As the gaming industry works to dismantle preconceived notions and stereotypes surrounding gender and gaming, there is a key demographic often overlooked. A significant percentage of the population identifies as LGBT+, and the community has impacted all facets of culture and industry across the board. The same is true for the gaming industry.
As more attention gets paid to achieving gender parity in esports, it becomes clearer that there is an area of overlap when it comes to LGBT+ representation. According to the 2020 UK Games Industry Census, 70% of workers in the gaming industry identify as male while 28% identify as female. The remaining 2% identify as non-binary. While this 2% clearly fits in the LGBT+ demographic, it’s important to understand that transgender employees who identify as either male or female would most likely be included in the the 70% and 28%, respectively.
Yet, while gender and sexuality are intersecting circles in a theoretical demographic venn diagram, beyond gender statistics, the UK Games Industry Census also reports that 21% of employees in the industry identify as LGBT+. Considering that in the UK 93-97% of the national population identifies as heterosexual—leaving 6-3% of the national population identifying as LGBT+—the percentage of LGBT+ employees in gaming is definitely noteworthy.
Similar figures in the US mark an approximate 19% of professionals in the gaming industry identifying as LGBT+ as compared to a similar approximate 3% of the general US population identifying as LGBT+. Part of what may draw so many LGBT+ individuals to pursue careers in game development may have to do with the formative experiences they potentially had as players.
Generally speaking, gaming allows for players to connect with one another beyond the usual barriers of social norms and pressures typical of in-person interactions. According to a 2019 report from the Anti-Defemation League, 88% of players who participated in the study state that they’ve had positive social experiences through gaming, such as making friends, helping one another, and building communities. While things are gradually changing in terms of societal acceptance of LGBT+ identities, coming to terms with one’s sexuality is often a particularly difficult process. Considering 20% of gamers reported that they learned something about themselves while playing, the impact for LGBT+ players coming to terms with their identity is potentially tremendous.
However, the same study also found that 1 in 3 LGBT+ players were on the receiving end of harassment based on their identity. In 2018, a group of Fallout 76 players were permanently banned after footage of them “hunting” LGBT+ players and using slurs surfaced. Toxicity in gaming as a whole has been an issue across the board, but when it comes to minority groups, there is an amplification of issues regarding tolerance seen in a wider societal context. As gaming continues to strive for more inclusivity and diversity, it’s also important to make sure that these marginalized groups are able to share in the same sort of positive social experiences that 88% of players attest to having while gaming.
As such, developers are working towards creating a representative and inclusive environment within gaming. For instance, the inclusion of Pride flags across the New York city landscape seen in PS4’s Marvel’s Spider-Man game serve as a simple yet poignant reminder that the LGBT+ community exists and is worth celebrating, not only in the virtual world, but in the real world as well. Furthermore, by including Queer characters, such as Overwatch’s Soldier: 76 and Tracer—both of whom were confirmed to be gay in the official comic book series—stereotypes are dismantled and representation is furthered.
Representation counts for a lot when it comes to allowing queer gamers to see themselves reflected in the games they play. They also allow for the exposure of queer experiences for a wider audience. This exposure makes it so that LGBT+ seem familiar and real, ironically enough, allowing for the sort of empathy that breaks down walls and allows for real progress.
As society continues to trend towards the ideals of equality, diversity, and tolerance, it becomes more and more apparent that as these values are incorporated into the crews that create the games powering the gaming industry, the games themselves will continue to benefit. As the stories, characters, and worlds brought to virtual life become increasingly nuanced due to the varied life experiences of the game creators, gamers’ worldviews are subtly and importantly enriched as well.