Eagan resident hopes to build bridges through video games
Jules Porter feels if people could take a virtual walk in each other’s shoes, society could be more empathetic toward each other.
The Eagan resident launched a video game development company Seraph 7 Studios with the hope of bringing a diverse lineup of games to consoles (PlayStation, Nintendo, Xbox).
Her first game, Ultimate Elder Battle Royal, features heroes who have reached retirement age, but they’re not past their prime.
Complete with weaponized walkers, “you get the opportunity to see elders roundhouse kick people to the moon,” Porter said.
“We want to make fun video games for people of all ages and races,” Porter said. “Everyone has nuanced life experiences.”
Seraph 7 Studios is her chance to shake things up.
An avid gamer, she found that games often don’t represent the people playing it. She particularly grew tired of seeing people of color (people of African descent, Hispanics, and native people) portrayed as gangsters, mobsters and thugs.
“It doesn’t provide kids who play video games to see themselves as heroes,” Porter said. “I think it affects them and how they see themselves.”
Growing up she constantly found herself fighting with her friends and family to play as the one single token player of color.
The representation doesn’t match the market.
She said 70-80 percent of people of color play video games, but only 3 percent of the characters are people of color.
“We have a lot more in common that we are different,” she said. “Everyone is so divided when we really shouldn’t be. My company, it’s about togetherness. I really just want to help build empathy toward each other. To get to know each other a little bit.”
There are few people of color who work in the industry.
“Japan has a lot of video game companies, so there are a lot of Japanese characters, but not a lot of other Asian characters,” she said.
When Seraph 7 Studios launches “Ultimate Elder Battle Royal,” it will be the first video game company wholly owned by a black woman to launch a game on a console, she said.
She has a full expanded universe of games lined up.
“The second game is a much bigger scope about the war in heaven where a third of the angels rebel,” Porter said. “Some fall. Some stay. It’s about the outcomes of that. There’s a multilayer option. It’s super fun.”
It’s also a risk.
Being an independent developer gives her more creative freedom, but she doesn’t have any rich relatives, and it’s hard to get a loan from a bank to make a video game.
A Kickstarter for Ultimate Battle Royal began at 7:07 p.m. Feb. 27 hoping to raise $175,000. Early backer specials include a copy of the game, digital lore book and a T-shirt.
“What I really like is that it’s community driven,” she said. “It helps answer the question, ‘is this something the community believes in?’ Hopefully the answer is ‘yes.’ ”
The Kickstarter will help her hire a skilled animator, an artist and another programmer.
There’s also the issue many women face in the video game industry.
She said her company has gained the attention of several “online trolls from across the globe.”
“They left a few negative messages about my company and its social purpose, but more importantly, they were able to shut down my company Facebook page by reporting all of my posts as spam,” Porter said. “I am still trying my best to contact Facebook to have my posts restored and my website unblocked ... I did not expect the dark side of gaming to reach me so quickly.”
This experience highlighted the need for safe forums and gaming communities for female players and developers, she said.
Porter has put her mind into several projects.
Aside from being an entrepreneur, the 2001 graduate of Eagan High School has also served in the Marine Corps (2003-2007). She graduated from the University of St. Thomas with both a juris doctorate and masters in business administration degrees. She received her bachelor of science degree in aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Her experience at the Eagan High School foreshadowed her future. She was named “Most Likely to Become a Lawyer” in the yearbook when she graduated in 2001.
She said she had a wonderful time playing in the band. Her favorite classes were in the creative arts and theater department. She played basketball and wrote poetry.
She was also one of the few students of color.
“We had moved from Minneapolis so everything was different,” Porter said. “I had problems adjusting. I think there were just 46 students of color at the time. I experienced some racism. It’s not so much they hated me or didn’t like me. They just didn’t know how to interact with me. So I thought, ‘how can I bridge that understanding?’ ”
Almost 20 years later she’s continued to build bridges.
She still lives in Eagan and loves it. She said she feels very welcome in 2020.
Since Dakota County has been a big part of her life, there will be a special unlock code exclusive to Dakota County residents for special character outfits and to instantly unlock a special character that can only be unlocked at the end of the game for everyone else.
But games aren’t her only goal.
As a guest teacher at Burnsville Alternative High School where she teaches law, she noticed a market for coding education.
Seraph 7 Studio is also creating an STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) course for local high school students to learn code for consoles preparing them to be video game programmers.
It offers high school and college credit along with a paycheck, she said.
“There’s not enough of advanced course offerings in STEAM right now,” Porter said. “I want something to be engaging and fun for people of all races. I think it would go a long way to building up their confidence.”
And she’s still a practicing lawyer. She sets aside one day a week to work with volunteer organizations to help people who can’t afford lawyers.
“It really came down to, ‘do we really need more lawyers?’ ” she said. “We have a lot of people who can’t afford lawyers. There’s a lot of families in lower or middle class that can’t afford one.”
Her idea has gotten attention.
She entered her idea for a video game development company into local entrepreneurship competitions winning both the Fowler Business Concept Challenge and St. Thomas Business Plan Competition at the University of St. Thomas.
Since she’s a Finnovation Fellow (a Fellowship sponsored by the Bush Foundation and Finnegan’s Brewery), she is able to work out of an office in the Finnovation Lab on the fourth floor of Finnegan’s Brewery.
Porter was also a semifinalist in the Minnesota Cup – a statewide entrepreneurship competition.
She auditioned for Shark Tank, but didn’t advance to the next round.
“Mainly because my company has its first product in development and we do not have revenue yet,” she said. “I plan on auditioning again next year.”
The auditions were in North Minneapolis. She had two minutes to give her best pitch.
For more information visit, https://www.seraph7studios.com/.