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GaymerX East: An Interview With Tanya DePass of #INeedDiverseGames

GaymerX East: An Interview With Tanya DePass of #INeedDiverseGames

Written By: Leonardo Faierman

The games industry needs more people like Tanya DePass. If you were at GaymerX East in November, you definitely saw her. Aside from working alongside GX as diversity liaison, Tanya was a constant presence at panels and discussions throughout the convention. Even after we spent some time discussing her ongoing endeavors and bookings, we still failed to mention a talk she recently gave at Ubisoft. There’s just so much the woman is working on, and she’s not slowing down for the foreseeable future.

Tanya DePass

As someone who personally loves writing about games and intersectionality, I admire the work Tanya is doing. She is always equipped with an intelligently sardonic, piercing, and entertaining point of view during streams in her writing, and throughout her online presence, her platform continues to grow and reach more people.

Earlier this year, it was so satisfying for me to read her response to RockPaperShotgun’s review of Mafia 3 in her own review. She identified the privilege of a reviewer who felt “exhausted” by the racist language and themes in the game. I feel that perspectives like Ms. DePass’ are essential because they provide commentary on and counterpoint to white writers, who largely inhabit game reviews and criticism (not to mention comments sections) — even intelligent, well-meaning writers like the ones in the RPS stable.

During one of her co-hosted GX panels, Tanya discussed some expectations and concerns you should familiarize yourself with as a POC/LGBTQIA/Female ID’d Twitch streamer. She also mentioned the benefits of gaming online which include the ability to connect with an audience, and foster discussion, and to be there. This is at the heart of her work. This evangelism for greater visibility and safe spaces in gaming, despite the challenges and dangers quite apparent in playing online or in public as a woman, let alone a Black or non-binary woman. Her love for the culture is tangible, and she approaches gaming’s bugbears head-on and honestly, a practice that encourages others to join her and do the same.

I want to thank Tanya DePass for taking a moment from her GaymerX East schedule and speaking with BGN.

Leonardo Faierman, BGN: Could you introduce yourself to the BGN audience?

Tanya DePass: I’m Tanya DePass, and I started #INeedDiverseGames initially as a hashtag back in October 2014. It has since grown into its own community, and now we’re a non-profit organization. From just a bit of angry tweeting in October two years ago, we are now a non-profit organization dedicated to diversity in the industry [laughs]!

This includes game streaming and writing about games, right?

Yes, we have an #INeedDiverseGames twitch channel. We stream a bit, and we try to select games where we can stream and speak about them as we play them. You know, stuff like Mafia 3 and Watch Dogs 2. We did an Uncharted 4 stream as well. We’re also trying to do either charity streams, or have other people come over and chat with us and things like that.

My personal stream that I do three times a week is whatever I feel like playing.

Like old/new games and such?

Yeah, The Witcher, and other stuff. I’ve spoken a bit, for example, about The Witcher and the race issues within it, or on the #INeedDiverseGames site.

In the past year it’s been developing a lot, no?

Our Twitch is growing, slowly. We did a couple special streams with NK Jemisin and a couple of other friends. We did a Dragon Age multiplayer stream. We did it for about an hour and a half, with the idea of having people be aware of what we do, and donate or support our Patreon.

Factor in the ridiculous sex scenes and you got a winner.

In Inquisition or The Witcher?

Oh that’s right, you’re probably playing Inquisition! I was thinking of the first Dragon Age, which had ridiculous sex scenes, and featured characters in leather underwear rubbing against each other.

Yes! And Zevran’s “oh-face”, like what!? Zevran just always looks like he’s in pain.

Definitely. Okay, so you’ve gotten involved in doing stuff with GaymerX. I personally didn’t know that at first! I follow you on Twitter, and when I asked you for your email at some point I’m like, ‘oh, you have an email AT GaymerX.’ So when did this get lined up?

It was before GaymerX 3, and was the result of our hashtag getting out there. Matt and Turner reached out because part of the feedback of GaymerX 2 was that they wanted more POCs. Attendees were like, “Hey, there’s not a lot of POCs or POC programming.” Since they actually listen to people and have that hour or so of feedback after each convention, they were like, “Okay, we need to do better. How

How can we do better?” They approached me and asked if I’d be interested in collaborating with them, looking at diversity, and helping them pursue these objectives better.

So, before GaymerX 3, I came on board, and I was trying to help them diversify the panelists but also get more people of color to attend and feel safe here. We also instituted a safe space the first year I worked with them. This year we had overall safe spaces because the feedback was that non-binary folk, neurodivergent folks, all wanted a safe space.

People liked it! It was something they felt they needed. We also have an overall quiet room, a standard that was in place before I came along.

We want to be a convention with diversity panels, but those shouldn’t be the only panels where you see people of color. We want everyone to come and talk about their expertise, and what they’re passionate about, but not feel like, “if I’m [a POC who is] there, I can only be on a panel talking about diversity.”

That’s interesting because it’s almost like the surgically precise attention to that here highlights it in a way that at – for instance – PAX, you usually just see them there, at the panels. You’re not really thinking about the reflection of that perspective, which is what you’re talking about.

As far as that being an objective here, there were tons of people of color here at GaymerX East. I think that objective was successful in New York.

With New York, definitely. In California, for GaymerX 4 we did better as well. There’s also the economic factor of it. If you’re East Coast, it’s harder and a longer trip to get [to GaymerX in California]. I think we’ve done better, though, and when we were reviewing panels we asked for demographic data – which was voluntary – but if someone provided it, we tried to make sure it meant a good mix of panelists.

Not just one cis gay white dude talking about whatever they’re talking about. We also had a lot of talks [i.e. single-speaker presentations] submitted versus panels. So, we tried to respond to those with, “This is great! You should consider a panel and have multiple people on it, rather than just you as one white dude talking because things like that shouldn’t have just one POV.”

A lot of people have this idea like, “I could never be on a panel, I could never do something like this…” But no, you can do this. It’s not just the domain of “super-well-known” people. So, while it was great that people submitted talks like that, that’s never gonna be a topic where one singular point of view is sufficient. We’d say, “Hey, consider making this a panel, or consider these other people who also know about this subject, that you might not know, so it can present a broader perspective.”

You did a bunch of panels this weekend! How many did you do?

I did five.

Five seems like a lot. Just covering or watching panels, for me, seems exhausting. When I go to PAX East, I usually do about two, and I feel spent.

PAX is just such a big event. I paneled at PAX West and East for the first time this year, and it was very interesting, different.

As far as your future work, either with GaymerX or your other adventures, what are we looking at for the rest of this year and into 2017?

I’m trying to collaborate with more people and get funding because while we are a non-profit, it’s difficult to get funded for these things. People want you to come to conventions, which takes money, and this is now my day job. I have a Patreon for my own living expenses. We also have one for #INeedDiverseGames, for our non-profit funding.

After this, I’m speaking at the University of Oregon later in November [our interview was recorded earlier in November, she has since spoken on the 30th]. In 2017, I’ll be a guest of honor at OrcaCon, and the theme is “diversity in gaming.” It’s tabletop-focused, a scene that somehow has the worst diversity problem.

Really? I don’t think this is the case in New York, from my experience.

Yeah, it’s also in Everett, WA.

Wow. In New York, the board game communities I’m aware of are full of people of color.

Yeah, it’s here, but in Seattle, it’s very white. I’m also speaking at GDC in February of 2017. Then I may or may not be at SXSW. I’m a guest at AnomolyCon, which is a steampunk convention.

I know that SXSW has been trying to put work into meeting diversity objectives, especially lately.

I’m in talks with someone to confirm a panel, but my presence isn’t confirmed yet. I’m a guest of honor at GaymerX Australia in April also.

Were you at SXSW last year?

I was part of a panel that was accepted, but after the GamerGate debacle, it all fell apart. I was originally all for it, but after they gave GamerGate their own panel so, I pulled mine. That is a non-negotiable point about me going to SXSW, especially if it will be back-to-back travel for me because it’s coming up right after GDC. We’ll see, I’m keeping an eye out, and if this panel comes through, hopefully, it all works out!

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