Interview with Lin Zou: A Pioneer of Innovation and Diversity in Game Design

In the digital age, video games have become a cultural form of expression that integrates art and technology. Lin Zou, a gender-neutral artist, has not only changed the face of the gaming industry through her work and actions but has also promoted the integration of gender equality and multiculturalism. Today, we are fortunate to have a conversation with Lin Zou to gain a deeper understanding of her artistic journey, industry challenges, and how she has made a unique mark in the field of game design.

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Image credit: Lin Zou

We are thrilled to spend time today with renowned 3D artist and game creator Zou Lin; greetings and salutations, Zou Lin. Before we dive into the Q&A mosh-pit, could you all say ‘hi’ and introduce yourselves to our ever-inquisitive readers?


Hi, I am Lin Zou, a gender-neutral game artist, who currently works as an artist in game design for Sony’s San Diego studio. Recently, I have been an artist  in the development of the MLB: the Game 23 and 24 editions, which performed very well and received several industry awards. For example, MLB: The Show 23 was a top ten seller in the industry and received the Best Sports Game of the Year Award by the National Academy of Video Games Trade Reviewers. This is one of the highest honors in the industry. It was a great privilege to be an artist behind the game that received this award.


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Image credit: Lin Zou

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Image credit: Lin Zou

How did your childhood love for games and anime guide you to eventually become a CG artist?


Since childhood, I’ve loved playing games, although societal opinion was generally against them. However, as I played more games on a wider variety of platforms, I gradually appreciated that this creation, involved the work of many talented artists. This realization was slow, and it’s hard to pinpoint a specific moment, but when I first experienced the game “The Last of Us,” I confirmed that I wanted to pursue this. Games not only combine superb writing and directing skills but also surpass traditional art forms with their blend of music and visual art, akin to a multimedia art exhibition that includes painting, sculpture, and photography, bringing a virtual yet tangible world into reality. This comprehensive and deep artistic experience made me realize that games are a unique form of interactive art that can touch hearts in new dimensions. They challenged my senses and inspired me to explore the possibilities of games as a medium of expression. This full spectrum of artistic impact motivated me to pursue a path in gaming, hoping to one day bring similarly impactful experiences to players through my creations.


How did your passion for different artistic forms, such as painting, CG art, and music during your high school years, influence and enrich your creations?


In my view, the essence of different artistic forms is the same; they just express human thoughts and emotions from different dimensions and forms. Games, to me, are a collection of all art forms, allowing my creations to be more multidimensional and profound. The color and emotional expression in painting provided a foundation for my CG art, like the foundation of a building. Even though I no longer paint often, I still keep up with sketching to stabilize my foundation. The precision and three-dimensional sense of CG art, in turn, inspires and assists my painting, especially during conceptual design, where I often use 3D assistance to quickly produce perspectives. Music enhances my visual creations through rhythm and emotional atmosphere, helping me express deeper emotions and stories beyond images. Ultimately, a game that combines two-dimensional art, three-dimensional art, and music organically blends these forms to offer audiences a comprehensive sensory experience. Cross-disciplinary creation continually inspires me, allowing me to apply insights from one art form to another, thus driving my artistic exploration and innovation.


How has your passion for social welfare activities impacted your career, particularly your experience volunteering at the Autism Care Center in Chengdu?


I once painted murals for children at the Autism Care Center, which deeply impacted me, allowing me to pay more attention to vulnerable groups. Due to their sensitivity, groups like autistic children often do not and cannot engage much with society, leading to their neglect by the public. Entertainment options suitable for them are extremely limited, especially since many game designs are overly aggressive and social from the start, excluding them. So, in my creations, I focus more on human care and emotional expression while reducing violence and direct social stimulation. Contact with autistic children and their families made me realize the social responsibility required of an artist. As an artist who is equally sensitive, I can understand their needs more deeply and slowly link their world with society through my creations, making such creation more meaningful and continually motivating me to contribute and explore in my career.


As a gender-neutral artist, what challenges and opportunities did you encounter while creating the first female baseball player customization option in “Major League Baseball” 24?


Although baseball is extremely popular in America, it is still seen as a “gentleman’s” sport, with almost no female athletes ever having played in the major leagues. This has led to less understanding and interest in baseball among women during their growth, further deepening societal stereotypes. Since childhood, I have disliked the societal imposition of stereotypes beyond physiological gender differences. So, I was excited when I learned that we were introducing female character designs, finally having a chance to showcase women’s strength on the baseball field. However, the subsequent design work encountered many problems. Without real female major league players as references, it was difficult to find references for costumes, movements, facial features, hairstyles, etc. We could only use minor league or softball league references and make assumptions. When working on the arms, without scanning data from major league players, I had to refer to male players to sculpt stronger arm muscles and palms with calluses but softer and more delicate skin texture. I was also very cautious with makeup, considering both player aesthetics and reality. I avoided overly glamorous and complex makeup that caters to male players, but I didn’t completely eliminate makeup to make it indistinguishable from male options. So, after many trials, I only retained minimal everyday makeup options, allowing women’s strength to be maximally represented while minimizing the stereotypical visual image brought by makeup.


How do you view the current state of gender diversity and inclusivity in the game design field, and how do you hope to promote these issues through your work in the future?


I am pleased to see that gender diversity and inclusivity are gradually gaining attention in the current game design field, with more and more developers recognizing flaws in their work regarding gender awareness and making improvements. However, there is still much to improve. Although more games are starting to present a variety of characters and plotlines that break traditional gender stereotypes, the proportion of female and non-binary developers remains low, resulting in less in-depth or accurate portrayals of minority groups in game content, often stereotyping these minority groups in another way. In the future, I hope to promote gender diversity and inclusivity through my work. In game design, I will work towards the presentation of diverse characters, covering various genders, sexual orientations, races, and backgrounds, to reflect the diversity of real society. More importantly, I will focus on the depth and complexity of characters, such as not intentionally displaying very obvious traits, preferring to blend into traditional heterosexual crowds rather than opposing them. I will avoid simplifying and stereotyping the behavioral characteristics of these groups, allowing players to establish emotional connections with these characters and helping society progress towards a more harmonious and diverse direction.


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