A talk with Austrian indie game developer Sarah Hiebl

Sarah Hiebl is a young game developer from Austria that makes small experimental choice-based games. She took some time to talk to me why she likes questioning reality and what her next project is.

PF: Your games take place the subconscious, dreams or memories. Why do you choose this surrealism as a scenario?

Sarah Hiebl: It’s not like I think about themes that could be interesting for a game. The distinction between reality and dreams, but also about the consciousness in general, are what I think about a lot and I’d say – in a way this also haunts me. My games are about questions I ask myself for years and to which I haven’t found any answers yet. Making games – ultimately seen as art by myself – about that is a process of coming to peace with those questions.

Would you say that this is kind of ironic since games offer a virtual reality? As some like to call it “an escape from reality?”

Yeah, the medium is certainly important when asking those questions. Especially since Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality (as you said) become more and more reality. It’s fun playing with that technical background when creating pieces in that medium.

You said in a Superlevel interview that we should always question perception. Is reflection a form of taking action for you?

When thinking about reality, I think reflection is the only way of taking action in that case.

That sounds very passive.

I think our actions are highly limited, because humanity as a whole is. Physically and ultimately mentally.

Interesting, but before we get too philosophical: What is your next project?

My next project is supposed to be about friendships and social interaction. Trying to figure out why some friendships last and others don’t.

I think everyone can relate to that. If I ask myself about why some of my friendships lasted longer than others, the answer is usually just “Life”.

Yeah, the game won’t give you any certain answer to that too. I think my work really isn’t about answers but questions.

What are the biggest challenges you face to create it?

Not getting too pretentious. Making games is great because you can share it with everyone. Anyone from anywhere can download your game, but that great possibility means nothing when nobody understands it. Sure, there will always be people who just aren’t into my type of games, but I try to make it as accessible as possible. Also, I think you should leave room for the player to have their own thoughts. Sometimes I’m asking myself: “Will people really get that on their own?” – But people usually are way more clever than I think at first and get a lot subtle hints I put into my games. Others may don’t, but still enjoy the games. Getting there is the hard part.

How much would you say does this influence your whole process?

Not that much. In the end I just do what feels right.

How do you see the current state of games/gaming?

I don’t really feel like I’m a part of the “whole” scene, so it’s hard for me to make any assumptions. I’m just glad experimental games are getting made and recognized.

I mean, I don’t care for most of the mainstream stuff. It doesn’t look bad but it just doesn’t interest me that much. The only thing that bothers me is that there are no really good choice-based games. There are some, which have very well written stories and characters, but the choices always feel so irrelevant to me. Maybe that’s just me.

I guess that answers my question what you hate most about games.

Yeah, I don’t really HATE it… I still enjoy the games on a certain level, I just think they could be so much more. I can’t think of anything else that bothers me.

I feel recently a lot of games have become very reflective, self-reflective and downright meta.

Yep. The Beginner’s Guide by Davey Wreden for example. It’s so great! Never seen anything like it before. I love that games started to get more meta and self-reflective. It adds so much to the medium.

What other games do you like – or better: are important to you?

Kentucky Route Zero by Cardboard Computer was an important game for me. It inspired me in so many ways. I had the feeling I learned about myself while playing this game. Journey by thatgamecompany too, because of very similar reasons.

You can find Sarah’s games for free and follow her projects behind these links:

Mary Woke Up Today


Sarah Hiebl – Sarhie.net