Sarah Belhumeur

Queerly Represent Me spoke with Sarah, a jack-of-all-trades artist from Spry Fox.

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

Sarah: I am a full-time 3D Game Art Generalist in Indie Games, which includes concept art, everything on the 3D and technical art pipelines, VFX, and occasionally art direction or marketing and promotional art. I'm a jack of all trades in the game art world! At Spry Fox, we are currently nearing the end of development on a bullet-hell MMO called Steambird's Alliance. It's a spiritual successor to their previous game Realm of the Mad God. In my free time, I am a Board Member for the Seattle Indie's Non-Profit Organization running events for the indie game development community. My main focus has been on establishing the Diversity Collective community group, running mentor events, roundtable discussions, and panels related to inclusion in the game industry. I also help organize our Show and Tell game events, the Seattle Indie's Expo at PAX, and various other happenings!

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

Sarah: I've been working in the industry professionally since 2017, so I'm still pretty new! I began working in commercial animation at P3 Maine and virtual reality art installation at Currents New Media in New Mexico before moving to my first game internship at Chickadee Games. Since then, I've had a number of freelance gigs, worked as an Art Director at a Minecraft Partner studio called House of How, helped them establish their art internship program in Sweden, and am now back at Spry Fox full time.

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

Sarah: When I was a sophomore in high school, I decided that I was going to be an animator and threw all of my energy into directing my life so that I could achieve this goal. As soon as I realized that being an artist in entertainment was something I could do, it became everything that I did. I was inspired by the way that visual mediums communicate in their own unique language, across cultural lines and differences, and I wanted to create things that felt comforting and beautiful for other people. Eventually, I discovered how all of these goals aligned with what I could do within games and with a little guidance, I turned my art and animation in the direction of the game industry. Since then, I've only found more and more reasons for why I'm working in 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?

Sarah: The game industry is not known for being diverse, so it's important to me to help lead the charge and support diversity in game communities. I want to provide a circle of support for folks that are an underrepresented minority in these spaces. I also seek out work in which I can make cozy, positive, and inclusive games, with safe spaces for players to explore.

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.

Sarah: Lately, I've really enjoyed the SAGA comics and in particular, Izabel and Petrichor. Izabel's tragic life story doesn't tip-toe around death or emotionally intense topics, but she's a very kind-hearted and genuine character. Her queerness is not the forefront of her design, but rather only one part of a complex and charming character, which makes her relatable and realistic. Petrichor's sexuality and gender are presented more as a defining aspect of their character and SAGA uses Petrichor as a vessel through which to discuss different intersectional identities, bodies, and genders.

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.

Sarah: I have not encountered roadblocks with queer characters specifically, but I have encountered some trying to include diverse characters as a whole.

I have not encountered roadblocks with queer characters, but I have encountered roadblocks with previous teams when it came to including diversity at all. It was always a surprise to me when I made a suggestion to include a female, non-binary, or not white character and the answer was not "yes, of course." It can be really difficult to have to fight for even the smallest bit of representation when there should be so much more. I think the answer is to surround yourself with good people and allies who share your goals for inclusion. Look for teams that share your values and are ready to advocate inclusion alongside you, that way your games represent what you want to see out in the world.

There are many problems with diversity in games right now. I think that what is preventing diversity is a long-standing idea that games are made by straight white men for straight white men, which has created toxic gamer and developer environments. Another big challenge is being faced with a hostile work place that doesn't recognize that it is (or doesn't care.) It can be dangerous and unstable. Entering these environments often occurs after having to fight twice as hard just to prove that you are capable and valid enough to get the job. It's challenging to feel like you don't belong or like you need to change who you are to fit within a toxic culture. The take-away from this should be that you do belong, you are valid, change is happening, and that there is a community like you that is cheering you on.

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?

Sarah: I think that it's important for audiences to be able to play a game and be whoever they want to be. If we limit character options, then we are excluding a vast percentage of society from the ability to choose or associate with a given character. It is important for queer NPCs to exist in games as interesting and developed characters. If we can create characters, environments, and situations that are mirrors for how we want the world to be, then maybe we can inspire that outcome. Games inspire the community and the culture inside of the game and it spreads to the community interacting with the media.

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.

Sarah: In my previous position, I had the chance to establish an internship program in our Sweden office and this was an invaluable experience for me to get to mentor new artists in games. With such a hands on mentorship experience, I got the chance to get to know them and see them grow throughout the course of the internship, building a foundation for the start of their careers.

I'm very fortunate that I've had a lot of really wonderful mentors to try to emulate in my own mentorship position. So much of what I know and who I am came from what I learned from them. They taught me about the industry, chatted about life and collaboration, encouraged my ambitious ideas, and helped me achieve the crazy goals I set. With their years of experience, they also acted as voices of reason when discussing projects, ideas, and life plans. I consider my mentors to be good friends and hope I can be the same for others. Adam DeGrandis, Co-Founder of Chickadee Games, mentored me starting in my first year of college and likely had one of the biggest impacts on my life of anyone. Because of him and my scholarship opportunities with the AIAS, I was able to get my start in games.

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?

Sarah: Non-queer folk should be advocates for hiring more diverse members in their own studios and be advocates for minorities already on their team. Diverse teams can build diverse games for diverse audiences! Be open minded to different opinions and different people and take the time to listen, understand, and respect those around you. Never treat someone as inferior, different, or "other." Treat everyone as someone worthy of your time, your respect, and your understanding. Take the time to learn about things you aren't familiar with, including new terms you might not fully understand. Don't rely on queer people to educate you. Even though I'm extremely vocal and proud of who I am, having to advocate for my rights, terms, and validity can start to weigh heavily. You can lighten that load by learning on your own. Be kind. Be an ally.

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?

Sarah: You're all amazing! There are so many wonderful people in Queerly Represent Me and other developer and gamer communities. If you ever feel like you're alone or "other," know that there are communities of other queer folk out there that feel that you're important and valid. Feel free to reach out to me on twitter - especially if you're in Seattle or interested in hearing about what Diversity Collective is doing!


Find out more about Sarah on her website, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.