The most complex stories still follow a simple structure. Something incites the protagonist into action. Conflicts arise from the action. The plot climaxes, and brings a resolution.
Miranda Suarez is somewhere between her story’s action and climax, in Hirakata, Japan. The Juanita College junior is spending her semester abroad at Kansai Gaidai University, as one of about 600 international students enrolled in the private university’s Asian Studies program.
As part of her studies, Suarez is learning her host country’s language, history, art and humanities. She arrived at an apartment-style seminar house with students from about 40 different countries, having known at most a few common phrases and words in her hosting country’s language.
Suarez has the option of studying, among other things, the Kanji alphabet and the string instrument Koto. Because it’s an exchange program, she noted she was thrown “headfirst into the culture” right away.
While there, she’s working on her dream: telling stories in video games.
Suarez, a 21-year-old Steinert High School alum, is currently fulfilling a decade-long dream of visiting Japan. She grew up watching the television animation series “Sailor Moon,” based on the Japanese manga of the same name. It was her first venture into Japanese culture—and one of the first times she found a powerful female protagonist.
“I was obsessed with it as a kid, and I still love it to this day—partly for the nostalgia it brings, but also because I wholeheartedly believe it’s a fantastic show for young girls,” Suarez wrote via email.
Later on, Suarez found her calling through the Legend of Zelda games, one of the most popular video game franchises ever created. The series’ unique narrative, world-creating and implementation of role-playing elements were a part of what Suarez thinks current gamers seek most: immersion.
“Ever since the days of Pong, video games have been interactive, but the difference between being able to interact with a game and being able to immerse yourself into the game has grown quite large due to the numerous advances in technology over the past three-four decades,” Suarez wrote.
Suarez progressed to more game franchises—from the narrative-laden “Assassin’s Creed” series to the multiplayer online role-playing “World of Warcraft.” She joked her “Warcraft” friends would seek out raids missions — difficult dungeons that require between 10 and 30 players to complete — to improve their skill levels, while Suarez would play out the game’s solo quests to follow the story.
‘I don’t think enough video games feature women as main characters. I’d like to see more playable ladies in role playing games.’
As the time to apply to colleges neared, Suarez knew she wanted to become a video game designer. She was burdened by the thought that computer science and math—crucial skills to game design—were not her strong skills.
“But around the time I was applying to college and really trying to finalize my career aspirations, I realized something very important: all the best games have great stories, and someone has to write them,” Suarez said.
She resolved to be the writer at Juniata, designing a program of emphasis called Interactive Media Writing. It combines professional and creative writing with media analysis skills, Suarez wrote, making the program great for teaching the skills needed to create a video game script.
On a whim, she applied for the abroad program. She’s now in the home country of major video game pioneer companies such as Nintendo and Sega. So far, she’s noted how video games are treated in Japanese culture similar to how film is treated in the United States.
“I’d argue that the stigma against gamers in the U.S. has somewhat dissipated over the past decade or so,” Suarez wrote. “However, I feel that the stigma never really existed in Japan. In Japan, everyone plays video games in some form.”
Suarez’s dream job is creating game storyboards working for Nintendo of America (the developer of the Zelda, Mario and Donkey Kong franchises) or Blizzard Entertainment (developer of World of Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo and Overwatch).
Her writing could also take her towards video game reviews, but there’s more work to be done. As part of the program, she has another semester abroad to complete in New Zealand starting in July, at the University of Otago.
Still, Suarez has already made a stake towards her dream by creating her own studies towards it and going to Japan—one of the world’s primary video game hotspots. While she’s still young enough to worry about getting an intership back home, she’s full of ideas. One idea is for a game about a young female witch, leading a rebellion against a tyrannical government.
“I’d really like to focus on stories with strong female characters to empower girls,” Suarez wrote. “I don’t think enough video games feature women as main characters. I’d like to see more playable ladies in role playing games.”
The strides she’s taken towards such a game being made are great ones, but Suarez knows they’re still strides out of the gate. There’s plenty more of the game to be played out, but Suarez doesn’t mind—she’s in it for the stories.
“Needless to say, I’m incredibly excited to continue this adventure,” Suarez wrote.