After a long career as a game designer, Brenda Romero became an educator — teaching the next generation of artists, coders and mechanics how to create the world’s most popular media form. A game is the tool she uses to think about problems, to explain, to put concepts into form. As she says: “This is all I’ve ever done. I’ve been a game designer since I was 15 and this is my natural way of seeing things.”
In 2008, she began a design exercise that expanded into a series called “The Mechanic Is the Message” — analog (not video) games that use game mechanics, boards, pieces, and rules to help a player think through hard problems. Her game “The New World” was an attempt to explain U.S. slavery, and the experiences of the people caught in it, to her young daughter. “Síochán leat” (Gaelic for “peace be with you”) explores the complex history of Ireland and the Irish diaspora.
In her TEDxPhoenix talk, given in 2011, Romero mentioned a new game, an intriguing protoype called “Mexican Kitchen Workers.” We asked her to tell us more, and in an hour-long phone call while driving on Hwy 17 on the way to her office in Santa Cruz, she did. The conversation has been lightly edited.