Jade Stewart

We sat down with Jade, a game designer working with TeePee Studios.

QRM: Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do in the games industry?

Jade: I'm a 22-year old woman-in-progress from rural Victoria. I was training for the MMA cage until about 18 before arrhythmia shut down those dreams; I went to creative writing and history afterwards, but neither really satisfied me in the way the games industry does. As for what I do, game designer is a bit of a misnomer – I have some skills in a narrative designer, marketing analytics, and QA. She who wears many hats bears many responsibilities and all.

QRM: How long have you been involved in the game industry, and what projects have you worked on? What are you working on currently?

Jade: I'm a 28-month bubby in the games industry. Over that time, I've been involved in four collaborative projects in my tenure if I included schoolwork. Most of my stuff has been solo and in the tabletop area – TTRPGs that won't see the light of day, a skirmish-level wargame that's 19-months in development, some Twines I don't have time for any more. The life of a game-dev is one of too many projects and never enough time. While I can't say much on what I'm working on at TeePee Studios, it's awesome. The studio does have a release coming up in August [editor's note: this interview was prepared prior to August 2018], though I'm not part of that team.

QRM: What inspired you to get started in the games industry?

Jade: Giving back, if I'm honest. I prefer giving to receiving, sometimes in indirect ways, and I'd taken a little too much from the industry, I'd felt. See, games were a frequent solace when things were at trouble when I was growing up... a little too commonly, if I'm honest again. I was particularly inspired by the efforts of the community behind Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines that helped refurbish the game after Troika collapsed. Rami and JW from Vlambeer were huge inspirations during my course. Now... well, the list is a little too long to count.

QRM: In what ways do you feel your experiences as a queer person manifest in the games you work on, and influence the work you do?

Jade: My short time publicly out, if not living full-time, was a chance to see the world with fresh eyes. A lot of my games are about violence, suffering, conflict, the ramifications and implementations thereof... but ever since coming out and just being in the games industry as a queer person impregnated a sense of humanity that was missing because I never really had a proper grasp of it, I feel. Don't get me wrong, empathy was never a problem; it's just hard to get a sense of community when you're looking from the outside in instead of being a part of it.

QRM: Do you have a favourite queer character—in games or media more generally? If so, what is it about them that makes them your favourite?
Question asked by @kamienw.

Jade: In games? Hm... that's a tough one! I like to think Glitch and Medusa from the BattleTech PC game are here, but that's just head-canon. In terms of confirmed queer, TOMCAT from 2064: Read Only Memories is a standout. I am biased though, since they (and, by extension, the dev team) actually were the ones to give me some language regarding the queer community.

QRM: Have you ever encountered roadblocks in trying to include queer characters in games? What do you think is preventing greater diversity within games?
Question asked by @dustinalex91.

Jade: I work for a corporate machine first and foremost, so I have a chain of command to work under: board, chiefs, supervisors, then me. It's the way it is. There's really nothing stopping me from doing it in my personal projects though. An example, the faery faction in the skirmish game I mentioned above was themed around LGBTQ+, with rules seeing every constituent part relying on each other to win the board. One of the Twines I had to shelf was about a teen dealing with strain of being trans while she had no words for it ala Jungian psychology.

As for what I think is preventing diversity... cynicism. There's not a doubt in my mind that self-interest and plain old fear of the unknown is what's stopping diversity. It's considered funny in the media today when a man wears women's fashion. We don't see more Hispanics, Africans, or Asians in Euro-American western arts because of a self-interested media acting like sharks on a thoughtless feeding frenzy whenever there's a non-white cishet breaking the law. There are still fundamentalists and literalists in some of the most (allegedly) educated and affluent states in the world touting rhetoric designed for evangelised hate, for crapping out loud, all because they want to be heard. It's pretty hard not to look back over the last few thousand years and wonder how we haven't torn ourselves apart yet.

QRM: Why do you think it is important that queer audiences are able to see themselves represented in the games they play, and in the developers who make the games they see? What can we do to improve the industry for queer audiences and devs?

Jade: Because that gay kid in a school room bullied for having a crush on another guy needs a role model; because that transperson needs someone, anything to articulate what they're feeling and how to nurture themselves; because that lesbian couple can't walk through the streets without a lech or hurtling stone in their way; because normalising this sort of representation helps stop the alienation of all parties concerned. AND WITH NO WHITEWASHING INVOLVED TOO, PLEASE!!!

Not just queer audiences, but ethnicities too! Let me see a lesbian African or a bisexual Cossack be the great hero, not Awesome McCoolname Space Meh-rine tough-guy #32.

QRM: Have you ever mentored somebody in your role in games, or been mentored? If so, what made these experiences worthwhile for you?
Question asked by @pepelanova.

Jade: Shane Trewartha and Murray Lorden were both my lecturers during my time at AIE. Both of them were stellar teachers: Shane for nurturing the hard work/hard play work-ethic, and Murray for letting me indulge silly ideas and seeing where they lead. Follow both of them on Twitter, if you can. Ben Naulls is another standout teacher – stern, but honest and fair, and it's usually him playing devil's advocate whenever I'm developing. Ashton McAllan and Jamie Marriage have been major pillars and role-models during my transition, and they've both really encouraged new avenues and considerations of design that I hadn't considered before. Unfortunately, there isn't enough Internet to cover everyone who's on this list.

QRM: In what ways can non-queer folk increase and support queer diversity present within games, as well as in the industry more broadly? How can we all work to support intersectional approaches to diversity, and why is this important?

Jade: First things first, let's stop getting the pitchforks and torches when there's a game that includes women in historical fiction. My favourite comeback for the "realism" of World War 2 is Corporal Wojtek, the Polish artillery bear. If there was a bear, there were certainly women in WW2; an entire Russian bombing regiment flew crop dusters to perform night-time air raids – the Nachthexen, "Night Witches". Queen Elizabeth II served, for crapping out loud! What's that? Women in Battlefield One too? Women's Battalion of Death... that is all.

Now with that out of the way onto LGBTQ+. The same principle applies; can non-queer people stop pretending that we don't exist? We're really not asking for much, at the end of it; one's a token, two's a minority, three minimum is something approaching representation. That's not hard and fast numbers; presentation and prominence matters. Three extras isn't the same as three leads.

QRM: Is there a message that you would like to share with the queer game players, game studies researchers, and other interested folks who comprise the Queerly Represent Me community?

Jade: Take a moment to sniff the flowers when you can. You never know what a good rest will do when the chips are down. Other than that, stay safe everyone!


You can find Jade on Twitter and itch.io.