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Creative Coding Interview

assorted color striped illustration

Creative Coding:

An Interview with Dylan Paré, Director of the Queer Code Collective, by Dover Horesh, a Social Impact student in the Creative Technology and Design graduate program at CU Boulder.

Dylan was recently contacted by Dover Horesh, a student in the Creative Technology and Design graduate program at CU Boulder with a request to do an interview for their creative coding class. Dover asked lots of interesting questions and so we thought we’d share the conversation publicly. Includes links to resources for aspiring and emerging LGBTQ+ virtual reality developers.


About Dover:

Dover Horesh (they/them) is a Social Impact student in the Creative Technology and Design graduate program at CU Boulder. Dover graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Design from Wentworth Institute of Technology in 2021. They were involved in leadership roles with the Wentworth Jewish Club and the Equity and Community Union at Wentworth, as well as the JCCC Gender and Sexuality Alliance at Johnson County Community College.

About Dylan:

Dylan Paré (they/them) is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Learning Sciences at the University of Calgary, Werklund School of Education. They are also the Founder and Director of the Queer Code Collective. Dylan co-designs virtual, immersive, and interactive computational environments for learning about complex systems, computational thinking, and technology design. Their primary research project reimagines computational and technoscientific literacies by interweaving complexity studies, scholarship on embodiment, and queer and trans phenomenology.


Dover: My name is Dover and I’m a student at CU Boulder. I’m taking a creative coding class and one of my assignments is to research a creative coder. I saw your work as part of Queer Coding and was wondering if I could ask you a few questions and present your work?

Dover: I really enjoyed the Creative Futures film, and I was wondering what your specific role was in that?

Dylan: As a small research and design studio, members of the Queer Code Collective wear many hats on each project. For our film, Creative Futures, I was a co-director and co-producer. Additionally, I did research and facilitation with the youth artists, post-production sound, and marketing. I also did the film editing and mixed reality compositing in Adobe Premiere, and the virtual environment setup and animation in Unity for the 360° portion of the project. 

Dover: What brought you to VR and Queer Code?

Dylan: I previously worked as an educational consultant in gender and sexual diversity for workplace and community settings and post-secondary student services for gender and sexual diversity, healthy relationships, and sexual health education. I started a Ph. D. in the Learning Sciences to research how to improve the design of learning environments to better support learning about gender and sexuality that leverage technology, critical perspectives and that center the experiences of queer and trans people across the spectrum. 

I first tried VR in 2017 and was immediately interested in leveraging VR to design learning environments about gender and sexuality. I tried as many immersive, social issues experiences as I could by going to festivals and small VR gallery shows because there was not a lot available in the VR gaming stores. I also read as much of the academic research on immersive, social issues VR as I could find. Early research and creative work on VR and social issues suggested that VR is an “empathy machine.” While there is some small truth in this statement, I have since found that virtual reality can be leveraged as a perspectival technology and that eliciting empathy has much more to do with how we tell stories in VR.

A perspectival technology is one that helps us to take on new or different perspectives from our own. In virtual reality environments, we can influence people’s perspectives through, for instance, the scale of the environment, the avatars people can become, who they are with inside the environment both through virtual representations (like the art the youth created in the film Creative Futures) and through multiplayer interactions, to name a few. However, when people learn, they do not simply take on new perspectives and forget their previous experiences. This belief that we can simply put someone in another person’s shoes and have them experience a day in their life is where the “empathy machine” claim falls short. Instead, people bring their prior beliefs about a social issue into the learning environment. We cannot elicit their empathy if those prior beliefs stand in the way of reflecting upon and integrating a new or different perspective. 

My research on designing technologies that integrate storytelling and insights into sociopolitical learning processes aims to address these challenges. I started Queer Code after designing and developing a couple of immersive projects and seeing that the potential of VR and other computer simulation-supported learning environments is not only in the technology. By researching how people interact with queer and trans technologies and how their previous knowledge shapes their learning experiences in these environments, I am discovering how sociopolitical learning happens, how it is tied to identities and histories, and how to iteratively design technologies to support critical learning about gender and sexuality.

Dover: That’s really interesting. I completely agree with you on the limitations of the “empathy machine.”  How recently did you finish Mementorium?

Dylan: We finished the initial development of Mementorium in December 2020, and its world premiere was at the 2021 ACM SIGGRAPH conference — the premier conference & exhibition in computer graphics & interactive techniques. We were also just awarded a 2021 Rosie Award from the Alberta Media Production Industries Association (AMPIA) for Best Narrative Game or Interactive Project. We are currently conducting research with Mementorium for my Ph. D. Dissertation project on learning about gender and sexuality with virtual reality. We are very pleased with the reception of Mementorium at all stages of our development, from our initial funding support from Oculus Launch Pad, to our positive juror reviews and acceptance into SIGGRAPH, our latest Rosie Award, and the initial findings from Dylan’s Ph. D. research. We expect to have a public release sometime in late 2022.

Dover: What kind of programming languages/platforms do you use to do your work? 

Dylan: We work in Unity and Unreal game engines, working with a mix of C# or C++ and blueprints for virtual reality. We also work in Processing, HTML, CSS, and Javascript. We use a number of other software programs to produce assets such as 3D models, 2D graphics, and audio and video clips for use in the game engines.

Dover: Did you have any programming experience before working in VR?

Dylan: I had a small amount of self-taught coding experience prior to working in VR, and everything I’ve learned since has been through online tutorials and working on projects with my team. 

Dover: What would you say to trans youth who are interested in VR as a tool for growth? When I was watching Creative Futures what struck me was how each person had built an entirely different experience with the same tools, and I was wondering if there had been any struggle in helping them learn to use the tools as their own medium instead of what they might’ve thought was expected of them?

Dylan: That’s a great insight and gets at some of the behind-the-scenes work that is not shown in the film due to time.

Although each of the youth artists in the film is transgender and/or nonbinary, we wanted to show a diversity of trans youth experiences to show viewers that being transgender does not have a single meaning or experience. Unfortunately, as a short film, we could only have three trans youth artists participate, which limited the diversity we could show. But the youth artists were all fantastic and eager to tell their stories in ways that expressed something close to their hearts. 

The youth artists were amazing and learned to use the VR art tools and produce their art in about two days, including interruptions from the directors for interviews. I facilitated three short workshops with them – one was in VR art tools training, another was in world-building and speculative fiction, and the other was in storytelling. We brainstormed topics that were important to their identities and experiences, and the directors (myself and Scout) were available to answer quick questions about how to use the VR art tools. However, the workshops were only a small part of the process, and each of them quickly iterated on their VR art and found ways to translate their non-VR art skills to VR painting.

I’ve found that people with little to no experience with VR quickly find themselves playing, experimenting, and making art with relative ease across situations where another team member or I have facilitated VR art workshops. The freedom of working inside the 3D space with digital tools that allow for easily iterating and changing the art makes VR art a fun and playful tool. I see my role as a facilitator to provide encouragement and help people find and tell their stories, particularly queer and trans people. 

VR offers a way to tell stories in new spatial and immersive ways that can reach people differently. In my research so far, I have found that VR storytelling and story-listening offer an embodied, immersive experience that encourages us to think about who we are and who we are with (narratively and digitally) in the virtual world, and by extension, in our everyday lives. 

Lastly, I would say to trans youth interested in VR as a tool for growth that, like any art form, creating in VR can be transformative and healing for oneself and one’s communities, which is valuable in and of itself. Creating art to transform others and help others learn about your perspective will always be a challenge as a marginalized artist. Although we cannot compel people to grow just by entering a VR experience, for those who accept the invitation, we might find ways to forge connections across differences using VR as a new medium for immersive storytelling.

Dover: Could I ask you for some background information? Where are you from, what were your original career plans (if they changed) and what kind of effect did this have on your career?

Dylan: I am Canadian and have lived in both Calgary, Alberta and Hamilton, Ontario. I grew up in both areas and consider both to be home. I currently live in Calgary, which is the traditional territories of the people of the Treaty 7 region in Southern Alberta. The City of Calgary is also home to Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3.

I have always been interested in social issues, education, and technology, but my path into designing interactive computer simulations and VR was a bit of a pivot. I was working in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) for workplaces and postsecondary, as well as doing community organizing and education to support LGBTQ+ communities. Although I had wanted to go into some kind of computer science or technology field since I was very young and was a quick learner with computers, I was not formally supported to grow in these areas and was primarily self-taught. Eventually, in my Ph. D., I found the support necessary to take everything I have learned from my previous work in DEI and community organizing and to bring it into new forms of research and design with technologies.


Resources For Aspiring And Emerging LGBTQ+ Virtual Reality Developers

Trans Game Dev

https://www.transgame.dev/

Trans Game Dev is a rapidly growing community of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals who are passionate about game development. We provide a safe and engaging space for our members to discuss their work, find new team members, and network with others in the industry.


QGCON – Queerness in Games Conference

https://qgcon.com/

The Queerness and Games Conference (QGCon) is a community-oriented, internationally-recognized event dedicated to exploring the intersection of LGBTQ issues and games founded in 2013. The overall goal of QGCon is to bring together a community of academic researchers, game industry workers, artists and practitioners, students, and players to share and disseminate knowledge, to engage in critical conversations, and to build relationships with each other. 


Gay Gaming Professionals

http://gaygamingpros.org/ 

GGP is a leading organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender game industry professionals and enthusiasts from around the world.


Games and Online Harassment Hotline

https://gameshotline.org/

The Games and Online Harassment Hotline is a free, text message-based, confidential emotional support hotline. We created the Hotline specifically for the gaming community. Whether you’re a player, a developer, a streamer, a competitor — any part of this community —we’re here for you, whether that means offering emotional support or finding the referrals and resources that you need.

Also, check out their Resources page. https://gameshotline.org/resources 


Unity Engine XR Learning

Search the listings of Unity Engine learning resources for XR development.


Unreal Engine Course – Oculus VR Production for Unreal Engine

https://learn.unrealengine.com/home/LearningPath/117459?r=False&ts=637685328062399118

Oculus VR Production for Unreal Engine is a wide-ranging Learning Path consisting of 12 courses each focused on providing comprehensive instruction for developing VR experiences in Unreal Engine.


Oculus Launchpad

https://developer.oculus.com/launch-pad/

Oculus Launch Pad is a program designed to support promising VR content creators from diverse backgrounds as they iterate on their unique ideas and bring them to market. Each year, this program helps up to 100 professionals grow as emerging leaders in the field. Those selected to participate (subject to verification) receive hardware support and admission to our kickoff Boot Camp event. This event is designed to build and foster your understanding and passion for VR development through hands-on training with industry leaders.


Oculus Start

https://developer.oculus.com/oculus-start/

Oculus Start is a program created for developers who have either launched a VR application – or are close to releasing a VR application. It provides qualifying developers with access to hardware, developer support, a community of like-minded VR developers as well as software-related savings so you can focus on what’s really important – creating inspired VR applications.


VRChat World and Avatar Development 

https://docs.vrchat.com/docs/getting-started

VRChat is a free-to-play massively multiplayer online virtual reality social platform. VRChat lets you create, publish, and explore virtual worlds with other people from around the world.


VRC Prefabs – A welcoming developer community in VRChat

https://vrcprefabs.com/

VRC Prefabs is a VRChat community that focuses on helping and sharing with others. Our goal is to create a source of good content that is legal and free.


Featured

Flocking Bow Valley Debut

Sunday was a beautiful day to debut Queer Code Collective’s new Flocking Bow Valley exhibit on the big screen in Canmore, AB at ArtsPlace Canmore’s Festival of Art and Creativity and as part of the first Canmore Pride. 🏳️‍🌈🏳️‍⚧️

This sim is now available online! Check it out at Flocking Bow Valley! It runs on the web from mobile📱 or PC💻.

Flocking Bow Valley is an extension of the original Flocking QT Stories installation, with all-new stories collected from Bow Valley LGBTQ2S+ community members and a redesign of the simulation.

The new simulation has 42 short stories (approximately 90 minutes total) about gender and sexuality-based marginalization and resilience embedded in a multi-agent-based simulation that illustrates how structural (macro-level) phenomena such as gender and
sexuality-based marginalization and resilience can manifest through individual-level interactions between computational agents.

Through art, code, and community stories, Flocking Bow Valley aims to share the diversity of sexuality and gender experiences and how marginalization and resilience show up in our everyday lives. This simulation was made possible through the support of artsPlace Canmore, Canmore Pride, and the many people residing in the Bow Valley area who shared their stories.

The Flocking Queer/Trans Simulations are part of Dylan Paré’s Ph.D. dissertation research in the Learning Sciences in the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary, Canada. Dylan is researching how storytelling combined with immersive and interactive computational simulations can help people learn critical sociopolitical perspectives of gender and sexuality and consider gender and sexuality as complex, emergent phenomena.

Closing Remarks

Featured

Queer Code In the News: Gazette des Femmes – Virtual Reality in the Service of Equality

Gazette des Femmes just published about virtual reality in the service of equality and Queer Code is in it!

Written by Andrée-Marie Dussault, the article, La réalité virtuelle au service de l’égalité / Virtual Reality in the Service of Equality, is an interesting look at emergent feminist, queer, and trans work in VR.

We’re thankful to Andrée-Marie for interviewing Dylan about our work and hopeful that more people will recognize the value and importance of queer narratives in VR for learning about gender and sexual diversity and equality.

Gazette des Femmes is a feminist publication created in 1979 by the Québec Council on the Status of Women. As feminists, Queer Code is honoured to be included as a voice in advancing gender equality and justice.

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Invited talk at iLRN – Designing Queer Technologies

Happy Pride Month! For us here at the Queer Code Collective, Pride is a celebration of our histories and cultures and the ongoing social movement struggles for equity and justice. If you’re somewhere in the world where you’re celebrating Pride in June, the Queer Code Collective wishes you a Happy Pride!

Screen capture of iLRN talk in the Virbela virtual conference platform. Dylan is represented as an avatar on a stage with three large digital presentation screens behind them.

This month, Dylan was invited as a featured plenary speaker at the Immersive Learning Research Network Conference where they spoke about their dissertation research as well as the Queer Code Collective’s design work. You can see in the picture above, Dylan is in avatar form on a virtual stage in the Virbela platform with their presentation slides on the virtual screens behind them. The talk, Designing Queer Technologies: A Phenomenological Reorientation of Immersive and Interactive Learning, is up on iLRN’s YouTube. Thanks so much to the organizers of iLRN for the invitation!


Flip through the presentation slides:

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Oculus Developers Spotlight

We’re very happy to share the Oculus Developers spotlight about the Queer Code Collective and the making of Mementorium! It includes a spiffy video of our studio and even a quick cameo of our furry friends, Yoda (cat), Pippin (large dog), and Dharma (small dog).

We hope you enjoy this sneak peek behind the scenes!

https://developer.oculus.com/blog/oculus-launch-pad-grads-dylan-par-scout-windsor-and-john-craig-share-the-creative-process-behind-mementorium/

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Article in Le Temps on Exploring Gender through Virtual Reality

Queer Code Collective was interviewed for an article published in Le Temps, a Swiss news site, on Exploring Gender through Virtual Reality. Written by journalist Pauline Verduziez, the article looks at how various artists and researchers are using virtual reality to fight against discrimination, expand learning possibilities, and explore questions of gender and sexuality.

The collective enjoyed speaking with Pauline about our VR development work, including our recently developed application, Mementorium, and earlier app, Queer and Trans Narratives in VR. Dylan also shared their research on gender and sexuality, VR, and learning.

Here is an excerpt from the article referencing our conversations (in the original French with an English translation following):

Le collectif canadien Queer Code, lui, a mis au point une expérience en réalité virtuelle qui consiste à évoluer dans un monde fictif en entendant des témoignages de personnes queers victimes de discriminations. «L’intention est d’élargir les perspectives sur la marginalisation en fonction du genre ou de la sexualité. Il s’agit de créer un sentiment de compréhension autour de cette lutte», explique Dylan Paré, chercheur-se à la tête du collectif.

The Canadian collective Queer Code has developed a virtual reality experience that consists of moving in a fictional world while hearing testimonies from queer people who are victims of discrimination. “The intention is to broaden perspectives on marginalization based on gender or sexuality. It’s about creating a feeling of understanding around this struggle, ”explains Dylan Paré, researcher at the head of the collective.

Pauline Verduzier, “Explorer le genre grâce à la réalité virtuelle,” Le Temps, January 6, 2021. https://www.letemps.ch/societe/explorer-genre-grace-realite-virtuelle

New research publication, Queering Computing and Computing Education

New research publication, Queering Computing and Computing Education by Dylan Paré, is published with Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education! Read the full post-print draft here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/350411899_A_Critical_Review_and_New_Directions_for_Queering_Computing_and_Computing_Education

The final publication is available: https://oxfordre.com/education/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190264093.001.0001/acrefore-9780190264093-e-1524

Summary:
Technological imaginaries underpinning computing and technoscientific practices and pedagogies are predominantly entrenched in cisheteropatriarchal, imperialist, and militaristic ideologies. A critical, intersectional queer and trans phenomenological analysis of computing education offers an epistemological and axiological reimagining by centering the analysis of gender and sexuality through the lens of marginalized people’s experiences (queer, trans, and intersecting marginalities). It analyzes how systems of domination and liberation occur through relationships between objects, people, and their environments and how these systems of power multiply in effect when people are situated at multiple axes of oppression (such as gender, sexuality, race, and disability).

Complexity, heterogeneity, and fluidity are at the core of queer and trans imaginaries and challenge the assumed naturalness of biological categories that underpin much of the cisheteronormative harm and violence in K-16 education, STEM (science, technological, engineering and medical) disciplinary practices, and technological innovations. Foregrounding complexity, heterogeneity, and fluidity supports the critique, construction, and transformation of computational objects, worlds, and learning environments so that queer and trans perspectives, narratives, and experiences are centered and valued. In doing so, ambiguity, fluidity, and body becoming are centered in virtual spaces, thereby offering emancipatory possibilities for supporting critical literacies of gender and sexuality.

Methodologically, approaches rooted in active solidarity with queer and trans people and a commitment to listening to intersectional experiences of gender and sexuality-based marginalization and resilience reorient computing learning environments towards liberatory, justice-oriented practices. Computing scholars and educators have identified data science (more broadly) and algorithmic bias (in particular) as an essential domain for furthering education research and practice. Histories of erasure, exclusion, and violence on queer and trans people, both by carceral technologies and algorithmic bias, and as part of the computing profession, are enacted on individual people and reflected in societal biases that inform and shape public experiences of computing and technologies.

Overall, queering computing education and computing education research directs attention towards a multifaceted problem: the historical and ongoing hegemonic, cisheteropatriarchal control over programming; the limitations to representation by code that a computer can recognize; the possibilities to queer code and computer architectures; the technological regulation of identity and bodies; and the limits and affordances of technological representation of gender and sexual identity. A queer, trans, intersectional, justice-oriented approach to computing education attends to the structural, socio-historical context in teaching and learning computer science and coding, including the dominant cultures of the technology workforce and the everyday disciplining interactions with technology that shape who we can become.

Word cloud of Queering Computing Chapter text
Word cloud of terms from Queering Computing and Computing Education

Oculus Launch Pad Scholarship 2019!!

Mementorium, our interactive narrative virtual reality experience, was awarded an Oculus Launch Pad 2019 Scholarship! 🎉🎉 We’re thrilled to have Oculus’ support to develop our app over the next few months. 

Oculus Launch Pad was an incredible experience. We met so many talented developers with unique project ideas. We learned a lot from the Launch Pad boot camp, the Oculus Educational Summit, and the Oculus Connect 6 conference. We especially appreciate the friends we made and our connection to the growing Oculus Launch Pad Alumni community.

Hiking in San Francisco area at the end of February 2020 for OLP Demo Day when we shared our vertical slice with our OLP cohort.

Dylan is working hard on the narrative, and finding it challenging and fun. They’re drawing deeply from their background in the Learning Sciences, and Gender, Sexuality, & Feminist Studies, and returning to their most beloved authors who gave them strength & voice. They’re also finding that game writing dovetails nicely with their current academic writing on queering computing, and finding it very rewarding to have both the research writing and storytelling writing spaces to explore. The work in each is enriched by the other.

Scout is re-imagining our level design and experimenting with the procedural foliage tools in UE4. She’s finding virtual gardening is pretty awesome! 😀 We’re aiming for an atmosphere of magical realism, so she’s also dialing in the lighting to bring the right level of enchantment to the scenes. She’s really enjoying bringing the world of Mementorium to life and can’t wait to share more in the coming months! 

John is enjoying finding ways to support people to connect with the virtual environment. He looks forward to designing new interactions in virtual reality that help people connect gestures and object interactions to exploring memories. Collaborating with a team is like an exciting puzzle for John, of problem-solving the challenges we face to reach the goal of creating something together. 

We’ve got a lot of difficult work ahead of us, but none of us shy away from a fun design challenge. Especially when we get to work with friends!