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GLAAD says games are failing LGBTQ players | This week's gaming news

The week's headlines, now in video form!

There aren't enough games with queer characters and themes — and GLAAD, the world's largest LGBTQ media advocacy group, has the statistics to prove it. GLAAD's first annual report on the video game industry found that nearly 20 percent of all players in the United States identify as LGBTQ, yet just 2 percent of games contain characters and storylines relevant to this community. The report highlights three critical truths: Representation matters a lot to LGBTQ players, the remaining gaming audience largely welcomes these themes, and new generations of gamers are only becoming more open to queer content.

GLAAD has the numbers, so let's take a deeper look alongside a few bits of gaming news from the past week:

This week's stories

Xbox rumor mill

Xbox is preparing to address a bunch of rumors on Thursday about the company’s plans to bring its exclusive games to PlayStation, Switch and other platforms. The rumors have centered on major releases like Indiana Jones and the Great Circle and Starfield, but according to The Verge’s Tom Warren, the first titles scheduled to make the leap are Hi-Fi Rush and Pentiment. Nothing has been confirmed yet, but Xbox’s top gaming executives, Phil Spencer, Sarah Bond and Matt Booty, will chat about all of it on the next installment of the Official Xbox Podcast, which drops at 3PM ET on Thursday.

Ubisoft pledges to be good again

Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot said on an investor call last week that the studio is officially going to make good games again. Talking about the company’s positive third quarter, Guillemot said it “marks the beginning of our turnaround to consistently creating and delivering high-quality, long-lasting games,” which sounds like a tacit admission that Ubisoft hasn’t been producing great games recently. This is something I’ve talked about a lot — it feels like the studio has been coasting on NFTs and free-to-play mobile titles since a period of financial turmoil in 2015, and I’m actually excited to see a return to its weird, more focused roots. Assassin’s Creed Mirage and Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown were great first steps. Ubisoft plans to reveal more details about Star Wars Outlaws, the new Assassin’s Creed set in Japan and its mobile lineup in May.

Gaming has never been gayer

“The game industry is out of step with contemporary media in terms of LGBTQ representation, and it is failing its LGBTQ customers.” That’s one of the breakout lines from GLAAD’s first annual gaming report, which analyzes the state of the video game industry from the perspective of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender players in the United States.

In its survey, GLAAD — the world’s largest LGBTQ media advocacy group — found that 17 percent of the total gaming audience identifies as LGBTQ, or about one in every five players. This figure falls in line with statistics for Gen Z. Still, just 2 percent of all games on the market contain LGBTQ content, a saturation level that falls miserably short of those in film, TV and other forms of media.

GLAAD ran the numbers itself: In November 2023, the Xbox store had 146 games with LGBTQ content, while PlayStation offered a list of 90 titles with these themes, and the Switch eShop had 50 games tagged LGBT. Steam had 2,302 English-language games under its LGBTQ+ tag, but that figure dropped to 1,506 when filtering out “adult only sexual content” titles. All told, queer games composed roughly 2 percent of the stores’ libraries.

In contrast, GLAAD found that almost one in three films from the top distributors in 2022 contained an LGBTQ character, and LGBTQ characters appeared as series regulars in 10 percent of primetime scripted broadcast shows in 2022 and 2023. GLAAD Associate Director of Gaming Blair Durkee said that, with queer representation at just 2 percent, gaming remains woefully behind other entertainment industries.

The report also tried to identify why this gap exists. It suggested some developers simply don’t think about including LGBTQ people, or they worry about pushing away a core audience that they assume is hostile toward LGBTQ content. However, the report says, “This imagined core audience is a myth,” considering LGBTQ people compose nearly 20 percent of the market on their own. Critically, GLAAD found that more than 60 percent of non-LGBTQ players weren’t bothered by queer protagonists in their games, and 70 percent said they were fine with titles that presented the option to play as an LGBTQ character.

So this type of representation doesn’t bother most straight, cisgender people, but it means a lot to LGBTQ players. 72 percent of LGBTQ players said that seeing characters of their gender identity or sexual orientation portrayed well made them feel better about themselves, and this number was even higher among younger players. Overall, 36 percent of LGBTQ players reported that video games helped them discover their sexual orientation or gender identity, and this percentage rose to 41 percent among LGBTQ players of color. More than 40 percent of queer players said video games helped them cope with a lack of acceptance in the real world. These issues are more prominent than ever amid an avalanche of anti-LGBTQ legislation: Already in the first few weeks of 2024, more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills have been proposed or passed in the US, a majority of which target transgender youth.

While GLAAD found that 66 percent of all LGBTQ gamers said they use gaming to express themselves in ways they don’t feel comfortable doing in the real world, this statistic rose to 75 percent for players living in states with proposed or active anti-LGBTQ bills.

The real key is that more gamers identify as LGBTQ than ever before, and resistance toward these themes is waning with each new generation of players. I’m part of the LGBTQ community, and I can say that overall, the GLAAD report rings true. It feels like the industry is saturated with games that weren’t made for me, and there’s an immense joy that comes with discovering a new title that speaks to my own life or lets me play in a world that doesn’t involve traditionally straight-male power fantasies. Queer people have fantasies, too, and the GLAAD report highlights how forgotten these stories have been in games. It’s not a matter of LGBTQ people asking for all games to be gay — we just want proportional access to fantasy and escape. Personally, I’d love to see more LGBTQ people in positions of authority in video games, a recommendation that GLAAD makes in its report as well.

And really quickly because I can already hear the keyboards melting: Woke ideas will not destroy the gaming industry, but stagnation will, and as the GLAAD report points out, we’re much closer to that reality than anything else.

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