Long live the Accidental Queens
They’re changing the narrative around women-driven games.
The founders of Accidental Queens didn’t set out to build a gaming studio that champions women and the LGBTQ+ community. (They call themselves Accidental Queens, after all.)
But when creating their inaugural game – 2017’s interactive mystery A Normal Lost Phone – co-founders Diane Landais and Miryam Houali realised most of their team were women.
“We thought, ‘Wow, that’s huge. That doesn’t happen often,’” says Houali. “We wanted to promote it.”
That the France-based studio was founded by three women is central to its identity. “We wanted to say to the public and other women in the field that we exist, that this is possible,” says Houali. “Being role models was one of our goals.”
Accidental Queens takes this seriously: it collaborates regularly with Women in Games France, an association that promotes diversity. Houali helped found a working group called Rassemblement Inclusif du Jeu Vidéo that promotes inclusivity in the videogame industry. “We’re trying to stay at the front of the scene,” says Landais, who is transgender. “And I think we are having an influence.”
That influence extends to the games. The protagonist of A Normal Lost Phone is a transgender person. The sequel, Another Lost Phone: Laura’s Story, has you snooping through the phone of a missing person, who turns out to be in a psychologically abusive relationship.
We wanted to say to the public and other women in the field that we exist, that this is possible.
By tackling difficult subject matters, the company is challenging industry norms head-on. “Sometimes we have more conventional game ideas, but we won’t make them because there are other studios that can do that,” says Houali. “We have to think, ‘What can we make that is different and reflects our experiences?’”
In doing so, Accidental Queens has dealt with controversy. The studio was criticised for including a moment in A Normal Lost Phone in which the player is able to “out” a transgender person without their consent.
“Some people said, ‘Worst game ever! I’m sure the creators are filthy cisgender people using trans narratives as emotional tourism,’” recalls Houali. “It was not great reading that, especially for Diane.”
But Landais is adamant that potential backlash shouldn’t scare off developers. “Studios are very shy about difficult subjects,” Landais says. “There’s almost a paralysis around anything that could be labelled political. That is a shame.”
Houali hopes Accidental Queens will be part of the solution. “There are so few narratives about some subjects that people are very sensitive about them. But as more diverse people create things, there will be a broader spectrum of stories.” In the meantime, Landais and her team remain dedicated to deconstructing misconceptions through games in a way that only a gender-nonconforming, women-led studio can do. “It’s our duty to help amplify the voices of others like us.”