Inside A Collective Part Four: Tyu
Mirrors & Secrets
This is the fourth part in a six part series on the French games collective Klondike. This fourth article focuses on one of the ten members of the collective: Tyu. Find out more about Tyu at her website and follow her on twitter.
Tyu and I sit slightly awkwardly on a sofa bed, currently in sofa formation, in the small office room that Gib and Delphine share in their house in Lille. She travelled over from Valenciennes with Pol the day before, and like Pol, is days away from graduating from her degree at a prestigious video games school there.
Typhaine Uro goes by the name ‘Tyu’ mostly, both online and amongst friends. It’s a contraction of her full name made easier to pronounce – or at least it’s just one syllable to mispronounce. I had a go at it with her and I think my ‘tyou’ was basically acceptable. She also likes the name because the three letters sit next to each other on a keyboard. T y u.
We begin by talking about her background. I’ve been able to tell that her accent is a little different to the others’, but she’s talking to me in English, so it’s hard to pick out until she explains:
both my parents are half French, half German, so I have, like, a German grandmother, a German grandfather, and yeah, the opposite [...] I’ve lived in Germany for a bit when I was young, so I used to speak German, but now when I go to A MAZE I try to speak German to people and they respond to me in French.
She laughs as she explains how she’s lived in Belgium, France and Germany several times growing up.
I didn’t really have any roots. Maybe that’s why, like, my main characteristic is that I don’t really see myself as French but not as German either.
French-German; both and neither. Tyu has a dual-nationality family, and a slightly awkward manner that makes you feel like she never quite feels like she belongs anywhere totally. There’s a quiet confidence to her awkwardness though, like the people I’m sure we all knew, painful in their shyness as children, but who grow into themselves as adults. Her confidence often catches me by surprise, like when she explains that she originally studied on a graphic design style course, and then just ‘decided to make video games’. I ask her what made her decide that, and she replies:
I have no idea, because actually when I was a kid I wanted to be an archaeologist, and so I went to some sort of summer camps in which we were doing actual archaeological work, and it was really nice, and I kind of miss it. I don’t know how I shifted from archaeology to art to video games. It’s kind of weird. I don’t know. I just - I mean, I’ve played video games - like, I learned how to read with Pokémon and that sort of stuff, so it’s really, like, encoded in my life, video games, but… I think it’s when I realised that there were some people actually behind the games who were making them and this was just not appearing by magic on your computer, and was, ‘Yeah, maybe I want to try that.’
Several years later Tyu is graduating from one of the most prestigious video games schools in France, producing solo work, working with others in Klondike, and on projects like Cosmic Express, with well-known puzzle game designers Alan Hazelden and Benjamin Davis. Tyu talks about the journey she traced from a long-time interest in AAA games, to discovering more experimental work; Gone Home was a key touchstone for her. She liked how it tried to push the form, how the game used the environment to tell a story about someone.
Gone Home really got a huge impact on me, I think, and yeah, games that are just not trying to make something enjoyable for people but trying to push it further […] you have this moment of silence in which you take the time to think about what you’ve just heard or seen.
She talks about games that give you space – but in different ways. She’s keen to emphasise that she’s also a big fan of the Saints Row franchise – as well as liking the more experimental end of games, sometimes she just wants to blow stuff up. Silly or thoughtless games leave space for us in our lives, as well as the games that use that space as a mechanic.
When Tyu talks about her favourite games right now, though, they betray something else about her: that same quiet, mischievous sense of humour that you find in some of the other members of Klondike. She describes Room of 1000 Snakes and Rose & Camellia as two of her favourite games at the moment. Room of 1000 Snakes is a great one-joke game that it would be a shame for me to spoil by describing it, but Tyu goes into a bit more detail about Rose & Camellia, which is basically… a slapping sim.
It’s a Japanese game, like, browser game, Flash game, in which you play as a lady in a mansion, and there’s a whole hierarchy between all the ladies in the mansion, and you want to get at the top of this hierarchy […] the whole mechanic is slapping the girl in front of you without getting slapped, and it’s really completely silly but at the same time super hard
I have had a go at this game and it is actually super hard; I failed to even get past my first adversary. For a moment I’m a bit… unsure about how I feel about it: I know there’s probably a proportion of people playing it because it’s funny to laugh at women fight within the strictures that society provides them, and it is silly but also brutal. Then I’m thinking that there’s room to reclaim the worth of ‘girliness’; the work of FEMICOM is a testament to that. Anyway, while I’m worrying about all this, Tyu is laughing. She likes Rose & Camellia because it’s hard and silly.
We begin to talk about Tyu’s own work. She started making games in her free time, teaching herself to code. Klondike, she explains, has been a significant factor in developing her awareness of the games landscape and experimenting herself, but she’s careful to describe the influence of Klondike in mutual terms: “We’re constantly inspiring each other, giving [each other] feedback”. But Tyu also talks about being one of the lesser well-known members of Klondike, and how this can lead to a kind of imposter syndrome feeling:
being part of a collective is really stressful for me because I feel like people are expecting something from me, when we go to events and they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re a part of Klondike, I love your work,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, but the work you know is not mine. It’s someone else’s,’ and I don’t know how to feel about that. [But] it also motivates me to make games.
Tyu isn’t super keen to talk about all her projects, especially ones she’s currently working on. She describes herself as a perfectionist, and also because of the kind of games she makes – which are often quite personal – not wanting to over-expose herself. I ask her what questions or themes are driving her game design in general, and her answers are stark, and kind of brave.
The few I’ve released and the ones I plan to release are around the idea that there are some things that I think are wrong with me, and so I try to illustrate what’s wrong with me, like a therapy, [I want to see] how I can explain it through a game, maybe make something kind of beautiful with it.
Two of Tyu’s games that demonstrate this approach are Your Darkest Thoughts and Geheim (German for ‘secret’). In Your Darkest Thoughts, an ethereally animated eye opens, looks at you, and invites you to share your thoughts. The sound and environment design is stark and open, returning to that space that Tyu is interested in. The game opens for you, if you allow yourself to open up. Geheim too, is deceptively simple, using another distinctive art style. In Geheim you pick from a hand of cards describing 13 facts about Tyu herself. “I'm bad at talking about myself, so here are 13 facts about me” the game description reads.
These are autobiographical games, but not in the way this definition often means. They don’t just tell the story of something literally, they produce a space from which the interactor can take or leave an impression of someone. They gesture (often through only one mechanic) towards a whole that you’ll never reach – it’s not an investigation, but a glimpse. I enjoy how Tyu’s games pose some important questions about the short-game form, and on who audiences are when we make games. A game doesn’t have to be for a player or an audience first. If we put aside the assumptions of AAA where things need to make money: if you’re making games for yourself, what does that look like?
I’m realising more and more that I’m making these games so that I can give shape to something I’m not really in control of, and then understand what’s going on. And then, yeah, since I’ve made something, why not put it on the internet for people to see?
Tyu describes working on Your Darkest Thoughts:
I was feeling bad and I felt like I had nobody to talk about it, […] so I made this game where you just type your things, you can type anything you want, and just see them fade away on the screen. This way you’re just emptying your brain from all the bad things you have inside you.
In many other media the idea that an artist might use their art to tell their own story – and that in opening that story up you might produce a space where author and audience meet halfway and understand something together – is not unusual. But in games perhaps it is. Games mechanically foreground the agency of the player, and in that context you might imagine it would be harder to make small, intimate, personal experiences relatable, than one-size-fits-all style of immersion. But rather than build whole simulations, the work of designers like Tyu begins to explore how you can provide small, bare mechanics that play with agency in other ways. Games that simply use a gesture – like that of whispering your secrets into the darkness – that in the space left between designer and player, makes room for something personal to translate into what’s personal for another.
Tyu’s work is gestural, then: the main mechanical interaction in each game mirrors a gesture towards something about her and her experience – confiding, sharing, and in her latest work, More, consumption:
it’s about how I feel too dependent on other people, and how I feel bad about myself about that. The game is basically you’re in front of a frame but it’s actually a mirror, but you don’t know it yet, and there’s a mouth in it, just teeth actually, not a real mouth, and you have to feed it apples, and so you just have a hand on the screen that’s grabbing apples and giving them to it, and so you feed it but it gets angrier and hungrier and wants more and more and more, and so you just feed it apples and then there are no more apples, and so you have to give your hands.
Tyu’s love of horror games shines through at this point, but also, when I see samples of the artwork, there’s something of art history too – classical influences and symbolism; skulls and ornate frames; apples and implied sacrifice, all of which you might find in a Vanitas painting. Vanitas are a school of symbolic art from around the 16th and 17th century, roughly translated into English as ‘vanity’, but deriving its meaning from a biblical context that suggests its older meaning of ‘futility’ (check out Tale of Tales Vanitas for a more literal video game response to that tradition). Tyu explains that she’s drawing on this directly: “I’m trying to have an art style that’s drawing from from the Spanish painters, I want to make something that’s really like a painting […] more like a living painting”.
If there was a similar character trait that united most of Klondike, it would probably be a kind of confident shyness. All of Klondike are quiet (Tyu more than most of those who I meet) but Tyu also speaks up when she wants to. And when she does in the group, the others give her room, it’s as though they know what she has to say has been through more rounds of careful thought before being given voice. In Klondike, Tyu explains, she finds the space to explore. As we finish up talking about her future plans, Tyu smiles, and, self-aware, says she thinks it’s time to return to silly things for a while.
I’m realising more and more that it’s okay to talk about… things about myself, and that it’s just not me being egocentric, and that other people are doing it, and that it is a way to communicate with other people when you feel like words are not enough or you’re not heard when you use words. […] but I’m also really scared that people will remember me as ‘the girl who makes games about herself and how bad she feels about herself’, so I’m trying to make games that are more silly and colourful, too.
You can read the rest of the Klondike series here. More episodes coming soon.