Geek of the Week

Geek of the Week: Evie Powell’s epic gaming journey has taken her from PhD to CEO

Evie Powell
Evie Powell watches as an attendee at the GeekWire Bash in Seattle plays her company’s game, “Epic Snowday Adventure.” (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

When Evie Powell enters the world of a video game, she doesn’t just lose herself in the experience for the pure joy of it all. She’s at work. And her goal is to better understand game design, and how gameplay affects people.

Powell is a games researcher and game designer specializing in experimental gameplay and prototype design. She’s also the CEO and creative director of Verge of Brilliance, a Seattle company she started in 2014. And she’s GeekWire’s latest Geek of the Week.

With a PhD in computer science, Powell has studied socially pervasive game experiences and context-aware gaming using mobile technologies. These days, she works on XR game experiences, natural user interface-based game interactions, and other experimental game designs.

“Yes, the PhD is real,” Powell said. “I studied game design (pervasive game design) and computer science at a doctorate level while in grad school at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. Ultimately, the time in school allowed me to really dive deep on the future of games and technology and primed me for a career of forward thinking in game play design and development.”

Powell chose the path because of a personal relationship with games, and a recognition of how they influenced her in childhood and early adulthood.

“Games often leave behind artifacts, and these artifacts shape our culture, art, thinking and education,” she said. “My career goal is to explore play and technology deeply, and figure out more ways that game design and advancing technology can work together to create a more fulfilling existence for all of us.”

She hopes Verge’s most recent game — “Epic Snowday Adventure” — is a step in that direction. It’s available now on Steam and she hopes the ongoing project will find its way into virtual reality arcades in the coming months.

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Evie Powell:

What do you do, and why do you do it? “I’m the president and creative director of Verge of Brilliance LLC, an independent experimental games studio based in Seattle. I’ve been running this company for over three years and absolutely love it. I love making quick prototypes and sandboxes while simultaneously pushing boundaries with game design. Game jams are a both an art form and a form of entertainment to me.”

Evie Powell
“We’re still trying to figure out how people will connect with it, and more importantly, how to get it out of the way of our connection with people,” Evie Powell says of VR. (Shawn Whiting Photo)

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “There is a common misconception that the fallout of advancing future technology like VR, AR, and wearables is that people will be less connected to each other and their environments than they have been in the past. But there is such great potential for technology to do the opposite.

“A lot of the new tech we are seeing today is in its infancy. We’re still trying to figure out how people will connect with it, and more importantly, how to get it out of the way of our connection with people. Often, people see a person that works behind a visor or a headset as someone that is really smart or nerdy that is choosing not to be connected to our reality for whatever reason.

“The thing is, though, many of us are working on solutions that make technology more human. In my field specifically, I’m very interested in not only the escape games provide from reality but how we can blur the lines of play so that people can more easily transfer skill, art, culture, and meaningful connections out of a play experience.”

Where do you find your inspiration? “I find inspiration in watching people: both in game and in real life. I especially find value in watching people play my own games and prototypes. I’m always trying to figure out what people are leaving my experiences with and what motivates them to keep playing.”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “Wooden pick-axe. All of civilization starts with wooden pick-axe.”

Evie Powell workspace
Evie Powell’s basement workspace, which she calls the Evie Cave. (Photo courtesy of Evie Powell)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “I spend part of my time working from UW CoMotion labs and the other part working from the Evie Cave. CoMotion is a VR/AR focused co-working space in Seattle. The Evie Cave is my basement, filled with stuff I love like video games, music instruments, and my VR-ready desktop.

“Having access to both works well for me. The basement allows me to stay at home and be present for my dog (he doesn’t like it when I leave home). I also get to work alone with my thoughts and play music loudly if the mood calls for it. There are some tasks I can do while listening to music (like making sandboxes and programming).

“When I am at CoMotion the mood is very productive. The people there are working tirelessly to change the world through their creations and I find it very inspiring. I greatly value the conversations and the energy I find there. On days where I need to meet with others or I need a change in energy, working from CoMotion is a great solution.”

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “Start off your day with small goals that are easily achievable (make up bed, eat breakfast, respond to emails). That way you already have a sense of accomplishment before you start on the hard stuff.”

Mac, Windows or Linux? “Mac.”

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “I don’t do ‘Star Trek.’ But I like that Star Trekky episode of ‘Black Mirror’!”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Time Machine … Futurama style.”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “Start a games research lab, investigating many different ways people play using new technology.”

I once waited in line for … “3+ hours to try the HTC Vive at San Diego Comic-Con. It was worth it.”

Your role models: “Dr. Tiffany Barnes, my PhD advisor: She always motivated me to keep learning, look closer, and ultimately helped me realize that my passion for games had the potential to change the world. Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder: His approach to technology and design was one of a kind. Loretta Powell, my mom: She ultimately taught me not to be afraid of technology. Whenever a computer or gadget stopped working in our house, she was always hovering nearby with a book in hand on how to fix it yourself.”

Greatest game in history: “Xenogears.”

Best gadget ever: “Fidget Spinners.”

First computer: “Commodore 64.”

Current phone: “iPhone 7.”

Favorite app: “Sega Channel.”

Favorite cause: “Broadening participation in STEM.”

Most important technology of 2016: “HTC Vive.”

Most important technology of 2018: “Drones.”

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “There isn’t just one correct way to navigate life. Think hard about what makes life meaningful to you. Do as much of that as you can.”

Website: Verge of Brilliance

Twitter: @vergegamesvr

LinkedIn: Evie Powell

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