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Marina Díez Pereiro is a game designer, CEO and activist with heart. As a child, Marina was very affected by her father’s mental illness. As an adult, she shares her story through her games and speaks out so everyone can feel supported.
Cathy Hackl is a tech entrepreneur, futurist, author, and storyteller. She pioneers cutting-edge virtual and augmented reality experiences and is known as The Godmother of the Metaverse. Cathy narrated the story about game designer Marina Díez Pereiro.
This podcast is a production of Rebel Girls. It’s based on the book series Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. This story was produced by Deborah Goldstein with sound design and mixing by Mumble Media. It was written by Sara Weiss and edited by Abby Sher. Fact-checking by Joe Rhatigan and sensitivity read by Schuyler Swenson. Narration by Cathy Hackl. Joy Smith was our executive producer. Original theme music was composed and performed by Elettra Bargiacchi. Thank you to the whole Rebel Girls team who make this podcast possible. Stay rebel!
|On a highway circling the city of Madrid, Spain, 8-year-old Marina Díez Pereiro rode in the backseat of a taxi next to her parents. Off they went to see yet another doctor to try to help her father. (sigh) Marina could feel her father’s sadness as if it was a big boulder dropped in the car between them, immovable and heavy. Why couldn’t anybody figure out what was going on with him?
Marina’s mother gave a reassuring smile. It’s okay, her eyes seemed to say.
But was it? Marina just hoped they found some answers soon.
|I’m Cathy Hackl. And this is Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.
A fairy tale podcast about the real-life rebel women who inspire us.
On this episode, Marina Díez Pereiro, a game designer, CEO and activist. Marina creates art from vulnerable truths and works hard to make sure marginalized voices come through loud and clear.
|As a child, Marina loved so much about her cozy life with her mom and dad, and their little dog, Boby, in a house that was like a library. There were books in every room! Books about dinosaurs, math, physics, chemistry and archeology. Her father read her German, Russian and Latin American literature. Though they didn’t have a lot of money, her parents both worked hard so Marina could have the best opportunities. She got to explore all her creative passions — music, dance, painting, fashion, singing and gaming.
Marina always knew something was different about her dad though. Sometimes he said strange things, or acted erratic, veering between deep sadness and extreme joy. His moods could blow in like a tornado, which for Marina, was unpredictable and confusing. Her mom tried to keep their home cheerful and calm, always playing soothing music and inviting Marina to share her feelings too. But Marina wished she understood what was going on with her dad.
That day in the taxi, when Marina was eight, wound up being a huge turning point. The doctor they saw actually had a diagnosis that made sense. The doctor said Marina’s father had bipolar disorder, which could cause extreme mood swings, intense emotions, changes in sleep habits, and other symptoms.
The good news was, there were therapists who specialized in bipolar disorder and medications that would help Marina’s father have more control over his extreme emotions. Marina and her parents didn’t know what it would look like yet, but they had to trust they were moving in the right direction.
|It took a bit of time for Marina’s father to find a treatment plan that worked for him, but once he did, it felt like there was so much more room for him AND Marina to breathe and grow. She loved being creative — especially writing and drawing. She excelled at learning languages, studying Italian and German. And after she completed her college degree, Marina got a job in marketing for the fashion industry.
It wasn’t her dream job at all, more like trying to figure out what she wanted to do with all of her interests. She had so many creative ideas and she didn’t know how to channel them all. In the evenings, when she came home from work, she usually played video games with friends or wrote as a way to unwind. She even wrote about video games for different Spanish media.
Then, one of her best friends said, “Marina, you should really make your own games.”
Marina had always loved video games. When she was just five years old, she’d saved up enough money from her allowance to buy herself Pokémon Yellow and was so eager to hold the Game Boy in her hands that she couldn’t stop fidgeting.
But design an entire game? Marina wasn’t so sure.
Her friend told her about Bitsy, a computer engine that made it possible to do this, even without coding skills.
Marina was always up for a challenge, so she started piecing together a short game based on the book Alice in Wonderland. It combined so many of her creative passions—art, drawing, design, music. When Marina was finished, her body tingled with tiny sparks of excitement. She felt so proud of this game — this whole imaginary world that she’d created on the screen. She thought, this is what I’m meant to do. So, she made another game. And another after that!
|Sometimes, designing games took Marina months, and it felt like a really slow process. But one day, in a flurry of just a few hours, Marina made a game that was very special to her. One that was able to help her process and share her father’s journey from her perspective as his daughter.
Picture this: the computer screen is colored a soft mint green. In the middle is a black box with the words: “Hey, Dad: a brief story of a mental illness.”
Then, there is a small white figure that travels through a large house. As the figure moves from one point to the next, there are text boxes that tell the story of Marina’s childhood. You get to meet Marina’s beloved little dog, Boby, and hear about what it’s like to feel loved and alone all at once. Every time the figure reaches a new step, more text appears, sharing Marina’s struggle with her father’s bipolar disorder. Each player gets to experience Marina’s childhood and discover what her life was like.
Marina sobbed as she made this game, tears streaming down her face. Each word that she wrote down seemed to unleash more raw emotions she didn’t even know she’d locked inside.
When this game came out, it was unlike most video games. Marina called it “Hey, Dad: a brief story of a mental illness”. She really didn’t know what to expect in terms of other people’s reactions. But it became clear very quickly that players loved it. They thanked her for creating something meaningful, and vulnerable. They told her they could relate to her experience. They felt seen; less alone.
“This was a wonder,” a player wrote in the comments. “What I enjoyed most, hands down, was how real you were… it is an extremely sensitive and personal story.”
“Wow!” Marina wrote back to her fans. “I feel super, super grateful because of your kind words… I don’t know what to say, just that I’ll keep making games with meaningful stories.”
|And that is exactly what Marina did. Since then, Marina has dedicated her life to making games that tap into people’s emotions. Players get to interact with narratives that are powerful and personal. She opens up about her own traumas and triumphs so that everyone playing her games can feel like they’re part of a bigger community of support.
Marina went on to get her Master of Arts in Digital Games Theories and Design from Brunel University in London. And she is now the CEO of a company she started called 3 Of Cups Games.
It’s her mission to foster an ethical working environment, treating everyone fairly and kindly. She also works to ensure that women and people from diverse backgrounds have a place in what has been a white cis male dominated gaming industry. She makes sure there are always strong roles for women on screen and in the creative process.
Though it sometimes feels scary to open up so much with people she doesn’t know, Marina is motivated by the thought that her games can connect and help people all over the globe.
“Sometimes,” she says, “people think that they are alone with what happened to them. And actually they are totally not alone.”
By sharing her experiences and baring her emotions, Marina is creating new ways for people to understand each other. She is making a safe space where everyone can listen, learn, grow, and even play.