Like a lot kids in the ‘90s, I was part of the explosion in home video games and exposed to the first big competitive games. Whether it was the 4-player console games, where my sister and I would battle the neighbors’ kids in Mario Kart 64 and Goldeneye or Battle.net’s online gaming service where I fought for Aiur in 4v4 battles, gaming against others online—and together on teams—was part of my formative years.
Throughout those years, I also knew that I was different from the other kids around me. I was more sensitive, prone to choosing the female characters in a game’s roster. The mere mention of Madden’s NFL series would cause me to retreat elsewhere. As fun as saving Princess Peach from King Koopa was, I couldn’t help but think that saving Princesses was not why I was playing Mario or Zelda or any of the countless other games available to me as kid.
Living in a rural town in the Midwest, I had no gay heroes in real life or video games. Duke Nukem 3D was one of the first FPS games I ever played and if there ever was a game advocating hyper-masculinity, this was it. I’d run around blasting the strippers and hearing Duke say his famously misogynistic catch phrases. At the same time, I’d also spend many evenings waiting for my mom to watch the Golden Girls on TV, which meant I could use the phone line to get on Battle.net. While I played online, my mom and sister watched Sophia, Rose, Dorothy and Blanche. I grew to love those 4 old ladies—gay icons of their own, I’d later learn. After finishing my online game time, I’d watch MTV’s Undressed, just to steal a glimpse of a gay couple in their college dorm. I’d sit with uncertainty, hoping my parents wouldn’t see the gays on the TV.
As I spent other nights riding chocobos and watching Xena: Warrior Princess on TV, I would wonder if there was anyone else like me out there. All the real life friends I had were the prototypical boy-next-door types. Some of my friends didn’t know, or didn’t even want to know, that part of me. I would spend hours wrapped in heterosexual love stories; I even looked for sex, love, and money as Leisure Suit Larry, but secretly wished I could have interactions with gay characters in these digital worlds. Sometimes I’d create my own version in my head, where Kerrigan was really a man who loved Raynor before becoming the “King of Blades”. It was hard to meet anyone like myself in my little town. I would have great conversations in AOL’s chatrooms, but knew that I would never meet any of these people living hundreds of miles away.
While I was still discovering myself, I was exposed to a worldwide community of people through our shared love of games. We shared laughs and victories as we played together, but this would sometimes be overshadowed by the toxic language that is still present to this day. Winning a game of StarCraft would come with great satisfaction that would be deflated only moments later when someone who lost would message you “GG you cheating faggot”. Worse yet would be a loss accompanied by a message from your in-game ally “You suck FAG uninstall and kill yourself”. Harsh words to a kid coming to terms with their identity.
To this day it makes me sad that this toxicity is still so pervasive in competitive games. I’ve learned to ignore it, because in the faceless digital world people don’t care if they hurt your feelings. Even when I’m not the one being called a fag, its hard to resist the urge to fire back, but I know doing so will just cause more frustration for myself and anyone else caught in the crossfire. I wrote previously asking the question “Are Online Video Games Kinda Making Us Sociopaths?”. While I do not think that is the case, I do think the anonymity provided by the internet does exacerbate bad behaviors.
Gay characters were just not present in mainstream video games in the early ‘90s. The games that did depict gay people would use them as the butt (oh the pun!) of comical gender confusion situations or as the stereotypical effeminate sissy boy. Often times gay characters in games from Japan would be removed entirely when they were translated and brought to the United States. This was all part of the belief that video games were primarily for young, white, heterosexual males.
The status quo was challenged with the success of The Sims. Anyone who had a sister in ‘90s probably saw her spending hours in her virtual sim’s life. Or if you were like me, taking the time to make the perfect gay couple with a great house, built using the “rosebud” cheat code to get simoleons because who has time for a digital job? As the push to be more inclusive for females in video games began, we also saw video game companies begin to include more gay characters who were not just included for a laugh.
What does being a gaymer mean to me? It often means feeling out of place in two communities. In the gay world, I am surrounded by a lot of body-conscious men who wear tight fitting clothes and gyrate to Britney Spears songs. The mention of sci-fi video game characters like StarCrafts’ Kerrigan is usually met with “Are you talking about Nancy Kerrigan the ice skater?”
On the other side, I am surrounded by a lot of guys whose definition of a “real man” is closer to the beefed up soldier types present in games like Gears of War or Duke Nukem. It is true the beefcake types do bring a certain stereotypical gay aspect to these games. However, it’s much like UFC in that straight men are typically not going to read into the homoeroticism on their screen. As a gaymer, it reads as a hypermasculinization that I could never live up to. Fortunately, it seems in the past 5 to 10 years things have started a shift and I have been able to meet more guys like myself: not defined by the traditional ideas of either straight or gay men, instead somewhere in the middle. I’ve had the opportunity to make great friendships through gaming with both straight and gay, men and women from all over the world.
We still have to face “Gay” being thrown around as an insult. While guys try to defend it as meaning “stupid”, we need people to realize that this is not ok. For the overwhelming majority of gamers, being gay is not an issue. And yet people still seem OK with using gay as an insult. If you mean stupid, say stupid! This is not a matter of needing a reason to change behavior, but rather needing a reason to keep saying the same ignorant thing over and over. I don’t know how many times I’ve said in game chats, “Well I am gay” to only hear back, “I didn’t mean it like that”. That excuse doesn’t cut it in 2015 and it hasn’t for a long time.
Now that I am older and hopefully wiser, the change, while admittedly slow, in the gaming community has been amazing. While it’s still somewhat common to get called a “fag” in competitive games, mainstream publishers are releasing games with gay characters or at least the option to be a gay character. I can’t express my gratitude enough to companies like Maxis, Bethesda, BioWare and many other game publishers, big and small, for paving the way to games that reflect the truth that LGBTQ people do exist.
However, there is still a lot of work to be done to include LGBTQ and female gamers in the mix. There are a few games targeted specifically at gay men such as My Ex-Boyfriend: The Space Tyrant, but in ways this caters more to the laughable gay attributes, though I was happy to laugh along with it. There are also game conventions targeted specifically to the LGBTQ community such as GaymerX, which create safe spaces for both LGBTQ people, allies, and even female gamers to meet, play, talk, or begin a relationship. There are websites dedicated to gay gamers like GayGamer.net. It’s enough to make a grown gay wanna cry, finding such a thriving community of people, who I once imagined being like an elusive and mythical unicorn.
Why is it important to have an LGBTQ gaming convention? That is a question a lot of straight people might be asking themselves. I want to make sure to say LGBTQ gaming conventions are NOT exclusively for LGBTQ individuals. As I mentioned before, they are also safe places for straight allies and women who may not feel as safe attending another thing a gaming convention by themselves. Basically the only rule there is, is to not be homophobic. A request that I personally don’t think is too much to ask. There are many video game companies showing their support in different ways. Riot, for example, uses their banhammer on anyone who calls another player a “fag” pretty frequently, while more and more companies are incorporating gay characters into their games. These companies are also supporting LGBTQ gaming conventions, not to take something away from straight gamers, but to provide a place for everyone to feel part of a community.
Hopefully one day I will be able to attend GaymerX, but until then thank you everyone who has supported people like myself and made friendships regardless of sexual orientation or identity.
You can find me on Twitter: @Ardilla_Negra
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