Feature image via Shutterstock.
It can be dangerous to meet the people you internet-admire. There’s the possibility that they’re simply not as cool in real life as they are online. It’s easier to seem successful and put-together when you have time to carefully craft responses on a screen. It’s safer to be a fan when there’s considerable distance involved.
Then there’s another danger: that they are even cooler in real life than their Twitter persona suggests. Such is the case when it comes to Tanya DePass, gaming badass. Tanya, a queer woman gamer of color, is a force within the online gaming community and meeting her made me incredibly nervous.
On October 7th, 2014 Tanya tweeted “#INeedDiverseGames because I am tired of the same variant of scruffy white dude protagonists in every game I buy.”
#INeedDiverseGames because I am tired of the same variant of scruffy white dude protaganists in every game I buy.
— Cypher, 1st Class (@cypheroftyr) October 7, 2014
Soon the internet would rally around this hashtag, each non-white, non-dude gamer aching for the same thing. Tanya had tapped into something the gaming community has been struggling with since its inception.
Al Rosenberg: So, the #INeedDiverseGames tags just turned a year old. Does it feel like it’s been that long?
Tanya Depass: Yes and no. Some days it feels like I’ve been doing this forever and other days I wonder when this happened, and have I been doing this stuff all along but not under the auspices of an organization. Like I blinked and wow, look at all that’s gone on in a year! Last year I had maybe 300 twitter followers, now I’m over 3100, and it’s been a wild ride. Other days I’m like who put me in charge, why, what is going on!? But it’s been amazing and I’m so, so grateful and humbled by the response to this little hashtag I threw out there a little over a year ago.
A: What has been the best thing about #INeedDiverseGames in the last year?
T: The community that has sprung up around the tag, the connections we’ve made with other gamers, critics, streamers etc. We’ve got a good little thing going, and it’s amazing. Also, getting picked for the #IndieCade15 #GamingForEveryone Pavilion is a huge honor and it’s awesome. So we’re very excited and grateful for the chance to show off what we’ve done and where we want to go.
A: What’s been the worst thing? Was it the harassment/Gamergate? They seemed to latch onto you and the movement very quickly. How did you deal personally with the negative reactions?
T: The frustrations of GG claiming “victory” over a hashtag that was only a couple days old, to the ridiculous rebuttals to simple things we’d talk about that people would spend far too much time on. Like the fact that diversity is lacking in games. That’s not really something to argue against, yet people did it with no problem.
As for how I personally deal with it? Sometimes I play Mass Effect 3 multiplayer with friends, get that anger out, on occasion I may write an angry blog post that I never actually publish. Once in a while it gets to me; I’m human. There’s been a couple times where I’ve just had a good cry, then I got angry about it and kept going. I’m fueled by stubbornness and rage some days with a splash of coffee.
A: How does being a queer woman of color influence the work you’re doing?
T: It affects me in wanting to see more representation for queer brown women, it informs my agenda to be seen as the hero, not just the throwaway character, first to get killed or the joke. It informs what I do because there’s not a lot of queer brown women in games. I can count the examples on both hands. Isabela and Josephine M from Dragon Age are the ones that immediately spring to mind.
A: Explaining the need for diversity to people who just don’t get it can be overwhelming. What’s your elevator/con pitch about #INeedDiverseGames?
T: We’re a community of people who want to make gaming safe, inclusive, better for all of us because there’s room for everyone at the table.*
A: What is it like to be involved with conventions? You are the “diversity liaison” for GaymerX, what does that entail?
T: It’s a lot of work depending on what time of year your convention falls and what your schedule is for say panel submissions, etc. I’m also programming Co-Chair for Wiscon 40 along with the liaison for returning Guest of Honor for Nalo Hopkinson.
Being diversity liaison for GaymerX means going over the panels to be sure it’s not a bunch of cis white folks on all the panels. It means upholding the mission of the convention an getting people on panels that don’t fail when it comes to having a variety of speakers on any given topic, as well as not putting any and all non-white folks who attend on the diversity panel skid row.
A: Do you have a dream convention and a dream panel of speakers?
T: My dream convention is to speak at GDC, which I submitted a panel for but it wasn’t accepted. Dream panelists, Manveer Heir, Leigh Alexander, Catt Smalls, Evan Narcisse, Austin Walker, TJ Thomas, Shawn Alexander Allen, to name a few.
A: On top of all this, you’re also the Editor-in-Chief of the Fresh Out of Tokens podcast. How did that come to life? What have been the biggest challenges of starting a podcast?
T: It came about because we were going to chat up Chris Algoo from Brooklyn Gamery about Prism Shell. I asked David if he knew about sound editing, he said yes so off I went to Simplecast and started up Fresh Out of Tokens. The name came from a quip I made when I was last on the Justice Points podcast in January of this year about arcades and tokenization. The biggest challenge has been making sure we have interesting content, learning not to fret over numbers, and for me wondering if it’s worth is since there are so many other podcasts out there!
A: Like many people who are internet celebrities/internet activists/involved in the online world of gaming reform you also have a full-time job not directly in that field. What advice can you offer to people like you who work a lot but also want to start podcasts?
T: Follow a schedule! Make reminders in your calendar for yourself. For instance, I’ve got podcast things blocked in the calendar for the show and my personal as well as #INeedDiverseGames Google calendars so I don’t overschedule myself. Block off time for follow up. If you get business cards at an event follow up within a few days, or put them in a place where you are so they can visually nag you.
For starting a podcast, think about your topics, know that you have something to say that’s worthwhile. Even if one person listens, you’re reaching that one person. It sounds cliche AF but be passionate about what you decide to focus your show on. Please don’t talk yourself out of it if people go but there’s already a podcast about X subject! Don’t go into it thinking you’ll get rich off podcasting, that’s a thing no one really achieves and accept that it will cost you a bit of money to start. You’ll need a decent mic, and a quiet space to record. Make show notes! Don’t go into a recording just doing things off the cuff, that’s not always a good strategy depending on your guest/topics. Decide how often your show will publish, know realistically what you can do and what you can’t. Don’t promise a weekly show if you can’t get it recorded, edited and posted within seven days. We started bi-weekly and then eased into a weekly format.
Do not do everything yourself. I repeat, do not try to do everything yourself! You will burn out and that brain child of an idea will become your nemesis. Get people you can trust to help moderate and run things. Be ready to kick out toxic people from the group that make their way into it. You need to make your space safe, inclusive and moderate, moderate, moderate! No moderation means things will go downhill REALLY FAST and once that group has tanked, it will be hard to regain the trust you’ve lost with people.
Lastly, self-care is mandatory. Remind people you are human and that you have finite energy and resources. Do not burn yourself out trying to make the next great thing in gaming, podcasting, your community. Slow and steady is good because no one got where they are overnight. You have to be willing to do the work but you cannot work yourself into the ground to get there. So self care, moderation, scheduling and a good support group are what I’d recommend.
A: What is the best way for people to get involved with #INeedDiverseGames?
T: If you know of projects please send them to us! We’re just a few people and can’t catch all the great things going on in gaming spaces. If you have an article you’ve written or want to write for our wee blog, please reach out to us at the site: ineeddivgms.info/ask or if you have a thing you want to submit, like a KickStarter or something, send us a note at ineeddivgms.info/submit. We’ve got a Google Form for longer signal boost requests, or if you need to give a bit of explanation for what you want us to boost. We’ve got our blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ where you can find info, tag us, and reach out to our mods.
The other thing is supporting us monetarily. What we want to do requires time and money, sadly none of us are independently wealthy. So we’ve got a few ways you can do that. There’s our Patreon, a PayPal Donate button and we have a Spreadshirt shop as well. Friend of INDG, Slyvie Reuter who designed our twitter banner and other images just sent some new super cute designs that will go up in the shop soon! All monies go towards initiatives, paying for the podcast and this last month, marketing materials for #IndieCade15. We were lucky enough and extremely honored to be chosen as one of 10 groups for the #GamingForEveryone Pavilion sponsored by Intel!
A: Tanya, it has been an absolute delight chatting with you. I look forward to the next shared convention panel!
*And that does mean all gaming tables. Though Tanya streams video games and a great deal of the hashtag focuses on video gaming, she is also involved in the tabletop gaming community and has spoken about a need for diversity on that front as well. She told Sarah Richardson, ConTessa co-organizer, in a recent interview for WomenWriteAboutComics: “[S]eeing yourself in the games you play is important. Not just in having the option to be a different person in tabletop setting, but for the settings to move from High Fantasy and faux medieval England.”
Thank you for this great interview. I’m going to GX3 and noticed that Tanya will be on quite a few panels I’m interested in, so I’m looking forward to that. =)
Ahhh thank you! Please say hello at when we’re both at GaymerX! :D
It’s good to see these ideas gain wider traction.
Wonderful interview, thank you!
I learned so much reading this! Alex you’re great!
Diversity for the sake of diversity… seems legit.
Picking right up the surplus clones may be worth the deals inside.