As a longtime fan of video games, openly gay Travis Jones relished the thought of finding gay games to play. Since 2011, he has been working on his own LGBTQIA gameSeven Sages of the Bamboo Grovesbased on the real life story of a group of Chinese male scholars, musicians and writers in the 3rd centurysome of whom were involved in intimate relationshipswho would oftentimes gather in a bamboo grove to talk politics, write and drink wine.
Windy City Times: You are from [the Canadian] province British Columbia and you spent 10 years working with at-risk youths.
Travis Jones: Yes. I worked with the Ministry of Children and Family Development and another organization called PLEA (Pacific Legal Education Association).
WCT: How did you get into that line of work?
TJ: I have some very close friends and family who work in the same profession and I admired their work, and there are a lot of children out there who need that kind of help. That was the main focus for the majority of my career and then I decided to go back to school for counselling.
WCT: Have you always been a gamer as well?
TJ: Absolutelysince I was 12.
WCT: At that age did you ever envision creating your own game?
TJ: I remember thinking when I was a teenagerhow awesome it would be if there were actually gay games out there. But to think that I could actually be doing what I am doing now never occurred to me. [I never thought that could happen].
WCT: What is the game about?
TJ: The main story is about the love story of Xi Kang and Ruan Ji, but we also talk about grief and loss, the trauma of war, and Taoism vs. Confucianism [as well as] overlay the struggle between Christianity, and the more common spiritualism of today and the LGBTQIA community.
As far as history is concerned, five of the Sages were heterosexual men and two of them were known to be lovers. We expand on that. Just because one was known to be heterosexual, it doesn't mean that it couldn't have been a woman dressed as a manwho liked women. We fictionalize it to represent the people of our community.
WCT: I watched the documentary on YouTubeJourneys In Time Series: The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grovethat originally aired on CCTV (China Central Television) in 2010. There was no mention of Xi Kang and Ruan Ji having been lovers.
TJ: The majority of my friends who are Chinese, had no idea that two of the Seven Sages were, in fact, [gay]. Based on the information and research that we've done, we know for a fact that Xi Kang and Ruan Ji were lovers and it wasn't just a passing thing. What we decided to do was fictionalize their lives but keep the basic historical timeline.
WCT: Were the other men of the Seven Sages lovers as well?
TJ: Back then, homosexuality didn't exist. Pretty much all men had slept with men and it was quite common, especially in wartime and when they were out hunting and away from women. Homophobia would exist if a man fell in love with another. A man having sex with another man was about getting off, it wasn't about intimacy and tenderness. If they were [intimate], that is when they would be rejected.
WCT: You are the writer and creative director of the game. How did you start working on it?
TJ: I've been doing the research and working on game concepts, mechanics and storylines for the last four years out of my own pocket. I answered an ad which I believed was looking for writers for their project. I thought if I could write for someone else's project it would be a great way to make money for my own. It turned out the investor David Young was eager to invest with us because he really believed in our project.
WCT: What was your journey like over the last four years?
TJ: It wasn't until this year that David came along. So by that time, I had done years of development all on my own, which I think is probably a rare situation and probably the reason why he invested in me. When it came to that time to meet and discuss my project with himI understood Chinese history, Taoism vs Confucianism and homosexuality within the reference of the time period. I am a somewhat political person in terms of my views, so I tend to look at things through a feminist lens. I am very much about equality for all people.
For more information about the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Groves game, visit www.sevensagesgame.net/ .