Welcome to Meet the Devs where we will interview and focus on developers who are women or nonbinary. It was found a recent study that women’s code is preferred over men’s, unless the selector knows a woman made it. This may not shock you as the tech industry is greatly dominated by men and by sexism. Stack Overflow’s 2015 Developer Survey found that only 5.8% of programmers identified as female, and only 0.5% identified as “other” (with 1.7% choosing to not disclose). Women and nonbinary individuals do exist, and visibility is important.
Today we’ll hear from Alayna Cole whose interest and expertise stretch across the gaming industry. The featured image is from her game Fairy Tale, one of several games she’s developed. She is the creator of the database Queerly Represent Me, which “aims to feature an exhaustive and ever-growing list” of unique representation of gender, sexuality, and relationships in games. You can catch her on her personal Twitter and Queerly Represent Me’s Twitter.
Do you work for a company, for yourself, for many? Tell me about the places you do work?
As a game developer, I work for myself or alongside others who also work for themselves. I teach design subjects about Serious Games at the University of the Sunshine Coast, so most of my game development is about keeping my skills and understanding fresh or working with colleagues on our shared ideas and projects. This affords me a wonderful amount of freedom about what I am able to design and work on.
I also work as a games journalist and have been published all over, including at PC & Tech Authority, Impulse Gamer, FemHype, and PlayWrite, just to name a few. Each area of the game industry that I am involved with seems to feed into the others and make me more productive, so I love working in as many areas and with as many people as possible.
What was the first game you ever played? How old were you?
I have been playing games for as long as I can remember. My parents played board games with me a lot when I was little, and there were educational games on our family computer (like the Crayola game that was stored on several floppy disks). I used to watch my dad play video games, like Age of Empires and Might and Magic, and my parents also had a big, brick-like Nintendo Gameboy on which I learnt to play Tetris. Games have been a part of my life forever.
What other aspect(s) of your life most inform the way you make games?
I am lucky to be involved in the games industry in a number of ways—as a developer, a teacher, a journalist, and a researcher. Those different facets of involvement have allowed me to meet wonderful people and learn amazing things, all of which influences my game development. Most of my research is in the representation of sexuality and gender, so that pursuit inspires a lot of my game development, and I always ensure that my games are full of diversity. My passion for diversity is what inspired me to create the database QueerlyRepresent.Me, which showcases games that represent sexuality, gender, and relationships in interesting ways.
How did you learn to be a developer?
My game development started from writing. I have always been a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and while studying creative writing as part of my undergraduate degree, I started to experiment with interactive fiction, as well as game engines like RPG Maker. I decided to take my game development further when my work as a games journalist began connecting me with some inspiring game developers and studios and when I became involved in the Bachelor of Serious Games program at USC. As my environment became more saturated with game development, I found it difficult to resist becoming more involved in the industry.
Any advice for baby devs trying to find their way?
Firstly, make games. The more you practice making games, the better you’re going to get at it. One of the best ways to do this is to participate in game jams; they’re a great opportunity to meet interesting people, to experience a busy developer environment, and to seek feedback from mentors. You’re not going to make your best work at a game jam, but you may make a little portfolio piece or find a fantastic idea that you can continue to develop after the jam is over.
Secondly, network. The environment that you’re a part of makes a huge difference, so surrounding yourself with other developers and creative people will inspire you. There are some really hard workers in the game industry, so having them nearby and listening to them discuss their projects can help you feel motivated. You can also learn important skills from other folks involved in the games industry, and knowing a little bit about everything is a good idea when you want to be a developer. For instance, I consider myself to be primarily a writer, but I know a little about game art and programming, because such skills allow me to develop solo titles if I want to and ensure my ideas are feasible when I am working with others. If I knew nothing about programming, I might come up with ideas that are unrealistic or unable to be made, which slows everything down and might frustrate the programmers working on projects with me.
What’s your dream project?
I don’t really have a “dream” project, because my unique position allows me to develop whatever games I like around my teaching commitments. I am currently working on a couple of amazing projects, such as a game with a functioning “character ecology” called theystory (Devblog) and a sci-fi adventure about identity and trust called Constellations (Devblog).
What are you playing right now?
I have a few little indie titles on the go that I picked up in the most recent Steam sale, but mostly I am playing Dragon Age: Inquisition in my relaxation time at the moment. I didn’t really get the chance when it first came out, but I recently bought it on PS4, and I’m really enjoying it. It has so much queer representation, which is basically the fastest way to my heart.
Queer representation is one of the only ways to my heart. Do you have a favorite gaming snack or chair or fuzzy slipper combo?
I am partial to chips and dip or some milk chocolate. Perhaps with a pear cider or a nice glass of wine.