Diversity moves in: queer players stake a claim in gamer territory

Non-binary friends play games together. Games such as The Hollow Knight and Fire Emblem seek to normalise gender neutral pronouns. Picture: The Gender Spectrum Collection by Vice and Zackary Drucker
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Gamers are pushing for more queer diversity in video games, and game developers are starting to listen, Emily Spindler-Carruthers reports.

In this post-apocalyptic PS4 game, when hero Ellie battles through the cycle of revenge, she is supported by her girlfriend, Dina.

The two call each other pet names in passing as they cut paths through infected creatures, dance to records found in abandoned cities, and experience all the mundane highs and lows of a queer relationship against the backdrop of the ruins of human civilization. 

When Naughty Dog launched The Last of Us Part II in June this year with a queer protagonist, Ellie, it became one of very few positive and realistic depictions of queer characters in games.

It was unprecedented to have a queer protagonist in a genre that usually features straight males, but Ellie is not the only character to show increased diversity in video game narratives.

Ellie, left, with Dina in the game.

Narratives that allow players a choice of love interests are also new to the genre.

The Fire Emblem series allows a player to build relationships with other characters regardless of gender. The newest game in the franchise, Three Houses, asks players to “pick a form” rather than a gender, and uses neutral pronouns throughout. 

Nik Pantis, a non-binary game developer from Melbourne, says the change is due in part to “consultation with queer people and LGBTQIA developers working on games”. 

However, Nik says this wasn’t always the case, with games from the ’80s to early 2000s often heavily stereotyping LGBTQIA+ characters – if there were any at all – or casting them as the butt of jokes, such as the stereotypical portrayal of gay men as overly flamboyant, promiscuous, side characters in the Grand Theft Auto Series.

Queer representation in gaming is a area that has rapidly improved because of reduced stigma around the LGBTQIA+ community.

Gamer culture and the surrounding communities have been called “toxic” in the past, with the use of homophobic, sexist, and transphobic slurs and gatekeeping commonplace.

Increased diversity in video game narratives has led to more queer gamers coming to the forefront. Picture: Emily Spindler-Carruthers

An example of that toxic culture was the “Gamergate” controversy of 2014, in which a number of women who were highly visible in the gaming industry were harassed and sent death threats online, leading to an uproar about the role of diversity and positive representation in both games and gamer communities.

However, increased diversity in the narratives presented in games has led to an increase in queer gamers coming to the forefront.  

Queer gamer Bert Conner grew up in a rural town with “old fashioned beliefs and views” and a lack of representation.

Inclusive media is “super important” to let queer people know that “they matter … are valid, and aren’t the only ones out there”, Bert says.

“[There’s been an increase in] the amount of people who feel safe to share who they are and what their experience is.

More [queer] gamers now have the opportunity to play something … that they can connect with.

Both Nik and Bert agree there is still a long way to go when it comes to depictions of LGBTQIA+ people in gaming.

“Inclusion does not equal representation … we need … the exploration of queer narratives and telling of queer stories,” Nick says.

Nik says the game Tell Me Why is a good example of a queer narrative being explored through games, and an example of the direction positive representation in games could continue to go in the future.

Tell My Why features a heavy but well-done story of a trans man after he had transitioned … a story like this may help to educate some folks on the lived trans experience.”

Players are pushing for more authentic, inclusive storytelling in video games, and game developers are finally starting to listen.




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