Ashton McAllan

Queerly Represent Me sat down to chat with Ashton McAllan, director at MachineSpirit.

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

Ashton: I'm a game designer / developer / director of an Adelaide microstudio called MachineSpirit. We make both digital and tabletop games. I also speak about game design fairly regularly online and at conventions.

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

Ashton: Our first commercial title, Amygdala, a roguelike action platformer, was released in 2014 after two years of development. Since then we've released The Republic, a tabletop roleplaying game about social justice, element bending, and rolling lots of dice, along with a lot of smaller projects for game jams and things. We're currently working on Monadnock, a puzzle game about trust and how humans relate to nature and their landscape.

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

Ashton: I've always been somewhat technical and somewhat about performance and storytelling, when I discovered videogames as a kid it was a natural fit and I just wanted to explore them more and more till I started making them. In University I had become a bit depressed and kind of given up on the idea and then Tony Albrecht came and delivered a speech about how you don't get into games for the sex or the game or the money but because you can't not make games and that if you want to get into the industry you should just start making games and finishing them.

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?

Ashton: I think I constantly make games that explore what it means to be a person in some way? I like to look at personal identity, feelings of not being a person or being a monster or broken in some way and also how to live and hopefully live well in response to that. These are all definitely responses to growing up simultaneoysly demonising and trying to understand myself and my identity as a trans girl.

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.

Ashton: Nomi Marks in Sense8 is the best trans character I think I've seen in anything and is my absolute fave, she has so many elements I relate to and she's heroic and being trans is a present and important part of her life without being the centre of it. The kinds of games I tend to play don't often have explicit references to the queer statuses of their characters. MonsterHearts, however, discusses teenage queerness through the lense of supernatural drama and personal horror which makes every character an interesting queer or queer analogue character every time you play, which I love.

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.

Ashton: I often find myself somewhat scared to create things that have characters from any marginalised groups including queer folks because I'm so scared of getting it wrong. I know how much it hurts when people create characters that are like me in some important ways but are problematic and shitty and I don't want to do that to people and I've also seen how quickly people will jump on you and tear you apart if you make too many or too large a mistake like this, which is terrifying. I hope learning to love creative works critically can also teach us to be kind to those among us making content with characters from marginalised groups if we occasionally make a mistake.

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?

Ashton: Being able to play an undead woman whose appearance I could choose in World Of Warcraft probably saved my life in high school. Being able to see a character that I identified with, being able to BE a character that looked like my internal identity (let's not pretend that being a zombie wasn't an expression of feeling like a monster thanks to societal transphobia) and have them be the hero was life changing. The media we consume changed how we model and perceive the world and if you don't see yourself or people like you living, having lives, and being powerful, it's so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you can't have a happy life and be powerful and that costs lives.

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.

Ashton: I think I've been lucky to have a strong connection to a chunk of the games development community through Twitter who support me in a bunch of ways and I've given advice and workshops and things now and then but I'm definitely still at the stage where I feel like I could use an actual mentor. I just haven't found one formally yet.

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?

Ashton: Hire queer people. Hire trans people, hire queer women, hire queer people of colour. Seek out the works of queer creators and buy their stuff, support them on whatever platforms they're on. Retweet them. Speak out in their favour and share their work without prompting.

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?

Ashton: Queer people have had to deal with shit others haven't had to so their work will be better and more interesting in a bunch of ways, but you're less likely to to see it. Go out and find games by queer people and just explore, enjoy, and celebrate them!

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You can find Ashton on her website, and on Twitter (and other sites) at @acegiak.
You can check out MachineSpirit and their games on their website.