We kick off Behind the Screen by interviewing the producer of the show, our very own Kristen Fuller, livestream producer and community manager.
Kristen Fuller has worked at Riot Games, Robot Entertainment, Gazillion Entertainment, and BioWare Austin. She has worked with several game communities, ranging from STAR WARS: The Old Republic to more recently League of Legends. She’s co-hosted two previous podcasts, co-produced the League of Legends podcast, and been the primary driver behind the League of Legends livestream.
Since recording this podcast, Kristen has departed from Riot Games.
Supplemental Thoughts From Frank:
Within 2 minutes of recording the very first episode of a brand new podcast project, we’d messed up.
A pen had dropped to the floor, disrupting the introduction we were making for the podcast and sending us into fits of laughter, since we’d just been talking about being rusty and getting back into the swing of things (this is, after all, our third podcast project).
“Immediately drops something,” Kristen narrates as I was talking, her grin visible in her comment. But of course we soldier on, pick right back up, and continue, having accepted that pen-shaped bump in the road as another part of the journey.
Part of the reason why Kristen and I have been such fast, best friends over the course of a decade plus, working together through one games media company, two game studios, and now three nerd-based podcasts, was a shared similarity in the way that we approached adversity – a mix of self-deprecating humor and a tenacity to keep continuing past it, even if it was painful and stressful. That we also stubbornly hid any pain while attempting to push through it was also apparent – a bit of a requirement to survive in the jungle of Community Management in games today.
As Kristen describes her work at Riot as a specialized role in which she frequently created planned “runways” that lead to producing livestreams and online-based events with developers and League personalities, she characterizes herself as a “stream mom”, running around the day of the event ensuring that everything is going smoothly – and that when it doesn’t, it’s something she feels keenly. “You feel like you’re wasting people’s time, you’re wasting peoples’ energy, their excitement, their effort…and you feel that way for the developers too, who were relying on this to get a chance to talk to players.”
It’s this level of empathy and perception towards communities that I feel makes Kristen excellent at the work that she’s done in the games industry. You do have to care about your players, sure, but to be able to actually feel that you don’t want them to be disappointed and can feel that emotion palpably is one of the driving forces that makes Community workers in games some of the most passionate and hardest working advocates for them, a fact that I personally wish was more appreciated.
The desire to create good experiences comes from Kristen’s childhood, a time which she says was difficult due to perception of her at school and a somewhat rough childhood as a result. Seen as the strange nerdy kid, Kristen found games to be a sanctuary, a safe space. “It was the one place I feel like I could come home to after a really bad day, and feel surrounded by family…the internet and games are my home,” she says, remembering endless hours of Descent, Baldur’s Gate 2, and even MUDs where she found both solace and belonging.
That need to defend your home turf is probably why Kristen’s fought so hard for better experiences for players. But this kind of sensitivity to the way players and fellow co-workers feel doesn’t come without a price, and I know for a fact that Kristen’s paid for it in spades. You can’t be exposed to such raw, extreme emotion or opinion without it fraying your psyche. Reflecting on her own trials, Kristen stated “I was seeing the world in grayscale for a very long time, and going on medication and going to therapy has been very revealing…re-learning the possibilities within.” Mental health awareness has become increasingly important to Kristen in recent years, especially given her own personal experience, and her frankness and honestly at describing her troubles and the importance of improving her own state of mind, even as she says she continues to struggle with her own feelings of inadequacy, strikes me as both powerful and cathartic for her.
Recently, along with 27 other women, Kristen took the time to go on-the-record, at great risk to herself and her reputation, to speak out about problems her and others have experienced with sexism at Riot Games. It’s one of the bravest things that I’ve seen someone do, especially with the way that games industry employees have been targeted in recent years by harassment campaigns designed specifically to hurt and destroy. The person I knew from our days at Curse has grown so much, and persevered even as the thorns from the industry have left scars and cuts that are likely still healing.
But to me, as someone who’s known her so long, this isn’t out of character for her. If anything, Kristen’s continued resilience in the face of so much difficulty is one of the things I respect her the most for, and in my opinion, even she underestimates how powerful and inspiring that is to others. Though she’s since left Riot, Kristen hasn’t stopped there. She’s established a super-educational and detailed blog and Patreon for herself and others looking for better understanding of skin care, she’s of course working on this games industry humanization podcast project with me, and continues to look down the horizon towards the next challenge – something which she seems ready for even if there are troubles along the way.