When I first came out to one of my friends I remember thinking that gays don’t play video games. I was actually so afraid to tell him because we were currently in the middle of playing a video game. He was across town in his room and I was on my side of town in my room, connected by the internet and an online gaming service. The landscape ahead of us was a veritable battlefield. The pixelated battle had us running, occasionally dodging bullets and plasma bolts. But there I was, on my couch wondering if I could say “hey, I’m gay by the way. I don’t know if you knew that.” All the while, I was honing my Spartan battle skills, ruthlessly killing the enemy team. I felt at odds with my cyborg warrior persona on-screen and my suddenly anxious 20 year old fully human self in real life.
This isn’t a coming out story, however. Although I was afraid of coming out, I realized that leading up to that conversation, another idea had occurred to me. All of my life I have just accepted the idea that I was a gamer. My father played video games, my older brother played video games, my mother played video games (don’t challenge her in Tetris), my sister played video games… and I did too. For me, it was as natural as breathing. As I got older and started discovering other aspects of my identity, I realized my orientation and came out. But the thought that had preoccupied my mind was: do gay people play video games?
I thought, “well obviously, just look at me.” But being one gay who had’nt really met many others I wasn’t quite sure I could trust my individual experience. It would take a few more years before I really found other communities wherein people identified both as gay and as gamers. Gaymers, even! And then of course I found it was more than just gay gaymers, but also lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and so on were all playing video games. I realized that at some point in my life I had internalized a belief that LGBTQ+ people just did not play video games. This doesn’t seem altogether too different from the idea that cis/straight women also don’t play video games. The demographics might be different, but people still do play video games despite whatever their identity is or the stereotypes around them.
One might be wondering why this is even a salient dilemma in my life. I guess my opinion is that I don’t ever want to feel like I have to find some way to justify being a gay gamer. Or that anyone else should ever have to do the same or similar. These identities we hold are our prerogative. I claim the identity of a gamer, and I do not need to explain that or have someone say, “I didn’t know gay people played video games.” Or as countless women have experienced in many hobbies and interests, where incredulous men balk at women enjoying gaming or whatever other “masculine” hobby.
A long time ago I discovered that saying I was a gamer and owning that identity was important to me. Even before I knew I was attracted to men, I knew that I would get along infinitely better with someone else who also enjoyed video games. And later when I came out, I realized that I needed to be with someone who was queer like me. Even though these are such different identities, one is innate and the other is extrinsic. What unites these identities is simultaneously the individual who possesses these identities, but also the society that deems those combinations acceptable or not. On one side we have the internal, and everything that we have discovered about ourselves and the way we interact with the world. On the other, the world of the external wanting to reach in and either confine our select identities, or progressively — uplift them.
For many marginalized communities, much of what is being fought for is the right, or really — the dignity — to be seen as equally human in the eyes of others. It isn’t strange then that down the road from earning the essential respect of others, we’d also be seeking to smash the relics of long-held stereotyping and slandering. And although the idea I held of gay gamers not existing is not as serious or dire a stereotype as say, gay men being portrayed as pedophiles, it still occupies our attention. Every stereotype must be challenged, even down to the most “innocuous” (if such a stereotype exists) because not to do so essentially gives some credence to bigoted thought. The expression, “if you give an inch, they’ll take a mile” comes to mind. Of course, the Terry Pratchett saying also comes to mind: “a lie can run around the world before the truth has got its boots on.”
Although the world now sees more and more people of different identities participating in these hobbies, much work still has to be done to make them truly inclusive to all people. Gamers often flock to streaming websites to watch their favorite players or teams competing now in e-sports. But a shameful facet of gaming has been an uncomfortable closeness with casual homophobia and misogyny. At times when gaming, people can become quite intense as their adrenaline and other biological, it shouldn’t excuse the times when gamers cry out vulgar and offensive language that by the very nature of the words target and demean gay people, and LGBTQ+ people at large.
In recent memory, in one of my favorite online multiplayer games a somewhat popular streamer (XQC) who plays the game told another player, Muma, to go “suck a fat cock” and that he might actually like that. (https://clips.twitch.tv/EasyTrappedOxDansGame) Obviously, this unacceptable behavior for a pro-player, but also of anyone. Some may call it trash talking, but we often end up excusing poor sportsmanship and outright bigotry when we just throw our hands up like that. And what really happens then is that the community suffers when someone who is not quite sure of their place in the gaming community sees that hatred occur. If I was a recently out gamer, I’d probably never want to touch Overwatch again or any other game where that happened. Luckily, the game and league took punitive action for XQC’s words. But in personal discussions I had online in the aftermath of this video being spread, I debated with people who were adamant that he had done nothing wrong. Even more egregious, many were happy to say that it’s good for gay people to be insulted and mocked like that.
The marriage of two identities like gaming and being gay carries this sort of baggage. The issue is that we often don’t see how far down the rabbit hole bigotry has gone. As we explore these extrinsic identities, the hobbies that we choose and fall in love with, they often have a community of their own. And just like any community, they can be rife with issues large and small. As a student, I experienced this as well. I came to my college feeling as though I should not be actively proclaiming my orientation, and simply fade into the student body. But I found that there were causes on campus that were worth championing. There were so many reasons to raise my voice and push for change in that environment. It is the same with the gaming community. Even just writing this essay reminds me that I may be one voice, but sometimes those single voices add up, and become a chorus.
A few years ago, the gaming community was rocked by a so-called scandal dubbed “Gamergate” as are all scandals because “thing + gate” equals a glib title. But what was purported to be a campaign to purge the community of dishonest journalists and review-rigging, turned into a series of disgusting attacks on so many people of marginalized identities. If the community was preoccupied with questions of journalistic integrity, how did these concerns so quickly become reasons to transition into attacking minority members of the gaming community? Regardless of the answer, the set-back suffered by what can only be equated to a sudden and unstoppable need to void one’s bowels. The gaming community today is making great strides in becoming ever more inclusive. Accountability, it seems, is a good way to make sure the rising stars of the professional gaming scene stay respectful. It is often difficult to teach someone how to have empathy, but if that proves too difficult a task, at least they can show that bigotry and hate are not tolerated in an inclusive gaming community.
All in all, I am mostly happy with where the gaming community is now. I am not afraid or worried about proclaiming my identity as a gamer. And similarly, I am out and proud about my identity as a gay man. It is true that both can suffer setbacks and frustrations, but with time and effort I can only hope that I do my part to make the gaming community more accepting, and maybe the world as a whole a bit more accepting of LGBTQ+ people in general. Even if we don’t all play video games, we all possess the identity of human being, and in most cases, that should transcend our misgivings or ignorance when dealing with others. The virtual worlds I enter may have their own problems, many of which involve collecting 20 crab shells or stopping an evil villain. But the real world still has its own demons to grapple with, and I can’t remain AFK (away from keyboard) when confronting those problems myself.