Deputy Editor Charlie O’Keefe interviews Cheyenne Pualani Morrin, a Hawaiian game writer who worked on the new Star game: Star Wars: Jedi: Survivor, and a part of 2023’s UK BAFTA Breakthrough cohort.
BAFTA Breakthrough, supported by Netflix, is BAFTA’s flagship initiative for highlighting new talent working in film, games, and TV. This year marks BAFTA Breakthrough’s tenth anniversary, having supported over 200 people across the UK, US, and India.
Why did you pursue game writing over other mediums like film and tv?
‘I had always been really passionate about games like I was just a staple of my childhood. It’s how my family used to spend time and bond ever since SNES and N64, so it’s always been a part of I who I am and who my family is but it wasn’t until I finished BioShock Infinite that I realised that game writing was a very serious craft that is an actual profession. Growing up on Maui, there’s not a lot of game studios here in Hawaii, so that just didn’t seem like an industry that was even on my radar and then I finished BioShock Infinite, and I was so blown away by the story that I knew I needed to get into that specific craft.’
You have been noted in the past for the diversity in your writing, is this something you are
‘I think Respawn in general has a really strong DEI programme. I was leading the diversity equity, and inclusivity storytelling work streams so we have a few different branches in there. Representing diverse perspectives and stories was what our work stream did, and I think we really integrated that into the DNA of survivors. That was an element that we prioritised from the very beginning and and I’m really happy with how all of the team really rallied around trying to support that as wholeheartedly as they could and to go into uncomfortable places and really try to educate themselves so that we could deliver the most authentic version of those stories.’
What is the significance of the BAFTAs in relation to video games since some may not consider them art in the way that traditional mediums are given that acknowledgment?
‘I think it’s reaffirming the growing respect and prominence of storytelling in games. I also grew up in an era where sometimes the players in the audience or the general public would take game stories seriously and other times they’d say that it’s just a game. To be welcomed into this kind of opportunity that really elevates storytelling across all sorts of mediums adds more gravity I think to the kind of recognition and the opportunity.’
What does the BAFTA breakthrough award mean to you are your career?
‘I think it will very much change or alter the course of my career in a really great way. For a couple of reasons I mean Bafta has worked really hard in elevating and discovering new across the world and so being able to interface with emerging talent is an incredible opportunity but they also have a collective of veteran talent and industry experts who have gone through the ringer and they have experiences to share and they have a pathway that you can follow or make slight deviations from. The opportunity to interface with that is really exciting. Second, being the first breakthrough from Hawaii, I hope it signals to the broader industry that there is undiscovered talent that comes from strange, maybe overlooked pockets of the world. I’m hoping that this opportunity also inspires other people from my state to understand how valuable their perspective and their stories are and that if they are persistent and they continue pursuing what they’re passionate about, storytelling, that it’s really only going to enrich the final audience experience as well as the team.’
What advice would you give to those interested in getting into game design, particularly from minority backgrounds?
‘I would tell them to not doubt their perspective and their experiences because as I mentioned earlier it really only enriches and creates a more dynamic and multifaceted player experience at the end but it also tell them to lean on their communities and the broader game industry network and to find mentors who can help them navigate some of the challenges of the industry and finally collaborate as much as possible that was something that was really important in my early career was finding folks who were equally passionate maybe not on a professional level but they had that kind of passion and that drive to create great experiences. That collaborative skill is so key when you finally get into the industry being able to compromise with an respect each others opinions even when there may be some friction because the friction is great it means that it’s going to produce something that is a really high quality experience at the end.’
What are your plans moving forward in the gaming industry?
‘I think I really just want to keep learning how to make the most compelling and diverse stories and that can come from techniques and approaches from other mediums in the entertainment industry. I’m really grateful that our cohort is so diverse in the types of creators who are a part of. Even just one of the first meetings that I’ve had with them, I sat down with a director, an actor, and a composer and we all had things to share about each other’s divergent traits. Being able to import that into the game medium is really exciting.’
‘The other aspect is DEI is a really big part of both Respawn but also my career trajectory and I’m really hoping to meet more people who have helped or who have navigated challenging space. I think a lot of folks are intimidated about how to best authentically represent some of these stories and so being able to meet people who have gone through that process and can share some of their learnings and help me navigate that would be awesome.’
UK Breakthroughs 2023
- Adjani Salmon, writer/performer/exec producer – Dreaming Whilst Black
- Bella Ramsey, performer – The Last of Us
- Cash Carraway, creator/writer/exec producer – Rain Dogs
- Charlotte Reganm, writer/director – Scrapper
- Cynthia De La Rosa, hair & makeup artist – Everyone Else Burns
- Ella Glendining, director – Is There Anybody Out There?
- Funmi Olutoye, lead producer – ‘Black History Makers’ (Good Morning Britain)
- Georgia Oakley, writer/director – Blue Jean
- Holly Reddaway, voice and performance director – Baldur’s Gate 3
- Joel Beardshaw, lead designer – Desta: The Memories Between
- Kat Morgan, hair & makeup designer – Blue Jean
- Kathryn Ferguson, writer/director – Nothing Compares
- Kitt (Fiona) Byrne, 2D artist/game designer – Gibbon: Beyond the Trees
- Michael Anderson, producer – Desta: The Memories Between
- Pete Jackson, writer/creator – Somewhere Boy
- Raine Allen-Miller, director – Rye Lane
- Rosy McEwen, performer – Blue Jean
- Samantha Béart, performer – The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow
- Talisha ‘Tee Cee’ Johnson, writer/director/presenter – Too Autistic for Black
- Vivian Oparah, performer – Rye Lane
- Abhay Koranne, writer – Rocket Boys
US Breakthroughs 2023
- Amanda Kim, documentary director – Nam June Paik: Moon Is The Oldest TV
- Aminah Nieves, performer – 1923 and Blueberry (Film/TV)
- Apoorva Charan, producer – Joyland
- Cheyenne Pualani Morrin, senior games writer – Star Wars Jedi: Survivor
- Edward Buckles Jr. documentary director – Katrina Babies
- Gary Gunn, composer – A Thousand and One
- Jingyi Shao, writer & director – Chang Can Dunk
- Maria Altamirano, producer – All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt
- Santiago Gonzalez, cinematographer – Shortcomings
- Shelly Yo, writer & director – Smoking Tigers
- Sing J Lee, writer & director – The Accidental Getaway Driver
- Vuk Lungulov-Klotz, writer & director – Mutt
India Breakthroughs 2023
- Abhay Koranne, writer – Rocket Boys
- Abhinav Tyagi, editor – An Insignificant Man
- Don Chacko Palathara, director/writer – Joyful Mystery
- Kislay, director – Soni
- Lipika Singh Darai, director/writer – Some Stories Around Witches
- Miriam Chandy Mencherry, producer – From the Shadows and The Leopard’s Tribe
- Pooja Rajkumar Rathod, cinematographer – Secrets of the Elephants
- Sanal George, sound editor/mixer/designer – Gangubai Kathiawadi
- Satya Rai Nagpaul, cinematographer – Ghoomketu
- Shardul Bhardwaj, performer – Eeb Allay Ooo!
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