Meet gaymers: why queer representation is exploding in video games | Games

Fresh of a drag performance featuring a gender-swapped Mario and Princess Peach chasing each other on stage, after watching a Tetris-themed burlesque performer get naked, I’m standing at the bar waiting for a drink, surrounded by people in fabulous outfits. Famous drag queen Asstina Mandella is here in a stunning dress; I’m in a suit with purple bisexual colors and I still feel a bit underdressed for the occasion. I’m not used to this at video game events – in the 2000s it was mostly men wearing black t-shirts with logos on them, and I was one of three women present in the room. But it’s the first in person Gayming Rewardsan event that celebrates queer representation in video games, and the massive and growing queer community that plays them.

It might not be what some people would think of as a gaming audience, but the fact is that almost everyone plays games now – two-thirds of all Americans, to name just one statistics – and of course, queer people have always been part of said community. On the contrary, homosexuals are overrepresented in the gaming population. 21% of all people working in the gaming industry identify as LGBTQ+, according to a recent survey by industry champion Ukie. Until recently, however, this was not reflected in the games themselves, whose makers and distributors seemed intent on creating games featuring either straight white men shooting at objects or anthropomorphic animals. . When I was growing up in the 90s, even female representation in games was dismal, let alone queer representation.

But things are changing, and games are reflecting increased LGBTQ+ visibility on TV and in movies. A series like Mae Martin’s Feel Good, about a formerly heterosexual bi woman in her first relationship with a non-binary queer person, didn’t exist in 1999; no more than a game like Life is Strange: True Colors, a small-town mystery about a bisexual medium, which took over three honors at the Gayming Awards.

Bisexual medium … Life is Strange: True Colors. Photography: Square Enix

“We’re seeing games feature LGBTQIA+ characters, queer coming-out stories, and queer relationships,” says Stephanie DeBiase, games and future technology coordinator at the youth-focused center. It’s better Project. “Increasingly, games are giving players more options to create characters that reflect them, removing binary gender selection, creating character customization that allows for subversive and nuanced gender expression, including non-binary pronoun options, and more. Games that offer the possibility of romance are beginning to offer players LGBTQIA+ romance options. This representation not only makes games more enjoyable for LGBTQIA+ players, but also helps players to explore their homosexuality in safe virtual spaces.

Life simulation game The Sims, first released in 2000 and now in its fourth iteration, has been a standard bearer for queer representation in video games – albeit as a reported by the New Yorker in 2014, at first, it was not entirely intentional. The decision was made during original development of The Sims in the late 90s to remove same-sex romantic interactions between characters, but they were reinstated by a programmer named Patrick J Barrett III – himself a gay man – who worked from an old design document. who made no mention of this decision. After two female Sims walked out of script at a wedding during a live demo of the game in 1999 and began kissing passionately in front of a room full of reporters, Maxis devs were waiting for costumes from the game. publisher EA to demand a change – but it never happened, and so The Sims became one of the first games to portray homosexuality and bisexuality.

These days, the developers working on The Sims 4 at Maxis are much more deliberately queer and trans-inclusive, catering to one of the most diverse gaming communities in video games. Since May, Sims players have been able to choose their characters’ pronouns (although the gender binary is built into the game’s eight-year-old code, so there are some limitations to this feature). An update this week also allows you to intentionally set a Sim’s sexual orientation – although until now all Sims have been cheerful bisexuals who have sex with other Sims regardless of gender. , so that a player pointed out on Twitterwhat’s really happening is that the game is finally introducing straight guys.

“I’m an openly gay man working in the games industry, so for me, I have a vested interest in greater inclusion not just in the games we play, but in those who make games,” says John Faciane, associate producer at Maxis, the developer of The Sims. “It’s an art form that speaks to a lot of different people and backgrounds, and the more we include all of those people the better… A big reason why I felt comfortable going out when I I did, even though I have a wonderful, supportive and loving family, I saw the portrayal of gay men in the games – knowing there were others like me. Seeing people in media and in games living their truths has inspired me to be more comfortable with who I am.

Screenshot The Sims 4
Inclusive… The Sims 4.

John came out relatively late – in his late twenties – as did Phill Ring, executive producer at Maxis, who believes that games now play a role in the journeys of today’s teenagers with their sexuality and gender expression. . “The next generation can see this representation, they don’t have to go through the same experiences that others may have had growing up. [Decades ago] there wasn’t much you could see in the game space or even in the media in general that resembled your identity. Now you can see more, and that’s really important. I hope the industry can begin to meet this challenge.

Besides representation within games themselves, the way communities come together around games has also been a key factor in changing the state of the game: queer gamers – or gaymers, as many identify from playful way – are also more visible. Discord chat servers, Twitch streaming, and of course social media have brought people together and created sub-communities where queer gamers hang out. This year TwitchCon featured a drag showcasealongside the usual competitive gaming tournaments.

“Every year it gets bigger and better,” says Ben Austwick, 34, who streams on Twitch under the name of BiggusBennus. “Strangely, when I first started streaming, I never announced that I was gay, nor did I mention it on the stream…I quickly realized that was silly. I am aware that “by streaming you have a lot of influence over those who watch you. By being someone who is a proud and proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community, you provide a place where other LGBTQIA+ members can be themselves, whether they whether at home or not. I wish I had something like that growing up.

As Ben points out, however, the game’s general reputation for toxicity isn’t entirely unwarranted, and outside of explicitly LGBTQ+-friendly spaces, there’s still plenty of homophobia out there. “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the gaming industry has a huge problem with homophobia, transphobia and other forms of bigotry, but it’s being addressed at all stages by publishers and developers who don’t want their games tainted by this which is nice to see It’s sad that we have to create our own groups, clans or forums to make sure we play while feeling safe and comfortable to be who we are, but it is becoming increasingly common to allow us to do so and some publishers are promoting this with LGBTQIA+ Events.

Benjamin Austwick aka Biggus Bennus, Twitch streamer
“I realize you have a lot of influence”… Twitch streamer BiggusBennus. Photography: Courtesy of Benjamin Austwick

DeBiase believes that such celebrations led by gay gamer publishers through, for example, in-game pride events send a powerful message of support and welcome. “LGBTQIA+ gamers want to see themselves in the games they play…I played games from a young age and often found myself in a heteronormative world, controlling a character that didn’t reflect me,” says -she. “For me, gaming has always been about endless possibilities, about exploring worlds different from my own, so seeing the same social constructs playing out in the play space has negated that desire for escapism.

“I found myself turning to games like The Sims because you controlled most of the world. I could create a character that I identified with, explore new possibilities through self-expression, choose characters I wanted to develop relationships with and of course express myself in a way that might not have been possible or safe for me to do in the real world. Now I am only attracted to games that give you these options to explore freely.

When I was going through adolescence, my homosexuality felt like something best kept to myself. The opportunities to explore who I was came later, as a student, when I started spending time in real gay spaces (I would still highly recommend a summer in Berlin to any confused teenager). Today’s queer teens and tweens can see people like them in places I’ve never seen – on TV, online, and in video games, a medium I’ve loved since I was as a child, but whose fan base has never felt very welcoming to queer women like me. Looking around me at the Gayming Awards, I’m surrounded by people whose homosexuality and love for video games are two big parts of who they are — and these days they’re no longer at odds.

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Carolyn M. Daniel