Above: Iden Versio sees the second Death Star blow up.

Image Credit: EA

GamesBeat: Fans have gone crazy over the loot crate situation. Hopefully that hasn’t spilled over for you in some way.

Gavankar: It has, but it hasn’t. The truth is, like I said, I wanted to have a seat at the table in the games industry for 10 years. I didn’t think that it was going to be in, ostensibly, the most anticipated game of 2017. That’s had some highs and some lows. I’ll take all of it, because I’m still just so honored to be a part of it. I think people can tell I’m not faking my enthusiasm. I’m really excited. I got to be in a Star War. Come on.

Did I see any of that stuff coming? No. But again, I’m a gamer, and I know something about my people. We’re savvy. We know who’s who. So I haven’t had a ton of spillover, because people know that I’m a part of the story. I didn’t see any of that stuff coming. I’m nothing to do with it. And I’m thankful to them for realizing what my job is in all of this.

GamesBeat: It seems like authenticity really matters on the internet, Twitter, social media, wherever.

Gavankar: Another reason why I respect the voices out there is because I am one. I understand what it feels like to be a geek. I understand what nerd rage is because I feel it every day of my life about something. I think this might be the reason why people have been so nice to me. When people see themselves in a — how do I say this in the best way? Okay, I’ll say the opposite. When people see somebody who is an inauthentic voice in a space they love and hold dear, they want to kill that thing for ruining the thing they love. I feel the same way. I think people know where my heart is.

GamesBeat: I’ve felt some heat from gamers when I cross that line, yeah.

Gavankar: Right. But I respect it.

GamesBeat: It’s interesting that people can be both super fans and super haters at the same time.

Gavankar: Well, we’re passionate people. All of my feelings go to 11 and stay at 11. When I love something I love it so loudly, and when I hate something I hate it just as loudly.

GamesBeat: You’re pretty tech-savvy. You were one of the first people on Twitter.

Gavankar: Yeah, I’m an early adopter in general.

Above: Iden Versio is the daughter of Garrick Versio, an Imperial commander.

Image Credit: EA

GamesBeat: Did you see this evolve and come to the right approach to social media in general, do you think?

Gavankar: Chris Sacca told me about Twitter in 2006. It was really weird. We were on Richard Branson’s private island. It was this really weird tech trip. By the way, this is back before smartphones, right? If you wanted to tweet, you had to tweet to — 04040 or something? I think this still works? It was this Texas number and then you were tweeting and everyone would get the text. That was the original dissemination of tweets. Maybe I can test it. I feel like it’s still in my phone.

GamesBeat: I didn’t get on until 2008 or so.

Gavankar: Oh, you’re so late. Yeah, 40404. “Test. Texting my tweet. Does this method still work?” Someone check Twitter and see if that comes up. When he told me about it I saw it as, “Oh, as a performer I now have an opt-in mailing list that’s immediate to people’s phones.” No, it doesn’t look like it works. How sad. It’s dead.

GamesBeat: Maybe it’s just really slow.

Gavankar: I don’t know. Anyway, for me, the thing that — their tagline was, “It’s an answer to a question that has yet to be asked.” That was the hype train they were trying to get everybody on. For me, as a performer, I said, “There’s no friction. They just follow you. If you have a thought or you want to tell people about something you’re doing, it’s immediately on their phones. No opening an email. It’s right there.” So I understood it immediately. I think I was the first performer, actor, whatever who used it. Somebody had to be first. It just happened to be me.

But I’ve been an early adopter of things in general. Posterous, which got — the entire team got bought by Twitter and absorbed. They’re all doing fabulous things right now. They created a template for actors and artists to use to represent themselves in a plug-and-play way. I’m a first-round investor in ClassPass. These things are a part of my life that not a lot of people know about, but they’re a big part of my life. I’m an investor in Boulevard, another startup in Los Angeles.

GamesBeat: We see a lot of problems with social media these days. The news climate is absolutely crazy. Do you see any ways to fix that? Like presidential tweets.

Gavankar: Just like with any other medium — if you don’t want to watch CNN you change the channel. Just turn it off. Unfollow. Block. But you have to be diligent about the way in which you engage. If it’s causing you anxiety, do not engage. Social media are just an extension of any group of — if you know assholes hang out at a bar, you don’t go to that bar, right? Mute, block, use the tools to get them out of your life.

And yeah, I do agree that it has — it’s sad to say, but we all know that the way these news outlets are keeping the lights on is by covering things that are clickable, covering things that people are going to watch. Fear-based media has been around for a really long time. It’s nothing new. Misinformation has been around for a really long time. It’s nothing new. If you’re a smart person and you have something — if you’re receiving information in a way you don’t like, don’t engage. Don’t cry about it. Do something about it.

GamesBeat: As we spread across the galactic Empire, I would love to see humans evolve to some higher form.

Gavankar: I’d love that too. But we’re going to have to be really diligent about that and choose that for ourselves.

Above: Iden Versio gets second thoughts.

Image Credit: EA

GamesBeat: Have you played any multiplayer in Battlefront?

Gavankar: I have. Even though I’m not actually a multiplayer kid. I’m a story-first gamer. I like to crawl into a hole and play — I’m a completist too, so I’ll play a game to 100 percent it, all the way. I’ve played multiplayer in Battlefront — the first Battlefront I played, and then I’ve of course played Battlefront II. It’s so damn pretty. Also, I wanted to see what Iden was like to play. I want to know her capabilities, how to be her in every — everywhere she shows up in the galaxy I want to know what it’s like to be her.

That happened with the book, too. They asked me to voice it, so I got to voice the audiobook. I just voiced a 90-second breakdown of the book for an animated show called “Lore.” I’ll say yes to anything. Any time she shows up, anywhere, I’ll just say, “Yes. Where? When?”

GamesBeat: Do you hope she gets into the canon in a bigger way?

Gavankar: She’s in the canon in a pretty big way already. Having this game be as big as it is — but of course, would I like to see her on film or in television shows? Absolutely. If it was you, wouldn’t you say yes?

GamesBeat: What else do you want to do in gaming?

Gavankar: Oh, God, I want to do so many things. I quietly created a forum for game developers to speak freely with each other. It’s invite- and approval-only. Because game developers have to work in silos, they don’t talk to each other. That’s unfortunate, because they’re artists, and they need to be talking about game theory and design, supporting each other instead of having this lonely existence that ends in crunch. Crunch is abusive. I wanted to create a safe place for diverse voices in the games industry to talk to each other. It’s called theForum.games.

GamesBeat: It’s funny that that didn’t exist already.

Gavankar: It’s very strange. But that’s the thing. Because they have to work in silos, it took a fangirl to create it. It happened when NeoGAF got pulled down. I’m a super NeoGAF lurker. It was down during the biggest releases of the year. I was like, “I need a place to read all the conversations!” I was starting to freak out.

I called my ex-boyfriend, who is the CEO and founder of DeviantArt — we’re still friends. We were together for five years and we’re friends now  —  and I asked him, “How fast can we put up a new forum?” He said, “What are you doing right now?” So we built one. Then NeoGAF went back up, which I’m happy about, because it made us look at each other and think, “Is this actually needed?” I called many of my friends in the games industry and it was a resounding “Yes.” So I basically tightened the lens. I made it private, invite-only. It will grow slowly. It will be quality, not quantity. It won’t be noisy. It’ll be a safe place to ask questions of each other, of their peers.

GamesBeat: Are you happy if something like that gets to be in the hundreds of people?

Gavankar: Oh, it already is. If it’s needed, it will exist, and it will continue to grow. I’ll have AMAs, but instead of 3,000 questions, it’ll have whatever the community needs to know. And then that artist will be able to sit and answer at length. That’s happening in smaller ways. There are Facebook groups. Each city — obviously San Francisco has a community of game developers that know each other. But I’d love to be able to help bridge the gap. If it’s necessary it will grow on its own. I’m not hoping and praying for people to join. They’ll join if they need to join.

GamesBeat: We try to make that happen with our GamesBeat conferences. 

Gavankar: That’s the thing. Because artists need to support artists. They need to feel safe to create, and not create out of fear of criticism. That’ll help the entire industry grow. So we’ll see. But it is something we’re really excited about.

There are some things I can’t talk about in the writing side of my life. I guess the short version of it is, I would love to start telling stories in this medium. I feel as though I just got here. I have a lot of work to do to earn the right to do that, but I have no qualms putting the work in.

Above: Janina Gavankar was one of the earliest actresses to get on Twitter.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

GamesBeat: Have you thought, then, about having your own games studio?

Gavankar: Yes. It’s mid-burner. I’m still an actor. When I’m on a television show I’m working 16 hours a day.

GamesBeat: I don’t think there are many people who cross over so much that way.

Gavankar: I definitely sit on a strange little fence between fangirl, mainstream media, and the games industry. In this past year it’s been really interesting for me. For example, my publicist set this up with you, right? You talked to her. She’s the fucking best. She’s spent half a year learning about the games industry, as much as she could, because she understands it’s a different place from mainstream media, which is what she’s used to.

I was in New York, taking meetings with Hearst and Conde Nast, which are big companies that I have had press moments with in the past. You take these general meetings. They’re not like this. This is an actual “let’s sit down and spend time.” A general meeting with a magazine like that is, some journalist is sent to come meet you in the lobby, essentially, and talk with you for 10 minutes to see if there’s a story in you, if they should care at all. And then they talk to — especially if it’s a women’s magazine, they talk to 15 actresses about their new movie that’s coming out, and they decide whether they care or not.

Now, for me, I walk in and they have no idea where to start, because they don’t know anything about games. So I start saying things like, “Let me just give you a little education on triple-A games. The budgets are $200-300 million sometimes. Let’s say it sells 15 million copies. Each copy is $60. Do that math.” And then their eyes kind of bulge and I say, “This game release will be bigger than the last 15 actors you just talked to. That’s why you should pay attention.”

I’m very happy — even though I say it with a little bit of venom that I’m trying to mask at all times — the mainstream media doesn’t cover games the way they should. They don’t pay attention to them. They don’t respect them the way they should. On one hand it’s really annoying, because I love it so much an I want the artists in this medium to get the respect they deserve. But on the other hand, we don’t need them anyway.

The games industry has existed for a very long time without the attention of mainstream media. I’m fine with that. But because I sit on this fence between fangirl, games industry, and mainstream media, I want everyone to love the thing I love as much as I do. And respect its nuances the way that I do.

GamesBeat: It’s like you’re crossing tribes. There’s always this outside looking in at the tribe, or the insiders associating with other tribes.

Gavankar: It’s funny, because I know I’m supposed to talk to you about fashion, but I don’t give a shit. I really want to talk about video games.

GamesBeat: You have the makings of being a leader as you cross over.

Gavankar: If people want me to be. In the meantime I’m okay with being a foot soldier that’s just trying to make people to pay attention to the things they should pay attention to.

GamesBeat: The special forces kind.

Gavankar: Ghost Recon. We get in and we get out before anyone realizes we’re there.