Tara Voelker's thoughts. A lot about video games, a little about life
Interested in professional Tara? Check out taratefertiller.com
The first image I posted on my about me page. I was helping my friend with her photography homework. I’m wearing an old prom dress in the bathroom that was in our basement.
So, here you are to learn a little bit about me personally! Go on and read ahead. The beginning is more about how I migrated from one job to the next, while the end tells you more about me personally. But really, if that’s the sort of stuff you’re interested in, you should away go check out my twitter.
I got my start in the video game industry by working as a QA tester for Volition. (No, I don’t count my nearly 3 years of working as a Game Advisor at EB Games/GameStop during college as working in the industry. Because it isn’t.) I was working at Volition for about 14 months before the recession hit and I was laid off with about 80 of my coworkers. While at Volition, I learned a lot and got my first taste of user research while acting as an assistant during play tests. And although I would have loved to stay there, in the end it works out that I didn’t. I wouldn’t have became involved in game accessibility if I have had stayed employed there, and with THQ’s recent stock tumble it’s probably for the better.
After getting laid off I decided to explore different aspects of the game industry and started my own blog, Thoughts from a (Girl) Gamer. Enjoying writing about videos games and very interested in game accessibility, I picked up working for AbleGamers.com – News, Reviews, and Community for the Disabled Gamer as a Game Journalist where I reported on gaming news, interview members of the game industry, and review games generally and for accessibility. I also worked for the AbleGamer Foundation, the non-profit organization that runs AbleGamers.com, by attending and organizing events and fundraisers. I’ve always been passionate video games, so it was really easy for me to become passionate about making games for everyone. I really recommend you check out their site, and see what they are about.
Continuing my love for game accessibility, I became the VP of Game Industry Relations for the Pursuit of Happiness Foundation, a non-profit organization that was just recently founded my friend Michelle Hinn. The foundation was primarily founded to get controllers to children in hospitals and work towards teaching people about game accessibility. I spoke to students frequently, as they are young and impressionable. While working with the foundation, I spoke at GDC for the first time.
Partially started through working for AbleGamers, and also partially by Michelle, I really began to push for game accessibility and became a member of the IDGA SIG for game accessibility. At GDC 2010 I even hosted a poster session called”Accessibility Arcade: Bringing AAA Game Titles to Disabled Gamers through controller Hacks” in addition to leading the Gaming Accessibility SIG round table with Thomas Westin. Later that year I was elected on to the GA SIG steering committee, and then elected chair. Since then I’ve been pushing our revamp of our online presence and I loved leading my 2 sessions at GDC 2011, the SIG roundtable as well as “Industry Game Accessibility Ratings System: Promoting Mainstream Games to the Gamer with Disabilities,” as well as another session at GDC 2012.
I also pushed for some additional initiatives while the chair, including some things I am personally incredibly proud of. I worked with Film Victoria to develop accessibility guidelines as part of their grant applications, and I formed an accessibility challenge as part of the Global Game Jam, which included participants from 2 countries in the 2012 sessions.
I later moved to Florida to live with my now husband, and while there I became the the QA Lead for a small studio called Firebrand games. It was a lot different than my previous work, but it was a great learning experience. I had to build a QA department from the ground up, and became the lead of a great team. While there, I also submitted small design ideas for flash games. It was my first experience working at a studio that does contract work rather than just working with a publisher on its own IPs. But, in the end I missed working on titles I was really passionate about and I couldn’t take the summer heat, so I applied at studio that made one of my favorite titles- Bioshock.
And now here I am, Irrational Senior QA. And somehow after starting at Irrational, I dyed my hair pink, and now it’s just how people know me.
During all of my work, I have really developed and interest in usability, user research, and play testing. I hope to one day become a user researcher. I frequently read up on the subject, and have attended talks at GDC on the subject.
On a more personal note, I have now also been happily married for over a year, and have loved every moment of it. The wedding was amazing, very personalized. It was in the Orlando Science, and featured dinosaurs, Carl Sagan, and the happiest bride ever! (If you’re really interested, you can check out a slide show here!)
I used attend a lot of fighting game tournaments, although it was rare that I actually compete. I get a sort of stage fright when I compete sometimes, so I tend to just show up and play casual matches. I’m not very good at fighting games anyway. I have competed in Tekken 6 and Street Fighter Third Strike, but I’ve played casuals for about all the Street Fighter Games and Tekken 5 at tourneys… I’ve even played against Daigo Umherara. My apartment used to be the HUB for the Champaign fighting game scene, and I totally didn’t even take advantage of it.
My additional interest include playing video games such as Bioshock, Borderlands, Zelda(s), Silent Hill(s), Resident Evil(s), and Halo(s).
I also like tattoos (I have several), Miyazaki movies, craft beers, cats, the X-Files, most things on the Discovery Channel, the Daily Show, reading, more cartoons that I should, jewelry, anime, Carl Sagan, writing and the Sci-Fi show Destination Truth.
In my spare time I’m a the Digital Media Specialist for RTS Paranormal Investigations, as well as a the most skeptical investigator on the team. I frequently give “haunted” tours of the USS Salem.
Favorite Video Games: (There are too many to list so I’m only naming a few)
Silent Hill(s) (I OWN THEM ALL!)
Resident Evil 4/5
Fav TV Shows:
Secret of Kells
28 Days Layer
The Original Indiana Jones Movies
The God Delusion
The Hot Zone
I am America (And so Can you!)
Pale Blue Dot
World War Z