ACT | The App Association recognizes the gap in representation in the tech community, and we want to change that. Whether you’re a woman, a person of color, a member of the LGBTQIA++ community, or someone who feels marginalized based on your level of ability to walk, or to speak: we hear you, we recognize you, and we want to amplify you. Our Amplify series will lift the voices of those in the tech community who are working to close those gaps in representation. We’re highlighting the problem solvers, telling the stories that don’t get told, and elevating those who are driving change in their field.
Working as a content developer at E-Line Media, Elaine Gomez is a dynamic talent in the gaming community. As a woman and member of the Latinx community, Elaine is all too familiar with the gap in representation within the video game industry and is actively working to fill it. After hearing some of Elaine’s story on a workforce development during Apple’s panel during the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Leadership Institute, we sat down with her to learn more about her efforts and what we could do to elevate her story and amplify her voice.
So many times, the reason that people are scared or intimidated to do something is because they haven’t seen someone like them do it first. When was the first time you saw someone like you do something inspiring/doing what you wanted to do?
The very first Latinx person I ever encountered as I was pursuing my studies was Dr. Joe Sanchez, a professor of mine at Rutgers University. I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for his encouragement, I wouldn’t be where I am today. He recommended that I apply to the iSchool Inclusion Institute at the University of Pittsburgh, which, as it turns out, opened numerous opportunities and doors throughout my career.
Who are some other figures in the gaming industry that can inspire other women or members of the Latinx community?
There are several Latinx people who are doing incredible things in the games industry. I admire the work of the folks at Lienzo, a studio in Mexico that made the game Mulaka, which was featured on the Nintendo Switch e-store. Then there are the administrators, myself included, of the Latinx in Gaming group, an official special interest group within the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) that brings Latinx makers together.
Cristina Amaya (event manager at Unity3D), (narrative designer at Endless Entertainment and former Marine), Judy Jetset (voice actress and community manager for Esports in NYC) are just some of the amazing people who donate their time and talents to help keep the group going. As administrators, we provide resources and networking for the Latinx community in all paths within the industry and give group members a safe space to talk on our Discord channel. There are some incredible Latinx creators doing everything from podcasts to streaming gameplay on Twitch to designing, programming, and making art in games, and we want to uplift them.
How do we grow involvement, whether it’s the Latinx community or other diverse populations, in the tech community?
I think that there’s a lot of talk about diversity and inclusion, which is great, but I always ask, what are you doing about it? I think we need more platforms like Amplify and groups like Latinx in Games to encourage people to chase after their dreams and show them that “Hey, if someone else can do it, why can’t I?” You never know what one event, or one article, can do to impact someone’s life. It could be life changing, and that’s why I’m honored to be a part of this.
Did the way you were raised have anything to do with where you are now?
I grew up in a tech family. Both of my parents pursued careers in programming and electronics. My father had an electronics repair business while I was growing up, and both he and my mom worked full time in the IT departments of different pharmaceutical companies. I was exposed to all that very early in my life, and with it came games, both for the computer and console.
But after going through some medical issues when I was a teen, I was inspired to pursue medicine, plastic surgery, or cardiology. I joined my high school’s robotics team my senior year and applied to Rutgers as a biomedical engineering major with a pre-med track. I ended up hating all the pre-requisite classes for both, so I switched my major junior year and ended up graduating with my bachelor’s in information technology and informatics.
My coursework at that time led me to meet Dr. Sanchez, who ultimately wrote me a recommendation letter to the University of Southern California, where I earned my Master of Fine Arts in interactive media and games. While I was at USC, I started to build my network in the games industry. I have since been a part of multiple panels and roundtables at different conferences and events, ranging from the annual Game Developers Conference to local game design workshops.
What was the breakdown of Latinx and female identifying students in your cohort when you were in school?
Being at USC, there were three Latinx identifying people in my cohort, including myself, out of 15 students. My MFA cohort was quite diverse, 50/50 sex split, with many nationalities, races, and sexual orientations represented. Now that I look back on it, it was very refreshing to share a space with people who were different from me that I learned from and taught me things. I really have a deep love for my Latinx and indigenous game making communities though, which is why I do what I can do involve myself and help people in whatever way I can.
Let’s talk about work. You’re at E-Line. What does E-Line do and what do you do at E-Line?
E-Line is primarily an education-focused game studio that creates commercial games. The company is best known for Never Alone (available on Apple’s App Store), a game created in collaboration with the Cook Inlet tribe of Alaska. E-Line also created Gamestar Mechanic, which is an in-browser drag and drop game engine that kids can use to make and publish games. Some of our current projects include Beyond Blue and The Endless Mission. I’m working on a project related to the latter. I have two roles at E-Line, game designer and lead instructor. I’ve been prototyping and designing puzzle ideas for an unannounced project, and I instruct game design and development classes with Make Room, the company’s youth-led game studio initiative.
Tell me more about that.
Make Room focuses on teaching game making, but there are so many applicable things that they learn and experience in the class. Things like project management, teamwork, design and systems thinking. All of these skills can be adapted to any job but are definitely valuable in tech. A concept as simple as understanding a problem and designing a solution for it is integral in programming and in the way a level layout is designed in a game. That concept can also be extended to something like conflict resolution or assessing a market strategy. Making games is interdisciplinary, and exposing students to that is important to us. There’s nothing more rewarding than inspiring young people to consider, and maybe even pursue a career, in games and/or tech.
You have a passion project that is very special and extremely inspiring, can you talk about what it is and what led you to it?
In my free time, I’ve been working on an incredible project inspired by the indigenous history and people of the Caribbean, the Tainos. I am half Dominican and half Puerto Rican, and I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Our food, folklore, and history have roots in indigenous culture, and I was inspired to use my craft to explore it. I was even more inspired to do something after Hurricane Maria devastated the island last year. What if the country goes through another natural disaster, and we lose invaluable history and artifacts? I have visited the island and met and spoken with people in the indigenous community. After spending about a year researching and reading about the Tainos, I decided to begin creating a game with a goal of exploring preservation of the culture and history. I titled the game Cu’, which means ‘Sacred place’ in the Taino language. The game will be focused around the Caguana Indigenous Ceremonial Park in Puerto Rico and a character’s journey in restoring the park. My hope is that with this game, I can inspire a new generation to explore their indigenous roots, bring awareness to the island’s indigenous history, and motivate my country and my people to actively call for the preservation and conservation of our past. If we don’t care about our own land and history, no one else will.
What do you want to leave readers with?
Many people tell me that I have “the dream job,” but I always tell everyone I meet that they can also get to where I am. It takes passion, discipline, and a willingness to learn from failures to make games, but the same can be said about many disciplines. It’s a career where you are constantly growing and learning. However, nothing is more important than your health, both physically and mentally, and your family and friends. No matter what you pursue in life, work hard, but also keep a balance. Make time for the people and things you love. I have been able to come this far because of all the wonderful people that are in my life, encouraging me through the good and the bad. The sky’s the limit now.