For decades, LGBTQ+ characters and stories were almost nonexistent – but now things have improved, and a new generation of queer players are finding themselves (and each other) in video games
Fresh from a drag performance featuring a gender-swapped Mario and Princess Peach chasing each other around on stage, after watching a burlesque performer disrobe to the Tetris theme, I am standing at the bar waiting for a drink, surrounded by people in fabulous outfits. Famous drag queen Asstina Mandella is here in a stunning dress; I am in a purple bisexual-colours suit and I still feel somewhat underdressed for the occasion. I am not used to this at video games events – back in the 00s, it was mostly men in black T-shirts with logos on them, and I was one of about three women in the room. But this is the first in-person Gayming awards, an event that celebrates queer representation in video games, and the huge and ever-growing queer community that plays them.
This might not be what some people would think of as the gaming audience, but the fact is that just about everybody plays games now – two-thirds of all Americans, to pluck just one stat – and of course, queer people have always been part of that community. If anything, queer people are overrepresented in the gaming population. Fully 21% of all the people working in the games industry identify as LGBTQ+, according to a recent survey by sector champion Ukie. Until quite recently, though, this was not reflected in games themselves, whose makers and marketers seemed resolutely committed to making games starring either white heterosexual males shooting at things, or anthropomorphic animals. When I was growing up in the 90s, even female representation in games was dismal, let alone queer representation.