Transgender and Gender Diverse game developers and their games

Feature article

March 31st was Transgender Day of Visibility, a day to celebrate trans people and their achievements. This important day also gives us an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the amazing work done by the trans community within the gaming industry, an industry that has been historically imperfect when it comes to trans representation and inclusion. We may be a few days late, but that’s certainly no excuse not to highlight and celebrate some awesome games made by some awesome people. With this in mind, I took to Twitter.

The outpouring of community support and offers to participate have been incredible! So in a daring feat I’ll be attempting to include everyone who messaged me so as to get their voices out there and gain some visibility.

Full disclosure: I’ve tried to remain as unbiased and as impartial as I can although I do personally know many of the people included within this article. 

 

Maize Wallin:

Wayward Strand

Maize Wallin is a Melbourne based composer, sound designer, and audio programmer. Their focus is in 3D spatialised audio, and dynamic music, using cutting edge techniques. Maize consults in Australia and around the world on these topics, and is heavily engaged in the game development community, and in activism and representation within it.

Maize is currently working on Wayward Strand which has received state government funding. Maize’s work has a strong focus on dynamic and adaptive audio systems and novel experiences of musicianship. Other well known games Maize has worked on include VRTOV’s A Thin Black Line (2017), Cosmic Express (2017), Invert (2017), Earthrise One (2016), and Framed (2014).

Maize has recently been appointed to the Widget board of directors, representing the field of audio in video games and also drawing on their non-binary community. Maize is an agender person, who uses non-binary to describe themselves.  I asked them to tell me a bit about Wayward Strand, the game featured in the image above.

Can you tell me a bit about the game?

“In Wayward Strand you play as 14 year old Casey, who spends a Summer weekend at the hospital her mum is head nurse of. Its 1978 off the coast of Australia, and you learn about the histories of deeply characterful oldies as they go about their days on the Gippsland Mobile Hospital flying ship!”

Wayward Strand

“We’re excited about exploring inter generational relationships in Australia. There is so much Aussie culture, humour, and nuance that we want to show the world.”

“We want it to feel authentic, as there are so few games  set in Australia, we feel a responsibility to set a bar. We’ve met with indig consultants from the land our game is set on, consultants from medicine and chronic health. Every character has a deep history and personality, researched to a tee.”

What would you like to see more of in the industry?

“Absolutely I’d like to see more teams consulting people for communities they aren’t a part of. We’ve found we never knew what we didn’t know until we did that. And everyone has such diverse opinions on how they’d like to see representation, working closely with people on crafting rich and authentic stories, has made our team better humans. Imagine that! Each project you do doesn’t just add to your folio, it’s not just upskilling, it’s making you feel like a better and more engaged person in the world.”

“Id like to see systemic things change so that under represented parts of our industry can actually have a fair go. Access to tools is improving, but the development cycle is still inaccessible, publishers and crowd funding are not viable models for release.”

“The way things work now is designed for white cis men. What can work for the rest of us?”

“Being able to make a game isn’t enough, we need a reanalysis of every step, from start to finish.”

“The way things work now is designed for white cis men. What can work for the rest of us? Fundamentals need to change, not rebranded to ‘The same thing but for our minority of the week!'”

Where can we find more about you and Wayward Strand?
 
“You can find me at maizewallin.com. I wanna know all about your projects, and how I can help with audio and/or advocacy.”
 
“You can find Wayward Strand at waywardstrand.com

 

Juno McClure:

Blood Broker

Juno McClure  is a multidisciplinary artist and designer based in Brooklyn, New York. Their early work, produced in Houston, primarily consists of urban subject-matter photography.

Upon moving to New York in 2009, their work expanded to include digital and interactive media. Existential, perceptual and ontological themes are often explored in their work, which has been exhibited across the U.S. and internationally.

They identify as a non-binary, transfeminine, queer person. Juno is currently working on Blood Broker, a game about human sacrifice and consent!

Blood Broker Screenshot

Can you tell me a bit about Blood Broker?

“The gods demand blood.”

“As their official representative, your job is to ensure the blood keeps flowing. But you are no monster, and so you are also tasked with ensuring only those offering their consent are availed to such ritual slaughter. Practice democracy from above, using social conformity and applied pressure to ensure the valve remains open, the offering both ethically sourced and guilt-free. Can you reconcile the will of the gods with the naive will of the people?”

What were your goals for this game?

“In a loose way, I wanted it to serve as commentary on coercive social relationships, peer pressure, democracy and propaganda.”

“My goal was to create a detached experience that puts the player in a position to devalue traditional values (like life), instead emphasizing consensual relations in a sort of absurd clicking game.  It was originally inspired by a tweet by the weird game ideas twitter bot, “a cookie-clicker like about nefarious demigods.”

“In a loose way, I wanted it to serve as commentary on coercive social relationships, peer pressure, democracy and propaganda.  Going with the flow/status quo is often the easiest choice to make.  Implicit and even explicit consent can be deeply problematic.  When the powerful want something from the powerless, they are left at their mercy.”

What would you like to see more of in the industry?

“I feel like the queer game dev scene has been blowing up in the past few years and I would love to see it continue!  I’d also like to see more weird games with unique aesthetics.  We’ve come so far recently which is very encouraging.”

“Also, I want to see game developers organize their labor and turn around the work conditions in this exploitative industry.”

You can find more on Juno and their games on their website or their itch.io.  Juno is also on Twitter.

 

Luke Ryan  And Henco Joubert:

Luke and Henco are currently working on a game about antifa sharks (amazing, right?) called Shark ‘em Up!  They both Identify as non-binary and gender queer. Henco prefers they/them pronouns and is also comfortable identifying as trans. Luke mostly floats around the agender lounge and is fine with any pronouns, but uses they/them primarily.

Luke:
“I’m a queer neurodiverse ADHD autistic person with physical disabilities, an anarchist with many adjectives (queer, feminist, vegan, and more!), and have been obsessed with sharks since before I was three.”

“I earned an Advanced Diploma of Game Development (Programming) through AIE in 2016, but really struggled my way through it due to my then undiagnosed ADHD. I then took on the role of designer for Wobbegong Games.”

Henco:
“I’m a queer/non-binary developer with Borderline Personality Disorder that emigrated from South Africa to Australia in 2004 and I’ve been stuck in Sydney ever since. I am an intersectional feminist with anarchist leanings and somehow Luke managed to convince me to make shark games for the foreseeable future.”

“Luke and I met at AIE in 2015 where we were doing the same programming course, and we have been making / thinking about games together ever since.”

“We are a part of AIE’s incubator program that focuses on helping indie startups, uh, start up. I’m still kinda surprised we managed to convince them to fund a game about anti-fascist sharks fighting nazi dolphins.”

“I’m the programmer at Wobbegong Games.”

Can you tell me a bit about  Shark ’em up?

“Shark ‘em Up (working title) is an accessibility focused absurdist top down action adventure game, with freedom loving sharks rising up against fascist dolphins.”

“Playing as a wobbegong blessed with strength by the Revolutionary Gods of Rowdiness, players will riot and smash their way through a post-apocalyptic regime controlled by dolphins (and other toothed whales) who have mercilessly taken over the world’s oceans.”

“We are currently developing for PC, but we are intending to release on Mac and Linux as well. We’d love to get onto other platforms like Nintendo Switch, but no promises – dev kits are expensive.”

“P.S. – We thought Shark ‘em Up (beat ‘em up/shoot ‘em up pun) was a great name but nobody agrees with us, so we’re also open to name suggestions.”

(Authors note: I think it’s a excellent name)

What were your goals for Shark ‘Em Up?

“Our goal with Shark ‘Em Up to make a fun, funny and cathartic action game that is accessible to as many people as we can manage. We also feel very strongly about the message of our game, which is that Nazis (and other hate groups) are terrible and deserve to have their things smashed by sharks.”

“We have a strong focus on accessibility. While we are somewhat limited in what we can do due to budget and engine restrictions, we are trying to do everything we can to make sure that players with all kinds of physical and neurological needs can play.”

“We are very interested to hear from anybody that would like to talk about accessibility, and if you have any accessibility requirements we’d love to hear from you and try to make sure that we can accomodate your needs.”

“Some of the accessibility options we we have already implemented include:”

  • UI scaling
  • Subtitle support (including options for size and colour)
  • UI colour picker for every aspect of the UI
  • Custom font loading
  • Ability to use keyboard and mouse + a controller at the same time

“Many more accessibility options are planned or in the process of being implemented, such as controller rebinding and screen reader support.”

What would you like to see more of in the industry?

“We would really like to see more disability awareness and acceptance. Disabled people are severely underrepresented in all professions, but our profession is special in that we can create art that can be accessible to disabled people. It’s heartbreaking to see larger developers devaluing disabled gamers by refusing to scope even basic accessibility features like subtitles into their games.”

“We would also like to see more support for gender non-conforming people who can not be squeezed into the label ‘Women in games.’ Non-binary people, trans men and masc presenting gender diverse people feel unwelcome at most ‘gender inclusivity’ events, and fear hostile reactions if they attend.”

You can find more of Shark ‘em Up and Wobbegong Games at @wobbegonggames and at the Wobbegong Games Website. Learn that you should ignore Luke at @wonkyskeleton, and send your complaints to Henco at @faldenrath.

David Moore:

“I’m David Moore, I’m a queer non-binary game designer from Melbourne. Currently working on tabletop RPGs and board games. I’m non-binary, and use they/them. I’m probably closest to agender, but I don’t have much interest in trying to be more specific.”

What are you working on right now?

“I’m working on Proficiency, and tabletop roleplaying game with a focus on characters searching for things which challenge them, and trying to overcome. And it’s got unique takes on hit points, initiative, and special abilities.”

“No art yet! I’m just starting to reach out to artists.”

What are your goals for Proficiency?

“I wanted an RPG that I could easily hack to tell the stories I want to tell, and couldn’t find anything that did it in the way I was looking for.”

“I also wanted to experiment with how the physical components of an RPG change the way players interact with the game. There’s more tokens, cards, trackers, and paperclips floating around than in most RPGs.”

What would you like to see more of in the industry?

“The number of visible queer and gender diverse folks has helped a lot with me being comfortable.”

“As far as gender stuff goes, I’ve found the local scene to be very inviting. The number of visible queer and gender diverse folks has helped a lot with me being comfortable.”

“Separately from that, while many events pitch themselves as being for all kinds of games, they’re often geared heavily towards digital games, at the expense of physical ones. I’d like to see more support for physical games at events which want to be about all games.”

You can find more about David on their Twitter, and Proficiency is on Twitter too!

 

Sandra Molina:

“I’m Sandra Molina, a Spanish 22 years old artist best known for working as a colorist for companies like Blizzard and DC Comics for 5 years. In June 2017, my wrist got injured from overworking, and it never healed properly, rendering me incapable to take on big gigs anymore. That’s when I started my own project, The Hayseed Knight!”

“I ask people to just call me Sandra, but I don’t mind when people use any pronoun at all. The way I see it, I am me and nothing they use to refer to me will change that :)”

Can you tell me a bit more about the Hayseed Knight?

“I’ve just released the second chapter to The Hayseed Knight! The story of the great Knight of the Upperfield! The bravest! The most handsome! The… yeah no.”

“Fully voice acted adorkable characters in an immersive world with a vast lore!”

“In this story, you play as the narrator, a character hellbent on telling everyone the truth about Ader, and how he clumsily stumbled his way to fame. Fully voice acted adorkable characters in an immersive world with a vast lore! Gorgeous, animated art! Snide remarks! Exclamation marks!”

“Ideally, I would love to make a living off this game, but at the end of the day I just want to share the story. I also want to help voice actors get the recognition they deserve.”

What would you like to see more of in the industry?

“I would like to see more platforms that reached out to starting devs, honestly. Many new people feel nervous at the prospect of contacting other game devs since they don’t feel they’re far enough in their careers to do so.”

You can download the Hayseed Knight for free on itch.io, and you can follow Sandra on her Twitter!

 

Zahra Pending:

Zahra is 23 years old and born in Scotland. Raised in Papua New Guinea and Australia, they moved to Brisbane to study game design. They graduated last year, and formed Owl Sanctuary Studios with some friends.

Their official role in the studio is as a 2D artist and social media manager,  but takes on whatever needs to be done. They identify as agender, using they/them pronouns.

What are you working on right now?

“Currently I’m working on two projects. Arty Swirly Colourful is the biggest one, it is a narrative experience that explores the protagonist’s relationship with themselves and their mental illness, with the people around them, and with the environment.”

“Our second project isn’t ready to be revealed, but it is a little bit silly, a little bit nerdy, and a whole lot of heart.”

What were your goals for Arty Swirly Colourful?

“Initially Arty Swirly Colourful started as an experimental project for GingerDr7. He had created it for a university project to create a world that the player could relax in. Since then he wrangled a few of us into turning it into a full game, with characters and a story.”

“So, I suppose it started as exploring a person’s relationship with the environment, to becoming an exploration of the player’s relationship with everything, including themselves. We wanted to explore mental illness, people’s reactions to it (including the player), and eventually recovery.”

“It’s an issue close to us, and especially myself.”

“…a more diverse community coming together to share and reflect on their stories, compiling them together, and learning from each other.”

What do you want to see more of in the industry?

“In the industry I would like to see more stories. I would like to see a more diverse community coming together to share and reflect on their stories, compiling them together, and learning from each other.”

You can find more on Zahra on Twitter for personal thoughts, and Facebook for art.

For Owl Sanctuary Studios, they have a Facebook, Twitter, and Patreon!

Melissa Geels:

“I’m Melissa Geels, a trans girl programmer from the Netherlands, 24yo. I started programming when I was about 10 years old, when my dad gave me a computer, a keyboard, and a bunch of code to modify.”

“Ever since, I’ve always loved seeing how games work, and the impact they can have on people, including myself. To entertain in rough times, to make me feel things in touching stories, or to just spend time with my friends.”

“I’ve started identifying as a girl 6 years ago, but only came out as a trans girl publicly last year. I still have a lot of things to work up to, but I’m getting there!”

What are you currently working on?

“Currently working at Crackshell on Heroes of Hammerwatch! It’s a roguelite game set in the world of Hammerwatch, a pixel art style hack and slash adventure game. You level up a group of customizable heroes and upgrade your town to get stronger and make it to the top of the tower.”

“Personally for me, Heroes of Hammerwatch is the first game I helped ship that I worked on from start to finish, so this game for me is a pretty big milestone!”

“One thing I’d personally love to see more is the casual workflow of indie studios. I’m sure this is already common for other indie devs, but for someone who’s worked at a strict web-development firm in the past, it’s a very nice change of pace.”

You can find more about Melissa on her Twitter or her blog. Learn more about Real Crackshell on Twitter, or at its offical site. You can find Heroes of Hammerwatch on Steam!

 

Raven Mulvany:

Raven Mulvany is a final year games design student in England.  She got into games because they helped her get through her own difficult experiences growing up. She wants to make games that can do the same for kids in the future. Raven is a trans woman and goes by she/her pronouns.

What have you been working on?

“I made a short autobiographical VR game for HTC Vive about a day in my life as a trans woman. It’s a bit rough and cliche, but it’s also honest and based on experiences I’ve actually had.”

You can watch a playthrough below if you don’t have a Vive.

What was your goal for making this game?

“I made this game during a difficult time where I couldn’t really leave the house presenting as female without being harassed, and sometimes attacked.”

“I made this game for a university project, but I also wanted to accomplish two things. I wanted to make a game that could help cis people better understand the harassment that many trans/non-binary people go through every day.”

“While I also wanted to help other trans/non-binary people know that they’re not alone. I made this game during a difficult time where I couldn’t really leave the house presenting as female without being harassed, and sometimes attacked.”

“I don’t think a lot of cis people understand that situation. Even if only a few people end up playing this game, I at least take solace that this is an issue I’ve now brought up to my university with an interactive aid. I’m hoping this will make conditions safer at my university.”

What would you like to see more of in the industry?

“Safer more stable working environments. My girlfriend was treated horribly at her previous industry job. She essentially had to run a small company herself working from 9 until midnight with no overtime pay.”

“The unionization talk coming out of GDC gives me hope for better workers’ rights in the future.”

You can follow Raven on Twitter and check out Transition Level on her Itch.io.

 

Spiral Atlas:

“I’m a solo dev from Perth Western Australia. I’ve been making little games since I was a kid, but I got into game dev more seriously when I had to quit my job due to chronic illness. It doesn’t to much to pay the bills but it’s been really rewarding. I make the kinds of games I want to play but can’t find: for example dating sims where you and your love interest can be non binary, science fiction set in Perth, and games with wheelchair using main characters.”

“I’m genderfluid. I’m also bi, asexual, mentally ill, and physically disabled.”

What are you working on?

“I’m working on a queer dating sim version of Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey, and currently have a demo up with two completed routes. I’m also working on a queer farming sim in space called Paraspora, but that’s not as far along.”

What are/were your goals for this game?

“To expand and diversify the world of the story without contradicting it or losing the humour and subtlety, so that the original plot just feels like one strand of a tapestry of possibilities. Also, to steal all of Austen’s best jokes ;)”

“…more body diversity in general, not just fat characters but a variety of body types and features, as well as wheelchair users and other kinds of visible disabilities.”

What would you like to see more of in the industry?

“Less rigid gender! More non binary characters and binary trans characters, and less of everyone dividing neatly into two very distinct Male and Female boxes.”

“Also more body diversity in general, not just fat characters but a variety of body types and features, as well as wheelchair users and other kinds of visible disabilities.”

“Invisible disabilities need better representation too, including mental illness, but I am specifically annoyed at how lazy most character design is visually, even for games that are trying to be diverse.”

You can find all of Spiral Atlas’s games and demos on their itch.io , and  you can follow them on Twitter and Tumblr.

 

Sasha Reneau:

Tell me a bit about yourself and what you’re working on?

“I’m Sasha! I’m non-binary(they/them) and gay as the day is long.”

“I’m working on a tarot-inspired storytelling card game where you use the cards as anchors to weave together a story with your friends.”

“My goal with this game is to offer a new method for telling stories, and maybe demystify the process a little by breaking it down to its bones and component parts.”

What would you like to see more of in the games industry? 

“I’d like to see more games with character creation that unhinges gender from voice, body type, facial hair, makeup, clothing–basically, a better understanding of identity vs presentation.”

You can follow the game’s development on Twitter @, and follow Sasha on Twitter.

 

Vee Pendergrast:

Vee co-founded Stirfire Studios in 2010 while working in tech business development.  Vee has been instrumental in raising over $1,000,000 in seed capital allowing the business to make the AGDA-finalist placing game Symphony of the Machine and attempt to IPO, initially in 2017 and intending on opening another offer in 2018.

Vee has accumulated 16 years of business development experience and now spends most of her time working in financing and managing her studio. She identifies as a trans woman.

What are you currently working on?

“The studio I have the privilege of being CEO of is currently working on a licensed IP and we have not announced that project yet, so I can’t share at this time. I am also going to have another run at IPOing this year, so if others are looking to invest, there is always a conversation to be had.”

What  would you like to see more of in the industry?

“The game industry can be such an inclusive place when it wants to be. Of course, I want to see that grow and continue until we don’t talk about it any more.  That is simply that it is no longer an issue. I understand this is an ambitious goal, particularly as women are still a minority in general, but I have seen companies taking a very active role in changing this for our industry.”

You can find Vee on Twitter on her account, and her companies account.

 

Eleanor McMurtry And Gabriel Morgan:

Tell me about yourselves.

Eleanor:
“I’m a mathematical physics student, but game dev is one of my true loves. I taught myself to program when I was ten years old because I wanted to make videogames.”

“It turns out making videogames is hard, but I did learn to program! Discovering my sexuality and gender identity was much harder, and it’s an ongoing process. I learn every day, both about how to make videogames, and about myself.”

“I am a genderfluid, agender girl. This means that I *loosely* classify myself as female and like people using “she” pronouns, but some days I feel like I don’t want to be attached to any particular gender in any way. That’s what agender means to me, and on those days I prefer people to use “they” pronouns to describe me. My sexuality is a bit of a mess, but loosely I’m bisexual and grey ace, with a preference for femininity. I’m also demiromantic.”

Gabriel:
“I’ve been working as an illustrator since 2005, I fell into gamedev in 2014, and I also work in IT support. My work-in-progress degree is a bachelor of computer science minoring in biomedical science and I’m going to major in cybersecurity!”

“I wanted to be a cardiothoracic surgeon straight out of highschool but ironically my many chronic illnesses and garbage doctors ruined that for me, so I explore my fascination with guts and science through macabre art, game development, and sci-fi worldbuilding.”

“I am an aromantic grey-asexual demiboy and when I do experience sexual attraction, I’d classify it as pansexual. Most of my identity is straightforward, but the aromantic component is complicated.I’m averted to special treatment and find the concept of romance suffocating.  My pronouns are they/them.”

What are you working on at  the moment? 

Eleanor:
“We made a game called Cowterpult! It’s a game for two players about competitively spreading disease by slingshotting cows at unsuspecting towns.”

Gabriel:
“The above, plus Hyaline; a symbiotic survival game set on an alien planet- your goal is to survive by learning about the world around you. On one condition: you help the world survive, too.”

What were you hoping to get out of Cowterpult?

Eleanor:
“My goal was just to make a somewhat-polished game! It was made for Global Game Jam, so I didn’t set my expectations super high. But what we came up with absolutely smashed what I thought we could do!”

Gabriel:
“To do something outside of my usual comfort zone, artistically. Bright colours and lighthearted themes isn’t what I normally do, but it worked with the added macabre elements. I still laugh at how impressed they were at how quickly I painted the blood stains!”

What would you both like to see more of in the games industry? 

“It takes a very small amount of effort to make sure a wide range of people can enjoy your game.”

Eleanor:
“I would like to see the game development industry being gentler to everybody, particularly trans and non-binary people. It takes a very small amount of effort to make sure a wide range of people can enjoy your game. Also, many efforts to improve gender diversity are focused around women – I would really like to see these initiatives *explicitly* including non-binary people, not just as an afterthought or a footnote.”

Gabriel:
“Very much agree with Eleanor on the above points. I’d also like to see more proactive methods of dealing with abusive industry leaders. We rely a lot on each other being our local game dev community is small, and this creates a whole lot of problems- the power imbalance limits our whisper networks, for one. Having them be told to leave us alone by those they’ll listen to sometimes works in individual cases, but it also doesn’t treat the problem.”

“One way to better this: if you’re privileged, fund games by marginalized people; boost us; and not just white able bodied women. Fund and boost games by marginalized people especially if you feel like it isn’t made for you. If you only choose things you like, you’re not advocating for diversity — you’re advocating for the diversity you find acceptable, and you’re probably biased about that.”

You can find Cowterpult on Itch.io, and you can find Eleanor on Twitter. You can find Gabriel on Twitter as well, their offical website, and the Patreon for Hyaline.

Honourable mentions:

With such a huge response, I couldn’t say no to more of my community wanting to be represented. What you see here is more of a database of games and developers you should check out. In no particular order!

That’s it for now! Now go out and play some great games by amazing gender diverse creators.