Friday, June 21, 2024

Harrison Draven, voice of Marley in Sea of Thieves, talks transitioning in game

Marley from Sea of Thieves recently was reintroduced having had a reinvention by transitioning in game, making him the most notable trans character in Sea of Thieves, but not the only one!

Marley is a senior trader with the Merchant Alliance, an organization with a representative in every port, ready to send you on new voyages or trade some sea junk you found for something more valuable. His transition also mirrors the real life voice actor, Harrison Draven, who himself transitioned a year prior and was asked back to re-record the lines in their male voice.

“Visitors to Galleon’s Grave Outpost may spot that the Merchant Alliance representative Marley has undergone a reinvention of sorts, finally presenting in a way that feels true to himself,” Rare said in their social media announcement.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Harrison to talk about his work on the game, the character’s transition, and the importance of trans visibility in game and in the industry.

Robin Gray: Hi Harrison, let’s kick off by introducing yourself and what your day job is.

Harrison Draven: I’m a Technical Program Manager at Rare and I support our UX teams, so that’s our web team and our in-game UI team. I’m focused on the needs to hit deadlines, making sure that we’re on track and my team is also happy and not overwhelmed. It can start really granularly, but then throughout the day I’m pretty much in back to back meetings managing capacity and dealing with any roadblocks. 

My role can also switch to long-term strategic planning, ensuring that we have an eye on what’s coming up in six to twelve months time and making sure that the team is aligned to those business goals. In that mode, I’m making sure everybody knows what they’re doing, why it’s important and what it’s going to mean for our community.

Harrison Draven
Alongside sitting in your meetings all day with your day job, you also have a side gig of voicing characters and…

Yeah, apparently so!

It was recently revealed that Marley, which is the character that you voice in Sea of Thieves, has had a bit of a life upgrade making them a canonically trans character in the game. When was the decision taken to update the character to follow your own transition?

So there are actually two other trans characters in Sea of Thieves. There’s Emily who uses they/them pronouns and they’re a Pirate Emporium shopkeeper. There’s no reference in the dialogue or anything, it’s literally that Emily uses they/them pronouns in their dialogue, so that’s really cool. And also, I didn’t know this but one of the Community Team told me, Alistair transitioned using the Pirate Appearance Potion in one of the comics as well.

It’s really cool that Sea of Thieves has this many trans characters, one even I didn’t know about! But yeah, in terms of when the conversations started, one of the producers on Sea of Thieves last summer was like “Hey have you ever thought of Meg transitioning?” I hadn’t even thought that was something that was possible or if I felt comfortable doing that in the first place. But following a lot of conversations with Amy the producer and people that would champion it like Christina and Jo from the Community Team, I was like, yeah, let’s absolutely go for it. 

When that question was posed to me, I was excited that this could actually be something cool, but also having Meg in the game didn’t bother me at all because to me that’s a part of my life,  that’s what happened. I know though for a lot of trans people, they might not have liked that at all and they would have asked to remove the character. 

As I said, the process kicked off at the end of summer last year and obviously there’s a lot that goes into changing a whole character with folks from across the studio including the audio team, Jon Vincent on the audio team was really pushing for this to happen and would ask me every time I came into the studio “when are we re-recording your lines”, which made me smile and was awesome. Narrative designers had to write the lines and they would send them to me to make sure they aligned with how I felt about myself and if it was too on the nose or not on the nose enough, but I think Richard nailed it.

The whole process made me feel really supported by everybody and it just occurred to me that I was going to send them an email saying thank you but then the porting to PlayStation happened and I completely forgot! 

Well this article can be a way to thank everyone! 

I’m honestly so grateful it’s happened because every time I get to go to Galleon’s Grave Outpost now it’s nice to see him. 

How often do you go and check in with yourself? 

More times than I care to admit!

The social media from Rare that announced Marley’s life upgrade said that Marley is finally presenting in a way that feels true to himself. Why do you think it’s so important that people should feel true to themselves?

It takes a lot of energy to not be the person that you are and having to hide your true self away 24 hours a day. If you’re not comfortable, if you don’t feel safe or you’re not supported, it’s very difficult to exist as a human, and since transitioning that weight, while still there as dysphoria exists, has lessened as I feel truer to myself. 

How proud are you that you’re able to rep the trans community both in game and also in the industry?

I knew that it was going to mean a lot to our community in game, but also the LGBTQ+ community as a whole. If I’ve helped one person by being outwardly loud about who I am and making them feel seen and supported even if they’re not out themselves yet, then that makes me feel just fantastic to be honest. 

Marley on Sea of Thieves (credit: Rare)
Marley’s reinvention mirrors your own personal journey as you transitioned while working at Rare. How did you find that journey?

I knew something was different since I was 6, but it took me until I was 29 to actually realize. I was doing my dissertation at university which was about gender expression in video games, and during that time I was playing Dragon Age, Gone Home and any kind of LGBTQ+ content that I could get, as well as watching a lot of trans YouTubers. It was through that I was able to finally realize, I’m trans.

It wasn’t until 2020 that I actually came out to the whole studio having come out to my wife Kate and my family before that. I finally understood, I’d taken the time to understand how I feel about it. I felt safe enough to say, I’m trans.

It took me a while to be able to tell the company, but because of my job I’m speaking to all different kinds of people and disciplines from Rare and other studios all day, every day, so I couldn’t have just a subset of people know that I was trans because I would still be getting misgendered potentially by other people across the studio that didn’t know. So I had a couple of personal calls with my manager at the time and other people on my team to say “by the way, I use he/him pronouns now, you can still call me Parr, but I’ve changed my name to Harrison”, and everyone was just so cool about it. 

I think it’s a credit to the people and the culture at Rare that I then felt safe enough to send a company-wide email to 300 plus people saying “Hi, this is who I am now.” Obviously, as it is with everybody, there were a couple of misgenderings here and there but it was never made to be a big deal. 

Rare is a brand that looks after everybody and the people are very understanding. They want to support you and make you feel seen and heard as much as possible. I don’t think I would have been able to do that in other places that I’ve worked in like retail. Everyone gave me strength and it’s good they’ve got your back. 

In the wider industry, there’s going to be some pockets of shittiness, but I’m now at a point where I can stand up and advocate for marginalized people’s voices. I don’t get to many industry events, but I’m never going to shy away from sticking up for myself or anybody else.

You came to the Gaming Awards Event, that’s where we met.

Yeah and I met Mia, so thank you for introducing me to her. That was the first time I met another trans person face to face in the industry and she was lovely & kind. That was such a positive moment and if I can carry that forward for others then that will be cool. 

What more could the industry be doing to celebrate and support trans lives and stories in game and in the industry?

I think the biggest thing from a company perspective is to make sure that we feel secure, supported and understood as much as humanly possible. People are way more aware than they were five or ten years ago, but more education is still needed. This was the first time my manager had someone transition and as I said to him, I can help, but I can’t educate you because I’m going through this journey and I don’t know everything either. He was wonderful though and we learned a lot together, he was so accommodating and continues to be. I think that’s key too, just being prepared to do whatever is needed to accommodate staff, providing them with information and resources and reassuring your staff you’re there if they need you. 

In terms of games, genuinely, just more trans stories. Give me more trans stories, even if we’re not the sole purpose of a storyline, if we’re just part of a story and we’re just existing in a world just being able to be who we are. I love a trans storyline, don’t get me wrong, but I just want to see trans people being happy, enjoying their lives and thriving. We don’t need calling out every two seconds, we don’t need people feeling sorry for us, we just want to get on with our lives!

Harrison, thanks so much for your time, and to all of you out there go say hi to Marley at Galleon’s Grave Outpost in Sea of Thieves!

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