Bloomberg BusinessWeek‘s Kurt Soller has a nice article talking about LGBT (well, mainly male gay) computer gamers and their increased visibility.
(As an aside, I’m a bit surprised that Soller didn’t mention the playable same-sex romance in Mass Effect 3. That got a lot of, well, play.)
In Looking, a new HBO comedy about gay men in San Francisco, a handsome, single nerd named Patrick goes on dates with a series of thirtysomething professionals. During one particularly awkward dinner with a doctor, Patrick explains what he does for a living and is met with a sneer. “Isn’t that just a bunch of kids playing air hockey and going down slides?” the doctor asks. “How old are you?”
Patrick is a video game designer for a fictional tech company. He spends long hours creating products like Naval Destroyer (which he refers to jokingly as Anal Destroyer when his mostly straight co-workers aren’t around). He’s part of what, in the real world, is an often-mocked, but hugely profitable $5 billion industry in the U.S., at least when Economists Inc. last measured it in 2009. The field employs 32,000 people, according to the Entertainment Software Association, and midlevel workers such as Patrick can make a decent living of more than $100,000 a year, plus bonuses when their projects ship.
The bulk of this work occurs in the Bay Area, one of the gayest places in America, and there’s no shortage of LGBTers working in technology. Yet Looking, which premièred on Jan. 19 and has averaged about 400,000 viewers weekly, according to Nielsen (NLSN), marks the first time guys such as Patrick have been portrayed in a TV series. “In our culture, oftentimes we view being gay as one very specific thing,” Jonathan Groff, the gay actor who plays Patrick, says of Hollywood’s tendency to stereotype guys as fashion mavens or one-liner-spouting sidekicks. Groff did the appropriate Silicon Valley research to get into character: “There’s a real community of gay gamers that connect and have parties and hang out with each other.”
It’s fitting that this group of gay gamers—or gaymers, as some call themselves—first coalesced behind the comforting remove of a computer screen. The website gaygamer.net was marginally popular when it launched in 2006; many of its ardent fans have since migrated to forums on reddit.com, where obsessives of all stripes can form subreddits, or digital communities, around virtually anything. On one called r/gaymers, about 32,000 subscribers offer device recommendations, share baked-in codes that make attractive characters go shirtless, and recruit teammates to play new MMORPGs—massively multiplayer online role-playing games—such as World of Warcraft or the Final Fantasy series.
“Gay geeks have been fighting for their own space,” says Matt Conn, 26, an independent game publisher, who points out that game plotlines are overwhelmingly heterosexual, and players online have a locker room habit of ribbing each other with homophobic epithets. “They want to express their fandom and their geekdom and say this character is hot without a bunch of people calling them f—– or making them feel like crap.” When the website Gamers Against Bigotry was founded in 2012, it was quickly hacked and defaced with similar insults. In 2006 a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign study of 10,000 gamers concluded that “mainstream gay culture and media is not supportive of video games. Then you have the video game culture that is not supportive of gay culture. So you have these people stuck in the middle who have this double-edged prejudice.”
Conn joined Reddit in 2011 and realized there were “tens of thousands of people” like him who “shouldn’t feel like they’re alone.” He formed a Facebook (FB) group called SF Gaymers, through which he planned public meetups in San Francisco’s Dolores Park, where a few hundred acquaintances would get together and discuss their preferred video games while playing analog board games. Soon he realized that, like Comic Con or South by Southwest, what the gaymers were looking for was their own gathering.