We sat down with Dan - the Senior Product Marketing Manager at Kongregate - to talk about the importance of AAPI month and how his experience as a member of this community has informed his career in video games.
I grew up in a mixed family. My dad is Hawaiian Filipino and my mom is Irish, English, and Dutch. Growing up, I knew that this made me different from a lot of my peers, but I didn’t really know why. When my parents would volunteer for school events, I would get a lot of weird looks when people realized that my mom was white and my dad was very much not. I was too young at the time to really know what “racism” was, but I knew from a very early age that people treated me differently based on my appearance and the fact my parents were who they were.
To be honest, I didn't have a whole lot of ties to my cultural heritage growing up. I was born in Hawaii, but moved to the mainland when I was 3. I don’t have any memories of that time. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, first in a rural neighborhood with very few neighbors, then in a suburban development where 95% of my peers were white.
My dad would always say things like, “You need to go back home - back to the islands. You need to reconnect with your roots,” and I just didn't understand what that meant. I grew up in a place filled with strip malls and Mormon churches, where all my friends were white kids and all my interests were rooted in that world. I didn’t know what it meant to “go home”. To me - much to his sadness, I think - I was already there.
It wasn't until I got older that I developed an interest in my heritage. Not because of any sense of belonging or pride - I didn’t have a frame of reference in that way - but because in my teen years, I had discovered punk rock music.
Punk music and skateboarding and their related subcultures really had a huge influence on me. I became obsessed with bands like Public Enemy, Bad Brains, Henry Rollins, Jello Biafra and the Dead Kennedys - acts with a pretty heavy social message. One of my earliest teen memories was trying to read the liner notes for Bad Religion’s No Control and needing an encyclopedia to decipher it. It was a whole world to explore and I could not get enough.
One of the key tenets of punk music, to me, is the need to educate yourself: to understand the different systems of authority and forces of oppression that try and dictate your life. How can you rebel against the system if you don’t know who or what the system is?
So I started reading a lot. Not just my history, but the history of America - the wars we’ve fought, the social upheavals we’ve been through. The various shifts in the cultural landscape of America and why.
As I started to dig into the history of systemic racism in America, I started to be able to put 2 and 2 together as it related to my own history.
Thanks to the internet and its infinite resources, I was able to really look into Hawaiian history and the effects of cultural erasure due to the colonization of the islands. I learned about the Bayonet Constitution in 1877 when sugar plantation owners forced King Kalakaua to relinquish power. I learned about Stanford Dole (yes, that Dole) and the coup that overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy. I read about the establishment of Pearl Harbor Naval Base and the annexation of Hawaii in 1898 during the Spanish-American War. I learned how President Grover Cleveland opposed the petition to add Hawaii to the United States citing the illegal acquirement of the islands by military force and tried to return the monarchy to the people of Hawaii only to lose the election to a pro-business William McKinley who sided with the coup leadership and added Hawaii to the Union against its will in 1959. I learned about the Heritage Movement in Hawaii who still fight for sovereignty today.
These were different stories than the books in my History class had told me.
Because of this, I developed a vocabulary that helped me understand a lot of what I felt as a child: that sense of isolation, of being treated differently, of cultural disassociation. I learned what a microaggression was and finally understood why I had been subject to so much harassment over the many years: from police stopping me and shaking me down for the crime of standing on a street corner; to my teachers singling me out and belittling me; to random people on the road calling me slurs; to that time I worked as a dishwasher and one of the servers asked (very slowly) if I spoke English.
I didn’t know why before. Now I did.
Now, because of this, I have a very keen sense of justice and injustice - a sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. And, if nothing else, I’ve developed a need for context. Being able to understand the context of a message helps me to better respond to it. I try to carry that same sense of curiosity and need for understanding into my everyday life. It informs my relationships. It helps me see clearer.
What does any of this have to do with video games, you ask? Well, I think it has something to do with those subcultures I spoke about before.
I would have never gotten in touch with my roots if it wasn't for punk and the punk community.
Without a sense of community within my heritage, I relied on the importance of the concept of “found family” instead. In Hawaiian culture, the nucleus of the family is the foundation of everything. You cook together. You eat together. You clean together. You entertain each other. Family reunions are opportunities for hundreds of cousins and extended family to gather and share. And while I didn’t have that growing up, I did find it later in life.
If you look at any of my friend groups now, we’re all a bunch of misfit toys hanging out on Misfit Toy Island. We support each other, we love each other. We take care of each other and we help each other out. All of my successes are only successes because I share them with others. That, too, I think is part of my heritage and it doesn’t surprise me the least to recognize the similarities between Hawaiian culture and the “found family” that punk provides.
What is it about communities that make them stronger? To me, it’s when they’re bonded together by similar interests or backgrounds.
Like skateboarding and punk music, I also fell in love with gaming and comic books, too. At the time, all these subcultures were cut from the same cloth. They belonged to the realm of the Outsider.
Today, geekdom and fandoms have mainstream appeal to mass audiences. But - at the risk of sounding too “old man yells at cloud” - when I was a kid, those things were definitely not “cool”. Before the geeks inherited the earth, they were small pockets of people who shared their common love of things outside the norm: a little counterculture and a little subversive.
Similarly to skateboarding and punk rock, gaming started as a pretty small but ever-growing pastime and it had plenty of detractors.
Video games were one of the first of those forms of media to really break out of that exclusionary mold because of their wide mass appeal. But it felt like that same sense of a small, niche community still permeated throughout the scene for decades. The same people who called punk music the cause for the collapse of Western Civilization sure sounded a lot like the people who promised video games would rot your brain.
My point is: now, we have TV shows and movies based on our favorite game franchises. Now, you can’t throw a PS5 controller without hitting something geeky. The things we love are getting more and more accessible to everyone.
But it wasn’t always like that.
So, being someone who liked these modes of media counterculture, of course I doubled down on them. And in doing so, I found others who felt the same.
I think that that sense of belonging is something we're all looking for, just on a basic human level. People rally behind what they love. It doesn't matter if there's 50 people or 500,000 people playing a game, I truly believe that the more people who love something, the larger the audience gets; and the larger the audience gets, the better the product becomes. And isn’t that what we all want from the things that we love? That they get better and bigger and there’s more of it for everyone?
Those things only evolve and grow because more and more people get to have a voice and participate in them.
So I think it’s our role as artists and creators to continue to push that conversation forward, cultivate a diverse and welcoming community, and encourage people to participate in what they love. Over time, the impact and importance of those things we love - those things that voices of oppression say we shouldn’t - will win out. Every time. History shows this to be true.
My heritage and my Hawaiian roots taught me that for the family to thrive, everyone pitches in.
My love of punk rock taught me that when you love something, you fight for it.
And my love of games and gaming taught me that the only requirement to join is a willingness to play.
Dan is the Senior Product Marketing Manager at Kongregate. He writes… a lot. Dan has worked at Kongregate for over 5 years, beginning his career in Community Management, before transitioning to the Marketing team in 2020. He is currently listening to Rise Above: 24 Black Flag Songs to Benefit the West Memphis Three.
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