A Childhood Immersed in the Classics

Janina wasn’t always providing starring roles in games, movies, and television. She began her career as a musician, specializing in piano, percussion, and classical voice. “I was a very serious musician,” she recalled. “I was a huge try-hard nerd-child. Nothing has changed, I just present myself now as something other than that. When I was a child, I was a really intense, sniper-type character. It hasn’t changed, I just found another skin. It’s like I did enough grinding to earn another skin, and this one is a hyper-feminine presentation of self that I pull off sometimes. I try to wear it well.”

Her passion for acting stemmed from her experience in high school theater, where she portrayed Maria in West Side Story. “It was a natural progression,” she said. “My normal public school had a really good musical program, and I acted in West Side Story as Maria. In rehearsal one day, I had a very emotional experience--but not as myself, as Maria, and it changed me forever. It was like I felt someone else’s life for a moment. It was so intense, and I realized that it was a path I wanted to pursue.”

Janina pursued her newfound love of acting by studying Theater Performance at the University of Illinois in Chicago. “I went to theater school, moved to LA, and my first job was a show called The L Word,” she recalled. “It was an incredible experience. I had access to some of the most brilliant women, and having conversations with those women early in my career shaped my outlook on the industry.” Janina’s mentors had a profound impact on her first professional project, and provided her with a positive mindset as she moved forward in her career.  “They have been doing this for so many decades, which is not a thing that happens for women generally. They have a healthy perspective, that has allowed them to sustain themselves in this industry. I couldn’t have been luckier.”

A Late-Blooming Gamer

Although she had an early start in music and theater, Janina didn’t begin to play games until her late twenties. “I didn’t even play games until 2007, because I had a strict upbringing,” she explained. “I came into video games at the dawn of the AAA era. I skipped all of the growing pains along the way, and got to experience games when they made a huge jump forward.”  During her first year of gaming, Janina played Portal, Half-Life 2, Bio-Shock, and Assassin’s Creed, falling in love with their immersive and interactive storylines. “I was instantly addicted,” she said. “My friends at the time were like, ‘You’re a gamer, you just don’t know it yet!’ I spent a lot of hours on the couch. It was like this beautiful place that was made just for me. I felt like I found my place.”

Janina’s work in gaming began with Far Cry 4. “That was my first experience in games, and I just love it so much, because I’m a theater kid,” she stated. For her, acting in gaming allows her to channel a purer performance, uninhibited by what she calls the ‘vanity component.’ “When you’re a theater kid, your goal is to transform into somebody else, not just sort of pretty person who has a lot of charm on camera,” she explained. “Theater is anti-vanity. It doesn’t have the vanity component that is forced on to you when you are working on camera. Performance capture is also lacking in vanity. It’s the only way you can be uninhibited enough to make the dots work. It has to come from a place that has nothing to do with the way you look, and I love that so much. It’s the perfect mix between theater and what we do on camera.”

Innovative Moves Through Tech

Alongside her acting career, Janina has created multiple online spaces for artists to gather and discuss their ideas. She explained that her inspiration for these projects stemmed from her father’s work as an engineer, and her childhood spent saturated in his work in technology. “My father was an engineer, and he came to this country from India with a college scholarship, like many people from his generation,” she said. “I never had a barrier between me and tech. It was in my house, in his office. He was more entrepreneurial than he was a scientist. His way was more, ‘How does this work in practicality? How can this benefit people or companies that ask me to make it?’ Not, ‘Hey, look, I made a thing!’ I’m always thinking, when I come upon something, how it can help everyone. I really just blame my father for all of it.”

Janina’s love for tech shows in that she was the first actress to use Twitter. “People are sort of fascinated that I happened to be the first actor to use Twitter,” she stated. “Someone had to be, and it happened to be me. I understood how it could be of use to people in the public eye. I had a very positive idea of it, and that was twelve years ago. I couldn’t have imagined how it has grown now.” 

She inherited her father’s innovative thinking, and used her ideas to shape platforms that benefitted artists looking to showcase their work. “It was very easy for me to make it a part of my life when I grew up,” she said. “When it comes to building tools that help artists, that’s where my part lies. The arts and education is a huge, important thing to everyone in this country. Having access to the arts in childhood development just breeds better humans, and we lose funding constantly, When artists grow up, they’re already at a disadvantage.”

More Than Making a Difference

To Janina, the term ‘artist’ encompasses more than performers and musicians. She sees game developers as creators, too, and realized that their platforms didn’t afford them a place that supported open discussion. “Game developers are artists,” she stated. “If you’re creating something from nothing, you’re an artist. The games industry does not support conversation in the way that it should. Everyone is terrified to speak with each other.” Janina used her experience in the industry to develop such a space after NeoGAF’s implosion, which she dubbed ResetEra. “I wanted to create a safe space to do that together. What it will become is up to the industry. I just want to support and see growth in a place where I see growth being inhibited.”

Janina likewise encourages women to grow alongside the gaming industry. “Talk to each other,” she advises. “Be creative. Support one another and find how you can help, because we all want to grow, and we can only do that by helping one another.” She encourages solidarity and teamwork, holding that allies can be found everywhere in the space. “It doesn’t seem like it, but there are a lot of people who are your allies. You have allies everywhere. The best thing you can do is be somebody else’s ally. Just reach out and help others, because help will come back.”

For all of her many skills and achievements, Janina knows that the best path to success lies in using one’s resources and starting small. “You just have to do it,” she said. “You have all the tools. It’s strange that people are impressed with my past, because I don’t have more tools than anyone else. I just see problems that I want to adress or support, and I just figure out a way to do it. Just choose something small, and know it probably won’t be perfect and do it anyway. Finished is better than perfect.” We hope that Janina’s encouragement speaks to women far and wide as they begin their journey in gaming. With a role model such as herself, we have no doubt that it will.