Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The importance of LGBTQIA+ community spaces in gaming

It’s no secret that video games can be an amazing outlet for gamers to explore their identities in a safe and non-judgmental space, but can the same be said for gaming communities? 

For every game that enables players to choose their pronouns or romance whichever gender they please, there’s often a vocal minority condemning these (completely optional) features for being too  “woke” or “pandering”. It can be heartbreaking to fall in love with a game and then discover that you may not be welcome amongst its community members, and that’s why LGBTQIA+ community spaces are so important right now. 

Whether you’re a developer, publisher, community manager, or simply a gamer wanting to build a community around a title you love, you might be wondering what the benefits are when it comes to creating LGBTQIA+ dedicated or friendly spaces. What’s the point in putting a label on a space at all? 

The Need for Safe Spaces 

While we’re seeing more diversity and inclusion in games than ever before, the LGBTQIA+  community still experiences a lot of challenges in the gaming sphere – particularly online spaces that afford community members a certain level of anonymity. Bullying, hate-speech, harassment, and doxxing are all very real concerns that LGBTQIA+ gamers run the risk of encountering if they dare to express their identities in community spaces. 

That’s if they’re even allowed to express their identities at all. LGBTQIA+ gamers are often silenced in online spaces by admins or community managers wanting to keep their communities apolitical.  What these community managers don’t realise is that, by banning this kind of expression, they’re the ones politicising LGBTQIA+ identities; all while allowing hate to fly under the radar. Communities such as these can become toxic over time, causing LGBTQIA+ people and allies to leave until there is only a very insular community left. 

Creating inclusive spaces – whether they’re by, for, or simply friendly to the LGBTQIA+ community – can go a long way in helping marginalized individuals feel less isolated. Such spaces offer a safe and open environment for people to discuss shared interests and be themselves online. Unfortunately,  due to the challenges they can experience online, LGBTQIA+ gamers can’t afford to assume that a community will automatically welcome them. It’s the responsibility of the admins and community managers to let them know that they are welcome. So, how is this achieved? 

Image Source: Pexels // Cottonbro Studio
Finding Your Community’s Voice 

First and foremost, this is done by being vocal about your community’s values. Take the LGBTQIA+ stream team, Rainbow Arcade, for example. As a dedicated LGBTQIA+ space, you’d think that Rainbow Arcade’s values towards the queer community would be implied, but it’s important to acknowledge the wealth of other identities that can fall under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella. By communicating its commitment to intersectional diversity and inclusion, community empowerment, and safety,  Rainbow Arcade lets LGBTQIA+ individuals from all walks of life know that they have a place in its community.

Secondly, it’s about a zero-tolerance stance towards discrimination,  

bullying, and harassment. This should be outlined clearly in the community’s rules and thoroughly enforced by admins and moderators. There are bots that community managers can use to help moderate this kind of behaviour and spaces such as Discord even give admins the opportunity to require users to agree to rules and guidelines before they can access the space. 

It is on admins and community managers to crack down on hate-speech when it comes to keeping their spaces safe and, in instances of official community platforms, it is very much the responsibility of developers and publishers to equip their teams with the tools and training to cultivate LGBTQIA+  friendly spaces. One of the ways this can be achieved is by consulting LGBTQIA+ individuals – whether that’s by seeking the feedback of community members or ensuring you have LGBTQIA+  representation within your community management team. Doing so can work to foster a culture where marginalized voices are heard from all angles, not just from people in positions of authority. 

Image Source: Pexels // Pixabay
Practice What You Preach 

It is also hugely important that all parties lead by example in welcoming LGBTQIA+ individuals and encouraging them to be themselves. Not every member of the LGBTQIA+ community is going to have complete knowledge of each other’s lived experiences, and proactive community management can help community members be respectful towards each other when confusion, lack of knowledge,  or misunderstandings do arise. 

Remember, LGBTQIA+ friendly spaces practice inclusion and acceptance all year round, not just during LGBTQIA+ History Month or Pride. Too often, we see spaces that would otherwise completely ignore the LGBTQIA+ community suddenly become rainbow-washed at certain times of the year.  We’re all for celebrating marginalized community members, but this is something that should be done all throughout the year, not just when it is topical. 

Finally, these kinds of spaces show the wider games industry that LGBTQIA+ individuals make up a huge part of the gaming community. They show developers and publishers that there is more than one type of gamer and that LGBTQIA+ people deserve representation in both the games they play and the communities that center around them. Gaming should be a safe space for everyone,  regardless of identity. By creating LGBTQIA+ friendly and inclusive communities, we can lead by example and encourage diversity and inclusion in all areas of the games industry.

About Safe In Our World:
Safe In Our World is a mental health charity devoted to supporting the video games industry and wider community. They offer a wealth of resources and information for individuals struggling with, or seeking to learn more about, mental ill health, as well as a free partnership program to support games industry employers in creating safer and more equitable working environments.

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