LGBTQ+ and Broader Queer Community Roundtable (Presented by IGDA)
Alayna Cole presented the LGBTQ+ roundtable at GDC 2019. However, we know not everyone can afford to come to GDC; the passes alone are expensive, let alone the travel and accommodation costs. The IGDA is an international organisation, so our international queer community deserves to see what was discussed at the event and to join the conversation. Below you can see the full notes of the 2019 roundtable and you can contribute with your own responses via our Twitter.
Issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community in the games industry
Discoverability of games that feature queer content is difficult, even with people boosting games on social media and using tags on distribution platforms like Steam and itchio.
Uncertainty around how platforms intend to censor games that deal with themes of sexuality in the future impacts studios’ ability to make financial predictions about the feasibility of their games.
Community is spread out and so connecting with other queer folks and sharing games with people who might benefit most from them is difficult.
Censorship algorithms and uninformed people sometimes cannot determine the difference between a game dealing with sexuality and a game that is sexually charged, and so some games are filtered out as inappropriate. This has an impact on LGBTQ+ game visibility.
There is hyper-visibility when representation is done poorly but relative invisibility when representation is done well.
Hiring and gaining promotions within organisations becomes more difficult once your queer status is mentioned or revealed through processes like applying for health insurance within an American company.
Socialising at work events and reaping the benefits that come from these casual exchanges is difficult when workplace culture has not quashed homophobic humour and similar casual discrimination.
Organisations see queerness and releasing games featuring queer folks as a risk. We need to move past the ‘risk assessment’ mindset into a better understanding of the value of queer stories.
Games can receive a negative response for including queer themes too explicitly or not explicitly enough. Representation is sometimes too superficial and characters lack stories beyond their identity.
There is a lack of tools that can be used for representation. For example, there are no open access systems for increasing pronoun selection at character creation, so students and new developers are forced to create these systems from scratch or fall back on the way games have always been made.
Corporate bureaucracy is difficult to navigate when you are the first or only queer individual in a workplace. There is a lot of labour in trying to convince leadership to make changes to processes like forms, bathrooms, and so on.
It is difficult for new queer folks on teams or in studios to find existing queer folks and join communities.
Progress and success stories
GDC passes now have space for pronouns. There are also all gender bathrooms. Conventions are listening to feedback and changes are being made.
One attendee praised EA for their inclusion of same-sex partners in policies, the number of queer folks they have employed, the resources and support that are available, and the diversity groups that people can be a part of. There are active conversations in a queer channel on a staff Discord about the queer content of the company’s games.
One attendee praised ArenaNet for their inclusive hiring practices and the vision shared by the leadership team, and how this has resulted in a number of queer employees at the studio.
One attendee praised Blizzard for their employee group growing until there was executive buy-in, and the ways that employing a diversity and inclusion manager is further improving the climate of the studio.
Attendees working with students praised young people for being more accepting of LGBTQ+ folks and their stories. There are lots of nonbinary students currently studying game design who are loud, proud, and passionate about their identities. This generational shift has seen students in traditionally conservative US states being more accepting when peers come out as LGBTQ+.
The NYU game center has recently had Naomi Clark in a chair position and this reinforced the empowering impact that having queer women in positions of power can have on similar folks that they are representing.
An attendee working at Play Studios praised their support, acceptance, and the ways they mentor marginalised folks to help prepare them for pursuing leadership positions.
League of Legends finally released an LGBTQ+ character and, when they received feedback about the launch being too implicit, they responded to this feedback by hiring additional queer team members to work on improving future releases of similar content.
It is encouraging to see game jams with explicitly queer themes, especially jams focusing on underrepresented asexual and aromantic identities.
Allyship is increasing and improving, and that is contributing to progress. Allyship workshops are happening in workplaces and this is impacting studio culture and hiring practices.
The Brazilian Association of Game Developers is starting to think about how to support diversity in Brazil, including labels for studios that support diversity, gender diversity scholarships, and other initiatives.
Game jams and tools with a low barrier to entry mean there are more games being produced by people with different voices, and this is allowing more marginalised folks to find communities on the fringes of the games industry.
An attendee working in asset store moderation is pushing back against leadership making questionable suggestions around how to moderate queer content.
What are the questions that queer folks and allies need answered to improve diversity, inclusion, and accessibility?
Big studios and teams benefit from having queer groups within those teams, but how do queer folks on smaller teams (who may be the only queer person in a studio) feel less isolated?
How do we create queer characters where their queerness is meaningful without making queer characters where their queerness is the only thing that’s meaningful about them?
Is it time for us to move beyond having playersexual characters in videogames?
When working in localisation, how do you talk to international companies and emphasise the importance of not ignoring marginalised demographics?
How do we improve information around visa requirements for people with same-sex partners? Are there resources that workplaces can provide to their employees about visa requirements in places they may be offered a job to ensure their same-sex partner can come with them? How can we encourage these resources to be provided as standard so an individual does not have to out themselves to ask?
How do we make it explicit that a character is queer as early as possible in a game so you don’t have to finish the game or read extra content to figure it out? Why isn’t this more common?
How can people best represent multiple marginalised groups within one character?
How do we encourage studios to make nonbinary / genderqueer character customisation options as default?
How do we create and maintain queer groups within companies? How can a person start one, and what activities can people do to keep them active?
How do we avoid talking about problems and focus more on finding solutions?
How do we avoid the potential ‘uproar’ that comes from including marginalised groups, and exclude the people who are likely to initiate this discriminatory ‘uproar’ from our game communities?
How do we stop queerness in games from centring around whiteness and cisness?
How do we avoid stereotypes in representations while also ensuring that the types of people that are similar to these stereotypes still feel represented (ie. the effeminate gay man, the butch lesbian, etc)?
How do we encourage triple-A studios to include queerness throughout their game design process, rather than just tacking it on at the end?
How do we create characters and queer identities in small studios that do not have the financial or emotional labour to spare to deal with the potential online backlash that comes from sharing these diverse perspectives?
How do we move on from talking about representation to talking about connection? How do we think about more than just seeing ourselves in games, and instead think about creating communities? How do we form these communities?
How do we create characters in games that can be customised and re-customised throughout one playthrough to represent the fluidity of identity?
How do we encourage the industry to take inclusivity more seriously? How do we support queer folks being hired in the industry?
What can folks living in privileged places do to support people in countries where it’s dangerous to come out and be vocal about their queerness?
How do we build better communities in games for queer players so they are not excluded from games because of their queer identities? How do we limit the toxicity queer folks experience in multiplayer games just by being themselves?
How do we market games to the queer demographic without oversaturating games and their advertisements with queer content? How do we also use queer content to market games to non-queer audiences, normalise queer content, and encourage non-queer folks to explore queer themes?
How do we include queer folks organically, rather than relying solely on players selecting queer characters for themselves?
How do we sell diversity to our leadership teams and executives? How do we pitch the social versus potential financial impact? How do we encourage executives to incorporate more diversity when this can result in a ‘trade-off’ for other features?
How do we improve access to resources, consultancy, and sensitivity training? When these services already exist, how do we improve people’s awareness of them?
How do we encourage more vocal positive responses to representation, content, and policies that are doing the right thing? How do we drown out the negative noise with positive feedback?
Practical tips and advice
The Bungie diversity committee was created in 2017 as an opt-in organisation for both LGBTQ+ folks and allies so that joining didn’t out the people involved. This allowed for a larger group, and gave people a space to talk about issues, plan pride events, and so on without feeling exposed.
Communities can be created using email groups, Slack channels, or through any of the collaborative tools workplaces are already using.
When building a community, exposure is important. People can advertise through flyers, posters, club events, television and radio, and using social media like Reddit and Discord. You can also advertise within games themselves.
Communities shouldn’t just be organising serious, educational events. Fun events like showing a movie on a projector gives marginalised folks a safe space to meet with each other casually.
Change mission statements to be more inclusive and ensure community recruiting reflects that statement.
Focus on diversity and inclusion from the ground up. It needs to be the foundation of any community from the beginning.
Safe space policies, pronoun badges, and inclusive practices at events help to show marginalised folks that they are welcome. Toxic people must not be tolerated from the beginning as this helps ensure toxicity isn’t fostered within a space and also helps to establish trust with marginalised groups.
Being open about identity and fostering meaningful relationships helps lead to community, and also allows individuals to act as mentors and role models for others who are less comfortable with their identities.