ByAloys Detey, writer at
Gaming Journalist. Previously on PVP Live, Haruhichan and some others.
Aloys Detey

For the first article I write on, I’ve decided to entertain my readers on a topic that matters to me personally as a non-binary gamer — and as it is also a subject I have knowledge on, being the manager of multiple gaming communities and an activist in the LGBT+ community.

First and foremost, here’s a good definition to know if you want to pursue the reading of this article.

Non-binary / Genderqueer, also termed non-binary (NB), is a catch-all category for gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine‍ — ‌identities which are thus outside the gender binary and cisnormativity. Genderqueer people may express a combination of masculinity and femininity, or neither, in their gender expression.

Note that I will prefer using the term non-binary (or enby for short) over the term Genderqueer, as it is commonly known that “queer” is a slur that not all LGBT+ folks have appropriated.

Some of you readers might just have came here not sure of what this article is about, and are currently wondering why the heck this piece is targeting the gaming community specifically.

[Credit: Sony]
[Credit: Sony]

Gaming culture is vast and unpredictable. It is one of the biggest subcultures on the Internet and has changed society in many ways. The way LGBT+ folks are represented in gaming is starting to change in a healthy manner, just like in almost every media. But is the community facing that change happy about it?

I’ve asked a few non-binary gamers over Twitter if they were interested in answering a bunch of questions. I have received tons of requests in my Twitter DMs as well as in my emails, proving once again that non-binary folks exist in high number. I’ve decided to have three anonymous non-binary gamers answer to the same questions. To keep their anonymity, we’ll refer to them using names of non-binary video games characters.

For starters, let us know a little bit about yourself. Do you only identify as non-binary, or is there any other gender identity you describe yourself as?

Chloe: I mainly identify as non-binary, as my gender fluctuates slightly between feminine and masculine. If anything else I just define myself as agender, having no real connection to being either female or male.

Bridget: I am Agender.

Frisk: So I identify as agender genderqueer under those terms.

Do you play online games that require you to communicate with people you don’t know? If yes, what’s their reaction when they get to know about your gender identity?

Chloe: I play a lot of online games that often involve voice chat, like Overwatch and similar games. Honestly most reactions I get are rather negative or condescending, and so recently I haven’t dared to mention it to people I haven’t become familiar with. If I play with people for a longer while I get fewer negative reactions, instead they only seem kind of puzzled but willing to learn, just because they know me a bit better, I guess?

Bridget: I do indeed and I actually try to avoid it when possible. If I’m engaging with someone regularly I find it important to figure out if I can be myself around them but otherwise I just kind of keep it to myself.

Frisk: Yeah! I play a ton of overwatch and I’m pretty comfortable with any pronouns used to refer to me, as long as they’re respectful that is. I don’t usually really come out with it until I know they’re friendly towards queer people as a blanket. I’m also Bisexual so it’s kinda easy to see if they’re friendly towards that first. And not in a fetishy sort of way. Most of the people I play games with are LGBT+ of some aspect so it’s fairly easy.

Are you part of some gaming communities through social media or other applications? (Discord, Teamspeak, TwitchTV etc.) and if yes, did you ever encounter difficulties with people from said communities when people learn of your gender identity?

Chloe: I’m part of several communities on discord. I’ve encountered a lot of difficulty with that kind of crowd, actually. There’s a lot of toxic culture, and people will refuse to listen because it’s “tumblr culture” or otherwise very foreign to them and they don’t like it. I’m lucky to be protected by a group of great people that understand in my main server, but in bigger servers I’ll avoid talking about it because it can spike arguments.

Bridget: I am part of some social gaming communities, particularly discord and my local Overwatch group. I actually didn’t have difficulties with this because more often than not I’m either exposing my gender identity to people who are either part of the community or I’m confident are good enough allies to accept me.

Frisk: I have my own Twitch account which I stream on! And I have a discord server and am part of other servers on discord. The hardest part is that they all see me dressing fem or with my pink hair and wearing makeup and just kinda judge off that that I’m female. Honestly there’s some people I’ll play with that I’ll never tell that I’m agender because I doubt they would get it. It seems to be a very touchy subject and in gaming it’s hard enough presenting as a female let alone a queer female even if I’m not female and just present as such. Even now with friends it’s hard for me to speak up about my gender identity as in my family transgender or anything other than the binary was shunned. There are a few people I have met through Overwatch and become close on discord with that are very supportive and understanding and to have friends like them, it’s worth the struggle of dealing with people who are insensitive or uncaring about it.

[Credit: Blizzard]
[Credit: Blizzard]

Do people in these communities misgender you intentionally a lot?

Chloe: Not so much intentionally as that they plain kind of ignore my identity, they ‘acknowledge’ it and ‘respect’ it, but in practice they forget because they do not see my gender as a part of me, they see it as some kind of weird quirk that they don’t need to abide by.

Bridget: Not the social circle I’ve established, but outside of that, lots of people will do so.

Frisk: It’s fairly difficult for me to pick up on when people do it maliciously as I’m pretty open and accepting of any pronouns people use, though when I do pick up on it it’s very hurtful. Usually my friends, if they are present, will tell me they seemed to be doing it out of hurting me and not just their mistake or something. I’m not great with tone of voice and when people are being rude unless it’s very blatantly obvious, which doesn’t seem to happen often to my knowledge.

What do you think of the current representation of non-binary & other LGBT+ folks in gaming?

Chloe: There are currently few non-binary options in gaming, but oddly enough people are getting better. Just adding the ability to put a neutral pronoun on a character can mean a lot to the player, and the fact that a lot of games are choosing gender neutral protagonists to cater to everyone is actually a big step in the right direction. Gay, bi and other people are also getting better and better representation, and being able to see yourself in a game for once makes it so much better for LGBT+ gamers to feel at home in the community. Gaming has in itself always been for the outcasts, but that’s been forgotten with time, and now it’s not as open as it was. Game developers get criticized for being too PC when in reality what they’re doing is creating a world where everyone can feel at home. The gaming industry is getting better, but the community hasn’t quite caught up yet.

Bridget: I think it’s drastically lacking in certain areas and in need of improvement. I think some things people view as “safe” are acceptable (gay people) but outside of that you’re hard pressed to find representation for people who are trans or non-binary or pan or bi in gaming.

Frisk: I think non-binary representation in video games is a relative zero percent. There’s the inherent gendering of everything, especially in RPGs you create your character in. There’s always two options with set hair styles and facial structures and such. For games that brag about their character creativity they limit their players quite a lot. This goes for characters who are transgender as well, I can only think of one game that has a transgender character in it and the character was treated with respect: Dragon Age Inquisition with the character of Krem. He’s not a major character sadly, but he isn’t a one off character either so that’s a plus! Bioware, for a video game company, seems to be one of the best major companies with their LGBT+ characters and respect for those themes. Blizzard is also seeming to try and have characters who are LGBT+ now too which makes me so excited! Along with Blizzard being more diverse than many large companies. I will always push for more LGBT+ characters in games, especially with ‘gamergate’ and the world of gaming cratering towards straight white males when the gaming community is extremely diverse.

Bonus round: Is there anything you want to add, or a message you want to tell the readers?

Chloe: Not really, all I want to tell the readers is that the world is changing in ways that aren’t inherently bad, and that more representation for LGBT+ people doesn’t mean less representation for non-LGBT+ people. More diversity is just that, more diversity, and it’s positive for everyone involved.

Bridget: I think it’s important for people to know that the LGBTQ+ community is a very real thing and although alot of us get discredited or disregarded for trying to embrace who we are, we do have a place within gaming and other places in society.

Frisk: To those who are LGBT+ and a gamer: I know there’s not a lot of representation out there now, but with large companies like Bioware and Blizzard have dynamic characters who are part of the LGBT+ community while also being respected and normalized I believe progress is being made. We can’t stop pushing for companies to be more diverse, in sexuality, gender, and race, but the pathway has started and we just need to keep it going. And to those who are not LGBT+: I promise we are not trying to ‘steal’ your games from you. We just want to be represented. So often games are only marketed towards the straight, white male, but other minorities play the game. We just want the same privilege of that sort of representation towards LGBT+ people being normalized and even marketed to without being a novelty. Normalizing humans who are ‘different’ to the video game mold is so important. Thank you.

[Credit: Rockstar Games]
[Credit: Rockstar Games]

I want to publicly thank everyone who participated in this interview. I believe some points were made and interesting things were brought up.

First, I want to go back to what Chloe said in the second question, when talking about how people might see being non-binary as “Tumblr culture” as I get this reaction often myself.

So, okay, yeah. I can understand the origins of the term “Tumblr culture” and how it came to be but there’s a reason why it should definitely not be labeled that way. Sure, Tumblr is the starting place for the popularization of the gender identity discourse — the reason behind that is probably because it was the perfect platform to publicly express yourself in a way that doesn’t involve a 140-characters restriction on posts. Thankfully, the gender-identity discourse definitely evolved way beyond the social blogging platform, making its way into media and all kinds of platforms, including video games.

I believe that labeling an entire discourse — especially one that’s as important as this one — as just a niche on a blogging platform can be very dangerous and incredibly shortsighted. Gender dysphoria has existed for millennia and tuning it down that way would be the same as saying that progressive activism is just a thing for millennials to get excited about on social media. Could you imagine that?

Non-binary folks finally have platforms to spread their wings and talk about how they feel. The 21st century is quite beautiful for that, thanks to the revolution of the Internet we can finally live in a slightly more peaceful environment… somewhat.

And it probably won’t be for a while, that is why we need to keep fighting for acceptance and representation of all minorities in a media that’s controlled by the majority.

Entertainment industries haven’t done their best to represent the non-binary minority fairly, and it’s even worse in gaming. How many non-binary characters can you recall, other than the ones mentioned in this article?

The reason I wanted to interview non-binary folks for this article isn’t because I actually wonder what the answers were going to be, as they were obviously all rhetorical. Do I even find myself surprised one bit with any of the answers I’ve received? Nope.

The gaming community is deemed “toxic” by both gamers and folks outside of all the gaming sub-communities. There is a reason why, and there are multiple factors at play.

Most of the time, the community doesn’t care. YouTube, TwitchTV and other streaming platforms are a good representation of that, as it really shows what it feels like to be able to say anything as long as your community loves you.

Felix Kjellberg dropping the hard N-word “out of frustration.”
Felix Kjellberg dropping the hard N-word “out of frustration.”

It was not so long ago that the world’s most subscribed person on YouTube, Felix Kjellberg, dropped the hard n-word on stream while playing — which led to all kinds of drama all over the web. The sad truth is, this isn’t an uncommon event, and the fact that famous gamers don’t feel the responsibility not to use racial slurs when millions are watching truly shows what people mean when they’re talking about the “toxicity” in the gaming community.

We’ve all met people while playing games that would attest they had sexual intercourse with our mothers, or people screaming racial slur just out of anger for someone. Some things will always stay the same and they’ve all became stereotypes of this generation of imbeciles trying to show how strong they are by trying to establish some kind of dominance over the other, but in reality just showing how fragile their superiority complex is.

Playing video games is supposed to be one of those activities where you can lay off from the deeply stress-overloaded outside world. Living in this society as a non-binary person and trying to be accepted as such by your friends, family and coworkers is hard enough without having to deal with the same amount of pressure while doing something that was supposed to release you of your daily stresses.

I guess I should have a say in this too, since I’m non-binary myself but often feel like I shouldn’t open myself too much, knowing how deep I am into this community and how it would ruin me socially. But I still do. Nobody should be ashamed of who they are, nor should they be worried of the backlash from the community… but they are. And to be honest, who wouldn’t be when confronted with such a toxic environment?

Our society is slowly evolving towards a somewhat common goal. We progressively become more acceptive of people for who they are, the path they choose to take and what they may feel. I truly believe we’re only gonna grow more and more acceptive of people’s experiences, but in order for that to happen there are things we should be willing to work towards.

We can all be apart of this. We can all help make this environment a little bit safer for everyone, and I’m going to share with you folks a few tips on how to do your part in creating a safer environment for LGBT+ gamers around the world.

Don’t joke about it.

We are not a gimmick. We are human beings, and saying that you self-identify as an attack helicopter is plain dismissal of our existence and the seriousness of the fight for our acceptance.

Don’t be dismissive of our representation.

We all remember the outrage from the Overwatch community when Tracer — the poster girl of the game — was confirmed to be homosexual. People got mad online for months, and even to this day I still see people saying that Blizzard “gave in to the Social Justice Warriors” by allowing a sexuality to be present in their game. Please don’t. You’re better than that. Gaming is and should be for everyone, even LGBT+ folks.

Report LGBT+phobia

In almost every online game, social media platform or online forum, you have the option to report abusive behavior. If you see someone being harassed for their gender or sexual orientation, do not hesitate to report it — even if the victim already did so.

Help out LGBT+ creators!

Getting approval on your creations is harder if you’re not privileged. LGBT+ folks have a hard time creating games or getting recognized as artists and creators. Help them spread their wings, share their work and support them any way you possibly can!

There are of course a lot of ways to be part of this. You don’t need to be a certified activist to start helping. Spreading the word is a great thing already, whether it is in real life social situations, on social media or other networks. Defending people’s rights to exist shouldn’t even be something to question.


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