This week we were given reason to run a comb through our hair and steer clear of those cheese & onion crisps as we talked to Grace Kim: ex-Guitar Hero PR lead and now successful Playboy Playmate. She took time out of her schedule to talk to us about all things gaming, career changes, and what’s next in store.
Hi grace. Just to get us started, can you tell us a little about yourself? Specifically your upbringing and career within the games industry?
Well, I was born in LA, grew up in the valley suburbs, within a loving, but conservatively strict, family. I always went to religious private schools and had to attend Methodist churches. I think when I touched foot onto UCLA’s campus at 17 and tasted freedom for the first time, I kind of ran with it to make up for lost time, so to speak!
I’ve been lucky to try my hand at different industries that interested me throughout my 20’s. I love little kids so I taught for two years, then got into the fashion industry as a publicist for another two years. Around then is when I started playing a lot of Guitar Hero at home, so when I heard of an opening for a PR role at Activision, specifically for the game series, I jumped at it. I landed the position and was the game’s press release lead, but that career was short-lived, because Playboy happened amongst other things.
My experience with gaming has always been pretty limited. I played a lot of Super Mario Brothers, Duck Hunt, Tetris, Street Fighter 2…those were my favourites for sure. After that, I didn’t pick up a game controller until musical gaming came onto the scene with Guitar Hero and Rock Band. I’m not into shooting games at all, and quite frankly, I’m not really even into gaming, especially not any more. Who has that kind of time?
How did you land the job at Activision?
It wasn’t easy. I heard there were around 100 applicants, some of them applying within from different departments. It was a coveted role, and I think I only got it because I demonstrated enthusiasm for the game at the time. I had PR experience, albeit from the fashion industry, and they were willing to see what I’d bring to the table. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. Personality differences.
What was your take on working in videogames PR – was it an enjoyable position to be in?
It’s a great industry if you have a serious passion for gaming in general. And if you get to work for a company or department working specifically with a game series you love, then obviously it doesn’t feel like work. You’re getting paid to do what you love! The people and the industry itself were laid back and pretty chilled, especially compared to fashion and PR in general.
So what prompted the change of career as a Playboy Playmate?
The Playmate thing was a whole fluke. I was not a model before, I’ve always been in school or a working girl. Within my first week of working for Guitar Hero, I was asked by Holly and Hef to try out for Playmate. Everything happened pretty quickly. By the time I test shot and those pictures were approved, I’d already become a staple at the mansion, I was a regular at the dinners, the movies, and parties. I wasn’t looking to leave my role at Activision/Red Octane, but it just happened that way. Nothing was really planned, I was just going with the flow.
There was some controversy involved in the Rock Band instruments used in your photo shoots, and a lot of people presumed you were flipping Activision the bird, so to speak. I thought it was funny, and just a little bit tongue in cheek, but was that the case or were people just reading into things a little too much?
People definitely read way too much into these things. I actually brought both my RB and GH instruments to set, and both I and the director agreed that the RB musical set was a lot more aesthetically pleasing than the GH ones I’d brought in, which were covered in stickers and pretty much beaten up from so much play. We definitely weren’t thinking politically, if you get my drift.
That incident raised your exit to quite a high profile within the industry; did Activision cause you any further upset after your departure?
Not that I know of, or maybe my friends who are still at Activision aren’t telling me! (laughs)
The thing is, I don’t think anyone cares. I didn’t have a high-profile role in the company and was only there for a few months, a lot of people working there didn’t even know me until my issue came out. I’m sure my boss was pretty perturbed, but like I said, I didn’t give it a second thought. I was doing my own thing and starting a new journey as soon as I left. Personally, I have zero negative feelings towards the company, and in fact, I still always play GH if I’m ever in Dave and Buster’s or an arcade.
I’ve heard on the grapevine that you’re an aspiring author. Anything you can share with us?
So the writing project I’d been working on a few years ago about dating and relationships in LA and the whole female wingman perspective, is now defunct as my life experiences, perspectives, and ultimately ways of thinking, have changed and progressed.
I realized that I couldn’t put that book out there knowing I didn’t believe in its premise or ideals any more. I reached that point in life where I only want to emit good energy and positive products out into society and the world at large.
My main focus in life is now to help other people, specifically young girls, who are growing up with a whole new host of issues that I didn’t have to. Right now, I’m working on a book covering the three main trials and obstacles in my own personal life with the sole purpose of helping other girls who might be able to find a message of hope and strength to aid them in whatever they may be going through. The three main topics I’m covering are drug addiction, childhood trauma (specifically, sexual abuse), and cultural/familial hurdles. Heavy stuff, but the book is really geared towards recovery and solution. On the side, I write a love/sex/relationship advice column (sorta bringing everything full circle, in that sense) for a website specializing in Asian-American perspectives and identity. The first column appeared yesterday.
Check it out here. It’s pretty funny!
So what’s your next focus? What’s driving you at the moment?
My main focus is therapy and helping other young women and the successive generations. I’m back at UCLA now studying various therapeutic techniques and varying disorders,covering everything from addiction to cutting to suicide to mental disorders; really interesting stuff. Also devoting time and care to my book, which is geared towards the same purpose. Almost everything I’m doing now is so focused on my new found life’s passion, and I believe it’s because my heart’s involved in this. When your life’s passion mirrors your heart’s passion, it’s a pretty neat thing.
Do you still play video games?
Not really. Again, it’s a time factor. I AM thinking of switching to an iPhone mainly so I can play games during breaks. My good friend owns Jirbo and so he’s shown me all the crazy, fun games that are available. Some are silly, some are difficult. Either way, I was totally caught up one time over brunch, and I didn’t want to give it back to him. Which means I probably shouldn’t get it, because where do you draw the line between a cell phone and a portable gaming handheld?
Interesting point. So which consoles do you own at home?
A PS3 and Wii.
Do you play online?
Tired of dealing with the overexcited children high on sugar and shouting down the mic?
Can’t say I am, but I do love kids, sugared out or not…kids are awesome!
I’ll take your word for that. So what were some of your favourite games of last year?
Last year I was only playing Rock Band: Beatles extensively (and I’m using the word ‘extensively’ pretty subjectively). Super Mario Bros. for the Wii was pretty damn fun, for sure. I played that a few times at friends’ houses and it always ended up in huge (good) screaming matches. RB: Beatles is pretty damn EPIC. Harmonix and MTV did a phenomenal job with the graphics and channelling the band’s spirit through to gamer fingertips.
It’s all about harmonizing (read: no-fail option so a band member won’t be sitting on the sidelines) and “feeling the love” in this game– which The Beatles were all about. I love the Abbey Road series of songs, which at the time was studio-centric– I was wondering how they were going to play that one off. When I first played “Octopus’s Garden, I was amazed…the band transitioned from the studio to a dream scape fantasy…we get to view insanely colourful mind and spirit trips that are so beautiful, it’s difficult to concentrate on the actual game play itself.
So the band members and environments are authentic to the song and period they’re playing in; I love that!
Even though our reputation amongst mainstream crowds has improved, gamers still can be branded as a little geeky. Do you subscribe to geek being chic?
Geek is WAY CHIC! I have way more respect for a geek who knows he’s a geek and doesn’t pretend to NOT be a geek, than a geek trying to be a meat head, or the “cool guy.” That’ s just cheese. And cheesy ain’t cool. Being who you are is cool.
Couldn’t agree more. So what do you do to unwind?
I love to travel, hang with close friends and family, catnap, maybe sneak in an afternoon matinee. I avoid crowds at all costs.
What would your ideal weekend consist of?
I’m an extremist, so it would depend on my mood. Either way, way chill and laid back—sleeping in, a lazy brunch, a matinee maybe or Tivo catch-up, some reading/writing, and maybe a little lying out. Dinner at a low-key sushi spot in Little Tokyo. If I’m feeling spontaneous and energetic, then I’d say Vegas or Austin to meet with friends, with either gambling or extreme sports, respectively.
What’s your favourite plastic instrument to play with? Please don’t think that was a dirty question…
The Peak Obsidian Starpex, works with either game and is a truly epic piece of art, mirroring the real thing. I did a whole review on it, complete with pictures, on Playboy.com. It’s gathering dust now, though. No time!
Finally, and this may be a little too close for home for you but… Guitar Hero or Rock Band?
Rock Band: Beatles, HANDS DOWN.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, we wish you all the best with the book and hope you find some more time for Rock Band soon!
Check out Grace’s website over at www.missgracekim.com to keep in touch with all of her latest developments.