By Katharine Webster
Who says that video games lead to social isolation?
Not art major Jordi Love ’18 or computer science major Thomas Nelson ‘18, who bonded over video and board games and are now working on games of their own – and planning their wedding.
Love met Nelson, who had a work-study job in the Art & Design Department computer lab, in the week of her 24th birthday in February 2016. Her boyfriend had just broken up with her, and then her computer crashed. A friend suggested she ask Nelson for help.
“It was a minute problem, but at the time, it felt like my whole life was ending. (Nelson) touched it and it was suddenly fixed,” she says. “I remember looking at him and thinking, ‘I wish somebody that cute would ever like me.’”
He did, but it took him a long time to tell her. The next time Nelson saw Love, she showed him a fishing game on her Nintendo DS, which was autographed by voice actors for Sailor Moon, the anime and manga series that had first inspired Love to learn how to draw.
“I don’t like fishing, but I find it really relaxing to catch fish in video games,” Nelson says. “So I see this cool gamer over here with her signed 3DS playing a cool fishing game that I want to know more about.”
The rest of spring semester, they bonded over video games and obscure board games, including Gruff, which features shepherds with mutant battle goats.
They learned they had a lot in common. Both had worked their way through community college – he at Northern Essex, she at public campuses in Florida and New Jersey – and both were a little older than the average student. Both had started at UMass Lowell in fall 2016, and both were paying their own way through school with financial aid, work-study jobs and scholarships.
In the fall, they began dating. They were sitting next to each other while playing Pathfinder Society, a board game, with friends when Jordi texted Nelson, “I really like you.” He texted back, “I like you, too.”
A week later, Asst. Prof. Misha Rabinovich told Nelson he was looking for a computer science student and an animation student to build a plea bargain research animation on an open-source platform. Nelson and Love both applied. After persuading the lead researcher, Asst. Prof. of Psychology Miko Wilford, that their relationship wouldn’t interfere with their work, they were hired.
“I wouldn’t be half as good as I am without this internship. It was double-duty learning,” says Love, who started coursework for her concentration in animation and motion graphics at the same time she began work on PleaJustice.org in fall 2016. This spring, she won the Art & Design Department’s senior award for a 2-D animation.
Now Love and Nelson build websites together for clients. (She does the design, he does the code.) They are finishing up work on PleaJustice.org this summer and training their replacement, Kathrine Lucas, an art major and computer science minor whom they jokingly refer to as their “Love child.”
They’re also collaborating to create their own video games.
Love, a fan of anime who studied Japanese and English before deciding to pursue her dream career in animation, is creating a 500,000-word visual novel with alternative endings that depend on the main character’s choices. It’s aimed at teenage girls and women.
Nelson is building the game engine for the visual novel. He, in turn, relies on Love to create the visual schemes and characters for his games.
“Jordi thinks about characters and dialogue and relationships,” he says. “I’m a world-builder. I think about big, sweeping concepts and tactics.”
At the Penny Arcade Expo in Boston last year, Nelson proposed to Love at the Pathfinder booth, presenting her with a beautiful ring that echoed visual themes from Sailor Moon. She said yes.
They’re taking a year off to apply to graduate schools together and earn money. He plans to earn a Ph.D. in computer science so he can become a professor. She wants to become a professional animator at a studio like Disney or Pixar. They’re also planning their biggest live “game” yet: their wedding next spring.
Once married, he will take her last name.
“How could I not?” he asks. “It’s a great name.