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The internet presents an often disturbing paradox to those of us in the LGBTQ community. It is at once an arena of deep hostility and aggression, while simultaneously creating a space where real and important conversations can and do happen. Conversations about mental health, gender identity and sexuality have flourished in anonymous online forums, arguably doing in a few short years what decades of publicity campaigns have failed to fully achieve. Contributors sharing their stories have also created supportive communities for those struggling with their own questions, and many young people find that such online spaces leave them feeling less alone.

Gamergate controversy

This dichotomy is fuelled on both sides by anonymity. One the one hand, the bullies and trolls can hide behind their keyboards, typing the kind of hateful vitriol that most would be ashamed to utter in their real lives. On the other, the protection of an incognito username gives courage to those who want to discuss issues that may be stigmatising among their families and friends. And nowhere is this double-edged sword more sharply obvious than in the world of gaming.

It’s been five years since the Gamergate controversy sent violent shockwaves through the global gaming community, but the ripples are still being felt today.

It’s been five years since the Gamergate controversy sent violent shockwaves through the global gaming community, but the ripples are still being felt today. That ugly uprising of resentment was framed largely as part of an anti-feminist agenda, but the message was against inclusion in general. The section of the gaming population who fuelled the fire were, and remain, strongly and vocally opposed to any representation that goes against what they claim to be their own domain; macho, white cis-male and usually involving exaggerated and tasteless violence – both within the game and in the chats and comment sections.

Anyone who enjoys gaming but doesn’t fit into the male heteronormative lifestyle will be well aware that there’s much more to it than that. Gaming doesn’t belong to teenage boys and men who don’t want to grow up, it belongs to anyone and everyone who wants to play. Developers are creating and adding more queer characters in response to growing demand; witness the recent coming out of Soldier: 76 from the online team multiplayer Overwatch, who is a hyper-masculine warrior with questionable taste in footwear. But the big game developers are still lagging behind, and it only needs a quick glimpse at popular user-generated content to see that the demand for LGBTQ storylines is not yet being met by the mainstream.

Queer representation in gaming is something that was recently celebrated in an exhibition in Berlin, entitled Rainbow Arcade. The show revealed that there is a surprisingly long and rich history of LGBTQ content in gaming, stretching back more than thirty years. World of Warcraft even has its own annual pride parade. However, much of the earlier queer content was only implied, interpreted as such or only overtly recognised in secondary sources such as comic books.

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As in other media, such inclusion has been hit and miss. Queer characters have existed on the sidelines, at best in non-playable roles and at worst the butt of derogatory jokes and subjected to violent treatment. Things started picking up around fifteen years ago, when the Bioware made it an option for the played character to be in a same sex relationship in their martial arts RPG Jade Empire. Since then, the world of games has opened up far beyond fighting, shooting and running people over with cars. These days, games reflect many more aspects of life, both in a realistic and fantastical way, and this has created space for more nuanced characterisation and storytelling – including many that explore queer themes in a respectful and fully-rounded way.

If we’re talking about online gaming, it seems appropriate to also consider the second definition; namely, playing online casino games. Casinos have also had a rather chequered history with the LGBTQ community. Many land-based casinos are outwardly supportive of equal rights for all, and endeavour to create a good environment both for employees and patrons. The Caesars brand in the USA prides itself on receiving the maximum score on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index for many years in a row.

LGBT representation in UK online casinos

While online casinos aimed at the female market have seen some success, we could only find reference to a single one that claimed to be a gay casino site. This was clearly an unnecessary marketing gimmick that didn’t succeed – the casino appears to have been live for less than three years before folding. This could be for many reasons, maybe because the casino itself was no good, but what it also indicates is that an LGBTQ-specific space in UK online casinos isn’t needed. While there is more focus on social gaming than there used to be, online casinos still don’t possess the same space for potential hate-speech found in other forms of online gaming. And when it comes to staying safe and being lucky, everyone is equal. Online casinos have a multitude of themes to choose from, and you can look here for a list of online casinos that are safe and trustworthy.

Some individual cases suggest that not all casino establishments are so accepting towards their queer employees, with a recent case in the USA exposing an alarming deficiency in the law. The plaintiff, who identifies as a lesbian, attempted to sue her former employers Parx Casino for sexual orientation bias. Claiming that she encountered a hostile working environment and eventual dismissal over her sexuality, the case was thrown out when it became clear that the existing law does not explicitly prohibit such discrimination.

Getting closer to factual inclusion

So, where are we now? Queer representation in gaming still has a way to go, but it’s improving rapidly. The response can be mixed, but overall we can see encouraging signs. The inclusion of queer characters acts as both an education to straight players and a source of inspiration and revelation to those of us who have never seen such relatable game content before. We are finally starting to see such content front and centre, rather than as a sideshow.

Finally, for anyone doubting that queer gaming is more than just a niche, witness what Harry Brewis, the gamer also known as Hbomberguy, achieved back in January. In a fifty-seven hour live-streamed game of Donkey Kong, the British YouTube star raised over £270,000 for the UK charity Mermaids, which supports trans and gender-diverse young people. Such a huge response should be enough to convince anyone that there is an active and engaged queer presence in gaming, along with plenty of LGBTQ allies. The Gamergate trolls are losing this bossfight.