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  • Gaming’s Untapped Queer Potential as Art
  • Matt Conn (bio)

When talking about the word “art,” what image does it conjure within your mind? To many, art naturally brings up paintings or “traditional art.” To some, it could mean more modern media such as films, music, or theater. However, there is one medium that seems be left out from this discussion when the word art rises into our conversations: games. Have you ever stopped to think about where games might fall in the art world?

To many people, gaming is nothing more than a fleeting distraction to be enjoyed by kids. It is often seen as a predictable medium that we grow out of. However, gaming is growing and changing in new and exciting ways that challenge these opinions.

Within the last decade, we have seen a growing number of games that explore ideas far beyond moving your character from point A to point B, or killing whomever and whatever stands in your way until you reach the end. In the way that painters have a limitless amount of techniques, so too do game developers, and we are starting to see new styles emerge in the medium.

Due to the massive price of development and the great financial gamble, early games had to be a “safe bet.” Not only that, but improvements in hardware were slow and forced you to use very limiting tools. In today’s world of gaming, however, we have countless cheap and easy-to-use tools to create the worlds in our mind and accessibility is only rapidly increasing. With this new freedom, modern-day game developers are taking risks and creating games that are not just products and toys, but can truly be seen as art. Thus, I propose that before gaming can truly be embraced, game developers—as well as players—need to be willing to allow discussions of gender, sexuality, and other facets of human identity to be explored within games. [End Page 1]

In 2012, I founded GaymerX, an LGBTQ-focused gaming event for everybody. We talk about issues like gender representation, sexuality, and queerness in games (and game spaces) while providing a fun and safe space for all gamers. It is a place that fosters and welcomes serious discussion in and of games while keeping things accessible, fun, and friendly. Since the inception of GaymerX, we’ve had many great discussions on how to handle these topics within games.

We have seen a backlash from people afraid of change, mainly in the form of accusations that these things have no place in gaming, and that including them adds “politics” and detracts from the escapism of games. First, I can say that bringing in “real world” topics can, in fact, make a game feel more real. I don’t have anything against escapism or fantasy and don’t knock those who create or enjoy those games. Like Hollywood or pop music these will always exist and probably will remain favorites of the masses.

That said, to limit a medium to only one form of expression stifles it so that it becomes boring, predictable, and intended to be grown out of. To say that games lack “politics” until you put diversity in them is untrue. Creating a world where queers or people of color do not exist is very much a political statement, no matter what you try to say about it. On top of this, making new and different games does not cancel or erase the more mainstream variety of games. The Sundance Film Festival has yet to cause the movie Transformers 5 to halt production.

In the transition to 3D, as costs for game development skyrocketed in front of a hungry market, risks hit an all-time low and the nearly comically omnipresent white, straight, cisgendered, able-bodied, thin, classically handsome main character became a staple. Although there’s nothing wrong with making a game about this guy, doing so over and over is akin to an entire fleet of artists all painting the same man. Likewise, in many mainstream games, the only way to reach the goal and “beat the game” is through solving issues with violence. The same guy...


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