Panel: Ready Player Queer - The Growth of Queerness in Gaming
I had a chance this past Thursday, April 21st to join a panel hosted by PAX East and WIGI. I'm happy to report I have aged out of my fear of public speaking! Sadly, they didn't record the panel. But I did over prepare by writing out my thoughts for most of the questions so I decided to post them for anyone who wasn't able to attend! Written after every question is my answer in blue. Sadly, my three other panelists answers aren't on this write-up but they were great!
Queerness has always been a part of the gaming industry but the rise in queerness in the games industry has exploded over the past couple of years. But what does that growth look like and why does it matter? What does that impact look like and what can we expect in the coming years. Join our panelists as they explore queerness in all verticals of the games industry - in esports, in tabletop gaming, and in video games. They'll discuss the profitability of queerness and the expansive growth in the marketing sector, the rise of queerness in tabletop games, and the financial impact this growth has on everyone.
Questions for Panelists
Name Danielle Reynolds
What is your current profession or skill set? I work as the Design Lead for Forever Stoked Creative doing tabletop game design, development and graphic design. I am also the host of the Game Design Unboxed: Inspiration to Publication podcast and in leadership roles for Tabletop Gaymers, Unpub and Board Game Broads.
What part of the games industry do you work in? Tabletop Games
And my favorite question, whose your favorite character either in a board game or video game? This might be a cheat answer but the original Batgirl aka Barbra Gordon. She’s been in a few Batman video games. I love her because even after being crippled by the Joker she was able to continue to be a hero as Oracle using her brain and organizational skills. She showed me you don’t need superpowers or even working legs to make a huge difference!
INTRODUCTION TO TABLETOP GAMES
From your own experiences, whether as a working professional or a passionate community member, how was the Table Top community been towards fostering queerness?
As a whole the industry over the past few years has encouraged minority designers to pitch games and apply to jobs in the industry. Publishers have worked to help host events with Non-Profits such as Tabletop Gaymers to help promote safe spaces for queer folks. Many have been very vocal over social media when they see injustice or cyber bullying of queer people.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in your professional life (and personal if you feel comfortable)?
Thanks to how welcoming the tabletop gaming industry has been towards queer individuals I was given an opportunity to enter the gaming industry full-time 2 years ago and I continue to work in the field I love. With the exception of a few cyber trolls that will occasionally pop-up sending me some homophobic remark, my life being a queer game designer wasn’t bad. I had more issues being a girl in the industry. In the beginning men had a tendency to judge my intelligence and how quickly I could learn rules to games. We call them “gatekeepers”. If I wasn’t so outgoing and stubborn I most likely would have never returned to some of the game meetups that I tried back when I lived in the Chicagoland area. I also got asked out fairly often so being a gay girl actually acted as a rainbow shield from unwanted attention. I have been told by players and other industry folks that they appreciate how out I am because many don’t feel comfortable doing the same. Many bi girls especially tend to hide the fact they are attracted to women because they have male partners and sometimes kids. So they feel awkward being overly supportive of the LGBTQ+ community. They don’t want to shine a light on their sexuality.
What does representation look like in Table Top Games compared to Video Games? (example of XYZ Game Labs and Arch Ravels with representation of different ages, genders, and accessibility)
In tabletop games there has been a massive push for diversity in themes as well as artwork. Companies like XYZ Game Labs have represented people of different ages, genders, sexualities and accessibility types in their Arch Ravel’s game. It means a lot to a player to be able to pick up a game and see themselves in a character. Designers like me are actively pushing to have publishers have more than just male characters with maybe one busty broad in the mix. RPGs have been especially good at helping the queer community. We have games like Thirsty Sword Lesbians (Evil Hat Productions), Star Crossed (Bully Pulpit Games), Women Are Werewolves (9th Level Games), Gay Realms (Noah Patterson) and a new one coming soon called Queerz (Japanime Games) that reached out to Tabletop Gaymers to have our community review/playtest the game. It’s amazing to see so many things coming out for our community!
Which the table top community being more in-person than video games or esports, how has representation or inclusivity for queer individuals been?
Continuing with RPGs, players have found a way to create characters that allow the person to test out situations they might be too afraid to address in the real world. I have had many friends come to terms with their sexuality or gender identity while playing Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder and other RPGs. They were able to have their characters act as they would like whether that be me having a girlfriend or exploring what it might feel like to be a man rather than a woman. Board and card games have also started to dip their toes into making LGBTQ+ games such as Fog of Love (Hush Hush Projects & Floodgate Games), the Pursuit of Happiness (Stronghold Games & Artipia Games), Dead of Winter: The Long Night (Plaid Hat Games), the Queer Agenda (FITZ) and others. These games include LGBTQ+ characters, story arches and experiences for the players to enjoy.
MARKETING QUEERNESS IN VIDEO GAMES
Pride month has become a month where instead of celebrating pride, it seems most companies slap a rainbow on their logo and call it a day. Are there instances where you felt queerness was celebrated in video games, table top or esports instead of just rainbowing washing?
Honestly, no. Beyond releasing pride themed pins I haven’t seen much of that in tabletop. I do enjoy what DC comics does though. Every year since the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016 they have released a graphic novel with different LGBTQ+ storylines with our favorite characters. I would love to see something like that in the Tabletop Community.
Moving beyond Pride Month, where SHOULD we see more queerness and how can it be expressed better in all verticals of the games industry/community?
A great first step is to keep diversity in mind when designing games, writing rulebooks and creating art. Using “they/them” in the rules makes all people feel included. It is a pet peeve of mine when I read rules that talk in all masculine pronouns like games are a male only hobby. I love seeing art where characters are ambiguous or clearly queer. It makes me feel supported. I also want to see more things like the “gaymer”, “ally” and “pronoun” ribbons Tabletop Gaymer gives out at Tabletop Gaming conventions. Before I knew where the ribbons came from I always searched them out at every con to wear as a badge of honor. It showed that I was proud to belong to a community. Since I am not especially queer presenting it has helped me express who I am without going into the awkward story arc of how I realized I only wanted to date women/femme presenting individuals.
What kind of representation do you want to see evolve from where it is today in the games industry? Moving from just pride month to something bigger?
I want to see more queer story arcs in games! I want to play a game where I’m a prince saving a prince from a tower. I want gender and sexualities of all types to be so normalized that no one will bat an eye when they get a non-binary character with fire powers in a dice drafting game. I also want to see louder voices in the community stepping up as allies and as role models for our fellow gaymers.
When you started in the games industry, did you have any allies?
Yes, Ryan Costello was the first guy I met that introduced me to the gaming industry as a whole and even though he was a cis straight man he was incredibly encouraging of me becoming a designer. He introduced me to his connections and other queer members of the community. He also gave me a chance to host a podcast on his Know Direction Network. He’s a huge part of why I am working in the industry full-time now.
What made your allies stand apart from everyone else?
They were so willing to donate their time to help teach me to be a better designer by introducing me to new games, connections and ways of thinking. They asked me if I wanted to do small projects in the beginning which helped me build my resume. As well as brought me to networking events in the industry which expedited my entry into the industry.
Was there something in particular that you looked for in an ally?
Just someone who didn’t treat me any differently. They cared about who I was as a person and a designer. The fact that I was gay was just icing on the cake. Not needed, but thoroughly enjoyed.
What are qualities that you would recommend allies or people who want to support you or other queer individuals exhibit or embody?
Pay it forward. If you see a new voice, help make them get heard. It’s hard for any minority to get in the industry so help them by inviting them to events, share their social media posts and playtest their games.
When you don’t see queerness, how do you advocate for yourself?
I am very vocal about being gay. It’s in my social media handle. I try to be a role model by leading by example. I repost other queer designers posts. I jump in when I disagree with a person or see signs of cyberbullying online. I join panels and events like these to talk about my experiences that hopefully some of you can relate to.
What advice do you have for queer individuals in gaming who struggle to find acceptance or struggle to see that representation?
Not everyone is going to have as easy a time coming out as I did. I lost a few friends and an uncle but that’s nothing compared to many queer youth and adults. And even when you are out it’s hard to walk up to a group of strangers and ask them to play a game when you don’t know their views on queer people. (Unless they’re wearing an ally ribbon or some other indicator.) My advice is try not to take things to heart. The best lesson I ever learned was just be yourself. Not everyone is going to love you and that’s okay. It’s better to put yourself out there and know where you stand with someone before getting too far into something. By doing this I have made some amazing connections and friends in this industry. As well as avoiding toxic people. Thankfully gaming as a whole is very accepting of the queer community. It might be a reason I gravitated so strongly towards it as an industry.
WHAT COMES NEXT
It’s easy to feel like we aren’t doing enough or that there isn’t enough change happening. Focusing on the positive, who do you think is leading the charge for change? Which organizations are really striving for change? It can be game studios, non-profits, teams, organizations.
I personally volunteer my time for 3 organizations working to make a change in tabletop gaming. Board Game Broads focuses on supporting women, gender non-conforming, non-binary and trans individuals in the industry. A year ago we added a “+” after Broads in an attempt to be more inclusive. Then as an officer for Tabletop Gaymers I am lending my skills to create fun gaymer swag, informational brochures and lend my ideas on how to support the LGBTQ+ community as a whole. Then we have Unpub that focuses on helping designers get their unpublished games playtested and in front of publishers. We make a conscious effort to reach out to minority groups to give them a chance to get in front of publishers. Finally, I personally work to have a diverse guest list on my podcast. I think it’s important to lend our time to good causes if we have the ability to! I know I feel the happiest knowing I am creating an environment where everyone feels welcomed.
How do we document change? What do we look for when it comes to seeing this change?
Great question! Designers like Elizabeth Hargrave have created databases of female designers and their games. Others have done similar things with different minority groups which helps track the number of designers and when the games come out. With every year I am noticing newer and newer designers and it’s great!
What are you excited about for the future? What makes creating, leading, changing more exciting knowing what comes next?
It will just be interesting to see small changes like more queer groups appearing at conventions, more LGBTQ+ designers and illustrator names on boxes. As well as more queer representation in the game storylines, themes and mechanics!