Fed up with the homogenous, default characters we are forced to play with, Tanya Depass took to Twitter and voiced her frustration. Her followers amplified her voice, creating a torrent of retweets, likes and ultimately virality. This one sporadic tweet reverberated through our collective digital consciousness, and tapped into a shared anger to catalyze a movement, #INeedDiverseGames. As the momentum cleared, uncertainty hung in the air as Tanya was deciding between dedicating more time to #INeedDiverse and her full-time job at IIT, but ultimately that decision was made for her.
“I was let go from my job. I had to fight for unemployment from IIT. I had not planned to be out of a job ten days before Christmas. As unemployment dwindled, Patreon and speaking gigs picked up. I was like, you know what? I’m just gonna go do the thing. I’m 41, fuck it. This is where we are. And I’ll give it a year. And if any year it’s not viable and I can’t keep a roof over my head or I’m struggling too much, then I’ll just go back on the job market.”
Her foray into the industry was met with resistance at every step. Ever since tweeting and starting her foundation, Tanya’s been subjected to stalking by a particular twitch streamer. He’s created a pattern of well-documented stalking, harassment and overall creepy behavior. But Twitch has shown no compassion or interest in helping Tanya. Repeated attempts to report this particular user have been met with inaction by the company, despite their serious and potentially life threatening nature. At one point, she nearly quit streaming altogether.
“If not for the community, if not for the people that stick around and have been around and were like, you know, I would miss you if you stopped screaming, if you stopped doing this work, but you do what’s best for you. Those are the people that make it or break it for you.”
Since she’s started, Tanya’s built an impressive literary canon on gaming, race, and the intersection between the two. She’s written about racial biases in film & artificial intelligence, streaming as a person of color, various gaming guidebooks, and is co-developing immersive RPG based on the Hugo Award winning Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. While addressing an issue as serious as race, Tanya’s able to keep her writing engaging as she taps into her vast pool of gaming, internet, and pop-culture history. Her Polygon piece on the nuances of racism in Watch Dogs 2 takes you on a road down American history, providing modern parallels for the microaggressions in corporate environments, but keeps it entertaining as she provides some commentary on her stream for one of the game’s scenes that does not shy away from race & racism in silicon valley. Even if you don’t know anything about gaming, you can appreciate the wit, humor, and storytelling Tanya shows in her work.
For your own edification, you can also watch her speeches, workshops, panels, and lectures she’s provided for the gaming community. If you’re a Twitch broadcaster of color, or a newer streamer, then you’d be remiss to pass on the trove of content she’s provided (for free) that will help you navigate the realms of the industry, social media, and communities that you’ll traverse through. The work of Tanya is a curriculum in itself, and exploring through it all will leave you better off.
When she’s not writing for a major gaming publication, speaking at the world-renowned Victoria & Albert Museum, or streaming on her channel, Tanya’s often playing Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) with the other cast members of Rivals of Waterdeep. Every Sunday the crew gets together to livestream themselves playing, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company on the D&D official Twitch channel. In the past, D&D’s exclusivity to mostly white males lead to a slow decline as women and minorities never got a visible seat at the table. It’s not until recently that we’ve had people like Tanya, Krystina Arielle, B. Dave Walters, Erika Ishii, Elwarius, Eugenio Vargas, and others to thank for building inclusive spaces. Despite progress made, there’s still a long way to go.
“Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings and a lot people hold him up as one of the seminal writers of fantasy and a lot of his tropes, a lot of the creatures he’s created, like orcs are, are stand-ins for black people. A lot of the non-human creatures in fantasy overall, not just D&D, have traits and attributes that we would ascribe to people of color, specifically black people. In games like Guild Wars 2, a lot of the non-human creatures could have afros and braids, but your human character could not see things like that. These white men have written this and it is the end all, be all of everything. They will hold this up as part and parcel as the gospel of fantasy. But if my paladin is brown, she’s dark skinned, she’s older. She’s not a size two. They go you can’t do that. And I’m like, but, but fantasy. Why are we like this?”
Speaker, writer, ne’er dowell, and diversity advocate. Tanya’s work has helped propel the industry forward, moving us beyond the beige defaults. She works as a Diversity Liaison for GaymerX to ensure that more marginalized folks are represented in panels and programming, servers as a program coordinator for OrcaCon to help create more safe spaces for folks in gaming, and has served as a diversity consultant to stellar games such as Far Cry, Industries of Titan, and John Wick Hex.
The work of Tanya & #INeedDiverse Games is thankless, but you can show your appreciation by supporting her mission of building a more equitable gaming future by becoming a patron or buying her a cup of ko-fi, or subscribing at her twitch channel.