INTERVIEW: Why Robert Yang Makes Video Games About Sex With Cars
GaymerX is a gaming convention that takes place every year in San Jose, CA. GaymerX is a “queer space”; a convention where panels center on queer themes, but all are invited and welcomed. Unicorn Booty is a proud media partner of GaymerX; to that end, we’ll be interviewing the Bosses Of Honor for this year’s convention.
The first Boss of Honor we get to talk to is Robert Yang. Yang both writes about games and makes them himself. He’s written about the history of the first person shooter, gay themes in Dragon Age mods and hallways in video games. His games often have a queer theme; Cobra Club (NSFW) explores issues of privacy and dickpics, Stick Shift (also NSFW) looks at another meaning of “autoerotic“, and Succulent (ditto) is about a corndog, a carrot, a popsicle and a mouth and still manages to cram in a tribute to Cazwell.
Unicorn Booty: Has harassment affected your work or the work of your peers? If so, how?
Robert Yang: I enjoy relative safety as a gay Asian cis man, but I have witnessed the damage done to the careers and wellbeing of many women designers and developers around me. From “small” ways like them locking their Twitter account in response to constant harassment (thus preventing them from getting retweeted, thus limiting their ability to get coverage and media access) to very urgent life-threatening ways, like a mother being targeted and SWATed for her daughter’s research on Internet harassment. Simply saying “harassment is bad” is the equivalent of saying “all lives matter”. It erases harm through generalization, when this is specific behavior by specific harassers to harm specific people for specific reasons.
What can we do to fight against bigotry and exclusion in gaming?
Pressure those with power and money — the game industry, large prestige game developer studios, famous YouTubers, your government — to take specific stands against harassment and the systemic intimidation of women, and advocate for more resources for women’s communities and organizations. Culture change starts with your individual behavior and beliefs. If you have money to spare, donate; if you have time to spare, volunteer. Have casual conversations with your friends about offensive behavior and why it’s wrong.
If games are art, what power do they hold as cultural artifacts?
Immense power. They perpetuate myths about how war, money, and life works. Games are the products of humans, who embed their own worldviews and politics in the game systems. The danger is not that people will pick up a gun and start murdering everyone — the danger is that people will understand guns as these isolated items that spawn in the world, rather than a product that has been focus-tested, marketed, manufactured, and distributed by a powerful military-industrial complex. The danger is that when you see gunmetal, you will think it is cool and fun, instead of seeing it as the aesthetic of brutality and violence.
Are there any games released over the last year that have made you feel like games are becoming more socially progressive?
This question makes me really depressed. In my work as a game developer, I strive to make games that look outside of games and connect with the world around us. My fear is that my players have the complete opposite reaction and instead look inward — interpreting my work as a part of some leviathan of “gaming” where, somehow, the existence of my games politically compensate for games that glorify racial genocide or something, thus making the net total of all games “more socially progressive”?
Culture doesn’t work like that. Socially progressive games are NOT “carbon credits” or pogs or “let’s say games are getting better” coupons. These games are desperate scratches on a multibillion dollar wall, and it’s disappointing when one’s reaction is, “Wow, those scratches make the wall look nicer.”
GX3: Everyone Games marks the third year of the GaymerX convention, a meeting of LGBTQ tabletop and console gamers with panels, meet-ups, parties and more! The convention takes place December 11 to 13 in San Jose, California. This year’s Bosses of Honor include RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Trixie Mattel, Mass Effect’s Jennifer Hale, and many, many more! Tickets are available at GaymerX.com.