Richard Franke joined the video game industry in 1996 and has worked as an artist and designer on various award winning products including the Burnout franchise, Need for Speed, Tearaway and most recently on Dreams for Media Molecule.
He started his own indie game development studio Magic Notion in 2013 and has shipped three titles with his team, starring himself as his drag queen alter ego ‘Kitty Powers’.
To find out more, I sat down with Richard to talk about his life and love of video games.
Robin: Hey Rich, let’s start out with you introducing yourself to our readers
Richard: Hello kittens! My name is Richard Franke, although you may know me as Kitty Powers. I’m a game developer and drag queen. I’ve been making video games for 23 years, and have been an Indie developer for the last 6 years making games centred around my drag alter ego.
What’s your earliest memory of video games?
I do remember my family having a pong console, with the wooden panelling and all that, like a morris minor.
Super retro! What game stands out the most from your childhood?
I did a lot of Spectrum gaming. I had colour envy of the Commodore but I have an older brother who called the tech shots!
We did also have Nintendo, Sega and Sony consoles eventually. I remember being blown away by 3D Monster Maze, as it was first person and quite scary.
I also enjoyed the Rocky Horror game, Manic Miner, Bruce Lee amongst others. I love Mario Kart and Zelda too.
How did your career in games start?
I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I was choosing a University, so I did ceramics. I had thought about illustration as I loved drawing comic book stuff but that was frowned upon by the lecturers.
I threw pots in the daytime and drew comics at night and in the end one of my course mates saw an ad for a game dev startup that wanted comic book artists as entry level artists. I managed to get a job there and the rest is history.
Were you concerned about how the industry would accept a gay man when you were starting out?
I came out shortly after starting that first job. I think being in a more professional environment made it easier actually. Game devs are mostly super laid back too which helps. One of my co workers came out to us and that inspired me.
How far do you think the industry has come with diversity?
I think the fact that the industry has a very young audience is a double edged sword. On one hand it makes the industry a bit more progressive, especially the Indie scene, but on the other hand it can make things a bit juvenile too, particularly in online multiplayer games and on the internet…
I do think we have made progress, especially recently, both in content and the way minorities are handled in the industry. We still have some way to go though.
What more should the industry be doing on diversity?
To be honest I’m not sure. Hiring practices need looking at, as well as potentially toxic culture. Sadly it’s not high on everyone’s priority list when they’re desperate to ship a game. It’s not an easy question to answer. Perhaps unions would help.
What would be your advice for a young LGBTQ person starting out or looking to get into the industry?
Don’t feel like there isn’t a place for you. But if you are very expressive or even if you’re not, do be aware that as with any social group there may be people that need to become accustomed to having someone a little diffferent from their idea of ‘normal’ around. Luckily most game dev teams are way more inclusive than they used to be.
You’re well known as your alter ego Kitty Powers, when did you start doing drag?
I started about 12 years ago. The year before season 1 of drag race. At a fancy dress party. In Catwoman cosplay. The same old story lol
What inspired you to do drag?
I’ve always had a feminine streak, and always idolised the feminine principle.
I had Daddy issues, weight issues and gender issues. When I came out I became more expressive but still battled with insecurity.
I’d always been fascinated with drag queens on TV, not sure why. I think because of how they straddled the social perception of gender, as well as the showbiz glamour and magic. Dame Edna, Lily Savage, Julian Clary, Kenny Everett, even Les Dawson! To me it was all done with a reverence of the feminine even when it was affectionate parody.
RuPaul walked down that New York street surrounded by ‘regular’ people in the video for ‘Supermodel’ and that sealed the deal. It took me a few more years but I finally broke through the fear and it was a revelation.
What does Kitty let you do that Richard can’t?
I used to think of Kitty more as a character. Even though I know she is an extension of myself, she is a mask, that somehow removes a lot of my inhibitions. She doesn’t overthink the way I do. She is way more charismatic than me, and being her helps me to see and feel the world in a much better light.
Being in drag is exhausting though. I’m an introvert so punching through that takes a lot of energy. But the adrenaline carries me through and it is so worth it. Like a trip to the quantum realm!
Your games are based around Kitty, was that always the plan?
From the point where I decided to start my own company yes, but not when I started drag no. I was going independent and needed every tool in my tool belt to make my games stand out. Kitty seemed a logical choice.
What’s next for Kitty and Richard?
Not sure yet. I’ve recently been laying low and dealing with some mental health baggage so Kitty hasn’t been out much for a few months. She has been at a couple of events and has some coming up including the Guildford Games Festival.
I’m toying with the idea of doing a live stage version of a TV game show with Kitty as a host. So I’m just working out the logistics of that between working at Media Molecule on Dreams for PS4 and my own next projects.