The second question that needs to be considered is “What is the current tabletop gaming landscape like for LGBTQ individuals?” At the present, as when this article was originally published, white heterosexual males dominate the tabletop gaming industry, and LGBTQ-friendly material is still relatively scarce in gaming. Since the time of this article’s original publication, this has changed, but slowly. Just as we see prominent women designing, editing, and creating RPGs, we also see more self-openness among LGBTQ game creators. Both have been around since the beginning, but we are now living in a time when we can name the number of both on more than one or two hands.
Just over the past few years, the change has sped up, but the gaming world still seems to lag behind other forms of entertainment when it comes to change. There have been few gay characters in mainstream novels and movies—though this is increasing—yet they remain rare in fantasy novels and RPG products. There have been some recent game-changers: the recently relased fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons has text encouraging players to play characters of whatever sexual and gender identity they wish, and James Wyatt and colleagues should be commended for including such text. Such text can and will sustain people going through dark times, validate young people who feel out of place, and encourage the participation of a more diverse body of gamers, which is crucial to the continued flourishing of gaming.
Although video games have experimented to at least a small degree with the possibility of LGBTQ characters and experiences (see BioWare’s Mass Effect and Dragon Age games, for example), as of the original publication of this article, fantasy novels and RPGs had been rather timid. There were a few, such as the character Imoen from the Baldur’s Gate novels, who has a romance with a drow matron. The forty or so Shadowrun novels had a much better track record with regards to LGBTQ characters. Steve Kenson and Mel Odom have significant gay characters in their novels; Kenson’s books actually have a gay main character: Talon. Paizo, in particular, should be commended for showcasing diversity in both its fiction and its RPGs.
The growing number of games and RPG-based novels with LGBTQ-friendly gaming material indicates a positive trend, but what about the tabletop gaming community? You’ll find such gaming supported via numerous online websites and groups devoted to gay gamers or “gay-mers.” Such sites include www.gaymer.com; active gay, trans, and other boards on reddit; and numerous other places. These sites typically offer a message board for gay gamers and encourage the promotion of tolerance in gaming as part of their mission. Gaymers are also well represented at Gen Con through seminars and by attendee activism, and there may even be plans to start gaymer speed dating. Online LGBTQ groups do their best to link up gamers, but there is still a great deal of difficulty in the tabletop gaming world with this issue.
This brings us to our final question: Should gamers make an effort to include LGBTQ characters in their games? The answer relies completely on levels of comfort and intensity of roleplaying. For your average hack-and-slash game, the sexual identity of a character is probably irrelevant. For a roleplaying-intensive game with romance and conflict, this issue might become more important. It is not surprising that most gamers avoid playing characters of different genders and sexual identities. For many, gaming is a relaxing activity, and playing something totally different to them is difficult. For others, it is a thrill to play a character who is completely different, and playing a character with a different sexual identity is no different than playing a barbarian or sorceress. The inclusion of LGBTQ characters in games depends on the type of game being played and who is playing. In a tolerant atmosphere, players should not feel hesitant to play a LGBTQ character. If you do decide to play a LGBTQ character, however, there are a number of things to keep in mind.
Playing LGBTQ characters requires a subtle balance between following and breaking from stereotypes. There are many nuances and ranges of sexual identity. The difficulty is drawing the line between stereotype and necessity. To establish culture, players frequently use overdone accents and speech patterns. The same is true for moral alignment—the good are often very good and the evil are frequently truly diabolical. Players do this to establish a better feel for the character, and it is usually better than making no effort to change vocal patterns or mannerisms. It can be tricky, however, to do this well when it comes to sexual identity. Although some gay men do seem effeminate to observers and some lesbians do some masculine, these are not universal traits, and even where found, they are rarely cut and dry. It is easy to use stereotypes to make characters easier to identify, but if they are used too frequently, the characters become caricatures and cease feeling real. It may be difficult to play a character with subtle characteristics, but at the same time, most players don’t want their characters to seem like roleplaying stunts.
There is a lot for gaymers (and all LGBTQ individuals) to be happy about in the world today. Same-sex marriage is legal in numerous countries and the majority of states. Trans protections are being passed for the first time in many locations, though this is slower than same-sex marriage, and the needs and concerns of the bi community and other sexual and gender identity groups are being recognized for the first time. There are more LGBTQ characters in video and RPG games, as well as fiction and media, than ever before and more LGBTQ options in video games.
To sum up, we must still recall that people are being harmed and killed for their sexuality and gender identity in the U.S. and abroad. We also cannot forget that discrimination is rampant, even if it’s not always obvious to those looking in from the outside. But, just as we cannot forget the negative, we also shouldn’t gloss over the positive. Gay-straight alliances flourish, though with some opposition, and “gaymer” clubs abound. It is safe to say that it has never been a better time to be LGBTQ in America or to be an LGBTQ gaymer. Gaymers have never had more allies among straight friends and our voices have never been heard more than today. Yes, there is a lot of work to be done, and life for LGBTQ individuals, gaymer or otherwise, is pretty rough for people in much of the world, but there is good reason to optimistic and much for which to be thankful.