Thursday, April 18, 2024
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GLAAD’s Changemakers spotlights Lead Dev of ValiDate, Dani LaLonders

Changemakers, the award-winning series from GLAAD, the world’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer media advocacy organization, has released its third episode of Season 2. This episode focuses on Dani LaLonders, the lead developer behind visual novel game, ValiDate: Struggling Singles in your Area.

Produced by GLAAD’s digital content brand NEON, Changemakers is a series of docu-shorts which increase the visibility of Black LGBTQ people by highlighting the stories of local heroes and thus sending messages of support, inspiration and encouragement to Black & LGBTQ business owners and industry leaders.

“The new season of ‘Changemakers‘ is so timely because it tackles some of the most pressing issues facing Black LGBTQ people across industries,” said Abdool Corlette, GLAAD’s Creative Director and co-founder of NEON. “From sports to housing to video games to health care, ‘Changemakers’ is shining a light on four Black trans and nonbinary leaders who are fighting to make sure that the needs of their communities are not ignored.”

This week’s episode of Changemakers shows the power of video games, and what incredible pieces of art they are in the ways they let us explore new and exciting things about ourselves. For ValiDate’s Dani LaLonders, video games was a way to escape from real life. “Growing up I was the only child to a single mom. Being an only child I had a lot of time to myself, and a lot of free time where my mom would be at work or she’d be at functions.” They explain in the docu-short. “I was often bullied for being tall and on the chubbier side, and I just turned to video games as a form of escapism.”

Growing up with video games, LaLonders quickly felt that video games was something that they were just meant to do. Yet the first time LaLonders played online games, they were met with racist slurs and attacks from people they had never met before. “The treatment I experienced made me realize how prominent racism is in the gaming community.”

LaLonders pondered more about how video games could be so fun, so interactive, and yet not include characters that looked like them? Even now in 2023, most games that are put out follow the story of your typical white male protagonist, who is typically straight or completely sexless. Lately video game developers have been expanding to include more female protagonists, but even they are mostly white with very few exceptions. It was this need for games that weren’t just following your average white protagonist that spurred LaLonders into developing ValiDate.

Dani LaLonders
Image Source: GLAAD

Set in the fictional location of Jercy City, ValiDate follows the stories of 13 very different individuals as they look for love, friendship and more while going out on dates. During development of the game, one thing the team working on ValiDate wanted to emphasize that these characters are real people, people that you could easily see walking down the street, and people who you could relate to. Whether through what they’ve experienced in-game, how they look, their gender and sexuality, or something as simple as the way they dress.

ValiDate is special in that it prioritizes characters from a range of different cultures, and puts them in the protagonist role. “When we are in games, we’re typically side characters, we’re never a love interest, and when we are we’re a love interest to a character who often dies.” LaLonders explained. “Oftentimes when people are putting people of colour in media, it’s to fill a diversity quota, it’s to have their token character.” LaLonders named this process as ‘creating without care’ due to the creation process not actually valuing the character being put into the world.

Due to the game’s success, LaLonders has begun to see more games that look more and more like ValiDate by having more people of colour as the main star, playable characters, and involved in more and more important roles. The games industry needed a major shake up, and Changemakers‘ episode 3 asks: is that ValiDate?

You can find out by watching the full third episode ‘ValiDate’ of Changemakers below.

Aimee Hart

[She/They] Aimee Hart specializes in queer fandom, video games and tabletop, having started her career writing for numerous websites like The Verge, Polygon, Input Magazine and more. Her goal now is to boost LGBTQ+ voices in the video games industry.