One of my earliest memories of my childhood is being sat in front of an Amiga, it was a game called ‘Rodland’, two siblings, Tam and Rit were on a quest to rescue their mother after she’d been captured by monsters. Your only weapon was a staff and a pair of magical shoes, the task seemed impossible, the monsters were fierce and the journey seemed to go on forever. I was four years old and I’d already found the one thing in my life that would always make me happy, challenge me, teach me and be a place I could always turn to to take me away from my own world even for a short while.
I needed that space!
Growing up I wasn’t the fastest, I wasn’t athletic, I wasn’t the loudest. I was the quiet one, too shy to put my hand up in class, too afraid to put myself forward for anything. I woke up every morning from the age of six with a sense of trepidation, what would the school day bring, jokes, teasing, name calling, bullying. This continued, this followed me around for another seven years, right up until the age of thirteen I was the target for bullies, broken down so far I didn’t even see the point in fighting back anymore, telling people didn’t matter, it was a temporary fix.
There was only thing in the world that made me happy – gaming!
I spent every single spare hour of my childhood with a controller in my hands, sat beside my little brother, my best and only friend – together we stormed the Mushroom Kingdom, we guarded Hyrule and we faced off against some of the most terrifying monsters in the world. I didn’t care if I was Mario, Sonic, Samus, I was a hero, I was someone who people needed, who they looked up to, I felt like I could be myself there. Around the same time I began to become aware that I wasn’t like the other guys in my year and I began to struggle with my sexuality and for three years I carried the secret of being gay around with me until I’d finally had enough and decided to come out. I had accepted myself and my family had showed their support, I knew not everyone would be so open but I’d learned by now that you can’t make everyone like you and for me it didn’t matter there was always a place I could go back to to be my real self.
In all of that time the world I had called my own had done some growing and changing of it’s own, 2D had become 3D, multiplayer went from 2 to 4 to thousands, the language, the culture, the community had all changed and I had to share my world with everyone else but they were like me? Right?
I was wrong! By now my interest in the world of gaming had expanded, I was a tabletop roleplayer, I’d dabbled in cards, LARP and board games, I was reading comics, books, collecting Anime and worshipping at the altar of Whedon – I was just like the others but for the fact I wasn’t chiming in on the talk about boobs and such. Soon it became clear to me because they couldn’t have been any more subtle about it that I wasn’t welcome in a social circle I’d tried to be a part of – I couldn’t be gay and a gamer, it just didn’t seem to work, the final straw came at a Smash Bros. Brawl tournament where I’d picked Zelda/Sheik only to be berated, picking her implied I wanted to dress like her, to have my way with Link.
Online gaming wasn’t any better, ‘Fag’ ‘Faggot’ and ‘That’s so gay!’ became staple words in the vocabulary of gamers, jokes about gay sex were commonplace and thrown about so often I knew the punchline for most. Most of the time these weren’t directed at me, I’d turned off my headset and swore off voice chat after being berated in a game of Halo 3.
(That’s not me in the video, for the record!)
These words were used to describe everything from losing a match, to being shot, to games lagging, people quitting, anything bad that happened was gay! At this point and I write this with hesitance as I still regret it, I didn’t want to lose my space in this world so I did more than shut up – I’d join in! I changed my Xbox profile from “Gaymer for Life” to “Gamer for Life”, noobs were gay, the winning team were faggots and anyone who lost to me was the worst of the worst.
I’d betrayed myself! I’d sold out!
Looking back on that I find it hard to forgive myself but I was young and just wanted to fit in and be accepted, now it seems like a massive contradiction – I’m done with that community that has tried to assert it’s control over who can and can’t be in it! I’m a gamer! I’m a geek! I’m a nerd! I’m gay! I fucking love being all those things because they are me and I love who I have become and that’s the secret, I had forgotten it but now that I’m older I remember it.
All of this has come out of us here at the Arcade discussing the issues of identity and gender within this community. As a gay gamer, I have felt like I’ve been left out of something, like who I am, isn’t a part of this great big world. There are men rescuing princesses, women taking down alien empires (albeit this area is too big for even me to get into but it raises it’s own important issues) but where was the gay fighter searching for his kidnapped prince?
As a child and a teen I hadn’t seen it that way I’d found a place that I thought accepted me but now I see it didn’t and it still doesn’t. Who I am is barely even acknowledged in the world of gaming, sure some games have included the options to have homosexual relationships with characters within the game but it’s not enough. The uproar of ‘forcing’ straight gamers into having their Dragon Age character develop a ‘meaningful’ gay relationship to unlock achievement scores, the mere idea that Ashley Williams was transgendered had some Mass Effect fans up in arms.
“What’s the big deal?” “What does it matter?” “Grow up!” “Get over it!” “They are just words!” “I didn’t mean it in a bad way!”
Have you ever called anyone out on their conduct online? If you saw someone getting berated in public, shouted down, verbally abused, would you just gawk on awkwardly or do something, intervene and stop it. This idea that it’s just words and words mean nothing is so entirely flawed it angers me to think people peddle it out to excuse their ignorance. How about next time I think something sucks or something is really shit I say that’s so fucking straight? It might not impact on you very much, you’re not marginalised because you’re heterosexual but as a gay person, the fact that the word that is part of you, of your identity is used to describe how crap something is is so demeaning, it’s degrading and it only exacerbates the notion that there is something wrong with being gay!
Why is it used? It could be that ‘gay’ is simply the word of the generation, which if it’s the case really just sucks for us gay gamers. Honestly I think it goes a little deeper than what word is trending. Gaming was often perceived as something real men only did once and a while, there were far more manly activities to be done with, like sports and chasing girls, those who weren’t in tip top shape or popular often retreated (like I had done myself) to this world where it didn’t matter who you were. Their own community was formed and like any group or society, there will be those who get targeted or marginalised for being different and it could be said that’s what happened to the world of gaming.
Am I saying all gamers are bad? No! Far from it! I absolutely love gaming and I love this community of ours but something has to change! It can’t continue to push and fight against a change that is taking place – gamers aren’t just men anymore, gamers are families chucking bowling balls, gamers are women commanding fleets of starships, gamers are casual players, gamers are everywhere!
I’m not attacking or raging against the community, I guess what I want to make or at least try and make people, gamers, and geeks, people who seem to feel that this community is theirs and theirs alone is realise, to open their eyes and see that the worlds they live within be it online, on the page, in the worlds of D&D, these worlds so filled with amazing characters and people, that outside these fantastic places is a world just as diverse, as curious and as amazing filled with beautiful, different and awkward people.
As an eight year old, sat in the room I shared with three brothers, I stared at the small television and I was happy, this was a world that made me feel safe, a world that didn’t care if I was gay or straight, a boy or a girl, old or young, hardcore or novice player. Gaming is like a book, all it wants is to be engaged with, to be picked up and loved, it doesn’t care who you are or what you are about. I’d forgotten that for a time but these days I won’t let myself, I can’t.
Never forget who you are! Never sell out who you are! Love who you are! Love what you do!
Editor-in-Chief, part-time super villain and hoarder of cats. If you can’t find me writing, I’m probably in the kitchen!