Continuing our series of conversations with women from diverse backgrounds and inspiring stories to share who’d be speaking at the upcoming Women Power Summit, we had a chat with Saba Saleem, the founder of ‘The Stories Studio’ , a Bahrain-based indie game development studio, which is a "Humanity Plus Company" with an aim to create commercial games for global social impact. Saba has been playing games since she was a child and believes in the power of this holistic medium to create change and here’s what she has to share about her journey.
1. Gaming or game development may not be considered the most conventional field for women, how did your passion for gaming come about and when did you decide to turn into a career?
It is true that gaming may not conventionally be thought of an activity that women do, but the surprising truth is that 50% of gamers are women. In fact, the highest spenders on mobile gaming are women over 30. However, women have only recently started getting involved in the actual content creation of games, which may be why most games out there are catered toward a male audience. At least they were. That is changing now with more female protagonists in games, as well as more narrative-driven games.
As for me, I have grown up playing video games. We have a really long relationship. In fact, there is a photo of me as an infant on my mother's lap with her playing a handheld game. That's how long our relationship is. I have always loved video games, as it was a great way to explore another world. It was more interactive than watching a movie or reading a book. And I loved challenges, so it was a match made in heaven. When it comes to game development, though, this is something I discovered much later in life in my late 20's. I had no idea that an individual or a small team could create games until I came across a documentary called "Indie Game". I was so moved by it that I started learning game development on my own and got involved heavily with the game development community in Bahrain. With a few years of on and off game development, I finally took the leap last year where I put all my passions together along with my purpose of creating a positive impact, and founded "The Stories Studio". The studio has come about after so many branches in my life have harmoniously fit into each other.
2. With The Stories Studio, you are aiming to create positive social impact through your games, why is this an important aspect to you?
Having a purpose or at least looking for purpose and meaning has been a huge part of my life. I truly believe that each one of us has a gift that can make the world better. And I have always been in search for it. But as you may know, purpose and meaning is not simple to find. And sometimes we look for purpose in all the wrong places. I mean, I had been gaming all my life, but never once thought that this could be my tool to leave my positive mark on the world. However, I do feel that even when we don't know, the search itself is helping to shape our character and making us ready to receive our purpose. In 2014, I took a trip to Turkey to take a break as it was a difficult time in my life. What I saw there in the streets of Istanbul were many children who were refugees, living on the streets. This incident really stayed with me, and I always had this feeling that I need to share their stories. It was only a few years later that my game "Musa- a brother's story" and its idea materialized. And here we are, and my purpose is clear as ever. Everything in my life, including my experience in the work field, the trips I have taken, the people I have met and the games I have played has led me to create commercial games for global social impact.
3. What would you say to those passionate gamers who may have the interest but aren’t quite sure if a career in gaming is feasible?
I would say don't wait for something to happen. Be that something that happens. We are creating a studio in a country and region where the video game industry is non-existent. It is a little scary but mostly it's exciting because we are potential pioneers of the industry. The gaming community in Bahrain is one of the most active in the region, with the most talented individuals. At the moment, work in the sector does not really exist as an "employee" since the industry is not there yet. The only opportunity that exists is to create/ join a team, and start making games! So at the moment, the gamers need to become entrepreneurs. They need to create businesses around their passion pave the way for future generations of game developers. It is a great time to do this because gaming is gaining popularity. Government bodies like Tamkeen and the EDB are looking to establish this industry and it's the perfect time to not only ask for support but also shape the gaming industry in Bahrain.
4. What aspect of the Women Power Summit are you most excited about and what advice do you have for young women attending the Summit?
There is so much going on at the summit and I'm super excited for all of it! But what I am most excited about is the networking. I love working with women because they are so professional, organized and compassionate and so meeting new women who are all amazing is something I'm really looking forward to. Being a part of this powerhouse of female energy is going to be amazing.
I think all young and old women should attend this, with an open mind and heart. I think young women need to make the most out of this event, by participating in as many sessions as possible and allowing themselves to get inspired by the wonderful women who are speaking at the event. I have a few sessions that I have already decided to attend and am really looking forward to this.