Everett resident Lara Turner writes tabletop role-playing games and explores gender and trans identity. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
EVERETT – If there’s one tabletop role-playing game people have heard of, it’s “Dungeons & Dragons.”
In the genre-defining game, people create characters and play through a collaborative, improvised story. One person acts as a referee and the rolls of the dice determine the results.
Some of the games Lara Turner creates are like that, but others are more abstract. Many straddle the line between play, poem, and theatrical stage.
Turner, 36, of Everett, is a part-time writer and full-time stay-at-home mom. In her spare time, she freelances for a handful of game studios, designing characters, settings, game mechanics, scenarios, and more. It also writes its own games and self-publishes under the name Glaive Guisarme Games.
Turner came out as transgender two years ago. She decided to make the transition, partly out of fear of dying unhappy from COVID-19, and partly because of her experiences with tabletop role-playing games. Around the age of 11, she began to feel discomfort with her assigned gender and her life as a boy. But it took him decades to fully grasp this malaise.
“I didn’t have the vocabulary or the space to explore, to understand that,” she said. “There was a very long period of my life where I was either in denial or in suppression of that aspect of myself.”
Part of her journey of self-discovery was playing tabletop role-playing games. Turner likes these games because they were structured social interaction with rules. In them, she could explore different gender roles and gender identities by playing made-up characters. The other trans people she met through the gaming community had more of an impact. In fact, the first time she had a face-to-face conversation with an openly trans person was at a gaming convention.
“It did a lot of useful work in making transit something that existed in my life, which helped me reflect on who I am and what I wanted,” she said.
Turner incorporates this idea of exploring identity into the games she creates, which are mostly brief experiences centered around a single idea. Some games can be completed in 30 minutes or less. Many of its games created since its release openly explore gender identity. But looking back, Turner can see a lot of subtle trans themes in the games she made before the transition.
“It’s a guideline of a lot of things I’ve done, being in a state of marginalization and conflicted identity,” Turner said. “It’s kind of embarrassing how on the nose some of them are, (which) I didn’t realize at the time.”
One example is “To Stand Before the Dragon’s Wrath,” which Turner sold a year ago on Kickstarter as part of his “Trans Rage Trilogy.” The game has a simple premise: players act as themselves and are tasked with slaying a dragon.
Turner said it’s a game of realizing there’s something wrong with the world we know and having to confront it. In this scenario, it is a fire-breathing monster. But for her at the time of this writing, it was gender dysphoria.
Another example is “By the maker of Lady Windermere’s Fan”. It was Turner’s first self-published feature-length game and the one she is most proud of. The 2020 game invites players to improvise through a play based on the writings of Irish poet Oscar Wilde.
“It hasn’t escaped my notice that my first big game of mine is pretending to be something you’re not and (about) one of the most famous queer voices in the world. Victorian era,” she said.
If the gender commentary in Turner’s pre-transition games was a whisper, then it’s a scream in his post-release games. Such is the case with his riff on the 2020 big-budget video game “Cyberpunk 2077.”
Turner was unhappy with the game’s character creation tool, so she created her own. “Penis 2.0.77” is a “cyberpunk-themed genital creation system” with “lots of junk food jokes”. It’s written to look like part of a game, but is meant to be read like a poem.
“It’s kind of a meditation on the genre that takes the form of an overly elaborate character creation system for a game that doesn’t actually exist,” Turner said. “I started working on it as an alternative, as a way to poke fun at the game and then think about how wacky genitals are.”
Turner’s next game, “Abyssal,” also tackles themes of gender identity. Players will navigate a world where they are both human and monster. Like someone bitten by a vampire and yet to transform or a lonely werewolf banished from his pack.
“The fact that for a lot of these roles that you can play, the identity, who you want to be, a lot of it comes down to a choice that you have to make. So it’s super trans.
To learn more about Turner’s games, go to glaiveguisarme.com.