How LGBTQ+ Gamers and Fans Have Created Communities on the Internet

The creation and wide spread utilization of more democratic platforms have allowed more gaymers to find each other and build communities
The creation and wide spread utilization of more democratic platforms have allowed more gaymers to find each other and build communities / Photo illustration

LGBTQ representation in video games has been mixed through the decades. One of the earliest known video games that explored LGBTQ+ themes was Caper in the Castro, a charityware detective game created for Mac OS by CM Ralph in 1989. In terms of mainstream games, The Sims' inclusion of same sex relationships is notable, as is Ace Attorney's vaguely queer coded (but not particularly evil) antagonists. Both have garnered fairly large queer followings.

But it wasn't until recently, though, that the creation and wide spread utilization of more diverse platforms have allowed more LGBTQ+ gamers to find each other and build audiences of both queer and cis/straight fans. And that *feels* like an important step.

With the rise of Twitch, there has been a massive diversification of gaming content. On YouTube, for instance, if you blind search the name of a game and "let's play" on YouTube, it'll first show you videos with large amount of views or from accounts with massive subscriber counts first. If you do the same thing on Twitch, it'll just show you who's live whether they have a million viewers or just one. This allows people to discover new creators more easily and allows new creators to worry less about playing to an algorithm while creating content.

Aside from that YouTube’s monetization practices have caused problem for queer creators in the past, as allegations arose in 2018 that YouTube demonetized LGBTQ+ channels.  On Twitch, creators receive money directly from fans, which means they have more freedom to produce whatever content they think their fans will enjoy as opposed to what advertisers might like. That freedom of expression and variety of content has seemingly helped spark queer creators on Twitch to gain sizable platforms.   

Deere, for example, is a drag performer and Twitch streamer who founded Stream Queens, an all-drag stream team. She started streaming four years ago both as a creative outlet and because she didn't see the content she wanted being made by other people.

"If I like drag in video games, then other people will," she said. "If I'm looking for queer content in video games or a queer community, then there is at least someone out there who will appreciate it, too."

Deere plays a lot of horror games on stream as also does full makeup-based streams. When asked why she likes to stream horror games in particularly she said it might be because horror allows the viewer to experience fear in a controlled environment.

"For a queer person sometimes just going outside of your house can be scary," she explained, "You can't always express yourself how you'd like to express yourself but, I think that horror genres when you're just consuming media lets you be safely terrified."

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for people to perform drag in person because many avenues in which they could preform are closed. So for Deere and streamers like her, Twitch has become a place to showcase their art.

"I started four years ago and there was only a handful of us," Deere said. "We have created this space where it has allowed more people to be present."

Aside from Twitch, podcasts have also been a medium in which LGBTQ+ people can come and talk to each other about their interests. Audio fiction has been the most obvious example. One of the earliest audio fiction podcasts to gain mainstream success was Welcome to Nightvale, which featured a gay romance between its main character and a scientist living in town as well as several queer side characters. Several other audio fiction podcasts would come in the following years, including but not limited to: The Penumbra Podcast, The Magnus Archives, Alice Isn't Dead, Mabel, Archive 81, The Bright Sessions, and The Strange Case of Starship Iris.

Podcasts have continued telling queer stories, whether as a focus or just in relation to a character or two. Commentary podcasts also have a great deal of queer creators and listeners.

Colin DeMatteis is one of the hosts of Left Trigger Right Trigger, a "video game book club" in which they and their cohosts, David Flamm, Giovanni Colantonio, and Greg Schultz, discuss video games in relation to a weekly theme. The four of them started the podcast in 2016 but had previously done a public access TV show about video games called Game Over. They have also since created and finished a satirical Big Bang Theory podcast called Fullmetal Bazinga.

DeMatteis likens the making of a podcast to the making of a zine.

"You're not making Time magazine," they said. "You're making a little publication for you and the people who like it are going to find it." DeMatteis likes the fact that, as a medium, podcasts have a fairly "low bar to entry" because you only really need a halfway decent microphone to make one. They say that what podcasts have been good for is making it "as easy as possible for people to start creating things that they want create and start putting their voice out there, making themselves heard and allowing themselves to have have a tangible thing that they have made and they can say 'I did this. This is a thing I created. My voice is in it.'"

DeMatteis struggles a bit with how authority is constructed in commentary.

"My though on authority is that it should be kind of opened up and cracked," they say in reference to the idea that the endorsement of commentator by a mainstream publication somehow lends their commentary more credence and authority. "You are an authority on games if you want to talk about them and you have thoughts about them."

The creation of diverse platforms on the internet has allowed queer content creators to reach more people and share their experience with games. But, as DeMatteis said during our interview, "gays are gonna make gay media." Even without these spaces queer people would still be creating and consuming video games. Now, however, they have spaces to connect and share their experience with others.