London Gaymers LGBT+ Diversity in Gaming panel at MCM London Comic Con

London Gaymers LGBT+ Diversity in Gaming panel at MCM London Comic Con

0 comments 📅01 November 2017, 21:56

Left to right – Tanavi P (host), Rafael Campos Valdez, Curtis Free, Anna Radak, Jessica Saunders, Justin Mahboubian-Jones, Astrid Johnson.

MCM London Comic Con saw London Gaymers hosting a panel on LGBT+ Diversity in Gaming. The panel consisted of Rafael Campos Valdez – admin for London Gaymers; Curtis Free – co-founder of London Gaymers; Anna Radak – QA on Media Moleghoul and producer at Retrace Game; Jessica Saunders – director at Salix Games; Justin Mahboubian-Jones – a member of London Gaymers and occasional games journalist, and Astrid Johnson – a games journalist who is the editor and chief at Indie Haven.

Hosted by Tanavi P, she began by asking how London Gaymers began. Curtis explained that it began roughly five and a half years ago. “Since then we’ve just blossomed into being a fantastic place for people to create new friendships, communities, find people who share similar interests and feel comfortable in a safe space.” He then said that the panel is not just about London Gaymers being a part of the gaming community, but also a part of the state of the industry, and what developers, producers and designers can do to help LGBT gamers feel more comfortable.

“Only 18 months ago we were about 150 members,” said Curtis. “Now, a year and a half on, we’re ten times that size. It’s just proved to us that there are people who want to find a group like this.” He also revealed that they run gaming events around every two months and that they would be running a special Halloween gaming event later that day.

Asked why they felt it was important to have a hub specifically for the LGBT gaming community, Rafael said, “We have people that don’t feel themselves represented or reflected in the wider LGBT community, as nerds or geeks. In the other sense you have the gaming community, particularly online, it isn’t the most inclusive place. I think creating that mesh between the two, that safe space, it’s really interesting and appreciated.”

Rafael then began a Powerpoint presentation, showing the history of notable LGBT representations in video games, beginning with Vivian Pentreath from Moonmist. Other mentions were given to Birdo from Super Mario Bros 2, Ash from Streets of Rage 3, Jedi Knight Juhani from Knights of the Old Republic, and the most recent being Tracer from Overwatch.

Of the games mentioned, Rafael highlighted how LGBT characters are often used for comic value, they have sometimes been altered due to censorship issues in different countries, their identities are usually hidden (“It’s like developers take credit for having a gay character, but they don’t want you to know they’re gay,” said Rafael), and their roles are often secondary.

Rafael then discussed homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in gaming culture and what is causing the industry to not be as inclusive to the LGBT community. Highlighting Jason Rockwood’s gay gamer’s survey from 2006, he revealed that one of the questions asked was, “Which of the following forms of homophobia have you experienced either online or offline?” Rafael relayed that “87% of gamers reported that they hear the phrase, ‘That’s so gay’ quite often online, and 84% hear people use the words ‘gay’ or ‘queer’ in a derogatory manner.”

Rafael then wanted to ask those sitting on the panel with him, “What is a Gaymer?” and what their experiences were growing up playing video games.

“LGBT content and characters in gaming was when I was already fine with it,” said Anna, who then recalled her experience of playing Borderlands with her brother, who she was not out to. “Playing co-op, and just casually mentioning that Sir Hammerlock is gay,” said Anna. “It was me kind of like testing the waters, and seeing how he reacted to a gay character in gaming.”

Justin recounted his experience of playing Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy online when he was younger, and developing a friendship with another Sith Lord. “We had quite a few conversations,” said Justin. “It turned out he was gay, I was gay, we told each other, we had a sort of budding online romance. Then it came to telling the clan, and I was really nervous about it. A couple of members of the clan were quite homophobic, but what was amazing to me at the time, as a kid, was the vast majority of them were incredible and defended me.” Justin said that the experience showed him the potential of online communities in gaming.

Astrid said that she did not see that many depictions of LGBT characters in the games she grew up playing, citing the only game that had a bit of an impact was Fable 2. “That had elements of representation,” said Astrid. “It was an optional player choice.” She also noted one of the aspects of the game, saying, “It was a way of you being able to… ‘Let’s all go to the bedroom. Oh! Okay. I didn’t know that was permissible in social situations.” Calling it the best thing they had back then, Astrid said that if more of those representations were there earlier then she might have come to realisations about herself sooner.

Rafael then wanted to know their thoughts on the state of the gaming industry in regards to LGBT representations and the culture around it, feeling that developers want to attract a mass audience but they don’t want to put people off by having an LGBT character. “It’s like they want to have their cake and eat it as well,” said Rafael.

“I think a lot of it is to do with the games press at the moment,” said Jessica. “The press in general is quite cruel out there. People are very terrified to post things, to put their games out there. If you say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing, that could be your career over.” She added that people have the best intentions, but put a foot wrong and that’s it. She explained how some companies put out games with multimillion budgets and huge audience expectations. But millions of people could decide that they will not buy your game if the lead character is a homosexual male. “You have to be very careful about how you put your game out there.”

Justin revealed that he interviewed Jeff Kaplan, the director of Overwatch, and talked to him about Tracer being a lesbian and then announcing it. “There was a soft launch of her sexual preference,” said Justin, relaying how he was told that it’s “nothing in game, it’s nothing in lore, it’s only in the comic book.” He then recounted one of the reasons for this, saying he was told that Overwatch is a global product introduced in many territories, and Blizzard was slightly worried about how that would impact the game in different countries. Justin felt that companies needed to be brave enough to say, “This is our product, we believe in it, we believe in the message it’s giving across.”

Jessica expanded on the point of global audiences and used blockbuster films as an example, saying, “When you’ve got films like Marvel’s, and the majority of their income is coming from Russia and China, then you’re not going to see an LGBT character in a lead role.”

Astrid made the distinction of how the indie gaming scene was a lot better when it comes to representation of LGBT characters, saying, “It’s good representation as well, not just representation regardless of the quality.” She then noted how the larger companies would use focus groups to narrow down what they think would work when it comes to selling their games. “They’re trying to appeal to a wider audience, and in appealing to that wide audience they may feel, ‘Oh, we can’t put this gay character or this trans character in, because it will impact sales.’” Though she felt that games such as The Last of Us and Life is Strange did a good job in representing gay romance.

Before the panel came to a close, Rafael mentioned that they received fantastic feedback from the media, journalists and those in the industry about some of the topics raised in the panel. While there was not enough time to share them all, they have collated them all and will publish them on the microsite:

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