Representations of Queer Identity
in Games from 2013–2015
Presented at the 2017 Digital Games Research Association conference in Melbourne, Australia.
Please also read the extended abstract here.
If you use a screen reader, go here to access a version of this article with full slide descriptions.
Diversity in games is important for a range of reasons, as expressed by participants in our 2017 survey.
The research that informs this study is based on the author's work with Queerly Represent Me and the LGBTQ Video Game Archive, which share resources and goals, despite having different approaches and audiences. It is based on some of the quanitative categorisation that we work with in the database, and the trends that the process of categorising games has revealed.
Looking at games released between 2013 and 2015 revealed a significant spike, which warranted further study.
To focus this research, we created a few research questions and hypotheses based on trends we had noticed in our research and gameplay.
2013 was a significant year for queerness and games. The intersection became a focus for academics, developers, and consumers alike. This movement could be attributed to contextual factors (such as this push towards queerness being considered in games, or the democratisation of game development tools) or to better distribution and archiving of independently developed games (as opposed to the homebrew games of years past), or a mixture of the two.
Whether this trajectory continues is uncertain. Actions that were seen as 'right' are now being considered 'political', so acquiring financial and other support for movements such as GaymerX (as spoken about here by Matt Conn) is becoming more difficult. If companies are less likely to put their name next to diverse movements, can this positive trajectory continue? Has the ball already started rolling so that we will continue to see an increase in queer games regardless? Further research (and patience) is required.
Some representations have increased at different rates. Monosexual representations have increased most significantly, with other sexualities next, and genders last. Asexuality, aromanticism, and intersex representations remain incredibly low. We have seen a decrease in representations of cross-dressing; however, it is difficult to predict from this data set whether that will continue.
Representations of queerness are most likely to be present in visual novels, interactive narratives, and role-playing games. These genres are accessible to game makers using tools like Ren'Py, Twine, and RPG Maker, allowing diverse minorities to tell their own stories. This could explain why these particular genres are most evident.
We intend to continue this research. We hope to look beyond 2015 to see how these trends do or do not continue, once we have adequate data. We would like to examine genre in more detail, to see how genre saturation differs in other time periods, and to also see which tools developers are (or could be) using to create titles to see whether queerness is most evident in games that have come from easily accessible engines.
We also had a hypothesis regarding implicit representations that we would like to examine further, but could not find adequately data to test using only games between 2013 and 2015. We plan to look into this further using a larger set of games to see which representations most often appear as 'implied' rather than 'explicit'.
If you have any questions about this work, or anything to do with Queerly Represent Me, please email us.