Meet Helen Routledge: Head of Production and Project Manager

A bit about me (the road to Totem)

I am a serious games designer, researcher, project manager and production lead. I've worked in the serious games space since 2002 starting out in researching the effectiveness of games as learning tools before moving into product management, and then into design. My background is in psychology and behavioural sciences and I love everything to do with the brain. When I was 12 I saw a documentary on how the brain works, and from that moment on I was hooked! And I also love games.

Now Abertay Uni was the university for game development, and Dundee was a hub for the games industry. Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto had been produced in the city and there was a great gaming culture and buzz around the university. Coupled with my love of games, it was a great atmosphere for me. When it came to final year of the course I had to do a dissertation, and I wanted to combine games with psychology. I originally wanted to see if I could influence people’s memories with games and explore false memories for a career in psychopathology (inspired by watching a lot of CSI). But my advisor thought it wasn’t quite right. So back to the drawing board. I was checking my emails one day and there was an email from a group of guys who had spun out a commercial business from the games course focused on using games for corporate training and they were looking for a psychologist to evaluate their first product! Bingo!

I jumped at the chance and went to talk to them, they took me on and I did my research project and afterwards they gave me a job. So I became the Research Manager and spent my days reading journals devising experiments and learning so much more. It was so fun!

As I was part of a very small team and we were the first company in the UK to set up and do Serious Games for the corporate training sector as a commercial venture, I had a great opportunity ahead of me. I travelled regularly to the States to speak at conferences and met with very senior employees from Fortune 500 companies, and managed million pound work packages for the Scottish government. We were new, the industry was new and so I started to make a name for myself, there were only a handful of people doing what I was doing. I also got to experience every side of the business and so started unwittingly learning about business finance, project management, process improvements; all those things you need to run a successful business.

After a couple of years I started to see that I could make our products better by using my knowledge of psychology and so I moved into a design position not before long I was looking to stretch my wings and made a move to the midlands to join PIXELearning as a designer, who were one of the world leaders in Serious Games.

I quickly expanded my role from pure design into both design and production and started to head up the production team and became a member of the management team.

We had a great time at PIXELearning, and due to circumstances outside of our control the company was liquidated by our head office. But the team were driven and passionate and I for certain didn’t want to pack up and go home. So we stuck together and formed Totem Learning. I didn’t think it could happen, but this job is even more fun the last!

My job at Totem

At Totem I head up the design and production activities, or I will do until late July when I am expecting the arrival of my first baby. A little boy! But I will be back in 6 months’ time; in fact I’ll probably find it hard to stay away in that time anyway!

What inspires me

 At the end of the day I absolutely love my job and I am inspired to do it every day because I know what I create really helps people. For example we made a game about violence in adolescent relationships and it really has had an impact on young people’s awareness of negative behaviours. And that just gives me the warm and fuzzies.

I’m also inspired by the next generation and trying to make my industry more balanced. As I had such strong role models growing up I’m concerned that some girls don’t have this and I know girls love IT just as much as boys at a young age but this is conditioned out of them and so I do what I can to raise the profile of women in games and technology.

Random Facts!

My hobbies/ interests

Adventuring; 2013 was a year of adventures for me! I canoed down the mighty Zambezi River, camping wild on the islands and living without any luxuries. This adventure really made me feel alive and ever since I’ve been looking for ways to maintain that. Of course baby is going to place a hiatus on that but I’m determined to seek out adventure in the everyday and I’m already planning my adventures for 5 years’ time when I can send the little one off on holiday to grandma’s house so I can escape to Rwanda, Uganda, Cambodia, oh the list is endless!

I’m a keen (but amateur) photographer, I love exploring new places and giving myself photo challenges. I mainly shoot between 18 and 55mm mainly because I can’t be bothered with the weight of a massive lens, but I also enjoy exploring how the limited range can work to achieve different perspectives with the same subject.

My other passions are learning, I consider myself part sponge. And reading, reading everything I can get my hands on!

My Favourite Game of all time

Hard to pin down to one, so I’m going to cheat and say the Zelda series, although some people may argue that’s one game repeated many times over ;)