"Originally we were received with a lot of raised eyebrows and scratched heads,” says David Edison, the 34-year-old editor of gaygaymer.net. “But if you’re a man trying to talk about how hot brawny Kratos from God of War
is on a regular gaming website, you are acutely aware of how unwelcome you are. When I tell people about the 16-year-olds from Nebraska that write to me and tell me, ‘I thought I was the only gay person who loves video games. Thank you — now I don’t feel so alone,’ they get why we’re necessary.”
Started in 2006, Gay Gamer quickly found an eager audience looking for a venue free of “the heterosexism of the gamer community and the anti-gamer mentality of the gay community,” Edison says. The site now averages between 500,000 and 700,000 visitors each month, thanks to its passionate user-driven forums and its splash of activism.
“When you’ve got a group of mostly straight white guys running an industry, every now and then you need to tell them, ‘Actually what you did was super-duper offensive,’” Edison says. Recently Gay Gamer, along with GLADD, spoke out against a homophobic video screened at BlizzCon, a convention held by Blizzard Entertainment that celebrates such blockbuster games as Warcraft
. When the story went viral, Blizzard quickly issued an apology. Things played out similarly after the makers of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
put out a satirical PSA from the fake group FAGS (Fight Against Grenade Spam), which said the use of random grenades was “for pussies.”
Video games have always had gay characters and sub-texts. “The King of All Cosmos in Katamari Damacy
is pretty queer. I mean, he sucks you up through a rainbow that comes out of his bottom,” says Edison of his favourite. But as with the broader culture, many representations are offensively stereotypical. Japanese role-playing and fighting games were the first to embrace transgender, crossdressing and sexually diverse characters, but they tend not to translate: the flamboyant, leather-clad gang leader in Streets of Rage 3
was edited out of North American releases, while the Cho Aniki
(Super Big Brother
) games, which feature oily semi-nude male characters, campy sexual innuendo, holy sperm and phallic symbols, never make it out of Japan.
But over the last five years, video games have advanced in leaps and bounds. “Back in the day, if you wanted to have a gay relationship in a game you had to use a mod or a hack,” Edison says. “To have it now officially scripted and animated by big-name companies really makes you feel a part of their world.” Role-playing games such as Bully
, The Sims
, the Fable
series and Mass Effect
now allow characters to enter homosexual situations and even get married. The most scandalous moment occurs in Dragon Age: Origins
, where the right choices unlock a steamy gay sex scene. When some players complained that developer BioWare was neglecting its core audience, the game’s writer, David Gaitor, issued a cutting response: “The romances in the game are not for ‘the straight male gamer.’ They’re for everyone. We have a lot of fans, many of whom are neither straight nor male, and they deserve no less attention.”
“Having spent five years working on first-person shooting games, I was looking for a new challenge. As a designer who happens to be gay, I began to wonder how I might take advantage of this supposedly uncommon perspective,” says Michael Othen, the creator of Mini Gay Boyfriend
. In his cheeky and colourful app, players pick, design and take care of pocket partners who, like real boyfriends, need constant attention and love. “I was more interested in experimenting with an idea than doing something commercially viable,” Othen says. “I was pretty nervous about its reception, but it has been phenomenal. So far I’ve had over 90,000 downloads, and it’s still going strong.”
Othen isn’t worried about what effect the game will have on his career. “I’ve generally worked at companies that have made pretty macho games, and the majority of my colleagues have been straight men,” he says. “But that’s by no means a bad thing; I’ve never felt in any way discriminated against.” He plans to release more updates for Boyfriend
and is excited about making more games. “Gay gaming is still a very unexplored niche and one in which I am a customer as much as a developer, so it’s a space I really want to see grow.”
“When you are a minority working in any industry, you’re always looking out for others like you. I certainly turn on my Grindr at big video-game developer conferences,” says Jaime Woo, the co-founder of the Gamercamp gaming festival. “I’ve gone from not knowing any gay programmers to being turned on to a small community that is out there working.”
Inspired by video gaming’s gay history and a handful of independent designers making new games with gay themes, Woo put together the online archive For All Gamers Sake, which features video clips, playable games and artwork. It includes a Mario
-syle lesbian dom/sub game, a role-playing game that features online hookups and even a first-person cruising game.
“In CondomCorps XL
you’re in a bathhouse and your goal is to score with as many guys as possible. You have to zoom in, like in a first-person shooter, on their bulges to see how big they are and then you have to deliver a condom to their hand that is the appropriate size,” Woo explains. “Designer Robert Yang has been crowd-sourcing people for recorded moans and orgasms to use in the game. I’ve submitted mine, although it took me a bit of scotch and some test runs.”
Jean-Guy Spencer, one of the organizers of Toronto Gay Gamers, describes the appeal of the group: “We can talk about homosexuality and what characters we think are hot without worrying about being judged. It’s a different vibe. You get to know people while playing games, and a lot of us hang out outside of the meetings, too.”
The Toronto Gay Gamers chapter is just one of many across North America and Europe inspired by Gay Gamer’s online forums. It’s made up of dozens of members from the ages of 19 to 40 who meet upstairs at O’Gradys on Church St to hang out and play video, card, role-playing, board and computer games. “It’s not always easy to come the first time, but we’re all very friendly and we don’t bite,” Spencer says. “I have a boyfriend and he doesn’t game, so this is perfect for meeting people I can geek out with.”
“Guys who like games tend to be more playful,” says Woo. “I think there’s nothing sexier than having a partner you can talk about games with and get all heated playing with, then when you’re both exhausted and sweaty you can head upstairs and play
Matt Thomas is a writer who likes guys who like joysticks and power-ups.