

M: What is your favorite video game? 

MS: Outer Wilds is really good. The game I wrote my thesis on in my undergrad is called “Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors” which is a visual novel escape room. Escape rooms are something I’m really into.

DW: I like Animal Crossing New Horizons a lot; I have hundreds of hours on that game. Yeah, it’s so cute. I also like Breath of the Wild and visual novels like Butterfly Soup, or some 18+ vampire visual novels that I read.

M: Would you like to share any fun facts with our readers?

MS: I’m unreasonably obsessed with ice cream, although I am lactose intolerant. I don’t tell this to a lot of people, but I’m convinced that I could compete at least at the regional level. I think I’m really good at it. I can eat those Dreyer’s in one sitting; they’re so good. But I think that’s kind of just a fantasy. I think if I’m actually in a competition, I might be humbled very quickly. If you’re reading this and you work at the Porter Dining Hall, please fix the ice cream machine.

DW: My fun fact is that I read “Twilight” for the first time in 2019 and I haven’t stopped fixating on it. I was going to make a completely different game for my MFA, and then I made a lot of vampire games because I could not stop thinking about how Alice and Bella are girlfriends.

M: What is your goal as an instructor of Cluster 5?

DW: I want to destroy the rest of the class, and I also want them to feel excited about making games.

MS: Yeah, I definitely want them to feel like they can make games and they can make good games. I think that for a lot of new game designers, there’s a lack of confidence: not feeling like they’re making real games or they are real designers. We’ve shown that y’all are making real games; we’ve made like almost 100 since we got here.

M: Do you have any advice for current and future COSMOS students? 

DW & MS: It’s important to know that you guys are very capable, incredibly talented, and smart. Way better at everything than I could ever be. You should not let things get you down and get in your way. You guys are unstoppable; concede nothing.