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The Need for Queer Narratives: A Response to "Gaming in Color"

When I first heard of the documentary Gaming in Color, I fully intended to watch the documentary and write a review, listing out a bunch of reasons why I think gamers and non-gamers alike should watch it. As I made my way through the film, however, I soon realized that that’s not really what I wanted to write about. That wouldn’t be very truthful to the experience I had while watching it. I wanted to write about my own experiences as a gay gamer and how I felt about a lot of the points brought up in Gaming in Color.

Gaming in Color is a an hour long documentary about the LGBTQ experience in video games and gaming culture which came out in April 2014. It was funded by a Kickstarter campaign in 2013 and features interviews with many prominent gaming industry professionals and queer gamers. A large part of the documentary also focuses on GaymerX, the first ever LGBTQ focused gaming convention, held for the first time last year. (Read more about the documentary and the people behind it on the Gaming in Color website.)

“Gaming provides young gay people who may not be comfortable with themselves an outlet to be themselves that is totally forgiving, totally accepting, and you get to be anyone you want to be.” 

I may not be a prolific gamer by any standards, but one of the few games that allowed me to create a character that felt anything like me was the Sims. I had wanted to play the Sims since I was probably a tiny 11 or 12 year old geekling, looking over my friends shoulders when “we” played it at their house (they played, I watched), wanting so badly to be able to play the game. My best friend at the time thought some of the things she could do in-game were so scandalous. I don’t think I fully understood at the time, but I saw the potential for me to be whoever I wanted in-game. Unlike books or movies or TV shows, where I was forced to live through yet another straight character's experiences, the Sims and games in general allowed me to pretend to be whomever I wanted to be. It didn’t matter that I was a tiny, Latina, immigrant, young girl who was maybe questioning the specifics of her identity.

I could be whomever I wanted to be.

I didn’t have to adhere to the stories that I consumed. I could change them. Fanfiction and fandom were incredibly important to me as a teenager because they provided the space that I needed to explore this giant sandbox of stories and characters the world had laid at my feet and explore my own identity in a way that felt safe and  non-threatening.

“I want someone who represents me on the screen and it’s not really about sexuality as it is about representation.”   

It’s important for young queer people to be able to learn about and experience stories about people who they feel they can relate to. Even though I consider myself fairly well-adjusted and comfortable with who I am now, my heart still gives a painful thump when I see queer people, especially queer women - hell, especially queer women of color - represented, because I know that even though it doesn’t make a life-changing difference for me today, it does for other young queer people who are in the same place in their lives that I was five, ten years ago. The sense of kinship that comes from knowing other people know at least a little bit of what you’re going through, that you’re not as alone as you might feel - that’s huge.  

Constantly having to hide an integral part of your identity, for whatever reason - be it due to cultural pressures, family pressures, to protect your safety, or to protect your livelihood - is extremely difficult. Anything that can lessen the difficulty is welcome, and for a lot of people, games are that outlet. For a lot of people, games could become that outlet, but most would agree that maybe games have to grow up a little first. 

“I think we’re going to see this medium mature, see it diversify, we’re going to see all kinds of people make their own games. I really believe that a lot of the ways that we think about games and the dominant genres of games are going to shift.” 

Does that mean I think every game needs to include an overt queer narrative or queer perspective? No, not exactly. Do games need to expand beyond the typical heteronormative and male narratives that we see again and again and again? Yes, that would be a great change. Does the gaming community as a whole need to move past the myopic idea that playing as anything other than a straight, white man is the only way to play? Yes, absolutely! 

Gaming in Color presents the idea that a queer game narrative can simply be creating a world,  creating characters, or creating a story that more fully represents the diversity of the people who play those games, as well as not railroading players into a fixed gender or sexuality role. Sandbox games that are not story-driven and MMOs that are gamer-driven are great examples of games that allows players to explore the narratives they want to experience. 

The fact that documentaries like Gaming in Color and gaming conventions like GaymerX exist are proof that need for these discussions is out there. 

June is LGBTQ pride month (more commonly known as Gay Pride Month) - if you do nothing else to celebrate, make a point to watch Gaming in Color! The documentary is available for pay what you like (mininum $1, suggested price of $15). If you want to check out even more resources and related articles about LGBTQ issues, the references below are a great place to start.

“Visibility is the way in which an industry says that we know that you exist. When you get acknowledgement that you are the intended audience for something, it makes you feel like you’re a part of it.”

Note: The quotes in this article are from the Gaming in Color documentary. LGBTQIAP (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, and Pansexual) is the expanded form of LGBTQ. I use LGBTQ in this article because it is the form of the acronym I see mostly commonly used. GSM (Gender and Sexual Minorities), GSRM (Gender, Sexual, and Romantic Minorities), and queer are other widely used  “umbrella” terms for those who are not straight or cisgender. Different people use different acronyms for different reasons. I'm by no means an expert on this topic. Homosexual and homosexuality are terms that have fallen out of favor because they are viewed by most LGBTQ people as clinical and old-fashioned (a better explanation can be found in an article linked in the references). 


Episode 115 - Alison "Mu" Jones

We've got a great show for you this week! Alison "Mu" Jones joins us to discuss art, gaming, and role playing. We discuss Alison's comic about spectrum slide in great detail during the show. Make sure to check it out.

We WRaP about our current geeky passions in what we're Watching, Reading, and Playing. 

We'd love to hear your thoughts on the show! Let us know what you think in the comments!
Until next time, game on!
Regina & Rhonda

Episode 115


Misogyny Missive: Metal Gear Sexism

The Metal Gear franchise. The exploits of Solid (or Naked) Snake have given rise to some of the most amazing moments in all of gaming, and has produced some of the most iconic characters -- good or bad -- in the gaming lexicon. It has style, substance, and surreality in each and every chapter, and creator Hideo Kojima is unafraid of taking risks and gambles with this monster of a series despite its lucrative branding. However, there is one area that this franchise stupidly tumbles into again and again: blatant, unapologetic sexism. Female characters -- particularly those who work with or against Snake out in the field -- are nearly always played up for their looks and/or bodies. Women are often victims of male gaze, which can go as far as pure voyeurism. There are secret ways to strip characters to their underwear. And the latest two chapters, Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, take the misogyny into bold new territories of discomfort. All and all, I'm disgusted and tired of it, and I've decided to write off any interest in the series. Let me break down why (some images feature scantily clad women to prove my point. Not recommended for work).

Click to read more ...


Episode 114v - Show & Tell: Our Fav Geek Toys

In our latest episode, editor extraordinaire Ryan joins us as we show and tell our top three favorite geeky toys. Check out the video and share your favorite toys in the comments. 

Buffy action figure
Wonder Woman action figure
Rosie the Riveter

Lego Alien
PvZ plush Zombie
The New 52, Justice League, Wonder Woman figure

The Beatles: Yellow Submarine
Lego VW Camper

Lego "Back to the Future" DeLorean

P.S. Please take our short listener feedback survey!

Until next time, game on!
Regina & Rhonda & Ryan 

Episode 114v


The Need for Gender Equality in Video Games, Inside and Out: Part 3

Note: This was originally written for my WRI 105 class for an essay prompt asking “How Shall We Live?” For an article, I have included supplementary illustrations and made some further additions. The first part can be accessed here, and the second here.

EARTHBOUND: Addressing the Issues

“Game developers are forever talking about how much they listen to the audience, how keen they are on offering choice and freedom. Now is the time to fulfill their boast.” – Colin Campbell, Polygon

I noted earlier that looking into the sexism inherent in games would help illuminate the misogyny polluting the industry. Media sways culture, but culture also sways media in a vicious cycle. How can the gaming industry even begin to fix these problems when our entire society is entrenched in sexism?

Click to read more ...

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