Brian Kunde is the culture and operations director at GaymerX, a non-profit that supports and celebrates, LGBTQIA+ people and culture in gaming. We asked him about the lack of LGBTQIA+ people, characters, and stories in gaming, and why this needs to change in the industry.
Culture and Operations Director, GaymerX
Why are there still so few LGBTQIA+ characters and storylines in video games?
There’s two things that come up frequently. The first is some major studios aren’t willing to break from a long history of narratives that focus on cisgender, heterosexual, and usually white male leads. This is further complicated by a desire to stick with stories that are a fit for a variety of international markets. This means we often get secondary or tertiary LGBTQIA+ characters that can easily be removed or changed from one localization to the next without impactful storylines. Just existing in the game isn’t always enough; these characters should contribute to the story as their whole selves.
The second I hear often is many are concerned about making mistakes in writing these kinds of characters. So much so that they aren’t willing to leave their comfort zone. I understand their desire to not do harm, but if so few are willing to take the risks and do the work, nothing changes!
There has been some backlash from fans with video games having harmful or random LGBTQIA+ storylines. How can game developers do better when it comes to implementing these stories?
First and foremost: Hire LGBTQIA+ people for your team. Not just writers, but also designers, developers, coders, marketing folks, project managers, etc. We’re a community with a lot of unique perspectives. The more of those perspectives you include at all stages of game design, the more likely you are to get thoughtful and nuanced representation.
Second, hire sensitivity readers. These are professionals who will review your game’s content and provide feedback on how it might be received by the communities you’re trying to represent. They’ll often provide suggestions on ways to improve things, too. Sensitivity readers are especially important when working on characters with multiple, intersecting identities, including sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, physical ability, mental ability, and so forth.
What impact have you seen from well-implemented and thought-out LGBTQIA+ character storylines? How does it impact the community?
Like all good media, it helps LGBTQIA+ gamers create a shared cultural narrative that affirms their identity. We put on a panel series at other conferences in 2019, called “Queer Quests,” that gathered LGBTQIA+ folks in the industry to discuss games that were big influences in exploring their identity.
Without fail, the same handful of games came up time and time again because they were games that have done LGBTQIA+ storylines well. These games were touchstones not just for our panelists, but also for our audience. We heard time and time again how the games that “did it right” validated folks and helped them embrace who they are.