22 Jun 2021 2:33 PM +00:00

LGBTQ+ In The Gaming Industry: All Inclusive or Self Catering?

Pride month is always a great time to raise awareness and bring issues relating to equality within the LGBTQ+ community to the forefront of the public consciousness. Whilst positive steps are being made within the gaming industry today, being a fully inclusive space isn't always a reality for some.

In this interview, Gfinity welcomes three amazing people working with these issues day-to-day within the industry.

Ryan Brown is well known for his relentless industry coverage on Twitter and for being the face of public relations for famous limited print publisher Super Rare Games. You can find him on Twitter @Toadsanime.

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Stephanie Minor is one of the great editorial talents of TheGamer.com, thinking outside the box to provide readers with evergreen yet topical content. Stephanie can be found on Twitter @DieHardDragoon.

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Danielle Partis is the co-founder of Overlode.co.uk, whilst looking after the news desk at GamesIndustry.biz, like a pro. You can find Danielle on Twitter @DaniellePartis.

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Firstly everyone, thanks so much for being part of this interview piece. Let's start things off with a meaningful look back at your experiences with the industry over the years. Do you feel the games industry has evolved to be inclusive of the LGBTQ+ Community and yourself?

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Ryan: “It's definitely getting there. A lot of the people we interact with - developers, journalists, marketing folk - are absolutely thinking inclusively, which is great, but all of that action really has to come from the top. I don't personally feel like I've had any barriers in regards to my sexuality career-wise, but I've tended to work at smaller companies where I imagine that was always bound to be less of a problem.”

Steph: “This isn't entirely clear to me. On the one hand, I'm inclined to say yes, because there are more games that are making an effort to be LGBTQ+ inclusive. That said, I think games (and even people) that were previously not LGBTQ+ inclusive are much more ready and likely to accept or include someone like me, a white bisexual woman. While it isn't difficult for me to find games that I can see myself in, they're much less inclusive of romantic relationships between men, non-binary, and transgender characters or relationships. This is a problem that I would say the industry has only taken minimal steps to remedy.

Aside from the representation in games themselves, the people within the industry and community can also be quite brutal. Every time an article is written on the topic of LGBTQ+ inclusivity, you can pretty much guarantee that you're going to get a bunch of hate messages and threats from the large group of people who want us all to be quiet about the topic. While it's great to be able to speak to and befriend LGBTQ+ members of the gaming community, we're still hated by many.

So, in short, I would not say, "Yes, the industry has evolved to be inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community." I would say the industry has taken some baby steps, but we've got a long, long way to go—everything considered.”

Danielle: “Absolutely. I think the games industry has excelled in recent years in how it accommodates and celebrates the spectrum. However, while the industry itself is built from a diverse range of folks, I still think there's work to be done in getting that representation into games themselves, especially bigger titles.”

From what you are all saying, there's still a long journey ahead for equality. Would you say being LGBTQ+ has affected your career at all?"

Ryan:I don't think being LGBTQ+ has negatively affected me personally in my games industry career, thankfully. Of course, I've faced tons of abuse online, which comes with the online visibility, but nothing that comes to mind as having directly impacted me career-wise. As I say though, I've largely stuck to smaller companies where I work directly with the company owners. At larger companies and publishers where you never see or hear from the directors in charge, I can imagine that presenting more barriers.”

Steph: “For me, I don't think being LGBTQ+ has affected my career. But the biggest reason for that is because I haven't been as vocal as others have, and there's a specific reason for this. I have known that I'm fully bisexual since I was a teenager, but I ended up married to a man.

There is, unfortunately, a stigma against bisexuals in straight-facing relationships, and that has made me hesitant to speak out as much as I'd like to. I'm afraid of not just getting backlash from the group that wants us all to be quiet, but also from members of the LGBTQ+ community who don't see me as a "real" member due to my relationship. So, my hesitancy to speak out as much through my writing because of this has, I think, sheltered me from struggles that other members of the LGBTQ+ community face during their career path. That said, I'm working to become more forthright with my views and through my writing every day.”

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Danielle:I don't think it has affected my career at all, and I feel like I'm incredibly lucky in that regard. I'm still on a journey to figure it out and haven't felt an overwhelming need to label myself. But that in itself is a double-edged sword, because I still wonder "do I belong in this space without a label?"

This is the first year I've really acknowledged my place in the community at all. It's very much a quiet process for me, but I don't for a second think that anyone in this industry would think differently of me for disclosing it. Anyone that matters, anyway.”

It's great to hear that identifying as LGBTQ+ hasn't affected your careers, and even better, hear about a couple of you embracing your identity. Gender identification is still a subject some people are getting their heads around, even in the LGBTQ+ community. Is the industry moving in the right direction with this/what's needed to normalise gender identification?

Ryan: “I think action always needs to come from the top in regards to game companies' inclusiveness, both internally and externally. Pride event support and rainbow banners and logos are all well and good, but more often than not, these moves are put forward by passionate LGBTQ+ members internally - it doesn't necessarily represent the company's complete internal or external attitude towards these issues.

Having internal LGBTQ+ spaces, groups, events, or reps can really help at larger companies, as can small things like pronoun placements in email bios (if individuals are comfortable with doing that). Externally, I think having more inclusive options in games themselves, especially in regards to character building options, could really benefit people feeling more represented by gaming as a whole. They're small steps, but it's the right way forward.”

Steph:I might've thought we were moving in the right direction before the recent circumstances with E3. The hugest gaming event of the year constructed their portal system to default to him/his pronouns. If an event as huge as E3 is still pulling stuff like this, it's hard to feel like we've progressed much on this topic. Additionally, the reaction to this news from a lot of people was equally discouraging. I read a lot of people with the mindset of "Get over it already," and that somehow continues to catch me by surprise.

From my perspective though, I think part of the problem is that everyone is on the offensive. People in the LGBTQ+ community are understandably criticising those that are attacking us because they're in the wrong for doing so. But minds aren't going to be changed by reading critiques, sadly. Most of the horrible, negative comments I read about the LGBTQ+ community clearly display that the commenters do not actually understand what they're talking about. Their assessments are full of misinformation.

What we need the most is education. This is tricky because it's hard to calmly educate someone when they're attacking you or hurting your feelings. But I have noticed that the only times I've ever gotten through to people is when I've been able to set my feelings aside temporarily, and calmly try to explain what things mean and why they matter. For as much as bringing awareness to issues is a great thing, I believe many people are missing the mark on how they're bringing awareness. To normalise something like gender identification, we need to help people understand what that means instead of just repeating how much they're wrong for not being inclusive of it.”

Danielle: “It's a slow process, but I think we are generally moving in that direction. I have seen companies be open and supportive about pronoun choices (or lack thereof, for those who are still figuring it out). I've seen straight people utilise them in support of LGBTQ colleagues and peers, and I've seen companies actively asking the community how they can do better in this field. Of course, it's not perfect, but it's more normalised than it has ever been, in my opinion.”

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It is a challenge educating someone with a closed mind. Still, with some industry-leading innovation, we can hopefully work towards a more inclusive future. Our industry is unique; It drives people to connect and create. Do you feel this is a driver for accepting others regardless of their identity and preference, or has this provided unique challenges for you?

Ryan: “My roles requiring me to be so visible online and in gaming communities means I'm easily targeted for harassment online. It's something I've experienced and dealt with for years and years now, and it honestly doesn't affect me, thankfully, but I shouldn't have to be able to push it aside and laugh at it.

It shouldn't be happening at all, and many others, especially more vulnerable members of the LGBTQ+ community starting to find a voice in the industry, could so easily be shaken and scared off by it. In respect to actual industry folk though, I've always been very openly and visibly gay, and thankfully that hasn't noticeably negatively affected me.”

Steph:Being a part of this industry has made me more accepting, in part because it's caused me to become more educated. I've learned so much through reading other journalists' writing and through speaking with other members of the LGBTQ+ community.

I thought I was a quite accepting person when I first entered the industry, and that was true in a way. I never took issue with how people chose to identify themselves. But joining the industry has caused me to be much more sympathetic and aware of the place so many people are coming from and what they've had—and still have—to go through. Becoming a journalist has provided me both with an awareness and a much higher drive to change things than I ever had before.”

Danielle:I should think so. Every creator - be that artists, writers, musicians, designers - brings a uniqueness to their work which is ultimately driven by who they are. If people are comfortable in expressing who they are without fear of prejudice or discrimination, I believe they're creating their best work. This industry is inherently better off because of that.

As a personal example, I don't think there's a ton of representation of asexuality in games. I was pretty thrilled when The Outer Worlds featured a prominent ace NPC, and the joy of seeing myself represented there hit far harder than I thought it would, possibly because I hadn't actually experienced it in a game before! That decision was made by someone in the industry that knew it mattered, and if that euphoria is something that every person in the community feels when they are represented in a form of media, then it is imperative that it happens.”

The games industry is a playground for creation; it's comforting to see that you have taken something positive away from your careers, although more work needs to be done regarding cyberbullying/hate. Normalising this kind of behaviour shouldn't be happening. What advice would you give to members of the LGBTQ+ community starting in the industry today?

Ryan: “Build a support network early on. Follow other industry folk, especially other LGBTQ+ folk, and build connections and genuine relationships with them. If you do get faced with any abuse from external communities, or you face prejudice or harassment internally within the industry, you'll find it much easier if you don't feel alone. There are tons of lovely, kind, helpful, and experienced LGBTQ+ folk in the industry who will be more than happy to support you.”

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Steph: “Honestly, I would tell them to go into this industry expecting to have a hard time. It's not going to be easy. There are some great people out there, but there are also a lot of bad ones, and it's so hard not to let the negative comments outshine the positive ones. But the best piece of advice I would give an LGBTQ+ member entering this industry is to not be afraid to reach out for help.

Everyone in this industry who has been a part of the LGBTQ+ community knows how brutal it is, and they've probably experienced many of the struggles you will encounter. Don't be afraid to simply shoot someone a message who's in the community, asking them for help or advice.

The greatest part of this entire industry has been the support I've gotten from other journalists or gamers that have become great friends. If you have a solid support system to fall back on when things inevitably get rough, working in this industry will be more bearable.”

Danielle: “I think the games industry is actually one of the most welcoming spaces. As with all spaces, a tiny handful of very loud, very rotten people may make you think otherwise, but those voices don't represent the industry as it is right now. Everyone loves a good whinge, but I think it is brimming with kindness and acceptance at its core.

I would also advise to not put pressure on yourself to figure out your labels/alignment in order to "be accepted". I personally found that trying to figure out which ones "suit" me was more stressful than its worth. Everyone is on their own journey, and there is a space here for every single step of it.”

Solid advice from you all; let's hope that the negativity you have all faced comes to a stop sooner rather than later. Let's end on (probably) one of the main reasons why you're in this industry in the first place. Finally, what's your favourite game and why?

Ryan: “NieR:Automata! I've always been a fan of action-RPG, hack-and-slash type gameplay, but Automata's world-building and the way it utilises its position as a video game to tell its magnificent story really is second to none.”

Steph: “I'm sure this will not come as a surprise to anyone who knows me, but if I had to pick only one, The Legend of Dragoon is my favorite game. The whole experience of the game was magical from start to finish, and that hasn't changed since I first played it back in 2001. I've never played another game that had as interesting of a plot combined with the quirkiest music and likeable characters. I wrote a piece on how I'm going to bring this game back, and I meant every word—I refuse to accept this game being lost to time.”

Danielle: “Now THERE'S a question. My favourite game at the moment is Apex Legends. Ask me again in about seven minutes.”

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Again, thanks so much to Ryan, Steph and Danielle for getting involved and agreeing to answer some challenging questions. Although it’s disturbing that no-one mentioned Pokemon or The Legend of Zelda. Ultimately, the idea behind this interview is to raise awareness and promote inclusivity for the LGBTQ+ community. Pride month is a brilliant celebration, but the issues raised in this interview are year-long issues and present challenges for a big community. Whether you're thinking of coming out or an executive having a quick read, we hope this piece creates positive change, big or small.