March 23, 2017

Gaming For Pixels Partner Interview: Sig Gunnarsson – Co-founder, Game Designer, and Art Director, Studio Wumpus

As part of our Gaming For Pixels interview series, The Pixel Project spoke to awesome Sig Gunnarsson, co-founder, gamer designer, and art director of Studio Wumpus. Brooklyn-based Studio Wumpus are the acclaimed developers of Sumer – a digital board game inspired by M.U.L.E. and the Epic of Gilgamesh. Race across the ziggurat to harvest barley, herd goats, and sacrifice to the great goddess Inanna. Sumer draws on modern Eurogame design elements like worker placement, territory control, and auctions. Its unique innovation is to place these into an action video game.

Studio Wumpus is a Gaming For Pixels partner. They have donated some goodies to and will be taking part in the 1st Gaming For Pixels Spring Slam from April 7th – 9th 2017.


Studio Wumpus’s flagship game SUMER has recently been released on Steam – Congratulations! SUMER features the powerful Goddess Inanna as the focal point as 4 noblemen compete to win her favour. What inspired the you and the Studio Wumpus team to create SUMER?

Thank you! All of us here at Studio Wumpus are huge board gamers and SUMER started out as an experiment to merge board game design with video games. We wanted a game that was the best of Euro board games and the best of local multiplayer action. Then we found this great game called M.U.L.E. by Danielle Bunten Berry. She made the game in 1983 and it is was amazing but there hasn’t been anything like it since then. Dani’s design philosophies have influenced Sumer so much. We really hope Sumer is a worthy successor to MULE and Dani’s legacy.


SUMER has a strong female character at the heart of it. However, there has been a history of women characters being sexualised, objectified, or even absent in popular mainstream games, with far fewer playable female lead characters than playable male lead characters. With women and girls comprising 52% of gamers, why do you think the industry has been slow to reflect and cater to this demographic? What would you suggest be done to address this?

We had made a decisive decision to have equal representation of men and women in SUMER no matter our research turned up. To our pleasant surprise Sumerian history turned out to be fairly equal! Inanna, the goddess SUMER focuses on, was also so amazing and strong that she survived changes to the Mesopotamian pantheon as society became more patriarchal.

I think our industry has two problems: 1) There is self fulfilling prophecy of the people with money thinking male-oriented games will make more money. We have to take bigger chances on different games.  2) Companies have to hire more women! More women at a company will result in more inclusive and better games. League of Geeks are, for example, a great role model in this regard as they are currently close to their goal of having 50/50 gender ratio at their company!


Successful gamer-run charity events like Extra Life, Child’s Play, and Gamers For Giving have shown that gamers have a huge heart for helping causes. What do you think gamers can do to support efforts to end violence against women and girls?

Gamers are great right? We just have to keep on fighting. Gamers are also parents and one good thing to keep in mind is to be mindful in how we raise our sons and daughters. We need to raise respectful individuals and talk to them about things like gender and equality. Gamers should also continue calling out sexism in games and keep asking for the types of games they want. Money is a great way to vote on the market. Buy the games you’d like to see more of and skip the games in which you don’t like the message.


There are a number of actions that the gaming industry is taking to address the issue of sexism and misogyny and support women in gaming ranging from female-only eSports tournaments to working on tech-driven solutions to curb online harassment against women and minorities. What additional solutions and steps would you suggest to effectively tackle the sexism and the online harassment faced by women in gaming?

That’s tough. If there was an easy solution to it we wouldn’t need this initiative. I believe most of us are really decent people and that under the right circumstances, where we don’t feel attacked or threatened, we can see the error of our logic. Sexism lives in a culture of men where they don’t see women as equals or are afraid to show that they do. Breaking this culture must involve calling out individuals to their face. Harassment festers because the harasser experiences the good feeling of saying something nasty without the social and personal repercussions of seeing and feeling the other person hurting. The problem with the internet is the lack of personal contact. That’s also the reason we can’t seem to get through to some of these people from across the internet. We have to recruit people every day through our actions in the “real” world.


And finally – why does Studio Wumpus support The Pixel Project and our Gaming For Pixels campaign?

Even though the four core members of our studio are white men we realise that there is a big problem in our industry. We are just four friends that happened to make a game together, but as we go on we’ll try to do our part in making the industry more inclusive. There aren’t enough women making games and a lot of the games aren’t inclusive enough for female gamers. The New York indie scene we come from has an amazing attitude towards these issues and we’re very glad to have that background. We’d love to help in some way and spread the love to game communities in other cities and countries. We want to be a part of the solution in some way. The Pixel Project and Gaming for Pixels seem to be doing great work for the cause and it’s our honor to contribute to the campaign.