So the gaming community just got a little more open and welcoming. It is with a cautious optimism that I regard last month’s announcement of Gaymercon, the world’s first gaming convention specifically targeted to LGBT* individuals. it is an important start, and bodes only good things for us as a culture.
The status of Gaming (large G, so you know I’m serious) as a strange, fringe hobby is ultimately the result of a self-fulfilling perception. The Gaming community is comprised, mostly, of those who don’t fit comfortably into other typical, so-called “mainstream” social groups. The uniting interest of all of those who band together into this particular group is of course Gaming. Consequently, these devotees are termed “gamers”, and eventually, in much the same way as alternative music has managed to become a solid, definable genre of music, become a single, united group.1 These gamers, seen as a minority with different ways and strange customs by the rest of society, are stigmatized in one way or another, and “othered”, cast as not quite acceptable and to be regarded as different, which in turn causes other disenfranchised individuals to flock to these mysterious gamers, who must be doing something right if the Man is wary of them. Thus the group known as gamers grows and sustains itself and perpetuates its place outside the mainstream.
Congrats, kiddies. You just got your first lesson in queer theory. Level up.
Now, if within the gamer community, as with all minority communities, there did not exist a hierarchy that mimicked the patriarchy (a word which here means the structuring of society around the male, here analogous to that which society deems powerful and most acceptable, and consequential subjugation of all that does not conform to this criterion), then Gaymercon would be a nice, happenin’ party, but ultimately superfluous. And consequentially, I wouldn’t be writing an article saying how important it is. But I am, because there is. For you see, in the words of the Gaymercon Kickstarter:
Unfortunately stereotypical bias among gamers does exist and it can make a hostile environment for minorities in the gaming community. Hang around an online game long enough and you’ll start hearing homophobic, racial, and misogynistic slurs slung around without a second thought. Gamers, as a whole, have had to make space for themselves in a society that, for a long time, treated them as outsiders. They have come together and created a real community of people, but one that is not always welcoming if you don’t fit into the mold.
Gaymercon represents a refreshing, inspiring shift from this trend. For the first time, LGBT* gamers have a safe space, a place to be ourselves without having to hide, with no fear of prejudice. LGBT*-centric panels and events, instead of being occasional breaths of fresh air, will be par for the course. The whole affair smells of delicious progress.
As with any progression of humanity as a species, this movement has its detractors. Some in the larger gamer community seem to think that a convention specifically targeted at LGBT*s is a superfluous move, saying that fracturing the community in such a way, when LGBT* folks have never been excluded from such spaces before, is harmful and divisive. What’s so special about these people, they ask, who have never been discriminated against by the community?
The problem with the detractors’ argument is that, for a long time, we never have had our own safe space, either within games or without. In the gamer parlance, a f****t is any person of whom the speaker currently disapproves. A player who outperforms hir opponents is as likely to be branded a f****t as one who complains that the romantic offerings for a gay male Shepard are sadly lacking (which, let’s face it, they are). Though for the most part in this country, branding an individual thus is either ignored or deemed righteous condemnation, in reality it is hate-speech. It is also very painful and a useful means of othering LGBT* people.
Also, gamers have a bad reputation as being firm believers in the patriarchy. In a previous article, I made a passing nod to the comments made by Aris Bakhtanians regarding the necessity of sexism and oppression in gaming culture (specifically fighting game culture). Bakhtanians of course backpedaled when called on his deplorable words, explaining he was defending a system that he felt was under attack, and would, if properly dealt with, remove an essential element, a peculiar institution, so to speak, of a culture he loves.
Now, I realize that bringing Bakhtanians up again might seem a little off. For one thing, this is now September and the fallout of his words came and went in March. For another, he wasn’t in hot water for attacking LGBT*s, but women. Also, this article is a celebration of our moving forward as a culture, not calling out those who hold us back. But the impact of Gaymercon is lost if we don’t realize how badly we need it. Bakhtanians’ statements make it clear he values the patriarchy, with its rigidity of what is acceptable and what is “Starcraft“2. Isn’t the harmful use of words such as f****t the exact same thing?
Gaymercon, by creating a space where LGBT* gamers can be themselves without fear of discrimination, is an important sign that not everyone who reveres the controller or worships the WASD has only recently discovered fire. It recognizes and addresses a need that the community has had for a long time. In a community that values individuality (we are far and away the leading purchasers of hats for our TF2 characters, after all), inclusiveness and celebration of differences is a necessary, healthy step forward.
The advent of safe spaces like Gaymercon isn’t divisive. It is instead a sign that we, as a subculture, are maturing. Gaymercon doesn’t seek to exclude, but to make us grow stronger and more united as a whole. Leading voices in gaming (the voices of GLaDOS and Team Fortress 2’s Sniper in particular) have endorsed the con and praised the growth of the community. The fact that Gaymercon’s Kickstarter has beat its fundraising goal to pieces ($91,389 out of a required $25,000) shows that there is a significant portion of us out there, and we are excited. I know I sound like a broken record, but I cannot stress enough how important a step forward this is for the gaming community as a whole. The con’s motto says it all: Everybody Games.
I hope to see you there next August!
- I suppose we as gamers can consider ourselves to be a certified demographic at this point, considering that we have snack products specifically targeted at us. [↩]
- A word which here is synonymous with weakness and play-niceness that comes with competitive league play, as opposed to the badass Neanderthal ways of fighting gamers who think that to ask female opponents their bra sizes is a necessary, revered part of the culture [↩]