- Role: Narrative Designer
- Company: Disney Games
- Location: Kelowna, British Columbia (Canada)
QRM was lucky enough to chat with Alexander Newcombe.
QRM: Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do in the games industry?
Alex: I'm a bi cis man who is dedicated to (obsessed with?) stories about adventure, discovery, and communities. As a narrative designer, I create game stories in concert with the rest of the team. Game narrative is full of questions and pretty sparing with answers. I love trying to find meaning and excitement in mechanics and even technical limitations. I also like to write interactive fiction, tabletop rpgs, and the occasional short story.
QRM: How long have you been involved in the game industry, and what projects have you worked on? What are you working on currently?
Alex: I've been in games for 12 years, first as a QA team lead and now as a narrative designer. I'm currently working on Club Penguin Island and an interactive fiction game about exploring some spooky old ruins.
QRM: What inspired you to get started in the games industry?
Alex: I've always loved games, and I jumped at the opportunity when a testing company was starting up in Montreal. However, it was a visit to Eidos Montreal where I spoke to veteran narrative designer Mary DeMarle that really "inspired" me. Her simply talking about how the various parts of the game came together to tell the story absolutely hooked me.
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?
Alex: It's hard to say, because I've never created anything without being queer! However, since I've worked primarily in online games, being queer makes me aware of how important it is to create space for everyone in (digital) communities. I try to tell stories that celebrate difference and don't rely on sexist/racist concepts (which is especially important in kids' games that lean on classic cartoon tropes!)
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.
Alex: Aside from all my Bioware player characters, you mean? Favourites are always favourites in this moment, but right now that is Shiro + Keith from Voltron: Legendary Defenders. It's a great show that has done a lot with a premise that is kind of ridiculous if you look at it. It's also wonderful to see queer men show up in family-friendly media!
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.
Alex: I haven't hit any roadblocks for queer characters, but my games also don't deal with romance, so I don't expressly include them.
More broadly, diversity in games is hampered by tons of factors. Most of them aren't specific to games (there are barriers to queer folk in many aspects of life), but major studios tend to be risk-averse, and leading with queer characters is still sadly risky. Also, games often fumble romance and sex, even when they focus on the bog-standard hetero side of things. I think many straight writers avoid queerness because it adds a wrinkle to the already difficult problem they're tackling. Yet another factor is that game stories rely on well-established genre conventions, and those genre conventions were created by and for straight white men. Sci-fi and fantasy can be very queer, but the tentpoles of the genres are not, and games usually aim to replicate the "classic" works.
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?
Alex: It's incredibly important! Diversity is so much more powerful when it is visible. It matters to marginalized people who can imagine themselves creating their own works in the future because they see someone like them doing it.
As someone with privilege, it's also powerful to know that the people who make the things you love are NOT like you. It establishes that bringing different perspectives in makes things better, and that you should always seek out voices that don't get heard enough.
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.
Alex: I've done some mentoring. It's both rewarding and scary. As I said, narrative design doesn't have a ton of concrete answers, so it's difficult to impart what is "right" to someone less experienced. However, I'm incredibly passionate and nerdy about my field, so it feels great to work with someone who is equally passionate. Seeing them create their own solutions to the challenges is a great feeling.
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?
Alex: You first have to work to allow queer and marginalized people into your space. I do mean "work". It means quelling any derogatory comments. It means proposing queer characters if a queer person is not able to. It means listening to those people's voices on all sorts of matters (not just the ones about being queer!).
It also means cracking down on bigotry in our fandoms. Almost all game devs are also massive game fans. We have the opportunity to make the fan communities safer and more welcoming, and we should take that seriously.
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?
Alex: Games are for and by queer people! They always have been, it's just taking time for everyone to clue in. Games can be transformative, build empathy, and reflect a better world. They are integral to exploring queerness, and we'll see more and more of them doing it right.