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Video Games, Video Gays, and Play: The Intersection of Queerness and Video Games

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Abstract

Video games are an immersive medium that has considerable potential to carry and deliver complex narratives. Yet, this new and powerful platform promotes heteronormative social patterns in which there is little space left for queerness and non-heterosexual audiences. Although video games are heavily inspired by the notions of play rooted in queerness, in video game industry queer characters are the most underrepresented and dismissed figures. In this paper, I intend to explore the intersection of queerness and video games first; then, I analyze video games through the lens of queer play. I situate this analysis within scholarship on queer identities in video games and the complicated relationship between digital games and queerness. My goal with this piece is to articulate and use a de-masculinizing queer lens by offering the concept of Video Gays and examine how queerness in video games generates new sexual identities and gender representations.
Video Games, Video Gays, and Play: The Intersection of Queerness and Video Games
Mohammad Farhang
Film Topics Seminar II: Video Game Image (Control)
Dr. Ofer Eliaz
June 2021
Video Games, Video Gays, and Play: The Intersection of Queerness and Video Games
Abstract
Video games are an immersive medium that has considerable potential to carry and
deliver complex narratives. Yet, this new and powerful platform promotes heteronormative social
patterns in which there is little space left for queerness and non-heterosexual audiences.
Although video games are heavily inspired by the notions of play rooted in queerness, in video
game industry queer characters are the most underrepresented and dismissed figures. In this
paper, I intend to explore the intersection of queerness and video games first; then, I analyze
video games through the lens of queer play. I situate this analysis within scholarship on queer
identities in video games and the complicated relationship between digital games and queerness.
My goal with this piece is to articulate and use a de-masculinizing queer lens by offering the
concept of Video Gays and examine how queerness in video games generates new sexual
identities and gender representations.
Queerness, the Video Game, and Play
It is challenging to provide a clear-cut definition for the term ‘queerness’; however, it is
important to define this term prior to a discussion of the intersection of video games and
queerness. The definition of the term queerness has been evolving and changing meanings
throughout history, but to put it simply, queerness applies to anyone whose gender and sexuality
are different from conventional mainstream gender norms (Ruberg 2018, 543). My assumption is
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that the reader of this piece is already familiar with the basic definition of queerness. Therefore, I
would like to continue the essay by defining the conceptual meaning of queerness, where the
notion of play comes to the fore and becomes a bridge between queerness and video games
(Chess 2016, 5). Based on my own experiences as a queer person, queerness is a way of being
that could be defined by the way one chooses to feel and process the surrounding world. The way
queers perceive objects, colors, social interactions, and everything that exists in reality is, at its
core, playful. In Sara Ahmed’s groundbreaking work, Queer Phenomenology, which underscores
the importance of queerness in video games, Ahmed examines “what it means for bodies to be
situated in space and time. Bodies take shape as they move through the world directing
themselves toward or away from objects and others. Being ‘orientated’ means feeling at home,
knowing where one stands, or having certain objects within reach. Orientations affect what is
proximate to the body or what can be reached.” (Ahmed 2006, 2) Considering Ahmed’s
definition of queerness, video games provide the space toward which queer people are drawn,
because they are no longer obliged to resist the social norms within which they do not fit in the
real world. Yet, queer players are forced to experience the video game environment through
heteronormative patterns. While in video games the heteronormative logic largely controls the
queer narrative, video games provide an immediate opportunity for the players to explore their
gender and sexuality in a space that is safe and where everything can be restarted, undone, or
completely deleted. Another significant component in the relationship between video games and
queerness is the ‘game’ itself. Games are designed to be played, and it is important to discuss the
notion of ‘play’ to study the intersection of queerness and video games.
The matter of pleasure and playfulness has been discussed by various scholars and
philosophers, such as the notable work of Kathryn Bond Stockton regarding expression of desire
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in infants (Stockton 2009, 119). However, playfulness became a central aspect of queerness, as it
provides an ultimate freedom of expression for the people involved (Ruberg 2018, 8) (Stockton
2009, 119). At its core, playfulness is intertwined with the nature of queering. The notion of
playfulness has been present in different levels of queering, requiring to engage with various
devices when it comes to sexual encounters. To clarify, in digital gaming there are multiple
devices that enable the player to play the game with joysticks, desktop computers, and game
consoles the same way that same-sex pairing invented some tools to attain the ultimate pleasure
in sex (Chess 2016, 26). The commonality that queerness and video games share is the
experimentation with pleasure using various tools. While the action of play in queerness occurs
between two or more persons, in video games the play takes place within the interaction of a
person with a piece of technology.
Video game industry is an important medium to study because of its impact on gender
and sexuality. There is a slang expression among video game players that says, “you are what
you play.” This quotation also makes sense when applied to queerness where different forms of
queering are categorized as kink and other forms of sexual queer games, such as “bondage,”
“roleplay,” or “Puppy play.” This lens enables us to target the point where queerness and video
games overlap. Video games provide the player with the freedom to move in any direction and
experience the pleasure of not being limited by dominant culture or any other barriers. However,
in the intersections of play, queerness, and video games, a new possible realm emerges that most
scholars avoid discussing: the cultural toxicity that often occurs both in queerness and video
games. As a queer person and a video game player, I have identified an issue that clearly
exemplifies the intersection of queerness and video games, observed from queer game studies
perspective. The cultural toxicity in queerness appears in the form of addiction to pain and
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dismissing emotional connection during sexual encounters (Paul 2018, 70). Although the
experimentations with pain in queerness are bonded to psychological contexts, in video games
the addiction to violence and blood onscreen could be rooted in the same idea of mental relief.
Thus, the cultural production that play brings to the table is pivotal to track since this toxicity can
cause serious cultural damage, as we have witnessed in both video gamers and the queer
community. For example, in “puppy play” culture in the queer community, the player is forced to
cover his/her face with a puppy-like mask during the sexual encounter and hide underneath the
mask while the rest of the body is exposed (Ruberg 2019, 15). This rule in the play seems to
imply an expression of shame surrounding the act. Often those queers who are insecure about
their faces and feel there is no beauty in their facial rendering have a tendency for puppy plays.
At the same time, studies show that people suffering from severe misanthropies are more likely
to become addicted to spending most of their time playing video games (Psychology Today,
Sussex Publishers). Moreover, the queer people who had experienced emotional breakdowns in
their past romantic relationships have more of a tendency to experience bondage sexual
encounters because they often believe that they caused the breakup (Psychology Today, Sussex
Publishers). Hence, they would like to experience a sexual act that comes with pain and pleasure
at the same time. Furthermore, people who are unable to maintain long- term romantic
relationships are likely to be those who spend an unusual amount of time playing video games,
gradually developing a toxic dependency on them. (Frontiers 2019)
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Beyond the Video Games are the Video Gays
One of the main challenges when considering the intersection of queerness and video
games is the fact that video games are designed based on binary codes and algorithms, whereas
queerness in nature is the form of expression that stands in between two poles. For example, in
queer sexual encounters, the joy occurs in between pain and pleasure. Queerness is a form of
gender identity that stands in between male and female gender and sexuality representations. The
aesthetics of queer culture generally hold qualities that are both masculine and feminine at the
same time. It is this versatility both in sexual and social encounters in queerness that makes it
difficult to clearly define queerness. Hence, to properly consider the intersection of queerness
and video games requires problematizing the intensity of heteronormative patterns in video game
industry. On a fundamental level, it is important to perceive queerness as an ‘in between’ state, in
which queer people tend to move freely back and forth between various gender identities and
sexualities (Chess 2017, 90). On the one hand, video games provide the freedom to move in any
direction regardless of time and space; on the other, video games conventionally provide binary
options for the queer players, such as choosing a male or female character to play the game. The
binary logic of video games further pertains to the rest of narrative of the games, because they
are designed based on zero and one codes, which are fundamentally opposed to the nature of
queerness (Ruberg and Shaw 2017, 70). In order to fully explain the binary issue of video games
in oppositions with the nature of queerness, I would like to illustrate the landscape that video
game industry has set up for queer players: for decades, video games were considered as an
entertainment platform for children or just providing mindless violence for cisgender
heterosexual male audiences. However, in recent years the value and great volume of freeform of
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expression that this medium provides for the players attracted many artists and researchers’
attention. With traditional video games expressing homophobic and toxic masculinity on many
levels, the LGBTQ players have voiced that mainstream video games became an unsafe space
for them (Ruberg 2020, 93).
Particularly in the realm of online games, these players have repeatedly reported
discriminatory responses, sometimes associated with harassment and bullying, by heterosexual
online video-game players. This issue is not only limited to online games; racial and national
discrimination has also been normalized, especially after the wars that had been initiated by the
US in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, and the production of numerous video
games with the subject of invading those countries, such as Call of Duty game series (Gray 2014,
10). However, aside from all these issues, video games have been the center of attention for
LGBTQ players due to the landscape that video games provide for exploration of sexual and
social identities. Most traditional queer studies in video games are based on representation of
queer characters. Queer characters have emerged in some prominent video games such as Sims,
where same-sex intimacy and relationships became possible for the players. Another example is
the game Mass Effect for its sci-fi narrative, in which the player-- he or she-- is able to choose
and develop a romantic relationship with non-player characters throughout the game irrespective
of their genders. The most popular game among LGBTQ community, Dragon Age, has become a
go-to video game for queers as it offers a set of bisexual and kinky characters in an open world
gaming environment. (Ruberg 2018, 547) However, there are not many video games that apply
queerness to their structure and storytelling. Having queer character representations in video
games is only considered as a minor queer ingredient. Yet, the most popular mainstream video
games are still following the cliché narrative of ‘once upon a time’, the quest of saving a princess
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and traveling to far-away lands and fighting with the dragons, climbing the castle and rescuing
the princess, then living happily ever after. The problem of following the heteronormative pattern
of storytelling is still prevalent in different video-game forms and landscapes. In
misunderstanding of queer game structure, one of the biggest game design studios proudly
announced that they have paid ‘special attention’ to LGBTQ players by designing the monster in
one of their recent games with colors of the queer rainbow. This constitutes sad evidence of
downplaying queer identities in the video game structure and narratives (Ruberg and Shaw 2017
94).
Queer gaming requires more than queer character representations, binary choices, and
experience of queer romance. There is a vital need for leveling up mainstream video games,
which means the queer game design must go beyond normative ideologies and think outside the
boundaries of the idea of competition, speed, violence, colonization, and excitement (Chang
2015, 7). Queer game design needs to develop a narrative that focuses on greatness of queerness
and values the differences of queer culture and the way they contribute to society. Ruberg writes
in Video Games Have Always Been Queer:
There are more issues at the intersection of queerness and video games for queer games
studies to explore. Bisexuality, asexuality, kink, genderqueer identities, and polyamory,
and non-heteronormative relationship structures are all subjects that merit further
consideration in relation to video games, as are border theoretical discussions
around subjects like affect and politics. Queer game studies must also continue to push
toward an intersectional understanding of queerness by increasing its engagement with race,
ethnicity, disability, neurodiversity, socioeconomics, religion, nationality. Industry
studies and experience of LGBTQ people within the commercial structure of game-
making represent another potentially fruitful avenue for queer game studies scholars.
(Ruberg 2019, 7)
Following Ruberg’s suggestion regarding analyzing different aspects of the intersection of
queerness and video games, it is worth elaborating on the issue of affect and the experimentation
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of queerness within the video-game framework. Queerness is considered as a traumatic
experience, defined as ‘queer trauma’ in queer studies. (Sarda 2019) The difficulties that queer
people experience throughout their lives regarding their relationship with the dominant
heterosexual structure in society elicits a traumatic response in a queer person. A person coming
out as queer begins their life with the idea of being rejected by their family, friends, and other
people with whom they have interacted throughout their daily lives. If the queer person is lucky
enough to be born in a country where views on queerness have grown to some extent, such as
most Western countries, then he/she/they has the luxury of coming out at an early age.
Otherwise, the hardship of expressing the real sexual orientation becomes greater and more
complicated. Writing in the American Psychological Association journal, Caroline Sarda
mentions “[t]he effects of potentially traumatic events exposure and shame on the mental and
physical health of LGBTQ individuals. Previous research indicates that people exposed to
interpersonal forms of trauma report greater shame-proneness (Andrews, Brewin, Rose & Kirk,
2000). With this in mind, the researchers sought to determine whether shame mediates the
relationship between exposure to potentially traumatic events and negative mental and physical
health symptoms in LGBTQ individuals.” (Sarda 2019) Thus, the complexity of having a queer
identity involves major challenges that come with harsh psychological damages. Hence, queer
people—whether out or closeted-- find video games a safe space to breathe and explore their
sexuality in a virtual environment. On the contrary, what the video game industry has offered to
queer people is another form of rejection, suggesting that the queer identities are not only
unwelcomed but also might experience harassments, bullying, etc.
The problems stated above constitute the evidence contributing to the binary pattern of
video game design that leads to another opportunity for the dominant culture to minimize and
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disregard inclusivity in video games. However, the solution to make the video games and gaming
culture into a queer safe space relies on rethinking and rewriting video-game algorithms.
From my perspective, as a scholar-artist familiar with user experience design, to remodel the
relationship between queerness and video games is to recognize video games as an extension of
queerness. This notion implies that the video games should no longer be in the form of a
platform in which queer people could have the chance to be represented or misrepresented. In
fact, queer people should declare that the concept of video games in general belongs to the queer
culture. I believe, in some video-game conferences, such as QGCon (Queerness and Games
Conference), where the organizers of the conference attempt to blend queerness and games, there
has been an emphasis on introducing video games as part of queer identities. In these types of
movements, the goal must be to identify and reclaim the agency of queerness in video game
industry. In Video Games Have Always Been Queer, Ruberg contextualizes queer belonging in
video games:
let me articulate a distinction––and also let me re-assert the importance of the direct,
material connection between queer reading of video games and LGBTQ lives. Playing
queer is mode of self-expression, a mode of taking pleasure, and a mode of resistance that
opens itself to all players––but which belongs, first and foremost, to those who live the
joys and the pains of their queer lives each day in the world beyond games as well as
within them. Queer theory, as a framework, can inspire many sorts of re-readings of
video games: not just queer readings, but also others that challenge the standard notions
of what games means, who belongs in them, and how they make players feel. All players
are entitled to explore and experience alternative desires through video games, and all
scholars are entitled to approach games and the communities that surround them with an
eye toward their transgressive implications. (Ruberg 2019, 19)
The concept of making video games as an extension of queer identities and remodeling
video games’ algorithms is perfectly possible with the help of AI (artificial intelligence). As
mentioned earlier, to turn video games into video gays, my idea relies on combining the
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representation of queer players in games with their social media accounts and the way they
express themselves through their social media platforms. These days social media have become
an inevitable part of everyone’s life. Queer people, in particular, have a bold presence in various
social media platforms and have been able to fully reflect the aesthetics of queerness and queer
emotions through social media platforms. Considering that queer people have represented the
way they live their lives and what they are oriented toward, their social media accounts could be
a precise reference for video games to shape the narrative of the game based on the identity
representations that a queer person has established on his/her/their social media platforms. The
concept of video gays came to my mind after reading the essay “Queering the Snapshot, Ambient
Mobile Play” by Larissa Hjorth and Kim D’amazing in the book Queer Game Studies. This essay
discusses how camera phones enabled queer performativity to be more present in everyday life.
While the authors describe how selfies gamified the nature of finding and representing queer
identities, they add that the usage of camera phones ‘texturized’ queer emotions and helped to
entangle the politics of the body, gaze, and normalizations. (Ruberg and Shaw 2019, 83-94) In
order to elaborate on the meaning of texturizing queer emotions, it is important to state that
human emotions are not tangible unless they are told in words, visualized, expressed by sound,
or a combination of these. Social media platforms enable the users to express themselves through
pictures and videos taken by the phone camera, share the music they listen to and explain it by
the post caption, and eventually contextualize their posts by using hashtags. This form of
representation through social media has enabled queer people to create an ambient environment
for queerness and what it feels like to live a queer life. Therefore, photography apps and the co-
presence of phone cameras in everyday life of queer people generate an atmosphere that shapes
what the essay calls “queer mobile media.” (Ruberg and Shaw 2019, 83-94) Ultimately, the essay
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suggests that ambient play and co-present performativity of the camera phone foster a more
complex playground for queer identity politics.
Once a queer person begins the video game by connecting his/her/their social media
accounts, the video game algorithms, then, collect some information, such as pictures the user
liked or hashtags they used with the help of AI. Hence, the atmosphere of the video game shapes
around the queer user’s personality established on social media, in which the player identifies
familiar emotions that he/she/they have expressed on their social media platforms. In this way,
not only does the video game become an extension of the queer player’s identity, but it also
provides an opportunity for the queer person to explore their sexual and gender identity in the
world of the video game. As Ruberg mentions, the intersection of video games and queering
comes to the fore when the idea of playing the video games has been defined as the extension of
the player’s body and mind to operate the game. (Ruberg 2020, 544) The idea of connecting the
player’s social media to the video game’s narrative makes this extension more precisely aligned
with the player’s social and sexual representation.
Over the past decade, heteronormative narratives have been prevalent in video games,
which have been largely based on violence, heteronormative patterns, and misogynistic practices.
The question of why video games are designed in a way that the player is a cisgender male by
default brings up the issue of systematic homogeny that promotes exclusivity in sexual identity
of the players. In queer game scholarship, this emphasis on the heteronormative homogenization
in video-game designs has extended itself to most video game devices that are rooted in the
phallocentric heterosexual perspective. In my conception, video gays and merging the video-
game world with the player’s social media platforms not only solves the homogenization
problem, but also brings forth the possibility of personalization of the game. In other words, with
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the help of AI in video games’ algorithms that collect data from each player’s social media, the
game becomes a personalized world in which the player can reflect on what he/she/them already
constructed on their social media accounts and continue to develop their digital representations
in the paradigm of video games.
To set the lens to theorize my conception of video gays, I would like to quote from
Ahmed’s “Orientations: Toward a Queer Phenomenology,” which helps to contextualize the idea
of making the sexual and gender identity exploration easier for the video game players. Ahmed
contends: “Bodies hence acquire orientation by repeating some actions over others, as actions
that have certain objects in view, whether they are the physical objects required to do the work or
the ideal objects that one identifies with. The nearness of such objects, their availability within
my bodily horizon, is not casual: it is not just that I find them there, like that. Bodies tend toward
some objects more than others, given their tendencies. These tendencies are not originary; they
are effects of the repetition of ‘tending toward.’(Ahmed 2006, 550) From this perspective, if the
player identifies the familiar queer ambient created on their social media accounts through the
video game they are playing, they feel the environment of the game is the repetition of the
tendencies toward which they have gravitated on the social media platforms.
From this perspective of making the video game’s algorithms adaptable to the player’s
social media, the video game becomes a transformative gamified playground, because everyone
expresses themselves differently on their social media. Hence, my conception of video gays
solves the problem of homogenization in video games, because, if the world in the video game
evolves around the information that the player has shared on the social media, the players feel
involved and included in the game. One such piece of data that can be collected from the player’s
social media could be their pronouns. For instance, recently, Instagram has provided the option
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for the users to list their pronouns on their account. Therefore, large social media spaces, such as
Instagram, are changing the heteronormative presumptions about people’s gender and sexuality,
and most users, even the cisgender masculine members, are obliged to respect other users’
pronouns. Collecting the user’s pronouns could be useful for character representation, so that the
video game can provide the player with the correct gender option.
However, in the realm of online games, some players have repeatedly reported
discriminatory responses, sometimes associated with harassment and bullying, by heterosexual
online video-game players. This issue often arises because most players play the games with
hidden identities associated with their nicknames, an avatar or a profile picture showing their
preferred character’s face. In this manner, because no one in the game knows their real identity,
the players feel safe to express anything and bully other players without the fear of being
identified. But, if the players are obliged to connect their social media accounts before they begin
the game, they know they can be seen and tracked by other players. As a result, the online video-
game spaces become more transparent and leave no room for misbehaving and bullying queer or
female players in any way. The idea of video gays might seem like an easy solution; however, the
safety and inclusivity that some social media platforms have achieved in the recent years is
something that the video-game industry needs to provide for players of all genders.
Navigating Queerly: Alternating Gender and Sexuality Exploration Through Video Games
A recent Nintendo video game called Animal Crossing is an online open world video
game, in which the player is given an opportunity to build an island for themselves and create
personal avatars and characters with any sort of visual, facial, and gender representations.
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In Animal Crossing, the player can build houses and have the freedom to decorate them in any
way that the player desires. The game features a fun and comforting environment with vibrant
colors and relaxing visuals. Many players have described Animal Crossing as an opportunity to
relax. The game became very popular among LGBTQ community for allowing them to create
queer avatars and render their spaces with LGBTQ signs, flags, and other queer characteristics.
Although the game generates a ‘queertopia’ for queer people, Animal Crossing actually isolates
queer culture and urges queer people to stay inside of a bubble. Also, heterosexual players do not
have any interest to be part of such video games because of the game’s colorful and rainbow-
looking representation, and they mostly find games like Animal Crossing to be designed
specifically for female players (Lewis 2020).
Although there is no definitive consensus on Animal Crossing to be considered as a video
game designed solely for queer and female players, the game perpetuates the notion of separating
queer and female players from heterosexual males.
My point about Animal Crossing relies on the fact that the leading game design companies are
attempting to other their queer and female players by producing video games that are specifically
targeted to be sold to the queer community. These game-design companies also reflect the idea of
queerness in video games as something similar to the games that are designed for kids; this is a
concept with which queerness has long been struggling in different contexts, where queerness is
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introduced as childish and a form of clownery. In this process large gaming companies do not
only alienate queer culture but also isolate queer people. Moreover, queering has been
fashionable in the video game industry, thereby commodifying queer people to make large
profits from selling video games to this community (Lewis 2020).
There is an argument around queerness in video games from Christopher Goetz, the
author of the essay “Queer Growth in Video Games,” in which he argues that video games need
to ‘grow up,’ contain more artful imagery and explore more mature themes similar to what we
have witnessed in cinema. However, Goetz’s argument suffers from a lack of understanding of
the video-game market, in which designing video games with more meaningful and mature
content comes with a significant risk of losing mainstream audiences. For instance, in 2020 a
Polish gaming company called Ovid Works released a video game based on a philosophical
novel, The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka. This puzzle game follows a philosophical and
surreal theme with artful and noir environment designed for adults. Although the game was
praised by critics and attracted deep thinker literate video gamers, the game Metamorphosis was
not successful enough to sell in the North American region gaming market, and eventually
Nintendo bought the game for cheap and made it available only in the PC platform. Although the
video game Metamorphosis makes an homage to the famous work by Kafka and provides a
playful journey for the players who are familiar with philosophical concepts, it was not
successful, likely due to its philosophical and overly serious nature. Hence, what makes the
mainstream video games popular are the playfulness and themes they borrow from queerness
(Byrd 2020). As Ruberg sets forth in Video Games Have Always Been Queer,
“[q]ueerness and video games share a common ethos: the longing to imagine alternative
ways of being and to make space within structures of power for resistance through play.
From the origins of the medium, to the present day, and reaching into future, video game
worlds have offered the players the opportunity to explore queer experiences, queer
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embodiment, queer affect, and queer desire–––even when the non-heteronormative and
counterhegemonic implications of these games have been far from obvious.” (Ruberg
2018, 543)
As Ruberg underscores the complexities in the relationship between queerness and video games,
she examines the commonality that the two media share. I would argue, however, that the
queerness inherent in video games must be blended with heteronormative patterns, in order to
avoid garnering the ‘queer theme’ label, making the games unappealing to heterosexual players.
By now, we have established that the intersection of queerness and video games generates
a new set of lenses to analyze digital games in different contexts. However, it is important to ask
in what ways video games would add more dimensions to queerness. Some queer theorists have
explored and answered this question by looking at queerness and video games from the position
where queerness has power over the video game industry. Jack Halberstam and Kathryn Bond
Stockton, who have investigated the area of queer game studies extensively, posit that “queer
subjects have to hack straight narratives and insert their own algorithms for time, space, life and
desire.” (Stockton and Bond 2009) Moreover, Stockton considers video games as “highlighting
two queer fires” (Halberstam and Stockton 223-30). These two scholars identify bold
connections between queerness and video games. Queerness is a series of desires and a way of
expressing social status through playfulness, while resisting adhering to the norms dictated by
the dominant culture. Yet, it is a gamified queer perspective that forces queer people to reject the
dominant narrative. Hence, both queerness and video games have the potential for activism,
fighting against the heteronormative dominant culture. While Ruberg argues that video games
lower the player agency and are highly structured, the intersection of video games and queerness
could constitute a space for LGBTQ players to express their frustrations regarding the
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heterosexual patterns and use this space as an opportunity to de-masculinize the norms. (Ruberg
and Shaw 2017)
As I have argued throughout this paper, connecting queerness to video games enables us
to identify ‘play’ as an inherently queer action. Moreover, video games are fundamentally queer
in their nature as they embody play. While the purpose of queer game studies is to reimagine
games themselves, it is also important to deconstruct video games into different components in
order to understand why they hold infinite possibilities. First, the performativity in video games
distinguishes them from other types of mediums. The game can never play itself if there is no
player, whose presence is vital to push the buttons of the joystick, keyboard’s keys, screen, etc.,
in order to physically play the game. Video games channel play both mentally and physically,
such as when the player must resolve a problem in the game and, simultaneously, push buttons of
the joystick with their fingers. Video games, then, are parallel with queerness, as play is at the
latter’s core as well.
The freedom that video-game players experience in games is similar to queer people’s
feeling of satisfaction while queering. A queer soul perceives the environment with the same
lightness and looseness that exist in the world of the video game. The range of possible actions
that a player can take in a game is akin to a queer sense of non-committal freedom. Escaping to
the sea in one’s car and failing the mission, to give an example from Grand Theft Auto, gives
players the same type of satisfaction that queer people have when subverting the heteronormative
narrative.
All the scholarly and academic studies regarding queerness and video games are largely
an attempt to point out that video games are merely human-made products that are designed
based on a simple storyline; however, video games have a much more far-reaching impact on
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players relative to the fairly short amount of time that it takes for a game to be produced.
Potentially, video games have attracted massive attention because the industry is very young, and
people are merely excited about its technology and the control power video games provide for
the players. In the early years of the invention of film and cinema, when people were first invited
to the film theater, they were shown a train moving toward the camera on the screen. The
audience in the room became scared and left the theater to escape from the train that they feared
would hit them. For many years, cinema was the primary form of entertainment, but these days
people hardly choose to go to the film theaters and spend money on the tickets. If we project the
reaction of the audience in the early years of cinema onto the video game industry, we realize
that people’s extraordinary reaction and attention to video games might gradually wane and will
be distracted with new forms of entertainment.
Some game designers and theorists have suggested looking at video games the same way
we look at a novel, film, or television shows. From this perspective, one can view games as a
container in which meaning is represented through character, story, and events. However, one of
the most unique features of video games is their ability to generate meanings through our choices
as players. In reality, most of the games do not bear a specific storyline in the traditional sense.
In most games, the player creates the story in the moment through their decisions, and the game
responds to the player’s actions. In most game structures, one simple action from the player
generates the next action in the game. Hence, playing the game requires quick reactions in order
to make the game move forward. Although the player might think he/she/they have control of
their actions within the game, it forces the player to fail because there are no right choices. On
many occasions, it is a matter of experiencing the game through failure. This logic of failure is a
formulated algorithm from game developers, implying that the video game is smarter than the
19
player. This idea, of course, is an illusion video-game designers perpetuate, thereby effecting the
notion that people who are good at video games are more intelligent than those who are not as
successful at the medium (Ruberg 2019, 550).
So, how can we integrate queerness in this discussion of video games? Bearing the
above-mentioned perspective in mind, I would argue that the way queer players play the game is
in many ways opposite from the video-game designers’ intended logic. For instance, to play a
game queerly would constitute failing repeatedly to the point that the game turns to glitches and
errors. Furthermore, characters with queer representations in video games are, whether
consciously or unconsciously, often those with less strength to accomplish the mission, fight with
monsters, and, therefore, are unable to win the game. This fact is also true for female characters
in video games; for example, in the first Resident Evil the female character was only provided
with light weapons to fight with Zombies. After the game was accused of a misogynistic point of
view, the female character was provided with equal weaponry to that of the main character (Juliet
Lauro 2017). This is an example of how the video game industry, as a progressive medium, is
constantly working to improve the space to break the heteronormative assumptions, while searching
for new ways to be an inclusive pioneer industry.
Conclusion
Queer game studies are a fresh area of focus for many emerging scholars and artists. This
complex paradigm requires new perspectives and analysis to contextualize different dynamics
between queer studies and video games, aside from merely highlighting the severe lack of diversity
inherent in them. It is important to understand that all the negotiations between video games and
queerness arise from activism. The conception of video gays that I introduced in this piece would be
20
an example of how the interaction between video games and social media can potentially generate
new forms of queerness in cultural spaces related to technology. The concept of video gays could
serve as a tool to de-masculinize online video-game spaces, drawing on the activism that we
witness in social media platforms by using various hashtags. In this paper, I examined the ways in
which video games interact with the concept of queerness, bringing queer desire and self-expression
in the lives of LGBTQ players to the fore. I have also sought to illustrate the strong affinity that
queerness and video games share in play. These complexities underscore the interdisciplinary nature
of queer game studies, paving the way for future scholarship on gender, sexual, and queer theories.
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