Making Mysteries into Video Games

Tim Burke '91Tim Burke ’91 didn’t read many Nancy Drew books when he was growing up but he’s become well acquainted with the heroine in the last 12 years. As creative director for Her Interactive, he oversees the aesthetics of the Nancy Drew PC adventure games. His goal is producing a visually appealing game with rich backgrounds and a compelling story that faithfully represents the time-honored character.

With a degree in history from Westmont, Tim can understand the long-term appeal of the mystery stories, which have charmed generations of women. Tim appreciates the critical thinking and communication skills he developed under the tutelage of Shirley Mullen and other Westmont professors. “Dr. Mullen always pushed us to dig deep, ask right and important questions, do our due diligence and become critical thinkers,” he says. “I use those skills every day.”

After Tim and his wife, Emily Baffaro Burke ’91, graduated, got married, and moved to Seattle, he worked in retail management for several years. But he never liked it and decided to change careers before the couple had children. A computer animation program at the Art Institute of Seattle caught his attention. “I had zero background in art, but I loved computers and building things,” he says. He earned an associate’s degree and looked for a job. Her Interactive offered him an internship, and he joined an art team of two other people. Volunteering to do backgrounds for the first Nancy Drew game, he stayed up late at night to complete them. Once the company launched the product, they offered Tim a full-time job as lead 3D artist. In time he became art director and has been creative director since March 2008.

“We want to make games that are good for you, that champion the inspirational qualities of Nancy Drew and teach life skills such as critical thinking, deduction and collaboration,” Tim says. “It’s satisfying for me to work in this industry and produce a game that makes a positive contribution.” The company has created 21 popular Nancy Drew games, proving that girls also like video games. Her Interactive had to release the first few games themselves as publishers considered girls computer-phobic and declined to get involved. But the success of the series soon changed that. Tim is proud of the games’ E rating and 19 Parents Choice gold awards. “Her Interactive is a family-friendly company, and I work with a diverse group of people who are creative and collaborative,” Tim says. “I love it.”

Supporting families is important to Tim and Emily, who have four children. Tim tries out new games on his kids and values their response. But he also limits their computer time to an hour a day. “Otherwise, they’d be there all the time,” he says. Playing board games is a favorite family pastime. Tim says it’s great fun — and it helps him understand the mechanics of games.

Watching Westmont transform the character and personality of his sister, Kara Burke Schwab ’90, convinced Tim to enroll. “I really grew in my faith at Westmont,” he says. “A wonderful opportunity to serve in Potter’s Clay helped my faith become real and something I practiced. I used to worry that making video games wasn’t advancing the Kingdom of God. But now I realize that wherever we are is a mission field. The important thing is developing relationships with the people we meet at work and in the community.”

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