MGIF S2 E6: Anisa Sanusi

Hit play for the podcast interview below. MGIF is also available on iTunes or with whatever podcast software you use. Just search for "Making Games Is Fun".

I love Cambridge, it's so powerfully English it's unbearable. As I walk through the city I am practically mugged by Gothic architecture; I don't understand how everyone isn't constantly walking around with their heads skyward, mouths open. I'm snapped out of my trance by the tinkling of a cyclist's bell as they pass; a long, slim, white dude in his late 50s with a white beard, head to toe in very lime green lycra. Obviously. The cyclist glides along like a middle-aged, neon bogey against a backdrop of opulent, medieval edifices.

Cambridge is a place where men and women use a long stick to push a very small boat around a river like it's a reasonable mode of transport in 2016, so it must've felt like a parody of England to Anisa Sanusi, a UI artist at Frontier Developments, when she first moved here. We wander through the streets aimlessly, looking for a places to shoot and, more importantly, places to eat. We're in no rush, however, and we soak up the brief window of sunshine before scuttling into a café to grab a bite to eat.

We chuck a bit of lunch down us and form a plan to record in the café - a plan quickly scuppered by the arrival of the lunchtime rush and a very loud couple on the adjacent table. We're not in any rush, so we brave the rain and winds and go hunting for a quiet spot. Anisa is great company - easy going, friendly and funny - and we pass the time waiting for the rain to stop by buying cupcakes and laughing about essentially walking around in circles.

Anisa was born and grew up in Petaling Jaya in Malaysia. She's a city girl at heart, from her youth spent travelling in from PJ - as it's affectionately known - into the nearby city of Kuala Lumpur. Because Malaysia is a Muslim majority country, café culture predominates, as opposed to the somewhat aggressive pub culture of the UK. This is something she found especially alienating at first, seeing as anywhere that isn't a place to get drunk closes by the evening.

Anisa has always been interested in art and creating things: like most small children, she would draw on the walls of her house, the difference being she would complete her masterpieces with a signature. At school, Anisa got A's across the board, leading to others expecting her to move into law or medicine, but she was only interested in art. Support was strong from her parents, in a "well, she's so headstrong there's no way we'll change her mind, so let's roll with it" sort of way. Her mother being an architect meant that she had sympathy with Anisa's life goals; whenever Anisa's uncles see her constantly doodling away in one form or another, they remark on how she is just like her mother was at her age.

Her first experience of living in the UK came when she studied for two years at Teeside University from the age of 19. Anisa applied through UCAS to a number of universities, but settled on Teeside due to the Animax Festival, a celebration of animation and videogames. It was Anisa's mother that suggested she focus her career interests in animation, as it is an industry with a greater likelihood of a stable career than other artistic pursuits. Anisa tells me she has huge respect for comic book artists, who work incredibly hard making beautiful art for comparatively little money (and mainstream respect) but do it for the love of it.

Anisa tells me that Malaysians pride themselves on multiculturalism, and she grew up in PJ within a culture of racial harmony and diversity. She found it strange to have messages of diversity preached to her on a regular basis as a child, because around her, with the children of her generation, it had always been that way. It wasn't until she left her little bubble of harmony that she realised that life wasn't as harmonious as it seemed. As children, you don't see others as different to you. Nobody is born with prejudice, prejudice is taught.

Despite the upheaval of moving halfway across the world, Anisa found leaving home far less daunting than you might think. Anisa had visited the UK on holiday several times before, staying with family friends, so this just felt like a slightly longer holiday. The plan was never to stay in the UK, or maybe it would be more accurate to say she hadn't thought that far ahead yet. This meant that, instead of the stinging, gut wrenching feeling of being torn from her home, she just took each day as it came.

Before she knew it, Anisa had secured an unpaid internship at a small startup called Arcus Studios. It was a two hour commute from her home, so it cost her to work there. However, the wealth and variety of experience she gained from this set her up for her first paid role at Double Eleven in Middlesbrough as a UI (User Interface) artist. By adopting the "fake-it-til-you-make-it" approach, learning both on the job and studying further at home, Anisa soon cemented her role. Today, she works as a UI Artist at David Braben's Frontier Developments, creator of Elite Dangerous.

It was that fearless quality of the young that took Anisa on her journey from being a curious, bright-eyed girl travelling halfway across the world to study, to the successful, intelligent woman I see today. That perfect balance of naivety and optimism is something we lose as we get older, yet it's so important in helping us find our feet in the world. It allows us to take risks, to venture out beyond our self-imposed boundaries, to be less concerned about long term outcomes and to focus on each day as we experience it.

I'm hardly an old fart - I'm more of an "ageing smell" - but when you reach your thirties, responsibilities add up. You can be trotting along happily when life hits you square in the face; suddenly, heavily, heartlessly. Eventually, you gather yourself, find your balance, and trot some more. Your priorities and parameters shift, and although you grow stronger and wiser in some ways, in others you grow timid and cautious. So it's ironic that, if you're a doddering thirty-something like me, there is strength and knowledge to be drawn from the ambition of youth, and stories like Anisa's can help us remember that.