Hello! All this week we’ll be celebrating Pride and the power of positive representations in games. Every day we’ll be bringing you stories and insights from different parts of the LGBT+ community. You can also help support Pride with Eurogamer’s newly redesigned t-shirt – all profits from which will be going to charity.
Between the likes of Twitch, YouTube and more, a staggering number of people now watch games being played online. On Twitch alone, at any one moment there’s on average 1.5M people watching and over 4M unique creators streaming each month. Streaming is, undoubtedly, mass entertainment.
But there’s more to all this than simply watching games being played online. With such high viewership, it’s imperative that positive LGBT+ representation is supported, and as the number of streamers and teams rises, there’s an opportunity to showcase a diverse range of voices.
Streamers are role models for their community and create necessary safe spaces for LGBT+ people to connect through their shared experiences. What’s more, specific teams allow queer streamers from around the world to join forces, support one another and foster long-lasting relationships.
“Sometimes the folk you find online end up being your closest friends, whether or not you get to meet in person. I think it’s important to give people that solidarity and that community,” says Twitch streamer Tanya DePass aka ‘CypherOfTyr’. “Especially with COVID and the pandemic, it’s how a lot of us are keeping connected.”
As well as running her own Twitch team and a not-for-profit foundation supporting diversity in the games industry (I Need Diverse Games), Tanya is also a member of Rainbow Arcade, a team of fifty worldwide LGBT+ streamers. It was set up by founders John John ‘j0hnj0hnn’ Oliveri and Justin ‘justin_nick’ Moore to promote LGBT+ streamers of all diversities and provide a safe space for streamers to support one another, grow and learn.
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It also allows viewers to find LGBT+ content creators and like minded people in one place, beyond the use of the LGBTQIA tag. “We want people to find a place where, if they come to Rainbow Arcade and they want to find somebody who looks like them, who represents them, they can find that there too,” says Justin. “We have to fight so much harder to be visible on the platform and to make sure that people understand we’re here, we’re proud and we want to represent our communities.”
A variety of streaming teams are on Twitch covering the LGBT+ spectrum and related interests, including trans gamers, drag performers and more. Veronica ‘Nikatine’ Ripley runs Transmission Gaming, a team specifically for trans gamers. Her aim as a streamer is to normalise the trans experience, something she describes as a “tightrope”.
“I make no effort to hide my trans status, and allow respectful questions occasionally, but I try to cultivate a bulk of content that involves entertainment not directly related to queer issues,” she says. “I stream roleplay to a diverse (cis and trans) audience, not to hide my queerness but to put forth an idea that trans people like myself are not only capable, but excel at this particular form of entertainment.”
What all these teams have in common is the creation of safe spaces, often with additional Discord channels, allowing people the freedom to simply be themselves.
Says Tanya: “They don’t have to put on an air, they don’t have to be a persona. People are welcome to be as out as they’re comfortable being, or not out at all. In some cases the Discord is the only place they feel comfortable saying and being who they are.”
Nowadays many LGBT+ people discover themselves and explore their identity through video games. Safe online communities provide a foundation for this, especially if someone feels unable to be open about their sexuality IRL.
“I cultivated a platform in order to offer myself as an example of a queer person who is happy and healthy and hopefully some closeted trans person out there sees my stream and feels a little safer to accept themselves,” says Veronica.
Community is a key part of Streamer Pride, a new online networking group founded by André ‘jygglypuffdaddy’ with members from across the globe. Where Twitch teams have a separation between streamers and fans, Streamer Pride is intended to bridge the gap and be supportive of the whole community.
Many of Streamer Pride’s members are new to streaming, which can be especially daunting for LGBT+ people. It’s scary to put yourself ‘out there’ on stream, but with community support the results are hugely rewarding.
“That combination of being face to face with the streamer and live: you grow so much closer to your audience and your audience grows so much closer to you,” says André. “It really feels like a real community in a way that your Twitter following or YouTube following does not.”
For André, streaming is an extension of connecting with like minded people online. “Growing up I didn’t have people around me who I could talk to about video games, about TV and music, I always found communities for that on the internet,” he says. “[Streaming] quickly turned into something that’s given me structure and I’ve found a great new group of friends who I have a feeling will be with me for a very long time!”
His focus is JRPGs, a genre he feels many LGBT+ people skew towards for the ability to play as a different person in a different world away from real life experiences. “And then you have that compounded by the sense of this welcoming online community,” he says. “The escapism and the sense of belonging is all coming together there.”
A more tangible benefit of these communities is fundraising through charity streams, especially during Pride season. Rainbow Arcade have (so far this month) raised almost $40k for LGBT+ suicide charity The Trevor Project, while Tanya has been involved in multiple fundraisers including raising almost $350k for The Bail Project alongside other black streamers. Streamer Pride and Transmission Gaming have also been involved in fundraising.
It’s not all positive, though. There is still homophobia and racism in the online community, which makes streaming an unwelcoming prospect for some. For black LGBT+ streamers, it’s even more difficult to be seen and heard online. As Tanya says: “Why should I get online and try and enjoy Animal Crossing if someone’s going to call me slurs?”
What’s more, black and LGBT+ streamers deserve to be highlighted year-round and not just during Pride or Black History Month. “It’s under-represented in who gets a spotlight,” says Tanya. “There are plenty of us who stream but a lot of black and POC streamers don’t get a lot of highlight.”
This is why the visibility of LGBT+ streamers is so vital. Having diverse streamers as role models attracts viewers who can see themselves represented positively.
“Just seeing other people like you in a space let’s you know there is a space for me, that somewhere in this mass of millions of streamers I can exist and there’s at least one or two other people like me,” says Tanya.
André feels similarly: “Until you see someone like you in media, you don’t know you can do it. You don’t know that you have value. You don’t know that people will accept you. And ultimately you might not even know that you’re loved.”
For closeted people, that visibility could be life changing. “Being a closeted queer person can feel extremely lonely. Coming to the understanding of your queer status doesn’t always come at the same time as acceptance of it,” says Veronica. “The visibility of queer content creators is key to offering a helping hand to those questioning people out there who need to see role models.”
Video games provide entertainment for everyone, no matter who you are, and the streaming community should reflect that. The positive feedback of LGBT+ communities drowns out any toxic negativity.
“People tell you that you make their days better, that this is escapism,” says André. “I tear up sometimes when people tell you that because that’s the best you can ask to be: to make people’s day a bit brighter.”
Twitch are supporting the LGBT+ community this June with their #StreamWithPride campaign and their first ever Pride Summit. Find out more here.