Tuesday, March 5, 2024
FeaturesSpotlight Interviews

Spotlight on… Travis & Mike from Rainbow Road Podcast

Travis Ryans and Mike Dineen, two queer gamers from Toronto, are the hosts of the new LGBTQ gaming podcast, Rainbow Road Podcast.

We love celebrating people sharing their love of gaming, so I had a quick chat with them to find out more about them and their podcast.

Robin: Hey guys, how’s lockdown life been treating you both? 

Travis: I’m doing fairly well, all things considered! Trying to move apartments in the middle of a pandemic has been quite the adventure, but I’m so lucky to be isolating with my partner.

Mike: I’m also isolating with Travis’ partner. But don’t tell h– oops.

How long have you both been into gaming? 

Travis: I’ve been into gaming for as long as I can remember. I blame my parents for enabling my bad habit. We would spend summers at the cottage and the rule was bedtime was a firm 9pm… unless you were willing to stay up and play cards with the grown ups. The social aspect of gaming is just burned into my personality now, I learned Hearts and Euchre from a very young age. “If you can keep up, you can stay up”.

Mike: I was born with a gameboy in my hand. But then I lost it in the 3rd grade and my mom gave me hell. The memory of being beaten with her switch has kept me from losing my Nintendo Switch. Haha, isn’t life crazy?

What are your earliest memories of gaming?

Travis: My earliest memory of gaming is playing Duck Hunt with my father in my grandmother’s basement, on a TV so old, you needed to get up and turn the knob. I discovered very quickly that my quiet and timid father is a disturbingly accurate marksman, but I hope I never find out why.

Mike: The level of competency I felt as a child being asked to beat levels in Super Mario that my older sisters helped make me the very man I (sort of) am today.

What do you do for “day jobs”?

Travis: I’m an Assistant Director in the film and television industry. At least, I hope I still am… our industry is going to look VERY different on the other side of this pandemic.

Mike: I worked in the operations department for a food delivery app until the other day. Are you guys hiring? … No seriously, are you?

I’ll have to get back to you on that, Mike! Tell us about your podcast

Rainbow Road is a podcast about queerness in gaming. We’re hoping to explore LGBT+ characters, stories, themes, coding, and even developers. This means that while not every game we discuss will have explicit queerness, we will still be looking at it through a queer lens. If you can play it, we can gay it.

What motivated you to start it?

Travis: When the lockdown started, I began taking a lot of social distance walks and needed podcasts to keep my ADHD brain from melting. Every gaming podcast I could find was either by stereotypical cishet bro bros, or tech nerds who focused exclusively on graphics and didn’t care one whit about story and characters. Eventually I decided I was more than opinionated enough for a podcast, and it would be a fun way to keep busy during quarantine. Mike is an old friend of mine, and being witty and a sociologist, I knew I needed him as the other voice. I still don’t know why he’s agreed to it.

Mike: Yeah, I’m still not sure why I did either. Can your readers see me winking? If not, let them know that I’m winking right now.

Rainbow Road Podcast
Where do you see it going? 

Travis: It’s hard to say because this started as a quarantine project. Our schedule will likely shift from weekly to semi-weekly once life returns to normal. Can’t say too much yet but we do have some great guests and industry folks lined up for future episodes so this could really take off into something bigger. My dream would be to do a Kingdom Hearts episode with the queen herself, SuperButterBuns.

Mike: I’m still out of a job, so, pie in the sky, here’s hoping this could become a full-time paid gig. Speaking of which, I sent you my resume. Did you receive it? Maybe check your spam folder since sometimes things get stuck in there. Also, I can work weekends if you need. Call me. Please.

Would you consider making it a video podcast or streaming it?

Travis: ONLY IF I GET TO BE IN FULL DRAG! Honestly though, I don’t know. If we do, I’d want us all to be in the same room. I think it would be fun to expand into gameplay streaming and Let’s Plays. We’d obviously have to start with Dream Daddy.

Mike: Yeah, only if Travis gets to be in full drag. I would pay to see that. Once my benefits cheque clears, of course.

Rainbow Road Podcast
How important is it to identify as LGBTQ in the video game world?

Travis: I think it’s crucial to be as queer as you can safely be in this community. The queer community has a love for video games for a hundred reasons like social connection, escapism, self-actualization, feelings of agency. But we’re also consistently disregarded by the people who wield power within gaming spaces. Look at the recent outrage over Ellie’s queerness being moved from the DLC of Last Of Us, to being front and centre in the sequel.

It’s important that we show ourselves, and let each other know we’re not alone. We’re all facing different struggles to be accepted. White gay men are the first ones to get our stories told, like in all media, but that also we means we’re taking that first wave. Lesbians are sexualized heavily, but are also seen as more palatable. Bisexuals are a mechanical tool for creating player choice, and don’t get their own stories. Binary trans people are treated as macabre jokes, still as recently as Breath of the Wild, and non-binary people only get representation as the strange, alien, others. I can only think of two ace characters in all of gaming, and I shudder to think how poorly the first intersex character will be treated.

But we’re also not invisible anymore. We can leverage what visibility we do have, into creating more inclusion for all of our queer family.

Mike: One of the cool parts of doing our show is that I hadn’t really considered this question until we began recording. I would say that, like Travis pointed out, visibility is a huge part of it. Much of the sexual diversity that exists today has been the result of self-discovery and exploration. And if games can help us do more of that, I feel like it may be a more important question than we realize. On our “Slice of Life Gaming” episode for instance, our friend Vivian realized that it may have been her childhood experience with The Sims that helped her discover herself queer identity. So who knows?

What have your experiences been like being LGBTQ in the games world? 

Travis: Like most people, I think it’s been a mix of positive and negative. I’ve used gaming to connect with other queer people and made some wonderful friends and relationships. There’s a great group called Toronto Gaymers and I recommend anyone to find something similar in their own town. If you can’t find it, start it. I used to work at a board game cafe called Snakes and Lattes and they were immensely supportive of me setting up mixers and events for Pride Week. But I also don’t feel comfortable playing a lot of games online. The homophobic abuse whenever I used voice chat in Rainbow Six Siege was so toxic, that I had to leave the game entirely.

Mike: I’m often perceived as straight, so it’s fun when I get to “come out” to a group of people that I’ve been online gaming with after sharing positive experiences with them. Generally, I feel like connection and cooperation help de-stigmatize. Though if I get salty, I’m not above tea-bagging or telling someone I’m going to make sweet love to their father under the stars at midnight – so it’s a fine line. Maybe I’m actually doing more harm than good…

Do you feel a responsibility to represent LGBTQ people and gaymers through your podcast?

Travis: Absolutely. As a cis white man, I represent such a small sliver of the queer community, and we are so over-represented. I try to keep that in mind every time we look for new guests and do research for an episode. I’ve had cishet friends tell me they’re listening to the podcast, and while I’m thrilled, I’m also really aware of how much responsibility there is in being a gateway to a marginalized community.

Mike: I’m not what you would call a “responsible person.” I haven’t fed my cat in four days, and I’m pretty sure he’s starting to see me as a giant, cartoonish piece of meat. But Matt Knarr, our producer, takes out anything I say that I’ve been told is considered “offensive” or “not appropriate” or “outright inflammatory.” He’s a great editor though, truly.

What games are you playing at the moment? 

Travis: Well if you’re ever curious as to what we’re playing, you can always check out the podcast! We end every episode with a segment called “Whatcha Playin”. I just finished Afterparty, a game where you have to beat the devil in a drinking contest. Next up is either the Uncharted Series because it was free on Playstation (thank you Naughty Dog), or possibly FFVII-R.

Mike: I actually did just start the Final Fantasy VII Remake, myself. I actually never played the original – AND YES I KNOW IT’S A SIN – anyway, I want to know why everyone loves it so much. And it hasn’t disappointed so far!

Rainbow Road Podcast
What was your favourite game last year?

Travis: Kingdom Hearts 3. I am a die-hard, obsessed fan of the series, and I was thrilled with the conclusion. I cried more than once playing the game. I have some very different feelings about the Re:Mind DLC story, but I won’t bore you with that rant…

Mike: Was Spider-Man for the PS4 last year? I hope it was. That game was amazing. I’ve never had so much fun just going from mission to mission, swinging through the streets of New York City. *THWIP THWIP*

What’s the one game you can rely on to help you relax and escape? 

Travis: I weirdly enjoy roguelikes. As someone who suffers from three different mental illnesses, I use gaming as a calming force in my life. Having to roll with the punches and deal with problems as they come? Having to simultaneously plan and improvise? Knowing that some mistakes are permanent, but that doesn’t mean you get to stop trying? It’s just very reassuring to me, and it puts me in a good headspace. I would recommend FTL: Faster Than Light or Slay The Spire.

Mike: Overwatch! I can play that game all day long. It’s so fun AND inclusive. Also, the episode of “Rainbow Road” where we talked about it was also one of my favorites to record. You should check it out! Maybe right now? Actually, I can play it for you off my phone! Hold on, one sec I just have to find the – oh, your security guy is shaking his head at me. Is our time up? Okay, well I’m still interested in that job if you’re still hiring.

Sorry Mike, like I said, I’ll get back to you… How can our readers keep up with you?

Our official links are twitter.com/RainbowRoadPod and our email is rainbowroadpodcast@gmail.com

You can listen to the Rainbow Road Podcast on Podbean and also via other major podcast platforms.

Rainbow Road Podcast

Robin Gray

[He/Him] Robin is the Founder of Gayming Magazine. He's on a mission to fly the LGBTQ flag proudly over the video games world and drive forward authentic representation in the industry, in the press and in the games we love.