When was the last time you read the painfully self-conscious pages of a teenage girl’s diary while playing a video game? Personal touches like that are the exact thing that sets aside Tisch senior Jenny Jiao Hsia from her peers. Hsia had no qualms about breaking down the wall of her adolescent thoughts with users in her personal project, Consume Me.
When Hsia entered NYU in 2012, she had no idea in what direction she wanted to steer her life. Though she always had an interest in art, she was afraid of becoming the stereotypical artist if she were to pursue a major in art. She set herself on the pre-med track instead — an option Hsia thought to be more practical — and she finished the first semester of freshman year with a 1.9 GPA. As it would turn out, pre-med was not Hsia’s passion. She decided to take a semester off, escaping to her father’s farm in upstate New York to figure out who she was and what she wanted to do with the rest of her time at NYU.
The following fall, Hsia sampled some new classes including, fortuitously, a Games 101 course. The course was mainly a history of games, but she ended up loving it so much that she took another game design course. It was in this next course, Intro to Game Design, that Hsia dropped all of her other courses in order to spend all of her time on the class’ final project, a non-digital abstract strategy game.
“I guess I just became obsessed with it,” Hsia said. “I would spend all my time thinking about the design. Maybe it wasn’t the most efficient use of my time, but I guess I never experienced an activity so absorbing and transcending as cutting out a bunch of paper hexagons.”
However, the 21-year old was not always interested in video games. When she was younger, she didn’t like them, much less played them.
“My dad and brother played a lot of them and I just thought it was the biggest waste of time,” Hsia said. “I think it’s funny how something I hated turned into something that I am now devoting most of my time to.”
Hsia creates video games that diverge from the usual first-person shooters. Her personal projects attempt to diversify gamers’ actions, forcing the users to perform actions other than shooting or racing. She believes that games have incredible potential to teach and expand.
“There’s still so much space to explore in games,” Hsia said. “The games that I want to play do not exist yet, so I want to spend time and energy into making that stuff happen.”
One way in which Hsia is exploring the spectrum of games is with one of her personal projects, Consume Me, a game based on her high school experiences with dieting, discussing topics such as body image and eating disorders. At the surface, Hsia’s game Consume Me is a puzzle game. The player builds meals combining various fruit, vegetables and protein in attempt to lose a certain amount of weight. But ultimately, the game reveals the difficulty of trying to adhere to self-imposed dietary restrictions, and the reality of failing miserably at them.
Toni Pizza, a former professor, said that something that she admires about Hsia is that she takes dense topics and uses visual design to make them approachable.
“When she first pitched the game Consume Me, she received a lot of pushback from her classmates,” Pizza said. “The other students were obviously uncomfortable with the idea, but Hsia was adamant and basically told the students that just because they were uncomfortable talking about the topics, it didn’t mean that she had to shy away from them.”
Hsia’s game repertoire includes games such as Stellar Smooch, Slam City Oracles and Beglitched — all of which are products of many hours of hard work and dedication. Her work, as with any passion project, draws from her own personality. Vibrant, energetic and friendly colors consistently emanate from all of her games, mirroring the designer’s unique persona.
Gallatin junior and Hsia’s friend from high school, Kirsten Rischert-Garcia, said that she is impressed with the way in which Hsia’s personality traits are evident in the games that she produces.
“Jenny is very honest and vulnerable with her friends and what I love about her games is that she expresses this honesty and vulnerability in this work,” Rischert-Garcia said.
But Hsia isn’t all work and no play. A foodie, she also runs a healthy cooking channel on YouTube called Mdfrmscrtch (Made from scratch), where she shows step-by-step how to make scrumptious dishes such as raw vegan carrot cake. When she’s not creating content for her YouTube channel, Hsia also enjoys following finely curated food blogs on Tumblr and reading comics such as “Scott Pilgrim.”
Now a senior, Hsia has managed to recover her GPA, even earning herself a spot on the Dean’s List multiple times. Despite this success, she is not as concerned with grades or GPAs as she is with studying something she is passionate about.
“At the end of the day, it’s about working on something that you love, throwing yourself into it and getting lost in it,” Hsia said.
Read about more of this year’s Up-and-Comers here.