Away from the concerns of the industry’s representative representation and community discrimination towards queer people, the local ‘gayming’ community brings LGBTQ+ people who love video games together in a safe space.
According to the Game Developers’ Association of Australia, queer gamers make up eight to ten percent of the overall community. Gaming has become the biggest form of entertainment in the last decade, making up more than the film and music industry combined – in fact, adult blockbuster Grand Theft Auto V sold over one billion US dollars in the game’s first three days, making it the highest grossing product in entertainment. Queer people find a certain appeal to identifying as a ‘gaymer’ – as opposed to a gamer which is often described as a straight white male.
“There’s so much more freedom to express yourself,” said administrator of the Sydney Gaymers Facebook group and events organiser of the group’s Women’s Event, Brooke Everett. “If you identify as any sort of queer spectrum then you’re entirely able to be anything you ever wanted to be.”
“If you’re part of a culture where you have most likely – whether or not it’s happened directly – been ostracised, it tends to foster more of an accepting community when you do find people who are like you,” Sydney Gaymers’ administrator and co-event organiser of the group’s Main Event, Peak Distapan said.
There is indeed a market for it as community-run groups such as the near two-thousand Facebook-liked Sydney Gaymers help bring together fans of the digital medium from all across New South Wales, hosting monthly events for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual gamers, and everyone in between.
“We’re about creating an inclusive space where people can explore their interests and come together and hangout,” said administrator and co-events organiser of the group’s main events, Peak Distapan. “In a hobby that’s dominated by so much toxic behaviour from certain groups of people, it’s important to create a safe space for these people to congregate.”
Sydney’s first and only queer gaming expo, GX Australia in February sold nearly 800 tickets after successfully crowdfunding $55, 624 for the event, inviting a range of high profile developers, writers and community leaders who support queer representation.
“We actually specifically decided that we didn’t want it to be [named after the American queer expo,] Gaymer X because it has the word ‘gay’ in the title which is somewhat exclusionary,” said the Game Developer’s Association of Australia’s events co-ordinator and co-founder of GX Australia, Liam Esler. “We wanted GX Australia to be opening and welcoming to people of all minorities and to women and to non-gay people – and non-gay men specifically.”
“I had a lot of people [approach me] during the event and afterwards saying, ‘this is the first time I’ve had people refer to me by [my] preferred gender pronoun’, and that meant a lot to them,” continued Liam. “A lot of straight guys [also approached me] and said, ‘hey, I thought diversity was important before but this has helped me understand it in a whole new way. I get it now’.”
“For a lot of queer youth in particular, who don’t get to be ‘out’ at home – and for those who aren’t ‘out’ at home – it provided them with a space to feel comfortable and get to know a little bit more about the community that they’re a part of. That was a really big deal for some people who went who maybe aren’t a part of these communities at home.”
“While mainstream events are getting much better at ensuring all participants feel welcome, at the end of the day I still feel uncomfortable holding my partners’ hands at an event like PAX [Melbourne’s video game expo, Penny Arcade Expo],” said fellow co-founder of the event, Joshua Meadows. “Plenty of people are entirely uncomfortable even attending.”
“Events like GX Australia…provide a place for us to get together without having to worry about feeling uncomfortable or potentially harassed because of who we are. Everyone’s interests, hobbies, and backgrounds are celebrated and cherished, and everyone gets to be who they are without prejudice.”
“It was so inspiring hearing from so many people about what GX Australia meant to them, especially those who travelled considerable distance to attend or those who had to get over depression or anxiety to show up. It was a lot of bravery and it felt incredible to be a part of that.”
Despite the positivity, the queer gaming community are still facing discrimination in online gaming as some members of the general community act territorially about their hobby.
“[Words like] ‘dyke’ are being slung everywhere and people don’t even know whether I am or not, and they don’t particularly care,” said Brooke. “They’re going to use me being a woman or being a lesbian as a slur, no matter what.”
“I don’t play multiplayer games in part because I know I’ll get a lot of abuse,” said Liam. “Even just hearing ‘faggot’ or ‘cocksucker’, these people don’t mean it in a homophobic way but it’s still a little bit like, ‘oh, okay that’s not great’.”
“Games are becoming more progressive and getting a lot more diverse cast of characters and themes and some people in the gaming community don’t like that,” said Peak. “They feel like people are taking gaming away from them which isn’t the case.”
“It’s just about letting these people know, ‘we’re not trying to take your games, we just want to love video games too. Let us have our space’.”
Video games are beginning to effectively portray LGBTQ+ people in a realistic way that’s completely unique to the interactive medium.
“Through games and representation of characters, we can – ‘normalise’ – the perception of different racial groups or minorities in ways that we just can’t do in other mediums,” said Liam. “Anecdotally in the industry, we see a lot of positive response towards queer content in games despite the backlash that occurs.”
Two of these positive responses came from video game developer Bioware and their fantasy role-playing game, Dragon Age: Inquisition, and the characters of Krem, Dorian and Sera who each represented a different letter in the identities of the LGBTQ+ community.
“Krem, who’s a female to male transgender character, was the first time we ha[d] seen that kind of representation of a trans person in such a positive light,” said Liam. “You can get to know Krem and Krem’s story over a period of time – and you get to know the character and their backstory – and that’s actually a really powerful way of changing people’s minds about things.”
“Sera is a very real [and] very fun lesbian character,” said Brooke. “Everything about her is spot [since] I know someone who is exactly like her.”
“Realism in a game [like Dragon: Age Inquisition] – even though [Dorian’s backstory was about] discrimination which we’re trying to escape from, – makes you really appreciate that [developers] know about our struggles and are tying to show it to those that aren’t aware,” continued Brooke.
“There are lots of studies as well that show that exposure to, for example, gay men, means that you’re much more likely to change your homophobic opinion,” said Liam. “These two things combined tell us that if we have better representation of minorities in games we’re going to change people’s opinions about these things just through exposure.”
According to the International Game Developers’ Association’s yearly satisfaction surveys, there’s a fairly representative amount of queer and trans people in the video game industry. In fact, their 2015 end of year survey concluded that the industry was made up of 73 percent heterosexual, four percent homosexual, 12 percent bisexual and two percent of pansexual, transsexual or other sexualities.
“We have a force of people that once armed with the right tools and knowledge can go and actually help make change within the industry itself,” said Liam. “What we’re trying to do with the IGDA’s LGBTQI+ special interest group and GaymerX is talk to people in the industry and say, ‘here’s the information and the tools you need to encourage your companies to have more diverse representation in your games, to think about some of these issues more deeply and with more empathy.”
The queer gamers only want to be treated equally to the rest of the gaming community, with adequate representation and the inclusiveness that other groups feel at mainstream events like the Penny Arcade Expo.
“The main issue that the community think gay people really care about is marriage equality, which is super important but there are so many more important things,” said Peak. “…A lot of people – gay and straight – seem to forget that.”
“It’s just about letting these people know, ‘we’re not trying to take your games, we just want to love video games too; let us have our space’…What society thinks is a gamer is changing and what gamers are has been changing, and [gaymer culture will] always be there. It just might not be what it is now.”
“Even if representation of us is better in media – game, cinema and TV – we’re still going to be minorities,” said Liam. “We’ll still see minority groups and ‘gaymer’ groups exist because it’s not like we’re going to become mainstream.”
“We’re never going to be mainstream [and] we know that, and that’s fine. All that we’re asking for is just a little bit of representative representation.”