Forget the real world, with all its homophobia and transphobia. Imagine you’re someone else, traveling through a made up world and free to be open about whoever you are. Can games create an escape from society for LGBT people? Is the gaming community a safe place for LGBT people to come out of the closet?
The Sims 3 made news by allowing virtual same-sex marriages. Fable, Dragon Age, Bully, and Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony also let gamers play as gay characters. And the designers of an upcoming game, tentatively named Choice of the Consort, are planning on including same-sex romance and are currently working out the appropriate terminology for romances in a gender neutral virtual world. Many games are creating gameplay that allow players to choose their sexuality and gender. Transgender players can express their gender through avatars, choosing an identity that matches with how they’d like to look.
But while some games are inclusive of LGBT people, homophobia still exists within the gaming community. Microsoft apologized for a ban on gay Gamertags on Xbox live. A gamer identified herself as a lesbian and was subsequently harassed by other players, reported to Microsoft, and suspended from her account.
While this sounds like outright homophobia from Microsoft, it actually relates to homophobia within the gaming community. Microsoft had banned the word “gay” because between 95 and 98 percent of profiles and Gamertags with the word gay were using the word in a derogatory manner. How can gay gamers feel comfortable coming out when so many straight gamers are homophobic?
But despite its issues, gaming has great potential for benefiting LGBT people. Virtual worlds are fully anonymous, allowing those who are closeted to experience coming out of the closet. Anonymity means that coming out results in less social risk, making it easy for people to lower their inhibitions.
Many LGBT people have found their niche within the benefits of virtual worlds. LGBT gamers are visible enough that they’ve created their own community. Gay gamers use the term “gaymer” to distinguish themselves within the gaming community. There’s even a website specifically for the gay gaming community.
Hopefully the gaming community as a whole will grow to be more accepting of LGBT gamers. Meanwhile, LGBT-inclusive games and the anonymity of the online world create enough appeal for a growing group of LGBT gamers.
Photo credit: Futurilla