Welcome back to week three of our four-part series celebrating LGBTQ+ designers! If this is the first article you’ve stumbled upon, make sure to check out our previous blog posts highlighting Nikki Valens and Simeon Cogswell.
Identity in Tabletop Games
Can you think of the first time you truly related to a character in a tabletop game? Was it your first RPG character, or maybe the art on a Magic: The Gathering card that struck a chord with you? Fun fact: mine was the Wych Cults from Warhammer 40k. When LGBTQ+ designers create games from their narrative it opens up the hobby to be able to a much broader audience and more viewpoints. That means more gamers at the table, or as we at Mox like to say, more friends around the campfire.
This week we focus on a designer actively working towards inclusive worldbuilding. This is…
“I am constantly thinking about the how and why of what I’m doing, and the subtle ways the choices I make as a designer can have a huge impact.”– Matt Fantastic
Games: Team3, Shasn, Stoner Parking Lot, Heads Will Roll
Mox – Hey, Matt! Please tell us a little bit about who you are.
Matt – I’ve been in the industry in one way or another for the last 15 years, and throughout that time I’ve done just about everything in one form or another. Currently, I own a creative studio. I founded [Forever Stoked Creative] about a decade ago where we design and do development on all sorts of games for publishers. I also co-own a game shop/club (Elm City Games), adjunct in a few collegiate design programs, am a partner or creative director at 3 indie publishing companies (Prettiest Princess, Vice Games, and Killjoy). I run the New Haven Game Makers Guild, and creative consult with companies like Netflix and Yale. Writing it down, that’s a lot of stuff, but I can’t seem to stop…
Mox – How did you originally get involved in the gaming industry? Was it your original goal?
Matt – I grew up in a gaming family so it was always a side dream to get to work in games. Who didn’t make up their first dungeon and dream about getting to do that for a living!? But it wasn’t until much later and years of part-time hustling in the industry, that I made it my actual career. It actually wasn’t really a plan so much as it just sorta started taking up more and more of my life until I looked up and realized I was a full-time designer. My first foray into the industry as a (semi)professional was through playtesting and demoing at local conventions. Around that same time, I started writing about games, which all helped me meet a bunch of people who would go on to hire me or help me out along the way.
Mox – What inspires your game design?
Matt – Everything. I approach design from the mindset of creating experiences, so anything and everything can be part of that. Practically speaking, the majority of my influences (outside of other work in the field) are in philosophy and other social sciences along with a lot of music and art in general. Graffiti, Marx, and DIY punk have done more for me creatively than Lang, Daviau, and Wizards of the Coast. Though I love and am inspired by them too!
Mox – What has been your favorite title to work on, and why?
Matt – Usually it’s whatever I’m focused on working with at the moment. Other than demos or other promotional stuff, I very rarely play anything I’ve worked on once it’s out. Recently, I’m really proud of what we did with Team3, and I do still play a lot of Heads Will Roll. Really, I love and hate something about everything I’ve ever done.
Mox – What theme would you love to see in RPGs/ board games that you haven’t seen or would like to be more prominent?
Matt – I desperately want to see boardgames doing more to explore what we can do with the medium beyond “having fun” or learning. The digital world and indie RPGs have so much amazing stuff going on that we just don’t really see in the rest of tabletop gaming. In general, I’d like to see a lot more games that step away from the violent conflict paradigm that infects like half of the entire market.
Mox – How does your gender and sexual identity/expression impact your game design?
Matt – I wouldn’t say it does much outside of the omnipresent reality of being a queer gender-deconstructing weirdo, and all the ways that impacts who I am and how I think. Being part of an “other” group means I am constantly thinking about the how and why of what I’m doing, and the subtle ways the choices I make as a designer can have a huge impact. For example, designing a game with a diverse set of characters comes more naturally to me given that my reality is filled with a diversity of people. I’m aware of how much that can mean to people who are used to being left out or ignored so I try to make sure any publishers I’m working with are supportive of that.
Mox – What do you find most challenging as a queer person in the industry?
Matt – Honestly, as someone who passes as a typically masculine white person most of the time it’s pretty chill. Even when I’m out wearing a dress and at max genderqueer-ness, I find that the industry itself as a whole is really supportive of queer people. The unfortunate reality is that women and non-masculine presenting people are who really get dumped on. So I guess what’s hardest for me is to see people who don’t have the same level of privilege as myself suffering.
Mox – What would you like to tell young LGBTQ people who want to break into the game industry?
Matt – Be here. We can’t wait to see what you’re working on and what the next generation is going to do to push the industry forward. There will always be shitty people everywhere, but there are a whole lot more good progressive people in our industry than you’ll find most anywhere else. If you find yourself getting dumped on for being queer/POC/non-masculine/whatever, myself and a lot of other people with way more influence than me are there for you and want to help you. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for support. My email is Matt@ForeverStokedCreative.com and my door is always open.
My general advice for anyone looking to break into the industry is that you need to grind it out, make sacrifices, and make your own luck. My career has been a long series of being in the right place at the right time, but I work to have those opportunities. And CONSTANTLY be making new stuff.
Make sure you pick up one of Matt Fantastic’s games next time you’re in Mox, and check back next week when we continue our series with someone who is involved in many different aspects of the industry, AnnaMaria Jacksonn-Phelps.
-Meet you at Mox