Speak to Pamela Figueroa for five minutes and you can immediately tell she has just as many interests as she does talents. Dragons, guitar playing, Guns N’ Roses, Bolivian culture, medieval castles and game-development contests are some of the topics she can talk about at length.
Growing up in Bolivia—where videogames are not a common household item and games are not considered a real career—Figueroa needed that passion to pursue her dreams, now as a student at UCF’s Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy.
She was lucky enough to have supportive parents who encouraged her interests and friends with a GameCube or PlayStation handy. When she was 20, she combined her passion for Bolivian culture and game design to create a game called Mi Tierra, which won first place in the EduApps hackathon from the U.S. Embassy.
“I think that Mi Tierra has been a blessing in my game development career. I learned so much about leading teams, working with artists and animators, playtesting games and pitching ideas,” says Figueroa. “I even learned stuff from my culture that I didn’t know before.”
Figueroa’s success with Mi Tierra and at other international game jams, plus her excellent grades as a systems engineering student at Universidad Catolica Boliviana in San Pablo earned her the prestigious Fulbright scholarship to help her pursue her study of game design.
“Getting a Fulbright grant was like getting a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory for me. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Figueroa.
While having many talents, including coding and knowledge of art concepts, Figueroa says her true passion lies in game design and so FIEA’s production track was a natural fit for her.
“My aim is to convey powerful ideas through mechanics and encourage the world to consider games as an art form,” says Figueroa. “I want to speak the language of mechanics and I think that the production track is the perfect fit for those goals.”
Even reading is an active process for her. Frustrated by not retaining enough information from game-design books, she created a series of illustrated cards that each represent a game concept. She now has more than 200 of them in her collection.
“This way [using the cards] I can analyze the games I play more effectively and I have a whole collection of mechanics that I can look at when I want to evoke a certain feeling or want to encourage the player to follow a certain playstyle,” she says.
Figueroa acknowledges she’s slightly nervous to begin her studies at FIEA as an international student. “I’m a little worried about the whole cultural shock but I think that I’ll adapt in a few months,” she says.
Figueroa’s passion for game design is evident as she thinks about her future at FIEA.
“I think FIEA will be a huge challenge for me,” she says. “And like any adventure, I’ll have obstacles to overcome and bosses to defeat. But I love challenges, so I’m ready to begin the adventure.”