Science film-making and D&D with Shamini Bundell

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Science communication comes in all mediums, from film-making to journalism, even Dungeons and Dragons, and Shamini Bundell does it all. Shamini is an award-winning filmmaker, a writer, and a journalist, working on the Nature YouTube channel, podcast, and magazine online. She is also one of the members of RPGeeks, combining Dungeons and Dragons with science. Join us as we speak about Shamini's journey through science and science media production, her introduction to Dungeons and Dragons, and applying her broad skillset to both science communication and creative arts.

About Shamini Bundell

Shamini Bundell is a science-film maker and video journalist for the journal Nature. She studied Zoology at undergrad followed by a Science Media Production MSc and then worked in TV for several years before ending up at Nature. In her spare time she combines science communication with Dungeons & Dragons as part of the ‘RPGeeks’ including running live shows at evens like New Scientist Live and Natural History Museum Lates.

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  • [00:01:17] Delving into the natural sciences.
  • [00:02:24] The transition into science media production and science communication.
  • [00:04:37] Shamini's long history with filmmaking.
  • [00:07:00] Science filmmaking for Nature.
  • [00:07:24] The creative process for science filmmaking.
  • [00:10:01] The making of Sandcastle film.
  • [00:12:49] Project managing the filmmaking process.
  • [00:13:48] How do you decide where to stop when making a video?
  • [00:18:12] On discovering Dungeons & Dragons.
  • [00:19:24] So, pantomime.
  • [00:20:09] Drunken bus stop D&D.
  • [00:22:37] The origins of RPGeeks.
  • [00:24:55] Magic is just the science we haven't justified yet.
  • [00:25:36] Segue: That world building thing.
  • [00:27:31] On being a Dungeon Master / Game Master.
  • [00:29:32] Making the science work.
  • [00:31:42] The morally grey areas of science and magic.
  • [00:34:08] Bonus Question 1: What hobby or interest do you have that is most unrelated to your field of work?
  • [00:35:08] Bonus Question 2: Which childhood book holds the strongest memories for you?
  • [00:40:07] Bonus Question 3: What advice you would give someone who wants to do what you do? Or what advice should they ignore?
Michele Ong

Science communication comes in all mediums, from filmmaking, to journalism and even Dungeons & Dragons, and Shamini Bundell does it all. Shamini is an award-winning filmmaker, a writer, and a journalist working on Nature's YouTube channel, podcast, and magazine online. She's also one of the members of RPGeeks, combining Dungeons & Dragons with science.

Join us as we speak about Shamini's journey through science and science media production, her introduction to Dungeons & Dragons, and combining her broad skillset to both science, communication, and the creative arts.

I'm Michele Ong, and this is STEAM Powered.

Good morning, Shamini. Thank you so much for joining me today on STEAM Powered. I'm really looking forward to speaking with you about your amazing journey.

Shamini Bundell

Hi. Thank you for having me.

Michele Ong

Yeah, so you are many things in several spaces, which I love because you are applying, yeah, you're applying your writing, directing, performing skillsets in science, filmmaking, and tabletop, and theater, like, totally maxing out all those points right there.

Shamini Bundell

Too many things. Indeed. Yes, correct.

Delving into the natural sciences.

Michele Ong

Indeed. Yeah, so, you're currently doing some really awesome things with making science films with Nature and other communication stuff. But you started off in Zoology. So, you know, why Zoology?

Shamini Bundell

So, undergrad was basically zoology. It was technically, natural sciences. And I had always liked, oh, I'd grown up on the David Attenborough films, you know, my dad loves all that kind of stuff, loves nature and wildlife. So I definitely assumed I'd go into that kind of thing.

Maybe like I was pretty into evolution, but actually, when it came to choosing my third year modules, they ended up being really strongly like paleontology. There were a couple of like tetrapod evolution ones, which just ended up being like a huge amount of detail about like early tetrapods, you know, four-legged creatures like coming onto land and like which ones are Tiktaalik and Acanthostega, and yeah, I did get really into the, I mean, I've always minted dinosaurs, dinosaurs are cool, but yeah, a lot more paleontology than I'd thought, which was, it was just, it was just like whatever was interesting at the time, really. That's how I kind of chose my modules, what I kind of fancied doing. Yeah.

The transition into science media production and science communication.

Michele Ong

Yeah. So how did you go from that to science media production? Like what prompted that change?

Shamini Bundell

This whole field of science communication. It's a thing. I didn't know it was a, did you know it was a thing?

Michele Ong

I just thought that kind of came as part of the job. Like at some point people are gonna ask you to talk about it and it just comes naturally.

Shamini Bundell

Yeah, it's like it's whole own thing. It's whole separate thing. And then, and there's, you know, there's science communication that you do as a working scientist and then there's just science communication that you just like, I'm not even gonna do the science, I'm just gonna do the science communication.

Other than being like, should I go be a wildlife filmmaker? Which was definitely a thought, but like, not a very realistic thought, I feel. Like I had a camcorder and sometimes I used to crawl over the grass, trying to film rabbits. Yeah. I'm, I'm a, I'm a filmmaker. But I was like, no, no, that's not what real-- I have no idea how you would do that. That's not what real people do for jobs. So I was just looking for like Masters and PhDs after I did my undergrad. I was like, right one, one does a PhD, that's what one does. Okay fine, I'll go look for one.

I was like, oh, I dunno what PhD to do. I'll do a Masters first and get into it. So I was looking at sort of evolutionary behaviour, and just general evolution sort of style Masters. And I just came across this Masters at Imperial, which was science communication or science media production. And I was like, that's a thing you can like learn academically? What? Could I, I, I have those skills. That applies to me. I could do that, and like academia is something I'm very familiar with. So if someone said, oh, go out and get a job, here's how you do it. I'd be like, no, dunno how to do that, but this, a Masters course, I'm like, yes. Would you like me to write essays and get high grades cuz this is what I've been practicing for. And that that was the way into like, Hey, did you know there's a whole world of things you can do with a science degree that aren't either academia or industry. And it sort of opened it up and filmmaking was the one that I was sort of focusing on and that I ended up going into mostly.

Shamini's long history with filmmaking.

Michele Ong

So, you know, what drew you in particular to the filmmaking side of science communication?

Shamini Bundell

When I was little, my mum had like a department camera. So it was very exciting. It was kind of like, we would never have bought a family camcorder at that point, cuz it was like quite early days, but she had this camcorder which was borrowed from work that I used and like we would make films-- and this is where like the writing and the theater-- that is one of my hobbies, as you mentioned earlier, and it all sort of ties together.

'Cause I wrote a script for a murder mystery and then made my friends film the murder mystery and we all had different characters, and it was about the acting, but I wanted to film it. And that was with zero editing, that was filming it on the camera in order. With very dodgy scene cuts because every time you press record on the camera it would just go back a fraction of a second, so you had to leave a fraction of a second onto the end of your scene, but not too long otherwise there would be a really weird pause.

So I'd been doing ridiculous stuff and then I got a camcorder for my 21st birthday and I filmed all sorts of stuff and made little music videos of our friends hanging about. We made silly, very silly films, as you can imagine. Spoofs of things, and it really was this like messing around and then getting like the basic editing skills that I never in a million years thought would ever be relevant, let alone, like, my profession now is mostly video editing.

It was just a silly hobby and, and the, I wanna, I was gonna say, kids these days, I'm like, oh no, I'm sounding really old.

Michele Ong

Kids these days.

Shamini Bundell

But like, yeah. But genuinely kids these days are growing up with so much more--

Michele Ong

Back then we had to edit through the snow and sleet.

Shamini Bundell

Yeah, exactly. Down the mines as day. Exactly.

But no, you have the access these days and people do that as, not necessarily as a hobby, but if you're there like making TikToks or even just sort of for Instagram, like that kind of media is a lot more normal to just have a go at doing and leading up to developing skills that, yeah, for me, I'm like, ah, yeah, that, that's my job now. Hmm!

Michele Ong

It's just such a really cool progression because yeah, it, it was part of the thing that you used to do as a hobby and it's like, yeah, let's incorporate that into making a living out of it.

It's very neat and you know, I'm sure a lot of people really would love that kind of journey for themselves.

Shamini Bundell

I mean, it's lucky. Yeah. To be able to be able to do that and, and to be able to do things you enjoy is lucky anyway, let alone sort of combine, combine different things. Absolutely.

Science filmmaking for Nature.

Michele Ong

Absolutely. So, you know, you're making all these very, very cool videos for Nature on YouTube and I love all of the kind of topics that you're able to touch on, like it's a wide range. It's not like you're kind of pinned to any particular topic. And, you know, just recently you did one called The Sandcastle Economy.

Shamini Bundell

Yeah. It's sandcastle film. I just like that I get to make films about sandcastles. It's great.

The creative process for science filmmaking.

Michele Ong

I know! And while you're building all those sandcastles, you're talking about all this very cool, important stuff as well because, I guess for me personally, I've been noticing a lot more coverage about the sand crisis and, you know, Singapore's sand imports for land reclamation and sand mafias and all the ecological impact of that. So it's like, that's a really cool topic. So, you know, how do you decide what sort of topics you're going to be creating for the channel?

Shamini Bundell

Yeah, well, so we're pretty lucky at Nature. So Nature's obviously a big sort of broad scientific journal that covers a . Lot of like, not everything, but it does cover a lot of areas of science.

So generally, what we do is look at papers that are like due to be published, and being sort of internal, we kind of get access and then can pick and choose, and like there are just papers that come out that either they have the sort of supplementary information videos with them anyway that they've provided, or you just read the research topic and you're like, I bet someone filmed that, either because it's about slow motion footage giving you the insights into what's going on, or whoever was in the lab that day, surely they'd have filmed it cuz it's cool.

So, yeah, so it's great. So we just get our pick. It's a very, you know, it's a very yeah, nice position to be in within Nature that we've got this little sort of multimedia team and we can just choose what films we want to cover. But also, you know, we want to create a, we've got other priorities, right? We want to create a balance. Let's not only cover the papers about the robots, even though YouTube loves the films about the robots. Robots are great, but you know, there's a limit, right? Let's, let's have some biology, let's have some physics. Let's try and, you know, there are topics that are harder to cover in video. So if we get a cell paper with a cool video of cells, where you can see what's going on, let's like take the opportunity to cover that field. If we have money, let's take the opportunity to do an animation and do something weird that you wouldn't otherwise be able to, I dunno, particle physics or something that don't really film that well. The footage not, not so great when it comes to the particle physics. So yeah, that kind of thing informs our choices.

Michele Ong

That is very cool. You know, I love that kind of idea of the creative process behind making all of these things because a lot of science doesn't film very well, so, you know, being able to come up with ways of making that work and--

Shamini Bundell

You gotta be creative.

Michele Ong

convey-- yeah! gotta be creative about the way you convey that information. It's very neat.

The making of Sandcastle film.

Shamini Bundell

Which is really fun. And in film there are loads of options. So like this this sandcastle film, wasn't initially about sand, it was supposed to be about this of whole, whole concept of the circular economy, which wasn't something I was familiar with, and I was like, this sounds very dry, it's sort of like, you know, how can we go beyond recycling and make everything that we use part of this sort of circular system where it doesn't go to waste and landfill at the end of its use but it's constantly being sort of cycled through. And I was like, eh, yeah, I mean that's really important, but--

Michele Ong

We've kind of hashed that to death a bit.

Shamini Bundell

Yeah. And how do you also, how do you highlight that it's, you know, everyone's like, ah, recycling, oh, that's glamorous topic. You know, you kinda zhuzh it up a bit. And you know the sand crisis is sort of like loosely related in that the circular economy is something that you can use to preserve sand to have less sand waste thus sort of needing less sand, and sand is used in the construction industry, and that led to the idea of like, okay, well let's hire an artist to build a sand sculpture of a city.

You know, this film is like, you've got your experts going, Hey, the circular economy is really important when we're building things. Here's what we can do. But the visuals, what you're seeing is a sculpture creating a sort of skyscraper out of sand, and then it being sort of knocked down at the end and reused again, and the sort of metaphor for reuse and recycling. And that was a really, we were lucky to have the budget to be able to afford an artist properly. But yeah, it's really nice to be able to film something that isn't the obvious and that can be more creative and visual and interesting.

Michele Ong

Absolutely. And yeah, as you said, you know, recycling, there's only so much you can take with it. And this is such a, this is a unique angle of being able to demonstrate, look, this is other stuff that doesn't get easily recycled and all the kind of stuff about materials and the way that we can kind of close the loop on a lot of these things.

It, it's cool being able to see all these other things being kind of cycled back through into the system, but it's not something that you think about normally cuz you just go building, that's it. You tear it down, done.

So being able to give that perspective and illustrating that with the sandcastles was novel.

I really did enjoy that.

Shamini Bundell

Yeah, being able to make different things out of sand, and rather than filming like a building site and some demolition and a train, it's just like, we're just gonna build all those outta sand. But that's, you know, that's the visuals. They're talking about it, you're seeing it, you're just seeing the sand version.

So it ties, it also, you know, it ties the whole film together thematically as well. You've got this sort of visual through line that's, that's quite nice and sort of consistent, sand everywhere.

Michele Ong

Yeah. And such a great use of your skillset and being able to create all of these sorts of aspects and pull 'em all together. It's nice.

Project managing the filmmaking process.

Michele Ong

So with all these videos, you get to pick and choose your projects. Are you kind of building them in parallel with other projects at the same time because of how long it takes to make them? Or is it usually kind of serial?

Shamini Bundell

Well, they're supposed to be sort of overlapping slightly. I feel like I'm not the most efficient, cuz if I get into one, I get really caught up in it. And my boss is like, Hey, that other one's coming up. And I'm like, I'll do, I'll do it next week, I'll do it next week. And I sort of leave it till the last minute and I'm like, oh no, I'm gonna do that. Oh, make a film. Make a film. But yeah, there's some, there's some degree of overlap and occasionally you get a few that are really big long projects like animations. Animation takes a while, so that's gonna be several months. And in the meantime, while you're kind of waiting for that, you know, sometimes you've got, like, this is coming out next week, we've got all the footage already. All you gotta do is like read it, write a script, understand it, edit it together, like two minute film, go. And I'm yeah, I can fit that in. Super, super fast edit.

So yeah, a little bit, little bit. Some overlap.

How do you decide where to stop when making a video?

Michele Ong

So how do you tell, like how can you gauge how long you have to create the video? Like whether it's gonna be a two minute or a 10 minute, or? Where do you, where do you stop digging?

Shamini Bundell

Yeah, that's, oh, that's, that's a really interesting question that I've been wondering about a lot at work anyway, because when I-- so I started at Nature, I wanna say eight years ago? Was it? Some-, um, Some time ago. A little while. And at that point I was very interested in videos for social media as well. And I dunno if, if you remember, there was this whole like Facebook pivot to video nonsense, where Facebook were massively pushing like Facebook video. Their stats weren't really comparable with anyone else's stats, so they just made it look better. But the point is that they were genuinely, their algorithm was pushing the video in front of people, whether people were watching or not, that was another question. But they were very keen on it.

So I was kind of like, Yeah, yeah. Social media is where a whole different audience is off YouTube, you know, let's make things that can work there as well. And that was very, very pushing short form. So we would do, I would say our standard was a three minute video. We would do a voiceover. We'd have enough sort of footage to fill three minutes with a bit of repetition. Maybe you'd have to buy a bit of stock footage to illustrate it. Three minute video. Boom. Done. Neat little science explanation. That has gotten, notably, our average has got notably longer, over the years, we still sometimes do two or three minute really snappy, snappy, quick videos. But various things have changed. YouTube is definitely favoring longer videos. I think people are more interested, it's, you know, it's not just the algorithm it's responding to, to what the audience wants.

People are more interested in longer form videos. Like the things people are watching are like really longer form. Like 15, 30 plus minutes, which we don't do. You know, our averages are going up to six or seven, and then, you know, we'll more often do like a 10 or 12 minute video, which when I started would've been like, oh my gosh, who's got time for that. Whereas now it's like, yeah, if the story justifies it, if it keeps your attention you know, it really should be about the story to some extent about like how much you know, there is to say while sort of keeping the pacing, cuz some, some stories are really short and snappy. Or at least like the level that you want to tell it at is short and snappy and it gets to a point where you're like, oh, well if we were to start digging deeper into X, we'd have to make twice as long and go have a whole section about X topic, which we don't have the footage for, so, right, let's leave that. Whereas other things it's, you know, let's let this interviewee talk about some topic and the other, the other thing that's changed is that post pandemic, we are much more likely to include Zoom interviews or video calls like in our films because--

Michele Ong

It's normal now.

Shamini Bundell

It is normal! Yeah, I mean, it is normal. I was gonna say like people have tend to have like slightly nicer kit as well, although not all the scientists that I interview have terribly nice setups. But they are, they are used to doing it. People are used to seeing it. If we put out a film and instead of like a perfectly like shot sit down interview with like lights and camera, it's just like, hi, I am clearly on a slightly dodgy video call, like people aren't gonna be like, this is so unprofessional, what quality of footage are you putting in your film? People are like, oh yeah, video calls, pandemic happened. So which also enables you to make a film longer, right, because now you've got someone talking to you, you can see their face while talking. You don't have to cover it all with footage, cuz it's just a voiceover. Like you could, you can watch them, they can sort of give more sort of interesting little insights.

Michele Ong

Yeah. That's a very cool perspective about that because yeah, it's true, like people are a bit more forgiving of a lack of polish in some of this content just because they're used to the fact that we've had to make do with video calls.

That's cool. I like that. That's a very interesting bit of insight.

Shamini Bundell

All my secrets, giving away, giving away the secrets.

Michele Ong

Oh no! Giving it away. Anyone can do what you do now.

[laughter]

Shamini Bundell

I hope they do. Yes, I mean they can though like, just get your smartphone out and some free video editing software and like learn those skills cuz they can, they can do it.

Michele Ong

So accessible now.

On discovering Dungeons & Dragons.

Michele Ong

But yeah. So, moving on to a different type of storytelling. Let's talk about D&D.

Shamini Bundell

We should always talk about D&D. This is, yeah. You think this is a science show, I'm just here to under the radar convert all your audience into actually mega D&D fans. That's, that's my real aim.

Michele Ong

Your secret plan. And speaking of that conversion, cuz you, I saw on your bio where you said you discovered D&D while drunk at a bus stop. And I would really love to know more.

Shamini Bundell

That's true. Where did I write that? Yeah, no, that's absolutely true. That was great. So D&D, Dungeons and Dragons, for anyone who, who isn't aware, it's a tabletop role playing game. It involves some dice, so you know, this is what the kids play on, on Stranger Things. Typically very fantasy themed, and involves a lot of role playing.

So, unsurprisingly, I came to it through drama and theatre. That was my, like my, my main staple hobby for years and years and years since school was like doing plays and musicals. Love that. So the night of the drunken bus stop D&D, was the after show party for a pantomime that I'd written.

So, pantomime.

Shamini Bundell

You guys know what panto is, right? Like cuz it feels very British and I'm always like, does anyone know what I'm talking about?

Michele Ong

Well, we are kind of in a colony, but I dunno about the rest of the world.

Shamini Bundell

That's true. That's true. Do you guys have pantos?

Michele Ong

Yes. So one of my guests was actually one of the founding members of the Panto Society in one of the universities here. So yes, we do have panto. I dunno how widespread it is, but it does exist.

Shamini Bundell

That's awesome. Ah, man. Yeah. 'Cause I always thought, like in America and they, they're usually a bit like, oh, weird. What's this weird thing. Ah, awesome. Yeah. Love a panto. Yeah, it's great. And these are very, these are really musical, highly musical ones as well. So, um, get some musical theatre in there, lots of singing and dancing.

Drunken bus stop D&D.

Shamini Bundell

But after the party, I've written it and directed it, a bunch of the cast are there, and everyone's starting to go home from the pub. And we're like, no, what? The party's not over. We need more party. At which point the, um, the, was he the, prince or the, the, it was kind of the prince, the Queen's brother.

Michele Ong

Yeah, still a prince.

Shamini Bundell

Yeah, yeah. It wasn't the prince, he was the, it was the, it's a sub prince of, of not the main prince was like, Hey guys, come back to my house and play D&D. And I was like, What? Okay. Mm, sure, 'kay but I don't wanna like get the night bus, go back to your house, sit down, start playing a game, like, can we start now, on the way to the bus stop? Can we just go? He's like, yeah, great.

So he had like on his phone, like a dice roller on his phone, and you press it, and you see the little animation of the dice go.

And he was like, right, all you are all the characters, and you are, are your characters from the panto.

Pre rolled characters, nice.

Yeah! One of the narrators was there. The uh, Huntsman was there. One like ensemble member had played a frog in one scene. It's like, yeah, you're a frog now. That's your character. And I was the director, so I didn't have a character, so I was like, my name's Di, Di the director, and I'm just a little hobbit with a frying pan, you know, in in top Lord of the Rings fashion. And it was great, and it was just very, very silly, and exciting. And we started a sort of ongoing game out of that, where we would all get together and playing those same characters. One of those characters still exists in a camp, in a sort of different campaign that's ongoing even now, I believe.

And that's how I discovered the fun. Yeah.

Michele Ong

Bus stop live improv D&D. That's great.

Shamini Bundell

Exactly. Exactly. And it is, again, it's one of these things where I'm like, oh, this is all of my interests and skills. It's got the improv, it's got the acting, it's kind of got the writing as well. 'Cause you're, kinda like, you're all telling the story together. I was like, this is great. And then, and then, the dressing up. I've gotten quite into dressing up recently. I'm like wow, I get to dress up for this, like be my character. And I bought wigs and everything over lockdown. Over lockdown, people, people had some, got some weird interests over hobbies and mine was, was sort of cosplay.

I have a lot of wigs now. It's great. Would recommend.

Michele Ong

That's awesome. Well, it's not a leap.

Shamini Bundell

No, it's not. I'd-- yeah, it's not. But yeah, enjoying that.

The origins of RPGeeks.

Michele Ong

Absolutely. And like, you got super into D&D cuz obviously reasons, but why start streaming your sessions and making them educational? Like, where did that come in?

Shamini Bundell

Are they educational? Oh, no. I, we don't even use the word educational. Now, I'm like, oh educational, but like, in a cool way. No, education is cool. Education is cool, kids.

Yeah, so I, yeah, so I got into these various, like tabletop role playing games. It's not just, D&D but various things, and then I'd be like, running them for different people and in different games, and I did some at work, like after work, we would stay on for a few hours, like find a little meeting room, and do one shots. So that's just would be like a one, one parter sort of standalone story of an evening.

And a guy who was working with us at the time, Ali Jennings, came to me and was like, Shamini, we need to do science D&D. And I'm like, what do we? Why, what? Okay. And he, but you know, he was just like, yeah, yeah, no, this is, this is a thing.

We weren't really sure how that would work, or whether that would work. I think I was pretty skeptical at the start, but Ali really pushed it. I was like, What're we gonna, who's gonna do it? Who's gonna like, DM these stories that involve science? And Ali's like, I will! This is from like playing D&D for the first time the other day. And I'm like, okay, great.

Michele Ong

Bold, I like it.

Shamini Bundell

Yeah! Right? Yeah. And he's so good. And I'm like, damn, how are you so good. But we got a group together. We're all basically science filmmakers.

So, my friend Emily Bates, I also met doing musicals. She was in that show actually, as well. She wasn't playing drunken D&D at bus stop with us, but she was also in that show. So I've done lots of acting with her before, and she's also a science filmmaker working in sort of TV and for New Scientist and things like that. And then Ali knew this guy called Simon Clark, Dr. Simon Clark, who's a YouTuber. And he has like this whole YouTube channel where again, like long form stuff, and he's also done Twitch streaming. And it all sort of came together with the sort of relevant skills and everything and, and we sort of designed a format for playing a game, and talking about the science that came up in the game.

Magic is just the science we haven't justified yet.

Shamini Bundell

We kind of re-skinned it sci-fi which makes it slightly easier so rather than fantasy setting. And then everything that we do, so, you know, in in D&D you have rules of like, you know, I cast sleep on you, and this species has excellent night vision, dark vision. And so we were like, you know, at the beginning of every episode or every other section, we will, someone will do a little explanation of like, if you wanted to cast sleep in real life or like in this sci-fi world, how does that work? Like, what are you doing? Are you manipulating their brain waves, is it some kind of drug, go in, do some research and like bring us back some fun facts.

All the same with dark vision, like, okay. What, creatures have adapted to see in the dark, how could we use that in our world to explain how it works?

Segue: That world building thing.

Michele Ong

Yep. That's awesome. Now, I like that the funny things that occasionally when I'll be watching stuff with my husband, I'll kind of say, can we pause for a sec? I wanna talk about this for a moment. And he hates it. He hates it so much.

Shamini Bundell

How, but, how does this work? But the science!

Michele Ong

Well, the most recent thing we were watching Keanu Reeves's 47 Ronin, and it's based on Japanese story about 47 Samurai who have to go avenge their Lord. But that film Japan, had demons and witches and magic and stuff like that. And there was a one main witch there who was using her magic for deception and, you know, meddling with people's heads, making 'em do stupid things.

Shamini Bundell

Ooh. Nice.

Michele Ong

I said to him, can we hit pause for a sec, I really need to talk about this, could Japan have developed that culture of honour and dishonour and that strong thing about the way that trust is developed, when you've got this massively overpowered magic where you can manipulate people's minds and make them do things. How do you have an honour based culture when you can't trust what's going on?

Shamini Bundell

Or alternatively, you could create an alternate history for a culture where that's why it's so important, because you know, you can't actually trust even your own mind. So all you have is that sense of duty and like that's all you sort of can rely on.

Yeah. And it's really interesting to- it's really nice building like worlds like that where, you know, the important thing is they have their own consistent rules. You know, I mean this is sort of classic sci-fi fantasy world building, but you know, let's think about a world where you have this magic, that certain people have this magic. What does that lead to? What are the norms now in that world that's different from ours? That's really interesting.

Michele Ong

It's the fun part. This is the fun part of world building.

On being a Dungeon Master / Game Master.

Michele Ong

So, how do you like DMing?

Shamini Bundell

DMing? Yeah. DMing's alright.

I'm not very good at it yet. I'm still, I'm working on it. I'm working on it. I feel like, you know, on the one hand, anyone can do it. Like, I DM one shots all the time. And especially when it's like, people who haven't played before, I think they have a great time and I can facilitate that great time and be part of it so that's really enjoyable. But I'm not like I can't do it to exactly how I want, yet. You know, I'm like, no, I need to get better at this, so I can really sort of like craft and tell the stories I want with the players and enable them to have those great moments.

So yeah, I tend to do one shots and I'm running one campaign. And it's really, It's really getting away from me. They haven't even got to the instigating factor of- instigating event of the main, like second part of the plot yet, because things keep happening and I'm like Oh. So, you know, I'm developing my skills of like having no over what's happening and not pushing it forward very well and you know, trying to figure out what I like.

Michele Ong

Herding cats.

Shamini Bundell

Yeah, yeah. But like I could herd strictly, but there is a balance between like, you know, railroading the story to go exactly where you want and like having complete freedom for the characters to like, discover and create their own story.

So, still working out the balance here.

Michele Ong

Yeah, it's a tough one. I know that our friend who used to DM for us a lot struggled with that greatly because we would just hare off and he would just no, love for the I've planned this really well. Can you just-

Shamini Bundell

The plot!

Michele Ong

Yes. Can you just please follow my plot? I just want to get to the next section.

Shamini Bundell

Yeah, it's really interesting, interesting, skills. Yeah, I really, I do really enjoy playing, especially in, in long campaigns and just being responsible for just like my section of the story of like what my sort of characters arc and journey is, things like that. Relationships.

Michele Ong

Absolutely. Oh, that's, it's fun. Like no matter what capacity it is, it's always gonna be fun.

Making the science work.

Michele Ong

And you know, rewinding back a bit, because you do try to work science into your campaigns for the sciencey bit, do you feel you have to modify the way you play it up to have the stuff or do you just run with it and you know, the science will come?

Shamini Bundell

It definitely is in our mind because our rule is anything that you do, you have to explain using science or you have to be able to vaguely plausibly explain.

So when we are picking things, I think we did do one episode on this, we tend to like avoid, teleportation spells. Because we're just like, oh no. What is this? Is this sort like faster than light travel? Is it a wormhole? Like what's, how, how does Misty Step work? What do you mean you Dimension Door over there? Oh God. so I feel like there's like sort of cheating of like if something's hard, it's like, oh, let's not pick that and then I won't have to explain it.

And I definitely pick things that fit in with the vibe of your character, like so you might be like an ice witch and then you only pick cold themed spells or whatever, whatever. So I pick spells that could plausibly be explained by some sort of like telepathic manipulation, 'Cause that's my character's thing, is that there's this sort of colony of microorganisms. I was very sort of like slime mold inspired where they're kind of individual cells, but they're also sort of part of a larger macro organism. And these organisms I sort of say, okay, these organisms are floating everywhere in the air and they have sort of electromagnetic charges and they can sort of manipulate the electromagnetic field to some extent. Maybe they could act sort of like an ECG like both from sort of just externally both reading out and also potentially manipulating brain waves from the surface. So then I'm like, okay, right. So what, what spells shall I pick. You know, So something like Phantasmal Force, a spell that makes the other person have a, a, vision of something. I'm like, right. That's clearly a psychic-y themed thing.

So yeah, it does, it does sort of influence it in that way.

Michele Ong

That is very cool. I do like that. That works really, really well.

The morally grey areas of science and magic.

Shamini Bundell

It's nice and creepy. So she's an aberrant mind sorceror and it's all like creepy psychic stuff. And I quite like because, you know, I've taken like Detect Thoughts where you can read people's minds and things, you can influence them and those kind of- it's, it's very like morally problematic in D&D, and all of these mind control things. 'Cause in D&D you generally play good guys it's like, Hi, we're the heroes. But sometimes you have these spells and you're like, hmm, I really just, yeah, getting into your head and manipulating your brain that so that you like me or so that you want to do something like That's not cool heroes, that's not a good guy behaviour. So I quite like, you know, I've sort of built a character where, it's not sort of portrayed as a sort of good and heroic thing. She doesn't like these powers. But like, people want her to use them and she ends up using them and, you know, she can't get away from this, like this super organism that she's kind of part of and if she doesn't kind of release the energy of the magic, like it sort of like builds up and, and then sort of like, releases by itself. So I just kind of like tied it all in there, with the sort of creepy, creepy psychic vibes.

Michele Ong

That's such a good way of crafting the story around it because yeah, D&D, all these sorts of things, you're gonna hit morally gray. And even if you were, even if it's not just for D&D, it creates such amazing questions for you know the way science, ethics, and magic works. I like it anyway.

Shamini Bundell

Again in, yeah, in that world like, What are the penalties for charming someone. Like gotta be pretty high because you know, that's--

Michele Ong

It's a violation.

Shamini Bundell

Yeah, psychically manipulating. At the lowest level it's a violation and at the highest level it's like, well, you don't want your leaders or officials to be just swayed by whoever comes along with a spell. So, yeah. I imagine it's pretty big deal in those worlds, I'm like, what is the, What are the What are the real world consequences in our fantasy world, like what would they be? And they might be, You're getting arrested for being a criminal, stop doing crime, people.

Michele Ong

Well there's the writer coming out right there.

So I guess we should start winding up. This has been really awesome. I could talk to you about D&D all night, but let's move on to those other bits.

Bonus Question 1: What hobby or interest do you have that is most unrelated to your field of work?

Michele Ong

So what hobby or interest do you have that's most unrelated to your field of work?

Shamini Bundell

So yeah, so my field work, making films about science, I would say probably the least related to that is musical theatre.

I'm trying to write a musical at the moment. I could just write music about science and then I would join them up, but-- No. No, I've gotta stop, gotta stop mixing everything with science. So for the moment, musical theatre. That's great. Love musicals.

Michele Ong

That's cool. And it's such a, different kind of area of your brain to use because yeah, music is entirely different. Do you score it yourself?

Shamini Bundell

No, I do the chords. I I play chords, blinky blonky chords, and then I sing, and then I give it to an actual musician, and then they make it actually proper and put better chords on too, to be honest.

Michele Ong

It's all iterative improvement. That's fine. That's very cool. I could spend a lot more time talking to you about that too. Okay.

Bonus Question 2: Which childhood book holds the strongest memories for you?

Michele Ong

And which childhood book holds the strongest memories for you?

Shamini Bundell

Um, yeah, you sent me this question in advance and I was like What you want me to pick? Woah no, this is terrible.

But the one thing that I thought this is interesting. Okay it is tenuously related to women in STEMM okay, my this is argument. I read a lot of older fiction of that sort of Victorian or like 1930s 40s 50s stories. I'm thinking like Enid Blyton, I'm thinking, Chronicles of Narnia, and I think they really influenced my sort of understanding of gender and gender roles in a really like, both positive and negative way, I would say. Because, Enid Blyton in particular, has a very strong line of, you know, the girls have to stay home and be safe, and the boys get to go out and do adventures. And on the one hand that did turn me into quite a little mini feminist of like, that's not fair. I don't want, I wanna go and have the adventures. Like, oh, this sucks. So that was nice. But on the other hand, there's also, this isn't all Enid Blyton, but I'm thinking something like, Something like the Famous Five where you've got like the tomboy character and then you've got like the girly character.

And they're all like the heroes of the book. But it, for me, it was very much like, oh, no one wants to be girly. Being girly is the worst. That means you don't go anywhere and you wanna keep your dress clean and you don't climb things like clearly being a tomboy is the coolest. And it took me a long while to sort of, realise the internalised misogyny in that. And I was like, oh no. Oh, I'm a horrible, sexist person because like, I'm just like, yeah, pink frilly things, that's bad. Being feminine, that's bad. And I'm like, oh God. Oh no. So, you know, be careful what books you're reading because it gets in your brain in ways that you don't, that you don't realise until you're an adult and you have to unpack everything that's going on with you.

Michele Ong

Absolutely. So it was a funny thing cuz I love Enid Blyton. I, I read so much Enid Blyton when I was growing up and when I had my daughter, I was thinking, Enid Blyton, let's introduce her to that. And I knew, like, I knew that there was gonna be stuff there and I figured we'll talk about that. That's fine because the way that she is is entirely different.

And I found two copies of the same book. One of them published before 1990 and one published recently. They have edited it. It is very different now. They have-

Shamini Bundell

I mean, I think that's good?

Michele Ong

Yes and no. So they have sanitised quite a bit of the stuff to do with the sexism and the misogyny, and it's now a little bit more neutral. And I thought that was fascinating. I was going, I need to see what they've done with all of these, because so many things have changed the way, like there was one where the girls were sent to help the mum do the housework and the boy was sent to go help the dad and they'd adjusted that and it's like, eh, fascinating.

And they changed the names, like obviously Fanny was changed to Franny cuz apparently Fanny is a problem, but that's okay.

Shamini Bundell

Fanny's a great name. Poor Fanny. Oh, lucky Fanny.

Michele Ong

Yeah.

Shamini Bundell

Yeah, I'm kind of torn about that cause I feel like, but if you wanna like be able to just like give these books to your kids, I think changing them is better because it keeps them usable as their original intent, which is just like stories for, for, for children as opposed to becoming a sort of like, here's a sort of historical insight that we need to then discuss and you know that you need that sort of adult input. Say like, Hey, here's what this was like at the time. This is not, yeah, I did see some people on Twitter the other day going on about, Susan from Chronicles of Narnia as well, which was like such a big thing. Did you read all those ones? Like in The Last Battle, at the very end of the series?

Michele Ong

I heard about the discussion but I didn't see it.

Shamini Bundell

Yeah. It's, it real- that really like got to me as well. At the very end of the series, they all, it's all a weird religious analogy, so kind of weird. But like Susan, it was very explicitly that she wasn't there because she got into boys and makeup. Like really, like really? I, I'm, I'm pretty sure it is just that simple. Is this, that she was interested in boys and makeup and therefore she was kind of like, it was kind of like she was an adult and therefore no longer sort of like believed in Narnia maybe. But it was it is also obviously just hugely just like sexuality is evil. Which for a Christian analogy, maybe that's not so shocking. Yeah, but that one as well, it just has, you know, it's sending a very clear moral message as to, what is good be interested in.

Michele Ong

We can't fight good and evil, boys are more interesting as well as makeup.

Shamini Bundell

Oh dear. Yeah. And yes, just for ages, I was like, oh, makeup. That's the devil's work. Well, as an atheist, but still, you know, you can be an atheist and still have these like Christian values ingrained in you from your upbringing. And it's like, ah.

Michele Ong

So many things you really do have to unpack. Yes.

Shamini Bundell

Yeah. Right.

Bonus Question 3: What advice you would give someone who wants to do what you do? Or what advice should they ignore?

Michele Ong

And lastly, what advice would you give someone who would like to do what you do and what advice should they ignore?

Shamini Bundell

I think my advice is to be really open to sort of different things and opportunities, and I think in in ye olden days, you would have a vocation, and you'd go into your job, and you'd have a clear career path, and that would be your career, your field, it'd be quite limited, just sort of a clear path.

Michele Ong

Focused.

Shamini Bundell

Yeah. And I think now, I think it is good not to have too strong an idea of exactly what you want to do. 'Cause then you can be more open to different things. You know, like I saw this Masters, I was like, oh, maybe I should do that. I thought like, oh, I have some sort of basic filmmaking experience, maybe that's relevant. You know, I like writing, I read a lot of books when I was a little, and I like writing stories, maybe I can write scripts or maybe I can write articles.

Michele Ong

It's all transferrable skills.

Shamini Bundell

Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely.

And I feel that getting into exactly what I do is really difficult if I'd set out to do it I wouldn't have succeeded. But then again, I didn't know that it was an option and maybe I'd have ended up in some other related thing which I was like Hey this is wow I never knew this existed and this is perfect for me. And, you know, that's the alternate timeline me in some other like awesome job. I'm very optimistic. All my timelines, I have very awesome jobs.

So yeah, I think that's what I'd say, I'd think be open and try different things. Try using different things.

And also just decide, coming back, we're right to what we talked about right at the beginning, decide whether you want your job that is the one best job in the world, your complete dream role. That is everything you know, that you have to work towards. And maybe you have to work really hard or really long hours and you constantly trying to get there or like, once you've gotten a bit older, I'm sounding really old again, you know, maybe think about whether what you want is a sort of steady and stable job where you are happy and you know, you feel like you are good at it and you've got regular hours, so you can do your hobbies on the side and you can put your energy there as well.

That's a very valid option, I would say.

Michele Ong

It is. And I think, yeah, as we get older it does come up. You start thinking about where you need to head with this and how much you care about what you're doing as your primary income earning activity versus wanting to be able to balance it out and maybe take a job that's less specific to your career so that you can kind of explore other things.

Yeah. So, good thing to reflect on.

Shamini Bundell

Yeah, I think having hobbies is really good, like, as you know, I have several as we've discussed, and I really, really value that, that's a really important part of my life. So I wouldn't, I don't think I'd want to do a job that was really intense, that meant I had no energy for anything else.

Michele Ong

Absolutely. Oh. Well, yeah, that, that's amazing. And thank you so much Shamini for speaking with me today on STEAM Powered. It's been absolutely wonderful hearing about your journey and all your activities and yeah, just how interested you are in all the stuff that you do at once. It's cool.

Shamini Bundell

That's been great. Yes, thank you. So thank you so much for asking me and having me on.

Michele Ong

Yeah, it's been a pleasure having you.

So if people would like to know more about what you do, where can they go?

Shamini Bundell

So, oh, good question. Various social medias. I actually have a website.

Michele Ong

Fancy that.

Shamini Bundell

Um, of course I do. Yes. Shaminibundell.wordpress.com. There we go. I know my own website. And that has links to my social medias, I am @sbundell on Twitter and Instagram and @shamini.b on TikTok. And I, I would encourage everyone to follow the RPGeeks as well @rpgeeksdnd if you are at all interested in, you know, science, role playing games. We have fun one shots as well as an ongoing campaign.

Michele Ong

Yeah, everyone should get into D&D. I think it enriches all our lives. Cool. Alright, so thank you again and hope you have an amazing rest of your day.

Shamini Bundell

Have an evening and I'll have a, have a morning over the other side of the world.

Michele Ong

Absolutely. Thanks!

If you enjoyed this conversation, please let me know. Subscribe to this show, leave us a rating and share this with your geeky or geek-curious friends. You can also support STEAM Powered on Patreon under @steampoweredshow, the link for which also be in the show notes. Thanks for tuning in, and we'll see you next time.

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