What more can the games industry do for the LGBTQIA+ community?

It’s June, which can only mean… it’s Pride Month! Every year – pandemic or not – it’s cause to celebrate everything the community has achieved as it pushes for true, worldwide equality. We talked at length about it last year, running through many of our favourite examples of LGBTQIA+ representation in video games.

The industry has been one to really embrace everything the community has to offer. Last year’s list featured developers big and small creating realistic, down-to-Earth characters that speak to people looking for characters and stories that are just like them. They’ve done so much and are dedicated to doing so much more.

But that begs the question: what is more? For all that the video game industry has done, where can they go from here? Because I believe there are still ways we can, as the leading entertainment industry, create greater representation.

What is representation?

The first step is to acknowledge what ‘more’ is. While we’ve made great strides, it’s an opportunity to look beyond gay side characters or gay romance options. These are amazing to see, but by taking it to the next level, we can move beyond tokenism. What comes next is representing the true reality of what it is to be part of the LGBTQIA+ community.

That’s not to say there is one particular way to do it. Ask 100 people, and you’ll get plenty of answers as to how representation should be approached in video games. Do you dive into a true LGBTQIA+ story, with all its pros and uncomfortable cons, such as in Gone Home? That game represents the internal conflict of coming to terms with your sexuality and expressing it to your family; it will be a feeling many are familiar with.

But there’s also a growing voice for ‘real’ stories that aren’t Greek tragedies. Ones that treat the LGBTQIA+ experience as normal, indistinct from straight counterparts. To dip our toes into the world of TV, part of why Schitt’s Creek became such a lockdown phenomenon was its depiction of a male-male relationship. They were treated no differently than the countless straight relationships we’ve seen on TV for decades. There was very little coming-out angst, worries of what the townsfolk would say, or hiding part of who you are. It was unashamedly, unabashedly gay. And that does a lot for representation.

It’s about bringing real LGBTQIA+ existence to the forefront. What is the gay/lesbian/bi/trans experience? Where is it outside of the cutscenes and wink-and-nod romantically explicit moments? Where are the gay couples eating breakfast before work? Where are the two mums trying to raise their kids?

Going beyond

Not every game is driven by a narrative and has the device to bring LGBTQIA+ experiences to the forefront. But it doesn’t mean it can’t be there. This year, Rainbow Six Siege announced its first gay operator. Does it make a difference? Not in a game sense. But it’s representation for those who need it.

So what are some other ideas we can add? Can we do more than a rainbow flag? Pride is a whole month, so there’s space to include Pride events in games. Persisting online games regularly add new content and events, so why couldn’t the same be done for the LGBTQIA+ community? Other games might take the time to explore Christmas or Halloween, but never Pride.

Why not make the most of the month and give LGBTQIA+ fans something to revel in? Especially in this past year when Pride marches can’t happen – wouldn’t an online alternative do wonders?

It’s a tough balancing act. Not everyone is at the level of acceptance that the western world is. Not even everyone within our own country is. But isn’t that the point of representation? To show naysayers that this isn’t going anywhere; that LGBTQIA+ people are here to stay. Part of the exposure is to get people used to seeing queer people amongst the masses. We have to stand up to the toxicity and lead by example.

Another part of the fight is giving LGBTQIA+ people the chance to tell their stories. To be developers, writers, programmers, artists, actors, PR, and marketers. They can bring their experience to the table and give an honest, genuine point of view that reflects what life is really like. 

The video game industry is beginning to give support to the queer community. They’ve been there to lift people up and there are plenty who want to tell these stories. But part of growing is accepting you have room to be better. So let’s all pull together, and as a wider gaming community, commit to doing more.

We want to thank all of our LGBTQIA+ members of staff and those amongst our clients. This month – and this article – is for you.