Interview: Tanya DePass, creator of #INeedDiverseGames

“I want to put myself out of business because there will be no need to ask for diversity one day; it will just happen”

Tanya DePass is a gamer, fangirl, fan-ficcer and a strong advocate for the improvement of diversity in videogames. Since Tanya created the #INeedDiverseGames hashtag on Twitter over a year ago, the movement has taken off and has also gained a dedicated Tumblr. Tanya has appeared at many conventions (she’s currently at IndieCade), appeared on podcasts, written for publications, and even runs her own podcast (which we love) called Fresh Out of Tokens, driven by her passion for videogames and her desire to see greater diversity of representation in them.We’ve all had enough of the scruffy white dude domination, I think it’s safe to say.

We were very excited to get to ask her a few questions, and here are her answers.

Hi Tanya! Please introduce yourself – how did you get into gaming?

Hi y’all :) I got into gaming with arcade machines, NES, SNES, ColecoVision games early on. I was more of an arcade gamer since we didn’t have consoles in the house but I’d play with friends and coveted a console for a while until I could afford my own. I really miss that experience of going in, dropping a couple quarters and spending the day with Killer Instinct, Street Fighter, Excite Bike and other games. I was hooked early!

For anyone who’s managed to miss the #INeedDiverseGames phenomenon over the past year, can you tell us how it came about?

Goodness, well it started with this tweet:

literally and I had a few more thoughts on it because I was tired; the whole Ubisoft can’t animate women thing was making the rounds again, and yet another omg scruffy white dude protag game was going to hit the market so I had thoughts and feelings on it. My friend Karnythia (Mikki Kendall) was retweeting and well when your friend with almost 40K followers retweets you, it gets seen and the trend kicked off.

In fact she tweeted this:

She then called me at work to tell me to get ALL THE BLOCK BOTS. Once it began trending, of course unsavory elements dropped in to visit the tag. Luckily people who cared about games and diversity stepped up and it got stronger. We built a community from this swell of support and now we’re going to IndieCade and just got approved to be part of the GDC 2016 Scholarship program. So things have gone so well in the last year.

What do you think of the current state of diversity in games? Are there any games or people in the industry that you feel are playing a particularly active part in bringing diversity to games?

Not where it could be, it’s getting better but at a crawl. I feel like the industry is taking baby steps to get there. People are finally noticing, but it took a lot of work to get that sliver of recognition that things are not on a level playing field. It needs to be better, it has to be.

I want to put myself out of business because there will be no need to ask for diversity one day; it will just happen. For all that I love and critique Bioware, they are doing some things quite well, like more diversity in Dragon Age Inquisition, but the portrayals of some of the POC characters needed work. They get credit for taking fan feedback and working with it, though. Great LGBTQIA work, not so great on race, yet.

Ubisoft has gained back some approval with the upcoming Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. Having Evie Frye as a lead as well as the Freedom Cry DLC for AC: Black Flag with a black protagonist has done that. Mafia III with a black male lead set in NOLA in the 60’s! Yes, please. Also have to give a bit of love to Whit Trebella for Piloteer, a game where you are piloting a jetpack. It’s hilarious, challenging and so much fun as the load screen throws shade when you fail. Whit is a Chicago dev who made his character a black woman intentionally and is unapologetic for it.

Since #INeedDiverseGames has taken off, how has your life changed?

It’s become so, so busy. To the point of burnout on some days. But it’s brought so, so many great things to my life. Friendships with people who are just as passionate and more about games diversity, opportunities to write for publications like Offworld, Paste, and ReMeshed. But it’s not all wine and roses. There’s a risk at becoming more known and that means the harassment ramps up, you can’t just say what you please on Twitter anymore without someone running wild with it or rando’ing into a conversation. I was being flip when I was on the Unconsoleable podcast and I said “I could say I dislike Cheerios and people would argue with me.” Sadly it’s probably true, and I’d have twenty people telling me why I was wrong for not liking them and trying to convince me to eat them.

Earlier when I mentioned having to get all the block bots, I meant it. I’m blocking over 100,000 people on Twitter because of my own list, GG AutoBlocker [a service that automatically blocks accounts associated with GamerGate] and subscribing to others lists. So there’s ups and downs to being visible, right now the ups far outweigh the downs but it’s something always on my mind.

Any calls for positive change in the gaming industry seem to inevitably meet resistance. What kinds of negativity have you encountered? Where do you think it comes from?

At first it was the usual things, dropping porn into the tag, constantly saying INDG had “lost” some kind of battle that was one-sided and I didn’t agree to? Then a bunch of people flooding the tag with memes – it was tiresome. Then came the few Tumblr trolls. Mostly it’s just people who have to have their say and get incredibly angry when you don’t give them the time they think they are entitled to.

As for where it comes from, my theory on it is that this sense of entitlement is the result of people who have never had their place in the world questioned. I call it gamer manifest destiny, ie you have been told this is yours, it will always be yours and no one else should have it. On the flip side, some of the people who are so up in arms against diversity seem to be of the era where being a nerd or geek or gamer was looked down on socially. The stereotype of the slovenly nerd dude who lives in mum’s basement got traction, and people still use that trope when talking about gamers. As long as that fallacious idea of who is a gamer is is around, we won’t get people to see that gaming is for everyone, always has been and will be.Why people seem to carry on the fallacy that women, POC and LGBTQIA folks don’t belong in gaming or don’t fit their definition of what it means to be a gamer and be one of the “tribe” mystifies me but it’s a pervasive, nasty thing that seems to be going away – slowly. There’s also the undying fallacy of the Fake Geek/Gamer Girl. As if any woman is going to spend hundreds of dollars, or even thousands on a hobby just to get the interest of some guy. That idea really, really needs to be staked, burned and buried. We also need to kill the division between PC gamers vs Console Gamers vs Mobile gamers. There is no division, if you play games, you are a gamer, full stop! (if you wish to be identified as one, since the term has become so toxic for people).

What are some of the most encouraging reactions to #INeedDiverseGames you’ve seen?

The outpouring of love for the work we do. Seeing people in #INeedDiverseGames shirts is so gratifying and humbling. The acceptance to the #GamingForEveryone Pavilion at IndieCade this year and being accepted to the GDC Scholarship program so we can help people get to industry events has been amazing. People are reaching out both in videogames and tabletop to do better, they want this to succeed, to see the actual world reflected in our pixelated ones. It’s been so wonderful and just, I’m tearing up a bit writing all this out actually. But it’s all been so wonderful, and in just over a year!

As you know, we love your podcast Fresh Out of Tokens. What are the best and worst bits of running a podcast?

Best is getting to talk to such amazing people! We’ve had great guests already and so many more are scheduled in the near future. It’s gratifying to see and hear the work we do (David L Reeves is my producer!) have an impact on people. Seeing such sweet things said about the show and having a community is so beautiful. The worst part? Not much, just carving out time for show prep, making the notes and being sure everything works! Tech fail is probably the worst bit of it.

Between your own podcast, being on the Chromatic Life Podcast, writing, making appearances at events, and streaming games it seems safe to say you’re very busy. How do you balance everything? What do you like to do in your spare time?

Hahaha spare time, I used to know what that was. Seriously though, I love to game, I stream when I can and I write fanfiction with two of my dearest friends. It’s a great creative outlet for me, and I get to play in the sandbox of games I adore. I also enjoy roaming about my neighborhood to my local comic shop, Alleycat Comics or to get a drink with friends in the area.

What are you most excited about at the moment? (In terms of your career, technology, gaming, the future – whatever’s got you fired up)

My day job career is tanking for me a bit to be honest. I’m trying to find something in the games industry, ideally a community manager position or hopefully a full time gig writing about games. As for the future, really excited about this opportunity to help people get to GDC next year, getting my hands on Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate so I can meet Evie Frye, playing Kiro’o Studios Aurion Legend of the Kori-Odan! Also Dishonored 2. Oh and I just found this great webseries by Fusion called Girl Gamers!

If you could give your younger self some advice, what would you say?

Sleep more, love yourself more, don’t date the one guy from high school, play even more games and learn to code early. Write more, write for you and do what you need to be happy.

If you want to hear more from Tanya you can follow her on Twitter @cypheroftyr or check out her podcast Fresh Out of Tokens

Images: Tanya DePass