When I spoke to Gaming In Color documentary director Philip Jones a couple of weeks ago, he said he and his colleagues often hear this criticism about gay gamers (or gaymers): “‘I don’t understand what sexuality has to do with video games; why can’t it just be for fun?’ They feel like we’re inserting a real-world subject into their fantasy land where they don’t want to think about this sort of thing.”
I’ve been thinking about that a lot over these past few weeks, as a number of stories related to LGBT representation within gaming have surfaced.
First of all, Gaming in Color is a fantastic documentary, an overview of where the queer and trans community sits as far as representation within the industry and speaking about why it’s important to have those conversations. If you have any interest at all in the video game industry, I’d highly recommend supporting such a fantastic project.
Secondly, there has been the strange controversy around Nintendo: after revealing that same-sex relationships weren’t an option in their new game Tomodachi Life, an outraged gay gaming community criticized Nintendo for “banning” same-sex marriage and for “not letting you be gay,” despite the fact that that was never even on the table. As of Friday afternoon, Nintendo had apologized and promised that, should there be another installation of Tomodachi Life, the company “will strive to design a game-play experience from the ground up that is more inclusive, and better represents all players.” Which seems to have pacified all the criticism for that whole thing, so damage control accomplished.
Almost simultaneously, news came out of Russia that, for the release of The Sims 4, an “18+ rating has been assigned in accordance with the law number 436-FZ, ‘On the protection of children from information harmful to their health and development,’” to the surprise of no one and, hopefully, the ongoing dismay of everyone.
So needless to say, since I’ve been following these developments, it’s been on my mind.
Jones retweeted a series of comments on Gaming in Color’s trailer that were posted on YouTube. One critic, YouTube and Google Plus user Ben Mitchell, explains, “This is simple economics. Most gamers are straight white males. Most game writers are straight white males.” Why, Mitchell asks, would gaming cater to gays if writers aren’t competent enough to write gay characters and there is no market for it?
This assumes, of course, that the industry as it stands properly represents proportional population statistics when (of course) it does not.
A 2013 study by the Electronic Software Association of Canada found that only slightly less than half of gamers are women, but a further study by Nordicity published through ESAC noted that only 16 percent of the video game workforce in 2012 were women. This was mostly in business and administration roles, and when you break it down further, just five percent of technical roles were held by women. The study notes, “The lack of representation of women in the video game industry is a global phenomenon and concern.”
If this is the reality for women, who make up more than half our global population and slightly less than half the gaming community in Canada, imagine what the reality is for gay gamers:
“According to the data from IGDA’s 2005 survey of workforce diversity, the vast majority (91.6%) of respondents identify as heterosexual, 5.1% as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, and 3.2% declined to answer,” one 2009 study published in Games and Culture by academic Adrienne Shaw explains. “Males accounted for 89.1% of those surveyed and 1.5% of all respondents identify as transgendered. In press articles and forums, this homogeneity is used to explain the lack of GLBT content in video games.”
Even at conservative estimates, 20 percent of the world has same-sex attraction in some permutation and, similarly, I’ve seen estimates that two to five percent of the world’s population is somewhere along the transgender spectrum. Like representation of women in gaming, there is a clear discrepancy.
I’m not saying every single form of media has to be rigidly controlled by population statistics, but if LGBT people, like women, were more or less proportionately represented within video gaming, one in two games would have a woman as a main character, about one in five would have a queer hero, and maybe one in 10 would have a central trans-identified protagonist. Similarly, so should industry workplaces. This is not the case.
Numbers, statistics, facts or reality have never had anything to do with the arguments against more diverse representations in any kind of media, with women, LGBT people, people of colour, what have you. The cold, hard truth is that it’s prejudice and hatred erected as a wall around the industry and community. The white heterosexual boys’ club mentality stands against real life and, in the context of that game, anyone outside of it is the enemy.
“I don’t understand what sexuality has to do with video games; why can’t it just be for fun?”