1. The gamer who just kicked your arse at Assassins Creed is probably a 33-year-old lesbian from Wollongong.
You’ve all heard the stereotypes. The gamer is a boring teenager who lives in his mother’s basement. He’s an obsessive, probably only more interested in objectifying women than he is his game collection. But it’s wrong.
Pretty much every survey of players in Australia has shown that a massive proportion of videogame players are women. The last major survey had women making up 47% of the game playing population. Game players are from all age groups, too, with the average Australian player being 33 years old.
Like gender and age, there’s also a huge diversity of sexual identity among those who play videogames.
2. Gaming has never been the sole domain of the straight, white dude.
Although all sorts of different people happily think of themselves as gamers, over the years we’ve also seen the rise of sub-identities. The “girl gamer”. The “gaymer”.
These are telling because they show us that even though lots of people play videogames, there’s certain assumptions about who our culture most easily accepts as a gamer.
If it wasn’t assumed that your average gamer was a man, people might not have felt the need to call themselves “girl gamers”. If no-one thought your average gamer was automatically straight, the “gaymer” term might not have taken off. The need to make any sort of distinction shines a spotlight on how people can be excluded from the “standard” identity.
3. Creativity, not masculinity, drove the early gamers.
Computers are the fabric of everyday life and games, when it comes down to it, are computers plus creativity. Back when computers were created – those big, room-sized machines that you saw Benedict Cumberbatch working with in The Imitation Game – they existed to solve problems and do sums.
Playing games was the first thing that anyone ever thought of doing with a computer that wasn’t just solving something. It’s there, right from the beginning. Even Alan Turing himself created a chess game all the way back in 1950.
It continues all the way through computing history up until the earliest commercial videogames, like Pong in 1972.
This, coupled with their sheer ubiquity today, makes videogames an important arena to get representation and diversity right.
4. Indie developers are putting the gay in gaymer, and the mainstream is taking notice.
Locally, My Ex-Boyfriend the Space Tyrant by Australian developer Luke Millar broke barriers when it was released in 2013. Internationally, Anna Anthropy made a huge impact on videogame culture with games like Dys4ia and Lesbian Spider-Queens Of Mars and her influential book, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters.
Meanwhile, American designer Robert Yang manages to explore homoeroticism in intelligent, funny, and deeply NSFW ways. His amazing games so far include a dick pic game, a scrubbing-a-dude-in-the-shower simulator, and Succulent, a “small 2-4 minute game about watching a dude slowly / erotically stick a thing in his mouth”.
Independent games like these are where the best work is being done, but that’s not to say that gay characters are entirely absent from mainstream videogames. Even in 2015, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, one of the biggest videogames of the year, included a bisexual protagonist and a minor supporting character who is transgender.
5. The girl gamer is now the game maker.
“Seeing myself as a protagonist was surprisingly emotional,” the influential developer and critic Mattie Brice told Kotaku in 2013. Sick of waiting for a major game developer to create a game with a playable character that looked like her, she downloaded some game-making software and did it herself.
The result was Mainichi, a game where Brice leads players through an average day in her life.
Even the software Brice used didn’t have any pre-set characters with Brice’s skin tone or hair. “So I had to do some scavenging and editing to finally get me in there. I remember looking at myself and crying, I was so moved.”
6. Black space warrior goddesses are a thing, but visibility is still an issue.
Despite some isolated advances in mainstream videogames recently, the default character is still definitely the straight white guy. Even if a game allows you to play as an amazing black space warrior goddess, like in Mass Effect 3, it’s still the crew-cut white space marine who gets to be the front cover.
Seeing different people in our videogames, apart from anything, helps shift what’s considered “normal” away from straight white guys as a default. We shouldn’t need to think of a game with a woman of colour on the front cover as unusual. We shouldn’t need to be surprised when a mainstream videogame turns up featuring a transgender character. At the moment we are, but every time it happens, it unsettles the straight white guy from the default setting a little more.
7. LBGTIQ games have a loyal following, but there’s still more work to be done.
Despite its success, Anna Anthropy seems to not like her game Dys4ia anymore. One reason might be because people seem to think that just by playing this semi-autobiographical game about Anthropy’s experiences with hormone replacement therapy, they’ve done the work of an ally. They don’t need to listen anymore. They’ve got their brownie points.
Anthropy was once asked by a gallery for her permission to exhibit Dys4ia as an “empathy game”. She responded by offering instead to send them a pair of her shoes, which visitors could wear and walk a mile in.
“I respect games too much to see them relegated to a way for the privileged to opt out of their responsibilities, to allow them to become the trendy new format for after school specials,” Anthropy wrote. “My work is a window to the expansive, multifacated and self-contradicting artist that I am, not just to my genitals.”
8. Games can offer a representation of love and sexuality as diverse as real life.
When a friend of Alan Turing’s, Christopher Strachey, got his hands on a computer in 1952 he made a love letter generator. These Love Letters were absurd, even funny by design (“You are my anxious longing,” begins one). Turing and Strachey reportedly found them amusing, which has led a few commentators to suggest that perhaps the love letter generator was intended as a parody of the predictability of heterosexual love by Strachey, a gay man. For the researcher Noah Wardrip-Fruin, the generator is a satire “of one of the activities seen as most sincere by the mainstream culture: the declaration of love through words.”
So games can simulate things, which is pretty unusual as far as art forms go. And, as we’ve seen with Dys4ia, while they can’t replicate people’s genuine experience, videogames can certainly offer a representation of it. We’ve seen this time and time again across some really amazing games, from Nicky Case’s Coming Out Simulator to Christine Love’s Analogue: A Hate Story, to Merritt Kopas’ HUGPUNX, to even indie megahit Gone Home.
9. LGBTIQ players need a space to call their own.
Sometimes, it’s important for queer people to come together and acknowledge and support each other. And in this case, it’s videogames that’s the uniting force. With support systems for Australia’s queer youth under attack, it seems as crucial an idea as ever.
GX Australia, Australia’s first queer gaming convention, is happening in Sydney for the first time this weekend. It’s following the successful GaymerX model from the United States, with exhibitors, panels, and international guests. Topics for discussion include body image, identity, polyamory, and more.
It’s an inclusive festival that aims to be a “space for gamers, geeks, and allies of all stripes to come together regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation”. The attraction of GX Australia is in recognising that lots of different people play videogames – lots of people who don’t fit the stereotype, that is – and in acknowledging that everyone’s experience with games is different.
GX Australia runs 27 - 28 February and is part of Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.