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. And even after we spent some time discussing her ongoing endeavors and bookings, we still failed to mention a talk she recently gave at Ubisoft or her appearance on the Nerds of Prey podcast. There’s just so much the woman is working on, and she’s not slowing down for the foreseeable future.
As someone who personally loves writing about games and intersectionality topics within gaming, I greatly admire the work Tanya is doing. 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, identifying the privilege of a reviewer who felt “exhausted” by the racist language and themes in the game. One of the reasons why I feel perspectives like Ms. DePass’ are so essential is because they provide a much-needed commentary of and counterpoint to the white writers, which still 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. Aside from relating the copious hazards therein, she also made sure to mention the benefits of gaming online, the ability to connect with an audience and foster discussion and to be there. I feel like 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 which encourages others to join her and do the same.
I want to thank Tanya DePass for taking a moment from her (very busy) GaymerX East schedule and speaking with BlackGirlNerds.
Leonardo Faierman, BGN: Hi! Would you mind introducing 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]!
BGN: Very cool! And this includes game streaming and writing about games, right?
TD: Yes, we have an #INeedDiverseGames twitch channel. We stream a bit, and we try to select games where we can stream and kinda speak about them as we play it. 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 kind of whatever I feel like playing.
BGN: Like old/new games, and such?
TD: 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.
BGN: In the past year it’s been developing a lot, no?
TD: 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.
BGN: Factor in the ridiculous sex scenes and you got a winner.
TD: In Inquisition or The Witcher?
BGN: Oh that’s right, you’re probably playing Inquisition! I was thinking of the first Dragon Age, which had ridiculous sex scenes, featured characters in leather underwear rubbing against each other.
TD: Yes! And Zevran’s “oh-face”, like what!? Zevran just always looks like he’s in pain.
BGN: 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?
TD: 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 can we do better?” So, they approached me because they realized I was talking about diversity, and asked if I’d be interested in collaborating with them, and looking at diversity and helping them pursue these objectives better.
So, prior to 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. So we also instituted a safe space the first year I was working with them, but this year we had overall safe spaces because the feedback was that non-binary folks, neurodivergent folks, all wanted a safe space. So we had safe spaces set up with different blocks of time. We couldn’t give everyone an individual room, though, just because of lack of space.
People liked it! It was something they felt they needed. We also have an overall quiet room, a standard which was in place before I came along.
We want to be a convention where there are 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 talk about things 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.”
BGN: 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 extremely successful with respect to New York.
TD: With New York, definitely. In California, for GaymerX 4 we did better as well, but there’s also the economic factor of it, and 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 like, 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! But maybe 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.”
BGN: You did a bunch of panels this weekend! How many did you do?
TD: I did five.
BGN: That’s a lot!
TD: It was worse at GaymerX 4. I did more at GaymerX 4… never again [laughs].
BGN: 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, just from being in the audience.
TD: PAX is just such a big event too. I paneled at PAX West and East for the first time this year, and it was very interesting, different.
BGN: So, 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?
TD: 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, and we also have one for #INeedDiverseGames, for our non-profit funding.
After this, I’m going to speak at the University of Oregon later in November [our interview was originally 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 actually tabletop-focused, a scene which somehow has the worst diversity problem.
BGN: Really? Interesting. I don’t think this is the case in New York, from my experience.
TD: Yeah, it’s also in Everett, WA.
BGN: Wow. In New York, the board game communities I’m aware of are full of people of color.
BGN: I know that SXSW has been trying to put work into meeting diversity objectives, especially lately.
TD: I’m in talks with someone to confirm a panel, but my presence isn’t confirmed there yet. I’m a guest of honor at GaymerX Australia in April also.
BGN: Were you at SXSW last year?
TD: 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, I pulled mine. I’m like, I can’t support this. That is a non-negotiable point about me going to SXSW, especially if it’s going to wind up being 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!
Leonardo Faierman was born in Buenos Aires, raised in Queens, on the playground was where he planned most of my schemes. He writes video game and music reviews, poetry, comic books, bad dreams and good copy. NYC is his serpentine, loa. Check out his website, Snowdazecomic.com.