- Role: Developer & Social Media Co-ordinator
- Company: StevenHarmonGames & GaymerX
- Location: Denver/Los Angeles, USA
QRM asked some questions of Steven Harmon, social media co-ordinator and game developer!
QRM: Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do in the games industry?
Steven: I’m 19. I’m a first-generation college student studying games, but also am an independent developer and a volunteer social media coordinator at GaymerX, a queer focused non-profit in games. I love pecan pie, spending time with my dog, and sleep. In my free time I research, write, and speak publicly about toilets in games. I enjoy making games that leave people confused.
QRM: How long have you been involved in the game industry, and what projects have you worked on? What are you working on currently?
Steven: I've been in the games industry for seven years now, six of which were self-taught. For better or for worse, I’ve made a lot of small trash games as opposed to large games. The biggest project I've worked on in terms of coverage was Awkward Dimensions Redux, a personal interactive dream journal and diary that I made and released in high school that got an honorable mention at the 2017 IGFs and was showcased at SXSW. Additionally, I'm also known for my existential vaporwave skateboarding game Griptape Backbone. Besides angsty walking... or uhm skating sims, I also have a background in making bullet hells. I worked at Serenity Forge on Pixel Galaxy as a design intern and for the past few years have been working on and off on a multiplayer bullet hell called Ultra Dance Murder. Currently I'm on a small hiatus from development and am focusing on my school work, resident assistant job, and social media responsibilities for GaymerX.
As for what to expect from me in the near future: a free and comprehensive eBook guide to game development, theory, marketing, self-care, etc. aimed at getting more queer folk into games and staying there for the long haul, an educational pinball game, and hopefully my first console release.
QRM: What inspired you to get started in the games industry?
Steven: I was never any good at sports growing up, so I’ve always been a creative. I’ve always enjoyed making things. However, I wouldn’t be a game developer if it weren’t for my friend Matisse. I did theater for most of my life and probably would have gone off to conservatory to pursue that if it weren’t for one afternoon in my middle school library. Seeing Matisse learning to program on Code Academy on the library computers that one afternoon sparked my curiosity and led me down the path of toying around with web pages through inspect element, making prank viruses, and quickly spitting out game demakes. Each game was a stepping stone to the next and we pushed each other to improve. My friend Matisse inspired me to become a game developer and I can’t thank him enough for that.
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?
Steven: Games for me are not only a form of communication and self-expression, but also therapy. Being able to work out complex feelings and thoughts through my games was the through line of my creative work throughout my middle school and high school years. Of course, during this time was when I was figuring out who I was, including my sexuality, and I believe that shows in my work.
Additionally, I suppose I’m not very interested in making games within hyper masculine game genres such as racing, sports, and gory fighting games and tend to lean more towards introspective, educational, and thoughtful short story games. It’s no hard or fast rule or anything, because I obviously enjoy making bullet hells. However, I tend to focus less on the shooting and more on the meditative aspects and aesthetic patterns of bullet hells.
I’m not closeted but I’ve always been fairly reserved when it came to extended family or strangers. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Y’know? However, working for GaymerX has connected me to a loving community and being able to engage with them on a regular basis and be more visible has definitely helped me become more comfortable in my own skin as a queer person.
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.
Steven: I’ve always knew I liked guys, but Patrick (played by the lovely Jonathan Groff) from HBO’s Looking could probably count as my “sexual awakening”. Haha… I just really related to his character because he was a game developer from Colorado moving to a big city looking for love. Haven’t found my Richie or Kevin yet, but I have time. A close second is Capt. Jack Harkness (played by John Barrowman) from Torchwood and Doctor Who. My bi-con! Honorable mentions: Nomi Marks – Sense8, Gregg – Night In The Woods, Max – Life is Strange. I like these characters because they feel real. They aren’t one dimensional nor rely on too many tropes, they just are. These characters make mistakes, have arcs, are relatable, and are overall likeable.
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.
Steven: As an independent developer, most of my characters are capsule colliders or cubes. They can be queer geometry if you want them to be! All jokes aside, for my narrative games with speaking characters I’ve never really made a big deal of any of my characters’ sexual orientations or gender identities and focused more on their personal lives and relationships with one another. Additionally, since most of my games are personal, I’ve ran into no road blocks including myself.
I think the road block preventing diversity in games is the culture surrounding triple AAA and how most modern games are marketed towards cis white heterosexual men in their mid-30s. Sure, there has been an influx of queer characters in games lately. However, I’d argue it’s only what society deems as “acceptable queerness”. There’s a whole lot more lesbian couples than gay male couples. Why is that? It’s because they are there as almost a fetishized object, and even when games include queer male identifying characters it’s usually in Yaoi visual novels which is still equally problematic since it’s almost the same but aimed at a straight female audience.
The queer community obviously is big enough to be targeted and marketed towards during pride month, so why aren’t games following suit with retail? Toxic machismo in gaming culture? Homophobia? I believe it’s passiveness, non-queer creators who may want to include diverse characters but are afraid to offend or not do the character justice due to their lack of understanding. The solution: hire queer people to write, or at least consult, for your games- it’s really that easy. Make your workplace inclusive and appealing to minorities, then hire them – that’s how we increase diversity within games!
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?
Steven: Representation is affirmation. It’s the culture at large letting you know that you were considered in the making of this and that you are valid. Being able to see yourself represented with positive role models can allow people to feel more comfortable being their true selves and living their life to their full potential. Life imitates art just as much as art imitates life, so it’s incredibly important what message is being broadcasted, intentionally or unintentionally, in the media we consume. As far as developers go, knowing someone like you made the game you enjoyed playing can inspire that person to make games of their own. It’s a positive cycle that makes the industry a more diverse place and the games better too.
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.
Steven: I am blessed to have a mentor Zhenghua Yang (Z) of Serenity Forge. He took me under his wing when I was 14 after I showcased at my first gaming convention next to his studio’s table. Immediately afterwards I had a summer internship. Z is one of the kindest people you will ever meet and has always been in my corner offering guidance but also letting me learn things for myself. Z isn’t just a mentor, but a role model of a life being well lived. Z isn’t some business “experience”, he’s family. The worth is priceless. While I don’t mentor anyone, I always reply to my emails. I am happy to provide resources and support for people willing to put in the work themselves. After the release of Awkward Dimensions Redux I got a lot of emails from kids my age asking how to make games and I’ve always responded and followed up with them to see what they were making. I have many pen pals that I’ve met this way, but I don’t consider myself a mentor in the way that Z has been a mentor for me. I suppose I’m writing this guide book to have something to give to people instead of having to rewrite large responses every time someone messages me.
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?
Steven: Again, hire minorities but also support them long term. If your company culture is bad, people will leave. It’s plain and simple. Protect civil rights and fight for social justice. Make change within your own identity groups before commenting on others’ tolerance and inclusion. Just be good to one another, listen (actually listen which requires thought), and maybe think twice before making your main protagonist the same grizzled angry cis white man with a questionable moral compass… just saying.
If you aren’t involved in making games, just share some love over social media to queer devs, buy queer games, recommend and rate them. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.
In the end, diversity is a powerful asset in creative work so it’s important to allow it to thrive.
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?
Steven: Thank you for the work you do, be it archiving, uplifting queer voices, or crunching the data. Everything helps. To the players who support queer developers by buying and playing their games, you all rock! Seriously, keep doing that! Game studies folk, I see you! While I write about toilets in games, you write about the things that actually matter. And finally, big shout out to Queerly Represent Me team. This is one of the most useful resources out there to unifying and giving queer games a voice and a presence and that is invaluable.