As y’all know, GeekGirlCon hosts an array of presenters from across fields and fandoms each year. They bring us everything from gaming demonstrations to DIY science to workshops to panels. Among them, we have our Feature Contributors, folks who are new to the con and will be heading some of the biggest and coolest programming of the weekend.
In our first round of announcements, we’ll be focusing on those Featured Contributors whose work falls broadly into the categories of Gaming and Entertainment.
As we get deeper into con prep, we’ll be announcing more Featured Contributors and adding Q&As with them as a part of our Share Your World series.
It is our pleasure to introduce our first Featured Contributor for GeekGirlCon 2019: Tanya DePass!
I had the opportunity to meet Tanya earlier this March during Women’s Month on the Nerdy Venom’s podcast, where we chatted about diversity in the gaming industry. A truly inspiring woman to listen to, Tanya is the founder of I Need Diverse Games, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization. Passionate about encouraging diversification across all of gaming—from development to representation on screen to the community itself—Tanya strives to make gaming more inclusive for everyone.
Her work with I Need Diverse Games is just the beginning: her writing has been featured in many publications, including Uncanny Magazine, Polygon, Wiscon Chronicles, Vice Gaming, Paste Games, and Mic. She has contributed to publications for Green Ronin, Paizo, and Monte Cook Games; was the editor for Game Devs and Others: Tales from the Margins (2018); and contributed to The Advanced Game Narrative Toolbox (2019). An avid streamer, Tanya is a partnered variety streamer on Twitch with a focus on single player RPG’s. She’s also a cast member on the Rivals of Waterdeep actual play show; every Sunday at 10am Pacific/12pm Central on twitch.tv/dnd. In addition to all this, she’s also the programming and diversity coordinator for OrcaCon and GaymerX.
Leading up to the convention this November, Tanya helped us put together a Q&A about her career and the importance of diversity in games.
Why gaming? What got you started in the field? It was all a happy accident, hitting on a note at the right time, and right place when #INeedDiverseGames hashtag hit twitter.
What was it like starting a movement and then creating and directing an org to highlight diversity in gaming? I never thought of it as starting a movement, that wasn’t my intent when I angrily tweeted around 6 am before work a few years ago. The formation of the non-profit was intentional, to keep the momentum going and give us a vehicle to do the work. It was a lot of work, a lot of stress (still) and worry that I’m doing enough.
It’s been about three years since you founded the non-profit for I Need Diverse Games. What changes, if any, have you seen in the gaming industry since you started, and what would you say are the biggest or most pressing changes that still need to be made? A very slow burn towards more POC in games, more women as lead characters or just existing in games. We need to have characters that are neurodivergent, that are disabled and not tropes or stereotypes. Games have to get away from mental illness as a reason for villainy.
What did your priorities/goals for the org start as? Have they evolved? To be a resource, to be a hub for folks looking to do better in inclusion for all games, and projects. For instance, if someone needs a diversity consultation; if we can’t provide it then I’d love to be able to refer them out to someone else. The other goal is to be a point of access for folks to get into the industry. Things have evolved over the years as I realize what is feasible, what’s not as a small org and what we can do with the resources we have.
What would you say to people who are frustrated by systemic problems they see in media or other industries but feel like they don’t have the money, power, or audience to make an impact? Speak up, do it in a productive way when you see a stereotype in a game, or film or other media. By productive I mean use methods for feedback, don’t scream at devs on twitter, or speak over marginalized folks who are already talking about these issues. Amplify, don’t trample. Screaming at developers won’t do anything but likely earn you a block or mute. If more players, especially folks who don’t have an audience speak up, it will show developers that people do care about these issues.
How do you measure success both with the org and within your own life? Hah, I’m not there yet with the organization. We’re not in a position to fund people, or hire folks to do a lot of the work that needs to be done, or even rent a physical space. For my own life, it would be having enough money in my account to not worry if I had a sudden expense hit, like a medical issue or not having to think too hard on what I can spend on groceries. It may sound shallow, but when you aren’t worried about keeping the lights on, food in the fridge, etc? You can focus on other things.
What are your favorite individuals/orgs to support? So many, goodness. Definitely AbleGamers; a percentage of any money I make as a Humble Bundle partner benefits them. Anykey, who are focused on good conduct in eSports and inclusion. DungeonCommander, a force for so much good in the tabletop space for POC, queer and non-binary folks. GaymerX & OrcaCon (Disclosure: I volunteer for both organizations conference doing programming and inclusion), Dirtbagboyfriend, a great non-binary artist in Seattle, Tales from the Mists is another actual play D&D show that has women, poc and non-binary folks on it. Everyone (else) who’s on Rivals of Waterdeep, the actual play D&D show I’m on Sundays on twitch.tv/dnd, MegaRan, Sammus Music, Mike Eagle, the NPC Collective, Shubzilla; and one of my favorite people ever and amazing author; NK Jemisin. That’s by no means an exhaustive list but we only have so much space here!
How do you explain the reach of gaming (and therefore the importance of diversity in the industry) to non-gamers? I liken it to films and books, especially when I can’t go to the movies now without seeing a commercial for a game, or seeing big names playing, sharing, streaming and voicing them. I remind them it’s a world wide industry; still growing and learning, but still touching on so many places and bringing us stories that aren’t even possible in other forms of media. They can be used to teach and more, and are far more than mere toys.
What are some of the biggest/most derailing misconceptions folks have about games? About your work specifically? About games in generalis that they are for kids and teens, that you grow up and out of gaming and this goes for all games, including tabletop; and that mobile games don’t count. Also that games have no value. About my work, people assume I only care about black folks, women and queer issues. They don’t ask, or they base it strictly off my identity being what I must care about and nothing else.
What challenges are you currently facing in terms of the org’s work/growth? How can the GeekGirlCon community support you best? Resources, money and being in a position to hire even part time staff. The best way to support is our Patreon (patreon.com/ineeddivgms) Otherwise, if people donate with convention passes, then also funds to help people attend. We can also take donations at PayPal.me/INeedDiverseGames.
What are your favorite games? Other favorite media? Single player, RPG’s are my favorite video games with Dragon Age II being my favorite game ever. The Division 2 has been taking up a lot of my gaming & streaming time, along with Magic the Gathering Arena. I don’t have a lot of other favorite media because I don’t have cable anymore and am way behind on new music, tv, etc. I have been really digging Daveed Diggs library of work, and I’m re-reading NK Jemisin’s Hundred Thousand Kingdom’s trilogy.
Why are physical gatherings such as GeekGirlCon important to this work? Why is this a space you want to show up in? For those that can afford to make it to an event like GGC, or PAX or OrcaCon; it’s important to find community in person. To make those connections that sometimes start online stronger and to find new friends at panels, or in game rooms. Sometimes you can start community in these spaces and the can grow online afterward. I want to show up because too often I hear people say that they don’t see people like them at events like these. Too often, can I count on two hands; maybe a couple times over the people of color at events focused on gaming. Being present and visible is part of inclusion.
Outside of gaming, what else are you currently passionate about? Sleep, lots of sleep and my cat Genki.
If you’re interested in learning more about Tanya and the other spectacular guests that are joining us for #GGC19, buy your passes online today! We’ll see you November 16th & 17th at the Conference Center at the WSCC.