It can be a tough gig fitting in sometimes. Harking back to my school days, not knowing who or what I was brought feelings of anxiety and worry which I’m fairly certain many of you reading this felt as well in some form. Not all the sick feeling in my stomach was brought on by my emerging and terrifyingly relentless sexuality (it never let up in the last year of school), it was my love for video games that swiftly took over my concentration in exam time. My attraction to the same sex did play a notable part, but gluing myself to Halo on Xbox until 2am did not aid my academic results either.
Joining an online forum to speak to people across the globe in secret about upcoming game releases, geeky rumours and gossip from development circles, was my drug and it easily spilt over into college. I was a nerd in disguise, desperate to hide who I was in fear of more verbal geek-bashing.
One particular standout memory was when the whole of Science class poked fun at me when a so-called friend ‘outed’ me as a geek – the cheek of it! His disguise was more fine-tuned though as my friend was quick to quell my retaliation when I told everyone we’d spent the weekend playing Zelda together. So, visiting the forum each night on the family computer felt like a cosy, open-armed, non-judgemental hug and I can thank it for what I do today.
Being a gay gamer, or ‘gaymer’, means you’re automatically seen as part of an emerging community; it’s just up to you whether or not you take part in it. Twitter, for example, has a ton of gaymers using #gaymer to find one another and connect. Facebook has even more gaming-for-gays groups cropping up each day and the trans, non-binary, queer, bi-sexual and questioning communities are all terrifically welcome too.
The last few years have seen a huge boost in what was once a niche market: gay people who gamed, but now it’s a very big and an almost normal thing with folk who understand what it’s like to hide who you truly are. There are even subsectors of the gayming community, factions that have broken off for those players who prefer Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft – and not forgetting the lively PC groups, too. But they all come together to share what they love the most and that’s the dedication towards the medium that’s overtaken film industry revenues (even before the pandemic)- videogames.
Showing your LGBTQI+ card doesn’t always grant you access to the gayming populace, though. Much like with any community, it can be challenging to join an established one. I own ‘Together We Play’, a Discord server and Twitter page dedicated to hosting fun game evenings every week while providing a safe space for people to talk and interact. It’s moderated, has guidelines in place to warn about triggers and misgendering and age restrictions; however, the focus is on encouraging people to connect with others. Some of the members suffer from mental health issues or they’ve simply been too shy to reach out.
The pandemic has done a fantastic job of making people feel more isolated, but having a group to drop in and say “hey, here’s a picture of my dog” has given some gamers a happy place. Our objective is to use the power of the internet to reconnect, with the promise of meet-ups when it’s safe. Of course, connecting people doesn’t always go smoothly, and like any groups of people, not everyone gets along. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, you cannot please everyone, even if you both share an unhealthy love for Mario and Luigi games.
There’s also the subject of the use of the phrase ‘gaymer’ itself. It means a lot, in different ways, to queer gamers. Does the community need to isolate themselves with a special word to differentiate them from straight gamers? Does the term only suggest gay men are part of the community?
Out of nearly 500 people who took part in a poll on Twitter, 46% of people agreed the term doesn’t bother them, with 19% who said it did and the remainder said the term doesn’t faze them in the slightest. @Daniel_Bevis on Twitter brings up an interesting point and says “It’s cute and harmless to me personally, but I can understand why some might push against yet another label in a still marginalised community”. However, Twitter user @808isBoBTime highlights the fact it’s brought them closer to people by stating “It helped me find a lot of the people I now follow on Twitter.”
A good number of straight folk chimed in, too, with positive comments saying they celebrate the ‘gaymer’ tag with@wendybird1996 saying “I am a straight person but some of my friends are gay and, to me, they will always be viewed as a gamer. As the phrase “a gamer’ isn’t based on gender or sexuality.”
Unfortunately, and sadly not surprisingly, homophobia surrounds the queer gaming community, too. Gaymers don’t come with second lives or power-ups to shield them from hurtful comments. @WillFletchUK brings up Twitch – a streaming platform for gamers to live broadcast their gaming sessions – and the fact it can attract hateful comments: “It’s a double-edged sword. Being more findable opens us all up to more abuse. That’s especially a problem on Twitch, where using the LGBTQIA+ tag or saying that your stream is a safe space can attract abuse.”
There are strict guidelines on Twitch, but it’s hard to moderate, and often the victim of such comments is left to fend for themselves. It’s not a case of walking to the other side of the road, the text is in front of you. The resilience from the community is promising however, and although we should never have to be in these situations, we often find solace in quick and effective community support, acting as one against hatred. Gaymers are a virtual force to be reckoned with when needed.
With everyone practically cemented to the confines of their homes at the moment and the monotony of working from a home setting is affecting us deeper than many would care to admit, engrossing yourself in a game can be therapeutic and a welcome escape from ‘normal’ life. Sharing the experience with others can offer some benefits too and, after all, you never know what friendships are waiting for you while you get smashed by a blue shell on Mario Kart.