Creating Safe Spaces

I’m a 2D artist at Wondershop and my job is to create game art that makes our games feel like safe spaces to our players. It took me a while to understand how impactful and serious tool art is when making a positive change in people’s lives. Getting to work with impactful games like Wonderworld has been very defining to me as an artist.

I was a shy, worried kid growing up. I worried about friends, school, grades, bullies, the future, the world at large. Life is exhausting when you’re constantly worried, and I felt like I had a cloud of problems following me everywhere. Luckily, I had my comic books. Since I was small, I had noticed that images in a book told a story just like letters and my eye always got to them first. My comic books, whether they were about superheroes or the adventures of Tintin, whisked me to another, safe-feeling space, giving a little breathing time from my own stressful thoughts.

Around 11 years old, I got my hands on video videogames: my grandma gifted me the Nintendo DS. Games with a strong narrative, like Phoenix Wright, Time Hollow, or Hotel Dusk, had the same effect on me as comic books. Playing created a safe space to dive in and when I felt safe, my imagination sparked and creative ideas started to flow. I transferred the ideas to my own drawings and started making comic strips. I made them everywhere. I was drawing at school instead of studying and in bed instead of sleeping.

Although I couldn’t stop drawing, I wasn’t really appreciating art as a life goal, nor did I see it as a career. My mom is a painter, but despite letting me experiment with her materials, she and my dad have always pushed me and my twin brother to study sciences. In my head, math was a useful future skill and art was for individual fun and pleasure. It certainly didn’t help that all my friends seemed to want to become architects, doctors and teachers. In that light, my artistic aspirations felt like a lazy goal. I couldn’t help anyone with art, could I? To distance myself from any distractions, I stopped drawing almost completely.

It wasn’t until later that I realized art was the only thing that made me happy. After years of being an awful and miserable student, I decided to give up and study art — it was the only thing that made me happy. When I had to decide my final career choice, I realized that videogames and art had always been there for me when I needed them; no matter how sad or angry I was, I could forget all of it just by opening my console or drawing in my sketchbook. That’s when I decided to study to become a game artist.

A safe space is common goal

As a 2D artist, my ultimate goal is to create safe spaces with art in a game environment. I aim to give room to players to imagine and to feel safe and happy. At Wondershop, I am pushed to try new experiences and to collaborate with the team to make art more accessible.

With Wonderworld, we are making a game where the digital world has a supportive, tool-like role. From the game art point of view, we want to create an environment that encourages players to go and play it outside of the screens, but at the same time leave an inviting sensation of a warm and happy place where it is safe to come back to play with others, again and again. To do that, I like to study the physical spaces where our players feel safe and think about the elements, colors and textures that create the safe feeling. Alongside Wondershop, we have a foundation that operates an open and inclusive community space called “Meltsi” in Eastern Helsinki. I have spent hours studying images from Meltsi to understand how elements, patterns and compositions evoke feelings of safe and happy space to transfer those to the game art.

"I’m constantly challenged to think how to make the game art more inclusive and accessible. I think this will forever be a challenge and that no one will ever get it perfectly right."

Our game team at Wondershop is small and tight. I work closely with our Lead game designer, Antti who supports me by providing a guide for flow and quests. This communication is extremely valuable and serves as leads and tokens for my sketching. My style is to sketch a ton and choose the best ones together with the designer. I collaborate with many others too. I spend a lot of time working with our Lead developer Essi to adapt the art elements in the game, and with other artists and game designer Marina in one of our parallel projects, Leaf. Teamwork like this is one of the best parts of the job.

I’m constantly challenged to think how to make the game art more inclusive and accessible. I think this will forever be a challenge and that no one will ever get it perfectly right. There’s so much to think about, from colours and textures to cultural references. It can be that I am thinking of drawing chairs for our NPCs to sit and have rest in a room, and, beyond sketching chairs that are different sizes, small, tall and middle-size, I should think and draw a wheelchair and a three-legged chair. I’m glad that the company I’m working for is making an effort to aim for diversity in the game design in the team and in the decision making, and I am committed to a constant education on a personal level, too.

Every impact counts

I think everyone has a good story to tell and I try to be a good listener. I’m not a storyteller myself, at least not in a traditional sense, as I struggle with words. I’m grateful that I’ve finally understood that my storytelling tools, listening and drawing, are valuable and impactful, too. I think the first time I got a tangible validation on this was when I posted my own lofi animation on YouTube. To my surprise, many people wrote me emails thanking me for the video; the mix of lofi, soft music and a subtle animation in the background helped them feel more focused and relaxed. I never expected anything like that.

My goal at Wondershop is to continue on that. I want to experiment and make as inclusive and accessible art as possible. I work to portray stories through the strokes of my brush, to make details in hidden places and to get excited when players spot them. In the end, I want to make a positive impact on players’ lives. If there’s one kid who leaves remembering that warm and cozy bakery room in Wonderworld that they got to spend time in, or that friendly NPC that felt like a trusted person, or that part of the minigame where they won and it felt amazing, it will be so motivating to me. That’s the one thing that I need to keep going.