They say that art mirrors society.
And recently, video games have been especially reflective of changing cultural norms. These changes are also seen in the demographics of the people who play the games: one in particular being the emerging gaymer subculture.
The term is what it sounds like, though it’s frequently used to describe all gamers within the LGBTQ+ spheres.
Once a niche relegated to small internet message boards, the gaymer is now a market as influential as any other.
The Birth of the Gaymer
The first usage of the word can be traced back to late 90s usenet boards. As public acceptance of both gaming and gay culture grew in the early to mid 2000s, so did the word’s use.
This prompted the University of Illinois and game design school Full Sail University to conduct the first ever surveys of the gaymer communities in 2006 and 2009, respectively. These studies revealed much about the niche’s preferences and tastes, what kind of prejudice they experienced, and their support of the usage of the term itself.
More specifically, the 17,000 respondents indicated to game designers and the public that gaymers were unsupported and underrepresented by existing video game culture and in the games themselves.
The Sims’ Breakthrough
A landmark moment for gaymers came with the release of The Sims in 2000. Up until this point, gaming was seen largely as an activity for young, male and heterosexual boys and game company Maxis (of SimCity fame) wasn’t convinced that this digital version of ‘play house’ would do well.
But the game, which allowed players to date characters of any gender they wanted, was a success across the board and indicated to creators that the non-heteronormative market was an untapped one.
This sort of relationship freedom (and the game’s commercial, which shows two male characters flirting in a nightclub) sparked little if any real controversy, and today is viewed as an important temperature-taking moment of the general public.
That said, not everyone accepted the game as is: the Game Boy Advance and DS versions only allowed for heterosexual relationships.
This showed game designers and the world that not only would people be tolerant of same-sex relationships in video games, they would buy them in droves: within two years, the original Sims became the best-selling PC game of all time.
A Brief History of LGBT Characters in Games
More gay gamers has led to a demand for more queer characters to play as. However, the first gay and lesbian game characters preceded the movement (and The Sims) and can be found in games dating back to the 1980s.
While there were some minor instances of homosexual characters in games before, the first (and still one of the most notable) examples in a major game came in Super Mario Bros. 2 for the original NES.
The character Birdo, a pink dinosaur with a bow and done-up eyelashes, is described in the game’s instruction manual as a boy that “thinks he is a girl and likes to be called Birdetta. He likes to wear a bow on his head and shoot eggs from his mouth.”
Subsequent editions of this manual erased this transgender reference.
Since then, there have been countless depictions of LGBTQ+ characters in video games, though many of these have been in a stereotypical light.
The first playable non-heterosexural character in a game is suspected to be Curtis from 1996’s Phantasmagoria 2, whose object of affection is a flamboyant non-playable character named Trevor.
Two years later, Fallout 2 broke ground by being the first game to allow same-sex marriage. Shortly after, even more mainstream series like that of Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, Star Wars, and Resident Evil featured gay, bi, trans, and pansexual characters.
In 2015’s Mortal Kombat X, new fighter Kung Jin makes reference to being gay (which was later confirmed by the game’s director).
Blizzard’s hit Overwatch has several characters in both the game and web comic that are LGBT, and even in Animal Crossing: New Leaf (made by sometimes gay-averse Nintendo), players can dress and do their hair however they feel and also interact with a feminine giraffe named Gracie that is referred to as male.
Other than characters being portrayed poorly (or removed altogether, as in the case of trans-character Vivian in the English version of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door for GameCube), gaymers have had to deal with some off-color, crass, or ignored representations of themselves.
One of the more recent ones came in 2014’s Tomodachi Life game for the Nintendo 3DS.
The game, which allows players’ avatars to form relationships with one another, did not include the option to do so with characters of the same gender.
A year later, a game titled Kill the Faggot was briefly released on Steam, which is exactly what it sounds like. It was taken down in just two hours.
Early in the World of Warcraft hayday, gaymers were even temporarily prohibited from congregating.
After player Sara Andrews’ account was flagged for trying to recruit members to her gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual friendly guild, gaymer and public outrage eventually saw Blizzard issue a formal apology for the mistake.
Another one of the community’s biggest controversies came over the usage of the term itself.
Even though it can be traced to online communities back as far as the early 90s, Gaymer.org founder Chris Vizzini caught major flak when he tried to trademark the term in 2007.
After a long battle that included denial of service attacks on his site and cease and desist orders, Vizzini shut down his site and dropped the trademark claim in 2013. The major victory was a point of unification for the community, who thought the move was akin to trying to trademark something that belonged to everyone, like ‘LGBTQ’.
The Current State of Gaymer
Today, the gaymer community has grown and spread from online communities to in-person ones. The first GaymerX conference for LGBT gamers was held in 2013 after a succesful Kickstarter campaign. Subsequent iterations of GX have been held around the world, drawing in celebrity guests of honor from the gaming and geek communities and over 2,000 attendees.
Gaymers have declared that they are here, they’re queer, and they’d like to play video games that are more inclusive. So far, game designers have been listening.
Due to ever-increasing acceptance and inclusion, the gay community now has buying power worth an estimated $1 trillion dollars in the United States.
More and more mainstream video games are removing restrictions on what genders players can have relationships with and gay characters are shifting from being quirky NPCs to playable, heroic ones.
Given the broader representation in most other mediums of art and media, it’s not hard to imagine a world in the near future where these things are no longer a big deal to young gamers and gaymers alike.