Game Devs & Others is a collection of essays by game industry veterans who are marginalized in some way. They are black, Asian, Hispanic, queer, disabled, trans, past 40, the works. Collected by Tanya DePass of the nonprofit I Need Diverse Games, the stories range from positive accounts of great work environments to awkward moments of confrontation to horror stories that contributed to the essayist leaving the game industry. As the dedication says, the narratives "are for everyone who wants to enter this world with the hope of more people like them, both on screen and behind the scenes." In other words, going in to this book, I knew it was not intended for me.
Why should I be cool with that? Lots of reasons.
First, it's a small taste of what marginalized people go through in my chosen industry. Day in and day out they've had to consume content that doesn't put them front and center. Anyone feeling under-served can read Kadeem Dunn's "The Prevailing Need to Push for Protagonists of Color" which breaks down comparative statistics about how rare it is to find a protagonist that looks like (let alone has lived a life like) the player.
Second, even people who consider themselves allies could learn a thing or two here. Shana Bryant's "Distraction and Reaction" talk recounts how her company sensitivity training encouraged people not to call each other out in public when they heard offensive comments, hardly a welcoming atmosphere for all.
Third, for those who say the playing field is already level, Jonathan Jennings details in his "Black Unicorn" essay that he sent out more than 300 resumes before he landed his first game job -- I was sweating bullets back when 12 of mine didn't land me anything.
And last, by reading, I discovered new games and new paradigms. I didn't know Twine was used so extensively by marginalized audiences (I'd heard of Depression Quest, but not the many LGBTQIA stories that flourish in a platform all about accessibility). I'd never heard of a body horror game with eating disorders as its subtext (Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before, hat tip to Kaitlin Tremblay). Now I totally want to check it out, along with many indie games like it. And then there's this factoid: in the United States, Latino and Black children have been shown to play video games at the highest rates. I've been in the industry 13 years, and I never heard that as a baseline for a design decision.
I suppose I could throw some criticism at Game Devs and Others, but there's a little voice in my head stopping me. It sounds something like this:
Me: Hey, I expected more essays from devs who've been in this industry for decades.
Voice: Don't you think that kinda makes a point all on its own?
Me: Umm, maybe this would be improved with more perspectives by legendary AAA game designers or-
Voice: Think real hard about why those might be difficult to find.
Me: Oh-kay, shutting up and reading now.
Though not every essay lights the world on fire, enough of them do for this book to be on the shelf of aspiring game designers or at least your game company's library. A sample of quotations:
"None of us survives alone, and we are alone if we are silenced," writes Kaitlin Tremblay.
Joshua Boykin quotes Cicero Holmes: "When someone says 'I don't like the fact that this game is getting political,' they mean 'I don't like the fact that this game is getting political for me.'"
JC Lau writes, "Paradoxically, I recognize that the more 'unicorns' there are in the game industry, the fewer 'unicorns' there actually will be. By normalizing what makes people 'other,' they're no longer othered."
Or there's Kat Jones: "Our games give us the strength and courage to see, to feel, to speak and to dare. And that is not a luxury, but a necessity."
This book wasn't intended for me. But if it reaches its audience, it may prompt more like it, and we may get games that ask people like me to live in some other person's skin for a while. As a role-playing gamer, I can hardly refuse, and to that, I say, bring it on.