Josie Brechner (Visager)
- Role: Audio designer
- Location: Brooklyn, NY
We chatted with Josie Brechner, also known as Visager, who works as an audio designer in the games industry.
QRM: Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do in the games industry?
Josie: I'm a trans and non-binary composer and sound designer for games under the name Visager, but I also work from time-to-time on webseries, podcasts, theater, and film projects as well! I grew up playing drums and saxophone and I've been making my own music and sounds on a regular basis since around 2010.
QRM: How long have you been involved in the game industry, and what projects have you worked on? What are you working on currently?
Josie: I started dipping more intentionally into the games scene out here in New York in around 2015 or so. Since then I've been lucky to work on some projects that still feel kind of surreal when I think about it too hard. My first big game project was scoring and doing some sound design for Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King, which came out on the Nintendo Switch in late 2017, and I just wrapped writing the soundtrack first season of a new, episodic, extremely queer game called EXTREME MEATPUNKS FOREVER. (It's so gay. SO so gay.)
QRM: What inspired you to get started in the games industry?
Josie: When I was in high school I told my dad I wanted to help make video games. After spending a few years post-college trying to work as a writing/performing electronic musician, I realized that I actually hated the logistics and translation involved in putting live shows together. Around that time, people were also telling me that my music felt video gamey, and so I had a serendipitous moment of saying to myself, "Oh, I should just put all this creative energy into trying to make audio for games!"
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?
Josie: Coming out as non-binary and trans in mid-2017 was hugely impactful for my work in so many different ways. First, it allowed me to connect on a deeper level with other queer folx and find a real support network that way. Second, it was just a huge load off mentally and so creatively allowed me to put so much more psychic energy into my work. And lastly, being out allowed me to (I think) be more expressive, outgoing, and honest overall. So this last year has been awesome in that respect, and with all that leading to getting to work on multiple queer games with queer creators, this year has been so rewarding.
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.
Josie: So I haven't even played Brianna Lei's Butterfly Soup yet (I mean to!), but I was on a bus a few months ago scrolling through Twitter, and I came across someone's fan art of Diya from the game, and I started tearing up. It was the first time I saw a character in a game that kind of matched the ideal style and gender presentation I had been trying to work out in my own brain. Tomboyish, but femme, and lanky. I guess I'm less sporty BUT STILL, it was a really affirming and gender euphoric moment. Otherwise Cass from EXTREME MEATPUNKS FOREVER, forever and always.
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.
Josie: I feel like a huge block comes from queer creators not being fully empowered to make messy work. As a community, I think we need more cross-group solidarity which can be hard to foster since queer folx can so often feel isolated and attacked by mainstream queerphobia. Obviously in the bigger picture, the abuse, harassment, discrimination, and ostracizing all queer folx face from society at large creates the biggest chilling effect when it comes to overall diversity in our industry/politics/culture.
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?
Josie: Proportional inclusion in our culture is imperative. Anyone who tries to argue that representation and diversity can be taken "too far" or "is fine how it is now" is advocating for the ultimate erasure of marginalized folx. We are fighting a constant uphill battle against not only the reality of marginalization, but the perceived reality as well – studies show that proportional representation of queer folx and/or folx of color in media feels like overrepresentation, because our culture (here in the states, but elsewhere too) is so steeped in presenting cis-straight white folks as the everyperson. On an individual level, we need to be constantly checking ourselves and our biases to make sure we're not replicating these issues in our own way between marginalized groups.
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.
Josie: This summer I've been in touch with audio friends who are in a similar spot in their careers to where I am, and we've been helping give each other feedback and work tips (as well as hiring each other for some subcontracting, too!). It's been super nice to build community in that way. I was also fortunate to be paired as a mentee with Gordon McGladdery of A Shell In The Pit Audio at the beginning of this year through the Audio Mentoring Project. In addition to being super nice and inviting, Gord has helped me hone my practical skills and pushed me towards long term career planning. Working with him has been great to tackle my imposter syndrome and get a better perspective of the overall topography of the game industry.
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?
Josie: I think the biggest things allies can do is to really push everything within their power towards making our shared spaces radically welcoming to queer folx of all stripes (as well as marginalized folx of all stripes in general). This includes things like visibly highlighting your own pronouns if you're cisgender, making sure your panels on feminism include and center trans and/or non-binary folx (including non-binary women) and/or women of color, stepping up for folx around you when they are misgendered or talked over or ignored, checking your language to avoid phrases like "guys", "dude", "lads", "ladies and gentleman", calling out homophobia where you see it, and actively doing the work to check in if you're afraid you might have slipped up and hurt someone. All this while also not expecting folx to double over backward to thank you if you do these things, because these are baseline expectations. We all come from different backgrounds, and it's up to us to learn how to listen, learn from, and lift up each other.
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?
Josie: If you're in the closet, and have the privilege of being able to come out in ways that are safe and comfortable for you, just know that there are tons of amazing queer and non-queer folx in this industry who are doing everything they can to make games a more inclusive space to work in. And certainly, if anyone ever wanted to reach out to me to talk through their own gender exploration or what it's like to be trans and non-binary in games, my email and DMs are always open! <3