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Game on: How Aussie gaymers are finally coming out
Feb14

Game on: How Aussie gaymers are finally coming out

CREATED ON // Sunday, 14 February 2016 Author // Glen Morét

Once an invisible section of the gaming community, queer gamers in Australia are finally coming out – thanks, in part, to the efforts of groups like Sydney Gaymers and the arrival of Australia’s first gay gaming convention later this month. Glen Morét reports.

Peak Distapan is one of thousands of LGBT people around Australia with a passion for gaming and is part of a growing community of queer gamers creating a strong and inclusive gaming culture. 

The road hasn’t always been easy though and still isn’t today. Many queer gamers often face discrimination when taking part in online game play.

“I’ve seen slurs and worse being thrown around in gaming communities,” Distapan says.

Distapan picked up his first control at the age of six when his father bought him a PlayStation and says that, years on, queer gaming groups like Sydney Gaymers have allowed him to meet lots of new people with a similar interest in gaming.

Sydney Gaymers is a queer gaming social group that meets three times each month and was founded in 2012. Current organiser Joshua Meadows has helped take the group to new levels after initially joining as a member.

“Since I became a member I’ve gone on to become the principal organiser and we’ve even had the first ever video gamer-themed float at the 2015 Mardi Gras Parade”.

Sydney Gaymers started with just a few members. Now, the group boasts over 1600, second only to Houston Gaymers in the United States, which has a few hundred more. Meadows, who is originally from New York, says the group has allowed him and other members to make many new friends. “It has given me a real base of friends in a city where I was previously a total foreigner”.

Now 32, Meadows was also subject to abuse online while growing up, saying gay hate online was hard to deal with while he was finding out who he was himself.

“Online gaming started becoming a thing while I was still making a lot of formulations about myself and my own sexuality, so being called words like ‘fag’ from strangers online caused a lot of confusion for me.

“This type of trash-talking has been considered an acceptable part of the culture for so long and it really drives people away from something that I think is awesome and should be open to everybody.”

Despite these downfalls, Meadows has stuck at gaming and even though he has other commitments now, he still tries to find time to game as much as possible.

Bianca Otley, who goes by the gamer name ‘beko13’, says she has faced discrimination about a range of things, from gay hate to sexism and racism, online, but thinks social groups like Sydney Gaymers are changing the way society looks at these issues.

 

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Above: Queer gamers Peak Distapan and Bianca Otley

 

“These actions are sometimes accepted as normal behaviour. I was made to feel unwelcome in online play sometimes but things like Sydney Gaymers are making good social changes in the entire community.”

The ideology of all-inclusive gaming is played out at Sydney Gaymer events, with those identifying as not queer also attending.

“Lots of people attend, it’s so diverse,” says Meadows. “Half the group are women, we have a tonne of transgender and non-binary members and a significant chunk of members over 30, and lots who don’t identify as queer”.

Queer gaming is big business overseas, with the United States hosting their first queer gaming convention last year called GaymerX, which attracted thousands of attendees. After the success of the event Meadows and friend Liam Esler decided to bring the concept down under and next month they will launch Australia’s first ever queer gaming convention, GX Australia.

 

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Above: GX Australia co-directors Liam Esler and Joshua Meadows. Photo: Glen Moret

 

“We’ve been in talks with the people behind GaymerX in the United States since before the original convention even took place,” Meadows says. “Since the popularity of Sydney Gaymers took off so quickly, it seemed a natural fit to bring a queer gaming convention to Australia.”

The convention will take place at the Australian Technology Park on February 27 and 28. The Australian event has initially been funded after reaching a $50,000 crowdfunding target on kickstarter.com, the same way GaymerX was started in the U.S.

“We are so excited to open it with only a few weeks to go,” the pair says. “We will see how it goes for 2016, and hope to bring it back next year for those with a long love for gaming, those who have just got into it, and those looking to discover something new.”

As a lesbian gamer, Otley says that GX will change gaming culture in Australia forever. “The event will allow people to further embrace a growing culture of diversity and acceptance for all who enjoy gaming.”

Meadows says that the up and coming GX Australia event is not about shutting off queer gamers from other communities but instead embracing people who feel left out of typical gaming types and meets.

 

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Above: Attendees get into the game at gay gaming convention, GaymerX, in the US in 2015. Photos: Courtesy GaymerX

 

Game-aholic Distapan says people sometimes wonder why there is even such a thing as a queer gaming convention. “Some people say, ‘Don’t you want inclusion?’ But the majority of games are all targeted towards straight white males, yet they only represent a single demographic out of an entire market. Things like GX Australia create a space for many who feel left out,” he says.

“They provide a space where those on the fringe can see others just like themselves enjoying a hobby that doesn’t always welcome them.”

With queer gaming growing exponentially, gaming developers are starting to take note with newer games like Dragon Age: Inquisition and Mass Affect having queer characters in them.

CEO of Screwtape Studios, Megan Summers, says queer gaming events help gaming move forward.

“We think it’s important that as many people as possible get the opportunity to play all different kinds of games. GX is providing a safe, welcoming place for people who sometimes might not feel as safe or welcome at other events.”

Esler says despite there being some queer content in games now, LGBTI themes and characters are still severely underrepresented.

“Over the last few years the amount of queer content in games has increased. That said, this has been almost entirely gay content – for gay men. There's a dearth of material for those who are lesbian, transgender, intersex, or even bisexual. Despite the audience for games being over 50 per cent women, characters in games are still predominantly men.

“We’ve got a long way to go and events like GX Australia help this get a move on”.

 

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Above: Attendees get into the game at gay gaming convention, GaymerX, in the US in 2015. Photos: Courtesy GaymerX

 

Distapan says despite there being queer content in a game, players can usually bypass this content altogether if they like. “Many story driven games continue to tell hetero-centric stories, and they certainly have their place, but so many other stories could be told”.

Growing up, Distapan says anything remotely gay in the gaming world was amazing.

“Marrying guys in The Sims was one of the ways I was able to explore my sexuality as a kid, but now some games have LGBT characters and stories, some of which allow you to explore romantic subplots, which is really great.”

Hype surrounding GX Australia is beginning to grow, with notable gaming developers already confirmed. Esler says he is excited for the day to finally come.

“GX Australia has been a long time in the making and it’s great to be so close to opening the doors. Interest has been amazing and we think GX will help advance queer gaming in Australia for a long time to come”.

 

GX Australia is on February 27-27 at Australian Technology Park, Locomotive Street, Eveleigh. General admission tickets from $85+bf from gxaustralia.com.

 

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Glen Morét

Glen Morét

Glen Morét is a journalist at GayNewsNetwork.com.au and SX. Follow Glen on Twitter: @glen_moret

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