I’m Alina Pete (they/them). I’m nehiyaw (Cree), from Little Pine First Nations in Saskatchewan, though I currently live on unceded Kwantlen land in Surrey, BC. You can check out my portfolio at alina-pete.com, my webcomic at weregeek.com, my Instagram at @alinapete_art, and my twitter is @alinapete.
Alina, you currently play an orc with fabulous pink hair in the Twitch stream Trash Heroes. When did you begin playing D&D and what is it about the game that keeps you playing?
I started playing D&D twice, actually. Once, when I was a teenager, I tried playing with a group of guys in their mom’s basement and it was AWFUL. Every stereotype you can think of about male gamers picking on a femme-gamer who was new to the hobby… It turned me off of trying tabletop gaming again for years, though I continued with my first roleplaying method – MUSHes and forum-based RP sites. These were “safe”, since they had the advantage of being something I could do in my own home, and were largely femme-centric spaces.
It wasn’t until university that I got the nerve to try tabletop gaming again. I saw posters up for a campus club called “The Gamer’s Club”, and they had a meeting that night. I went, and was invited to try a LARP that weekend. I tried it and LOVED it, and it was only after I’d been LARPing for several months that I tried out a tabletop game – Shadowrun, not D&D! It was several more years of TTRPGs and LARPing before I gave D&D another try. Now, I run my own 5e campaign and play in two regular stream games – Trash Heroes (twitch.tv/weregeekcomics), which you’ve mentioned, and Something Wicked (twitch.tv/something5e). So I came around on it eventually!
As a queer person, have roleplaying games helped you explore or express your queer identity?
OMG have they ever!! I’m bi/pan, and though I’ve played a few straight characters over the years, they were mostly guys. I also started experimenting with genderqueer characters even before I was really aware what my vague feelings of gender dysphoria meant. In my teens, I played a lot of male characters (mostly because, as I’ve mentioned, I was in a lot of femme-centric RP spaces and they needed more guys…), but maleness never really “fit”. I also played several genderfluid or non-binary LARP characters. One was a Beast in a Changeling: The Lost game who changed personality, gender, and species every season – for example, she was a deer in the spring, a genderfluid bird in the summer, and a male wolf in the winter. There was also Valentine, another Changeling character who was non-binary before they were abducted by the Red Queen of Wonderland and magicked so that whatever they wore would turn into dresses and other feminine clothing items.
Looking back, that maybe should have clued me into the fact that I wasn’t exactly cis…
Although changes have been made, D&D hasn’t always had the best track record of being an inclusive space for non-cishet players. How do you think safe spaces can be created, both individually and systemically?
I think that making safe spaces at the table shouldn’t just be encouraged during TTRPGs – it’s a must. You need to feel safe with everyone at the table, because some of the things that you explore through your characters are really personal or intimate. The only way to have that kind of comfort at the table is to discuss it from day one, before you even start making your characters, and to acknowledge the responsibility you each have to be kind and considerate to one another.
The book Your Best Game Ever has a great section on responsibility – of players to each other, of players to the DM, and the DMs responsibility to everyone at the table. It’s really great, and a much healthier place than the adversarial relationship between players and DMs that is often the norm in old-school D&D. Safety tools like the ok-check-in system and others that have been developed for LARPs are also great tools to bring to your gaming table!
On a systemic basis, change needs to come from gamers being LOUD and refusing to stand for games that aren’t inclusive. Gamers sharing their stories of bad experiences with one another means that a) you know you’re not alone if you’ve had a bad experience with gaming and that it can get better and b) so that there’s more awareness in the industry of how some things that may seem innocuous, like gendered rules/language, can exclude players. We also need to push for more diversity on writing teams, not just as consultants!
You created the online comic Weregeek for over 14 years. What did you learn about yourself as an artist through that project?
Phew, what DIDN’T I learn during that time? I was a wee baby, fresh out of animation school, when I started Weregeek. I started the comic mostly as a way to force me to keep practicing my art until I got an animation job, but it quickly turned into so much more than art practice. I learned about how to structure a joke, how to do backgrounds, how to write interesting dialogue and characters… I really don’t think I’d be the artist OR writer I am today without Weregeek.
The fifth edition of Cautionary Fables and Fairytales called The Woman in the Woods and Other North American Stories has raised over $300,000 on Kickstarter. You worked as an editor for this graphic novel anthology of North American fables. How do you think your Cree identity affects your artwork and/or projects?
I think it’d be impossible for it to NOT influence my projects! Even in Weregeek, the character Abbie has a lot of my worldview – she’s mixed race and from a background similar to mine, and allowed me to show how being from a marginalized group in gaming can give you a radically different viewpoint from the folks you share a table with.
Recently, though, I’ve been doing stories where I’ve been asked to explore my identity in a really thoughtful and deliberate way. For the anthology Moonshot, Vol.2, I was asked to tell a traditional Cree story set in modern times. In this story, I chose to take a story from the Qu’Appelle Valley, where I spent summers growing up, about how voices from the lake sometimes call out to people to try and lure them beneath the dark waters. I then reinterpreted it through the lens of the MMIWG crisis. In this story, a man who has left the reserve to work in the oil and gas fields comes back home when his girlfriend goes missing, only to hear her calling out to him from the lake. Should he listen? Should he not? I think that comics can make really heavy topics like this a little more approachable and yet more REAL for people who don’t necessarily know how to engage with numbers and statistics in a newspaper article.
Other than D&D or comics, what nerdy interests are you most excited about right now?
God, SO many things… I think the biggest one though is costuming. I’m really interested in costumes, and there’s such amazing stuff coming from the cosplay and furry communities right now. LED-everything, monster masks airbrushed so they look frighteningly real, 3d printed masks with moving parts or glowing eyes all run via Raspberry PI, stilts, giant wings that actually move! I really love that kind of merging of art and technology, and I’ve definitely been known to leap out from behind my booth at a convention to go and talk to a cosplayer about how they made a particular piece or what kind of paint/finish they used!
Do you have any recommendations of queer nerdy content that you would like people to know about?
SO much. It might be easiest to break it into categories.
- Animation: She-Ra is the obvious answer and I still HIGHLY recommend it, but I’ve got to shout out Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts for a) being a really fun show and b) having the first and cutest meet-cute between two guys I’ve seen on a non-anime animated series.
- Sci fi: Becky Chamber’s Wayfarers series is a must-read, but I especially love the first book. No spoilers, but Sissix is the best. (Dr. Chef is ALSO the best. And Kizzy. And all of them really.)
- Fantasy: Anything by Aliette de Bodard, but especially In The Vanisher’s Palace, which is a queer retelling of Beauty and the Beast in a really amazing setting grounded in Vietnamese folklore.
- Webcomic: There’s a really cute comic on Webtoons called Blades of Furry. The only way I can describe it is if you mashed up Beastars and Yuri on Ice. I love it!