The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) today revealed its first ever report on State of LGBTQ Inclusion in Video Games. The inaugural report, which GLAAD developed in partnership with the Nielsen Games Team, covers representation and inclusion in the games industry, as well as the demographics of gamers themselves. One of the biggest findings of the report is that 17% of active gamers surveyed — or nearly 1 in 5 — self-identify as LGBTQ.
GamesBeat spoke with Blair Durkee, GLAAD’s associate director of gaming, about the implications of the report, as well as the benefits of greater diversity for the industry as a whole. According to Durkee, the report reflects the increasingly diverse audience of gamers and their interest in seeing their lives depicted in games. It’s also an attempt to help the industry tap into an underrepresented community that would embrace representation.
“I think our community is incredibly passionate,” said Durkee. “So much of the way we bond and relate to each other is sharing stories, getting invested in fandoms and things like that. I think there’s a community aspect, a shared passion that gets us more excited to play games. Being a gamer doesn’t just mean playing games. Now it means watching games and talking about games. It’s almost more of a lifestyle, and I think that meshes very well with our community.”
Conversely, the report also finds that the games industry is behind other media in accurately portraying that community, with only 2% of games featuring LGBTQ characters. In GLAAD’s 2023 Studio Responsibility Index (in which it quantifies diversity and representation in films distributed by ten major studios), it found that almost 29% of films released in 2022 had an LGBTQ character. In its 2023 Where We Are On TV report (similar to the SRI, but for primetime television series), it found that about 11% of characters are LGBTQ.
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Gaming’s dearth of diversity
The gamers surveyed who identified as LGBTQ were active and passionate gamers, with 69% playing over 4 hours every week on console and 66% playing the same amount on mobile (compared to 64% and 55% of non-LGBTQ gamers, respectively). According to the report’s data, they gravitate towards single player games.
Durkee told GamesBeat, “Part of our report is how games are an opportunity to explore and express themselves. I think a lot of LGBTQ gamers feel more comfortable doing that in a single-player game. They don’t have to deal with the harassment that so often comes with online multiplayer games.” However, the demographics for the games themselves do not match the gamers that play them. For example, LGBTQ gamers are slightly more likely to play on Nintendo Switch, but the Switch’s eShop has the lowest percentage of diverse games.
72% of LGBTQ gamer said they felt better about themselves when they see a character who matches their gender identity or sexual orientation. 68% want more prominent LGBTQ storylines in games, and 70% report being less likely to buy or play a game with harmful or stereotypical depictions of the LGBTQ community. Among gamers surveyed, 60% of non-LGBTQ gamers said that a game having an LGBTQ main playable character would not effect their decision to buy or play the game.
“There’s about 10% of non-LGBTQ gamers that would be more likely to play a game with representation, and there were 20% who said they wished there were more LGBTQ storylines in games,” said Durkee. “A lot of non-LGBTQ gamers have LGBTQ friends, and they want to see more representation on their behalf. There are all these indirect benefits to representation as well that I think the industry should be thinking about.”
Why diversity and representation matters
The report also covers the benefits and drawbacks of the games industry for LGBTQ gamers, and how representation within a game matters. According to GLAAD’s findings, 75% of LGBTQ gamers who reside in states where anti-LGBTQ legislation has passed or proposed say gaming allows them to express themselves in a manner they cannot in the real world. 65% say they rely on games to get them through difficult times.
Games offer a portal, Durkee says, to experience lives and perspectives other than our own, including LGBTQ stories. “It’s almost a cliche at this point, but you’re able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. One of the things we found is that LGBTQ gamers are more likely to appreciate experiencing different perspectives via games. It can also be a lifeline.”
Unfortunately, gaming’s toxicity problem affects LGBTQ gamers as it does almost all players, and can often be particularly brutal. 52% of LGBTQ gamers report being harassed while playing online, and 27% said they quit a game due to harassment. 29% of LGBTQ gamers don’t believe the games industry cares about them, and 65% believe game developers have a responsibility to make gaming more inclusive.
Durkee says that part of the reason that games are not as representative as they could be is because rising costs of game development have made publishers more risk-averse. “The current thinking within the industry is that LGBTQ inclusion is risky, and our report makes the case that that’s the opposite of how developers should be thinking. Erasing our community is the more risky proposition.”
GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement, “It is past time for LGBTQ gamers to see our community represented in games that they play and to be safe while they connect with other gamers and express themselves. This report presents a clear business case for the industry to take action and address the needs of a rapidly growing portion of gamers. The message is clear: gamers want more inclusive LGBTQ representation in their games and the industry must become more inclusive.”
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