Homo/Bi/Transphobia in Gaming: Stories of Being LGBT+ in Gaming panel at MCM London

Homo/Bi/Transphobia in Gaming: Stories of Being LGBT+ in Gaming panel at MCM London

0 comments 📅28 May 2018, 16:01

After a panel on Diversity in Gaming back in October 2017, London Gaymers returned to MCM London Comic Con to a full Creator’s Stage on the Saturday. This time it was a discussion exploring historic issues around LGBT+ inclusion within the gaming world. The panel revolved around three big questions that would be discussed.

The panel included London Gaymers admin Rafael Campos Valdez, and co-founder Curtis Free. Joining Curtis and Rafael were Ashley ‘Nova’ Spindler, a streamer and online content creator on Twitch; Charleyy Hodson, Social Strategist for Xbox UK; Nathan Costello, a freelance iOS games designer, and Izzy Jagan, an Account Executive at Indigo Pearl.

Rafael explained that from the results of a US survey asking gamers which forms of homophobia they had experienced either online or offline, 87.7% of people responded with, ‘That’s so gay.’ 83.4% of people said players had used the words ‘gay’ or ‘queer’ as a derogatory comment. “So we’re not making it up,” said Rafael. “This stuff does happen.”

Rafael Campos Valdez

Curtis Free

Based on the results of the survey, Rafael asked the first question, which was “What has been your experience in the gaming community, both online or offline?”

Izzy began by sharing her experience playing The Sims. “I was seven years old and I was on my family computer. I was shiftily looking around me, like, ‘Ooh, you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to make some lesbians.’ I still wake up in the morning and say that to myself.” She revealed that to her seven-year-old self, the experience was akin to murder, one which left her so ashamed and embarrassed that she took the disc out, broke it and cried.

Ashley shared her early experience, explaining how all the characters she created when playing RPGs online were female. “All of my friends at the time were saying to me, ‘Why are you making all these girl characters? Why don’t you just play a boy, like you are?’” She went on to say that as a closeted trans person, there was always a pressure to present yourself in ways that people expect you, which tends to transcend towards gaming as well.

Nathan followed up with this, describing how those playing of World of Warcraft were not happy with male gamers playing as female characters. “They wanted to think that the girls in the game were actually female,” he said. “It didn’t matter what sexuality you were. This apparently was a crime. And I’ve always played girls because I find I want skimpy armour.”

Because of Charleyy’s role at Xbox UK, she revealed that she spends a lot of time watching streamers and content creators, some of whom do use derogatory comments. She said, “There’s a lot of people that end up blacklisted, because they’re just freely throwing them out there for many people watching, as if it’s just something that’s okay to respond with.”

Rafael followed this up to ask Ashley if her experience on Twitch was similar. “Every day,” responded Ashley. “We still get people coming in, almost every single stream, making asinine comments.” She then revealed that she was on the front page of Twitch yesterday. “I had 3,700 people watching me yesterday, which is a hundred times more than I am used to. I couldn’t read my chat, because my mods were banning people so quickly.”

Izzy Jagan

Nathan Costello

The second question was, “What was it like entering your first job in the gaming industry?”

Izzy explained that she was quite lucky working with Indigo Pearl, her first job in the gaming industry. “We have the most amazing MD, Caroline Miller, who is just very open, she’s very accepting and she’s made all of us feel absolutely, completely, one hundred percent comfortable with who we are,” said Izzy. She also felt that organisations need people at the very top, to the very bottom, to be supportive, open and kind.

Nathan revealed that from his experience, people tended to be more accepting in the gaming industry, saying, “Working with younger professionals tends to mean they’re more okay with you.” However, he felt that working in other industries had been quite bad, as he shared how after answering generic interview questions for another job, as soon as he had mentioned work he had done at Pride, they were no longer interested. “The moment I said the word ‘LGBT’, they just switched off.”

Charleyy’s said that her experience within the gaming industry “was kind of fine,” but did talk about the Xbox social channels, saying, “People often refer to our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram pages as a guy. None of that! We are a gender fluid social media brand that is gender ambiguous.”

Ashley revealed that she began streaming on Twitch by watching other streamers. “I thought if they can do it, I can do it. I can build this great queer friendly community,” said Ashley. “Within the first hour, I was getting people coming in and criticising the way I looked, the way I sounded and criticising my identity. If it wasn’t for those other streamers, and going to them for advice, I don’t think I would have kept doing it.”

Charleyy Hodson

Ashley Spindler

The third and final questions was, “What would be your one suggestion to the industry or community to help combat homo/bi/transphobia?”

“My advice goes out to every cis person, straight person, every dude, every white person,” said Ashley. “Call people out on their shit. When someone is saying offensive stuff, it’s much more effective if someone from their community comes to them and says, ‘That’s not okay.’”

Nathan said that for those making games, there shouldn’t just be support areas for LGBT people, but actual LGBT people in games. “Have Tracer’s, have Deadpool’s, have characters [that] people want to look up to,” said Nathan, feeling that doing so means straight people will play as LGBT characters. “Then they’ll be like, ‘Oh, well, if I can play as a gay character, then where’s the harm?’” He also added that developers should not be scared to put LGBT characters in their games.

Izzy highlighted the panel itself, saying, “You guys all being here, listening to us ramble on about our own issues. It’s kind of like one-way therapy.” She added, “It’s not a bonus for someone to be a homophobic, transphobic, racist, absolute nob. It’s just being a decent, genuinely kind and okay human being and not being a piece of… poop.” She also felt that LGBT people deserve support from an industry that they in turn love and support.

Charleyy recounted an experience streaming on Twitch. “I wrote an article about being sexually attacked whilst I was streaming one time,” she said. “I found out I was being broadcast, and actually it was like a fun game for them to be watching me and planning the stuff they were going to say. There was some radio silence from Twitch for a while, then they changed some terms and conditions.” She added that if you’re not happy, or see others that are unhappy, then just talk about it.

“We experience people who contest what we do and why we do it,” said Curtis as he explained that people will often argue, “Why do we need to talk about this again?” and “Haven’t they got enough freedom and complacency already?” He then added, “It’s really difficult because it really hurts when you hear those things regularly…I think the best way you can try and combat that is to pull people up to our level rather than decrease ourselves down to theirs. You can very easily get into this back-and-forth with people, and it can be quite harmful both ways. All we can do is really share that positivity, share that enthusiasm we have and share that passion and love we all have.”

There were a few minutes allocated for questions from attendees. One revealed how during conversations, he is often faced with people who feel, “It’s fine if people want to see themselves in games, but they don’t have to shove it down our throats.” He asked if it was possible to change this perception.

Ashley brought up an academic study about trying to promote more women in conferences, talks and panels. “If your gender balance is about 70-30, men to women, the men in the room will feel like they’re being silenced…you get to a 50-50 split there will be men in the room who feel like they just can’t say anything.” She explained that this was a big issue for different identities and different industries. “You just need to say to people, ‘Okay, there’s a woman on the front cover of Battlefield 5. Let me show you all of the other Battlefield games, ever, that have had a white dude on the front. For me, that’s what I try and point out. Yes, we like to have representation, we’re not trying to take an unfair amount of space. We just want to be able to see people like us in games, because it feels good.”

Another question raised asked for good ways to create LGBT characters that would not be taken as an egregious stereotype.

“Have them be something they wouldn’t expect them to be,” responded Nathan. “Perhaps they are a mother of eight, but then they realise they’re a lesbian, they’ve had to come out that way and realise they’re breaking up their family.”

Ashley suggested finding sensitivity readers and consulting with LGBT people directly. “Say, ‘This is the character I want to make. How can I make this better?’”

“Just look around you and put that in the game,” said Izzy, adding, “I can only speak for myself, but I’ve never seen a brown queer woman before in a video game. But I know so many other brown queer women.”

As the panel came to a close, Curtis thanked everyone for coming. “Hopefully this has been really interesting,” he said. “I found it a really fascinating topic to talk about.”

Photos by Harriett Greene (Manga Girl Photography

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