“It doesn’t matter why you’re doing it – as long as you’re enjoying it”: Tabitha ‘Artyfakes’ Lyons ESL spotlight

This week, I spoke to cosplayer, streamer and costume/prop maker Tabitha Lyons about her involvement in the gaming industry. It seems that she managed to get herself into it completely by accident. She says; “I’ve been making costumes and props since I was twelve years old. My Dad and I started our prop-making business ‘Artyfakes’ in 2007.” ‘Artyfakes’ makes props & costumes for live action roleplay events, as well as TV, theatre, film, games and many other entertainment businesses. “I’m really into ‘Skyrim’, and I thought it would be really cool to do a range of weapons inspired by that game – I thought that would go down pretty well! So I had a marketing idea to make a costume to promote the weapons. I put a picture up of me wearing it on Facebook – as you do – and a Facebook page called ‘Geeks are Sexy’ shared my picture! Everyone was like ‘this is such a cool cosplay’ – I was like ‘what the hell is cosplay?’ I did some research – and then in 2012 I attended my first proper convention” says Tabitha.  

Now, Tabitha is a top UK cosplayer; attending many events each year, participating frequently in panel discussions and a sought after judge for competitions. On top of this, she frequently streams on Twitch. In fact, ‘Artyfakes’ has lately been made a Twitch partner – “‘Creative’ is a new section that they brought out on Twitch – when it was first started, there were four of us involved: three digital artists and us. I thought streaming would be a clever way to give an insight on how our props are made in our workshop.” You can watch the ‘Artyfakes’ stream on their Twitch channel. “And we got partnered! Twitch is an amazing platform: it’s getting bigger and bigger, they raise so much money for charity every year and I’m so glad they wanted us to be a partner! I feel so lucky.” Tabitha says.

The ‘Artyfakes’ business is booming! “We actually just got commissioned by ‘RIOT’ to make a prop for them at the moment. It’s so cool!” Tabitha and her family are all self-confessed big gamers. “Absolutely – I was always into games. I used to play – back in the day – ‘Ecco the Dolphin’ and ‘Super Mario’, ‘Mario Kart’, ‘Pokémon’… all that stuff!” They just don’t make ‘em like they used to do they. “Now I’m into PC gaming – I’m addicted to ‘Hearthstone’, ‘Diablo’ – my parents and I play that together. My whole family love games. My mum is addicted to ‘Fallout’” says Tabitha. So, it seems fair to say that Tabby’s ‘gaming gene’ was inherited from the previous generation, as well as her second-to-none artistic talent.

Tabitha and her Dad are extremely skilled designers and craftsmen. You can check out their work on their website. “We specialise in foam and latex. It’s great, especially for conventions because it’s not going to hurt you if you fall over or bump into someone” says Tabby. “You can literally whack our props and they’re fine! I love it when people come on the stream and I can show them how durable our stuff is! So, yeah. Those are the materials we tend to use.” As I previously mentioned, ‘Artyfakes’ makes a whole range of props and costumes for many different fields of the entertainment industry. “It completely depends on what we’re making as to how long it will take. I mean, we’ve made a fourteen foot dragon before but we’ve also made a little wooden stake for a ‘Buffy’ costume and things like that. We’re making a ‘Yoda’ costume currently – that’s pretty cool. If we were to make that just on its own, it would probably take about two months. But the axe we’re making for ‘RIOT’ at the moment should only take about a week” Tabitha says.

Tabitha and her Dad keep themselves busy! You can watch the ‘Artyfakes’ creative stream on Monday, Wednesday & Thursday from 7pm-10pm, and on Tuesdays from 1pm-7pm. On top of that, Tabitha streams gameplay every Friday night and at the weekends if she’s not been called off to a convention! “We stream at least five times a week. It’s quite hard but it gives us the motivation to work! And it’s just a really nice community. It’s like having a radio station – people ask questions about things they’re struggling with and we give out tips – as well as giving them a way to see what we do!” says Tabitha. ‘Artyfakes’ also run training courses, details of which can be found here. It’s incredible to see how much Tabitha and her Dad have achieved on their own. “Yes – it’s just me and my dad!” It’s, quite frankly, adorable. Well – cute at times! But most of our creative stream is us shouting at each other!”

You may notice that this is the first interview I’ve done with a fellow female. It’s no secret that the gaming industry is male-dominated and I’m aware that this might be for a number of reasons. But still – remembering that women are half the people on the planet – they only account for 16% of game artists, 11% of game designers, 23% of producers, 4% of audio developers, 7% of QA testers and 18% of business and legal professionals. So what’s going on? I was keen to find out how Tabitha felt about her place as a girl-gamer in the industry. “I think platforms like Twitch are really great for girls. People relate to people. When you can see someone in front of you and get to know what they’re about – people relate to that. Girls are into streaming now, they’re not scared to put themselves out there and they’ve got a harder skin – with internet trolls – people have to get a bit stronger” Tabitha says, and I think she’s hit on a really important point. The anonymity people have when they’re browsing the internet and watching streamers online can make people nasty. As more and more girls enter the ring – more and more derogatory slurs might be uttered. Unfortunately (and I do hope this changes) it’s something you might just have to deal with.

Nevertheless; “Girls are just doing what they want to do now” says Tabby. She rightly points out that the growing popularity of superhero movies and the like means that it’s mainstream ‘cool’ to play games now. I remember I used to un-tag myself from game-related Facebook photos – I didn’t want to be one of the geeky kids – but now everyone wants to do it!” Tabitha says. Girls are going for it – “And good on them! I know – well the whole ‘boob’ thing – if girls want to get their boobs out, there’s nothing wrong with that! Who doesn’t like looking at a pair of boobs?! And equally, if they don’t then they don’t have to and no one should be penalized for not getting their boobs out.” Tabitha makes it sound like a non-issue – and I think, in a sense, it really is. Online platforms are giving underrepresented groups a chance to put themselves forward and that can take any number of forms. “It doesn’t matter why you’re doing it – as long as you’re enjoying it.” Tabitha says.

“You know what, gaming is for everyone. It doesn’t matter.” This, coming from a lady who often finds herself in male dominated rooms. “I’m usually just there for the free food like everyone else!” It’s clear that Tabitha enjoys the gaming just as much as anyone. “I don’t know why boys tend to be better at games than girls – they tend to be more competitive. That’s probably why they’re better than girls – girls get bored or, I don’t know, they’ve got better things to do!” I recall the snooker player Steve Davis who thought that women lack “that single-minded determination in something that must be said is a complete waste of time – trying to put snooker balls into pockets with a pointed stick”. Perhaps the same can be said of video gaming. “Whether you’re a competitive gamer, or just a casual gamer – anyone should have the right to do it. People who say: ‘girls just do it for attention’. AND WHAT? They’re still playing the game, which is good for the company, it’s good for Twitch, it’s good all round.” says Tabitha. Right on sister.

Thank you to Tabitha for a great interview and a very cool insight into their creative process at ‘Artyfakes’. Don’t forget to check out the stream and their website

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