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Seattle Indies brings Queer game devs together for education, support, fun

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Photo courtesy of Seattle Indies
Photo courtesy of Seattle Indies

Seattle and the surrounding area is home to more than a few of the country's most prominent game companies. Tabletop titan Wizard of the Coast is headquartered in Renton, and digital distribution giant Valve operates out of Kirkland. ArenaNet, Niantic, Bungie — the list goes on.

It's not often that we hear about the smaller Seattle studios and developers, however, unless they make it big. But there's a whole community of them, actively networking and talking about issues in today's games industry.

Seattle Indies has been an official nonprofit since 2011, but it was formed earlier than that. It has a broad social media presence, with both a Twitter account and a page on Facebook, as well as a Discord server of at least a thousand users in the industry — not just developers but also writers, artists, composers, and anyone else involved or interested in making games, electronic or not.

A reader might wonder now, "What does this have to do with being Queer?" Seattle Indies also has a group called the Diversity Collective, which gives Queer people and other minorities space and time to network, talk about the issues that affect them, and support each other.

For more info, I reached out to August Belhumeur, who volunteers her time and expertise to the organization as a board member, and works as a lead technical artist at Spry Fox, the studio behind Cozy Grove, a game about camping on a haunted island.

A screenshot from Cozy Grove
Photo courtesy of Spry Fox  

Belhumeur described Seattle Indies as a community that supports people in the games industry through all stages of game development. It has hosted events such as in-person coffee meetups, educational talks, and online game jams (in which people make games from scratch in 72 hours or less).

In June this year, Seattle Indies held its first Pride event at Mox Boarding House, the combination restaurant and tabletop games store. It was a networking opportunity for Queer and Trans people in the industry, Belhumeur said, who might've been the only Queer or Trans person on their team, or might not have met another LGBTQ+ person in the industry before, whether peer or mentor.

More consistently, the Diversity Collective has meetups for all minorities, as well as smaller, more specific focus groups. Belhumeur said that a big part of these groups' discussions around LGBTQ+ issues in the industry has to do with representation and inclusion.

More and more, games are showing Queer representation of some kind, whether through explicitly "prewritten" Queer characters (playable or not), or through allowing players the option to make certain characters Queer. So now that there are more Queer characters, the Collective often talks about how they should be represented.

In games with flexibility in characters' appearance, this representation can be as simple as a genderfluid or ambiguous body type — which saves a lot of time, Belhumeur added, for indie studios that might not have the budget to animate both traditionally masculine and feminine figures.

As for current Queer games, Belhumeur recommended Call Me Cera, a visual novel; Unpacking, an intimate room-decoration experience; Celeste, an award-winning platformer with a Trans protagonist; Boyfriend Dungeon, a dungeon-crawler dating sim; and Spiritfarer, a cozy adventure and base-management sim. She said she's excited for the upcoming Thirsty Suitors as well, which is being made by the minority-led Outerloop Games.

The Collective has also discussed who is doing the writing. Some game studios have begun to run their stories by sensitivity readers, Belhumeur said, to fill in blind spots and prevent harmful elements in a final product.

"We care about equity, we care about people 'getting in' — you know, breaking into the industry," Belhumeur said. "And we care about how we're being supported... so we can be out and Queer and comfortable."

You can find out more about Seattle Indies and its events, or join the Discord yourself, at https://www.seattleindies.org. The organization will be at the PAX West gaming expo in September this year.