At PAX Australia 2017, I was excited to see a show floor full of developers who are passionate about representation and diversity, which is reflected in the ways they talk about their games and teams.
I recently spoke with Rhiannon Poley of Mighty Games, Nick Hagger of Robot Circus, and Ella Lowgren of Elston Studios about the games they were showing at PAX Australia this year, and the people they work with.
Rhiannon Poley, marketing manager for Mighty Games, discussed the Rainbow Riders from their September update of Shooty Skies. In particular, she was proud of the in-game pop-up that was introduced during this update as a way of supporting marriage equality. "Putting in that pop-up so people can share, and showing our support, and letting other people show their support as well… it was one way that we could kind of campaign on behalf of our team."
And the campaigning didn’t stop in-game. "We ended up putting this massive 'Vote Yes' on top of our building," Rhiannon said. "Our office looks out onto this massive big road… and many of our team was just super touched by that, super proud, shared it away. And it’s that’s the least we could do… but you know, we just wanted to do more."
The marriage equality postal vote was also mentioned during my chat with Nick Hagger, co-founder of Robot Circus. When mentioning the vote, he said, "People can be so petty and small-minded." He incorporated diversity into Ticket to Earth - particularly the same-gender relationship between Rose and Xen - because he thinks of Rose as a "citizen of the future, where a lot of these polarising segments of society have just come together and it’s just no longer an issue … It is about this character just loving someone, and that should be enough, right?"
The main character of Ella Lowgren’s game, Firstborn, also lives in a society where her queerness isn’t questioned. Ella revealed a little about The Guardian’s background: "She is pansexual. She comes from … a line of warrior paladins, and only women are allowed in their order. Because they grow up surrounded by other ladies, there’s no shame in anything that they do or anything that they experience."
These unapologetic queer characters are coming from studios who are equally confident. It was awesome to hear loud, unwavering support for minority groups during these interviews.
When discussing the Rainbow Riders update, and why it was important, Rhiannon said, "Everyone has someone that is affected and it was like, alright, let’s take a stand. We’ve been political before, like for Black Friday, and we’re not shy… It was like, a no-brainer… When we decide to make something for the next release, usually it’s a big discussion, but this was just, like, unanimous. Alright, we’re doing this."
Nick felt similarly about the diversity in Ticket to Earth. Although his team were asking "Well, what if it backfires and people don’t like the character, and we’re kind of pilloried on Twitter?" Nick was confident in his response: "Well, I personally am prepared to weather that storm."
Although Mighty Games did receive some of the typical "Why would you put politics in this?" comments, Rhiannon said they received far more positive responses than negative. And Nick received no negative pushback at all. Could this be a sign that times are changing?
Nick hopes so. "You look around here and you see a huge number of Australian, independent developers really starting to emerge on this scene and I’m hoping that we’re adding a voice that is changing developers’ confidence levels to go, 'Hey, maybe as independents we can think a little bit outside the box and start to recognise the diversity of the people who support us directly at PAX'," he said. "Sometimes it’s good to be brave, right? And bravery inspires other people. And I think to me… that’s the best thing."
You can read more of these interviews - and about diversity at PAX Australia 2017 - at Queerly Represent Me.