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As lesbian and gay characters become more and more part of the video gaming world, Shane Raymond meets some ‘gaymers’ who say it’s changing the way they play.

Gary was playing Dragon Age when he came across an elf who (shockingly) seemed camp. As an experiment, Gary tried to flirt with him. A few seconds later, as faux mediaeval music played from the speakers, a CGI interspecies homoerotic montage filled the screen. Gary had to turn the tv off. Not because he’s homophobic or anything, he’s a gay gamer – a Gaymer. It’s just that “the scene was so awkward”.

Gay characters are increasingly featured in video games by developers wishing to appeal to groups other than hetero-white-males. You can play as a trans character in Saint’s Row 2, same sex couples can adopt in the Sims, and Dragon Age has its numerous, cringey, homosexual encounters (which are well worth looking up on youtube).

Gayming is a big thing overseas with dedicated conventions, videogame themed LGBT proms and active online discussion groups. The Westboro Baptist Church are boycotting a gaymer convention in the US this month and made a video condemning those who wonder whether Master Chief wanders his barracks in a pink bathrobe. This is probably a sure sign that American gaymers are doing it right. However, in Ireland, gaymers are still a minority within a minority, and sometimes find both subcultures have a hostile reaction to the other.

Dragon Gayge

When asked why they need a term to distinguish themselves from straight players, gaymers often joke: they don’t. They need a term to distinguish themselves from other homosexuals. Although Gary knows a few other gaymers, it’s rare that he meets them and has gotten bad reactions in the gay community when he’s mentioned his hobby. “Sometimes I’ve gotten ‘that’s a waste of time, why don’t you watch a film?’ But it’s like a film, just interactive. When you’re gay, there’s certain kinds of roles you’re supposed to fall into. And when you don’t it’s sort of crap.”

While gaming might not be enthusiastically accepted by everyone in the gay community, other gamers can be downright hostile to homosexuals.  Online shooters are characterised by angry teenagers shouting ‘fag’ at anybody who is against them and ‘gay’ at anything that doesn’t go their way. When Declan Doody, editor at the-arcade.ie – a site for “all things geek”, was a teenager, he went through phases of being so upset by homophobic slurs he turned his headset off, to hiding his sexual orientation and joining in. Nowadays when he calls out players for their language, 90% of the time the response is ‘I didn’t mean gay as in two guys f—king. I meant gay as in retarded’.  The rest usually just apologise. “The words seem to mean something else these days, but regardless of that, by using them, players denigrate gay people” he says.

While other gaymers have responded by setting up their own servers or forming LGBT specific guilds in multiplayer games like World of Warcraft or Guild Wars II, Declan thinks that this deprives players of some of the great things about gaming. “We play online to meet, challenge and beat people from all over the world, and with that you open yourself up to hundreds of different cultures, nationalities and ideologies. Some of these might be happy to welcome a gay gamer onto their team and those are the people that make gaming such a fantastic hobby. You take the good with the bad though, and for every decent person, you’ll find some ignorant troll who only gets their kicks by putting other people down.”

Software companies are increasingly taking notice of the bad online-behaviour of some of their customers and now see online verbal abuse as a real problem. Aside from any moral qualms, they strive to remedy anything that takes away from the enjoyment of their products. In June, Microsoft unveiled plans for a reputation system for the Xbox One which will track players who shout abuse at others and will ‘segregate’ them according to their reputation.  The idea is that by being forced to only interact with people as obnoxious as you are, people have a real encouragement to change their behaviour.

Declan runs with a pretty geeky crowd, so unlike Gary, he has no trouble running into other gaymers. He reckons that there’s no reason to think being gay should affect your interests, only who you find interesting. “There is this attitude that gaming isn’t a hobby for gay men because, you know, all gay men do is dance, shop and drink expensive cocktails while whistling showtunes. But that runs parallel with a similar attitude that exists within the straight community, that gaming isn’t the ‘cool’ thing to do.”

The inclusion of gay computer-game characters was about more than just trying to make headlines, there was a feeling that forcing people to play as characters they couldn’t relate to was isolating and made games less immersive. Some role-playing games have romantic subplots and gaymers often had to make a choice between playing as the gender they wanted to be, or the gender that they wanted to be with.

Declan says that the inclusion of gay characters has noticeably changed the way he plays. “When I create a character these days I do tend to create more male characters. When I was younger I was drawn to female characters (which, when I think about it now, is a little weird and opens up a whole different discussion).  I still find it weird that I play as male characters now, it’s like breaking a mould. When I created my first character in Fable III, I spent ages trying to find the perfect husband. It wasn’t just ‘Oh, we can go and get married now, better pick someone just because it will be cool’. In Dragon Age II, I felt pangs of guilt when my character was torn between choosing his loyalties and the man he loved.”

With the increasingly popular and vocal gaymer community, it seems that gay characters will become a normal feature of future computer games. Though many gaymers have told me that they think, like in movies, there is already an emphasis on stereotypically flamboyant homosexuals, like ‘Gay Tony’ from Grand Theft Auto.

By the way, the consensus seems to be that: yes, Master Chief does wear a pink robe around the barracks, but with the armour still on underneath.

First published by GCN in September 2013
An online version of the magazine can be found on the GCN website at:
http://www.gcn.ie/September_Issue_285

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