Taking Pride in ANZ Pride: Samara-Jade Sendek

Welcome to the first edition of Taking Pride in ANZ Pride, a series looking at LGBTQI+ folks working in the ANZ games industry. We have a lot of absolutely astounding talent in this region, and a lot of it is queer, and that means a lot of those voices might not get heard. So I’m shining a light on some of our amazing talent across a variety of spaces in the gaming industry! So, let’s dive right in.

Samara-Jade Sendek
Game Design
Game Dev Twitter | Twitch Twitter | Side-Project Games | Portfolio

goto.game: What’s it like being LGBTQI+ in ANZ games industry in 2020?
Samara: Specifically LGBT+, it’s like going to the shops and getting bread. I walk down, get the bread, go home, dream wistfully about my ideal project with my dreamteam, end of story. The games industry itself… eh, it’s hit-and-miss, and not from a queer perspective. There’s a reason I have a wrench-wench skill set that HR managers have called everything from eclectic to indecisive. Narrative design work is few and far between in the circles I look in. The ones who do get work tend to be established already. QA is more consistent, if also dangerously disregarded.
GTG: How does what you make contribute to queer ANZs landscape?
[Samara]: Ask them. What I do is try my hardest to survive and, by some miracle, end right back where I started. I legitimately couldn’t tell you. Some people have said my games have helped them understand more about themselves. Others enjoy the space I have on Twitch. More still simply value my company.
GTG: How do you bring your queerness into your content?
Samara: I’m a raging goth lesbian with a mighty temper and a background in blood sports. The only natural way to bring queerness into my content is through calm, empathetic gameplay and nuanced characterisation. To be queer in content is to be human. Empathy is punk in a day that emphasises the individual. Rage is sacrosanct when “civility” is a tool of oppressors. People tend to shun that which is confrontational and unsafe for them — to hell with it. Unsafe is where I was forced to be as a queer, neurodivergent, and Aboriginal woman. To me, my queerness is the essence of confrontation: be at odds with the boot on peoples’ throats, and mete contempt to those who would shove me and mine back in any closet.

GTG: What would you change about the ANZ scene?
Samara: Start with the students. We don’t need game designers coming in on the final days of their university course panning for cash. The blame isn’t on them; it’s from academics who should by rights know better. The students should be networking from day one, encouraged to go to events and talk to people. We need tech-artists, biz-devs, dedicated QA courses, proper management training, and pathways for other careers, not a culture of continued bootstraps and stiff-upper-lips. There’s a lot to unpack with this and this is by no means an attack on beleaguered sessionals who know how busted it all is. You have to start somewhere, start decisively, and start now.
Failing that, can we please just have more job openings? 5,000 applicants to 800~ jobs and an even worse rate of grads:contracting ratio is… depressing, to put it lightly.
GTG: What would you say to a young queer person who wants to do what you do?
Samara: Don’t follow me into the fire. I got as far as I did through howling-mad grit, an ungodly pain tolerance, and having the right allies in the right places at the right times. Make cool things when you have a safety net, make the safety net when you don’t have one. It’s going to feel like you’re wading knee-deep in a toxic slurry and you’ll desperately want the pain to stop. Anything to make it stop. I’m sorry that’s how it is and that I cannot make it better for you. Find a better way. Dream a better dream than I did.
GTG: Your favourite queer gaming moment?:
Samara: I can’t legally talk about this yet, though it’s my proudest moment in my game dev career. Ask me when I can tell, and I will tell.