I'm Finley, a non-binary, bisexual transgender person who is also a massive gamer. I've grown up around games, first on my dad's SEGA Mega Drive through all sorts of mediums to my current hobby: tabletop games. I've even run a YouTube channel about gaming for six years. Yeah, I'm THAT geek.
Being LGBTQ+ in the gaming world is both a blessing and a curse. When the real world gets too tough, games have allowed me to escape into another world and recreate myself as whoever I want to be. On the other hand, slurs, hate speech and inappropriate “debates” about LGBTQ+ identities are common in the gaming world. The world is not all fun and games, so to speak (and pun intended!).
When my classmates bullied me and I felt isolated at school, I distracted myself online. Computer gaming gave me the freedom to be whoever I wanted to be. I could choose to be the "boy" option or have my characters flirt with people of the same gender. As an LGBTQ+ young person, that was the only way I knew how to express my confusing feelings towards sexuality and gender: by choosing the other options. Online gaming forums showcase a huge variety of identities, declared in users’ signatures and profiles. These often led me down internet rabbit holes to new words and ways to articulate my feelings. If it wasn't for online gaming communities, I would not have found out about myself at such an early age.
It's not all perfect, however. A game I love, Smite, shows us just how far there is to go in making an online gaming community truly inclusive. The gamers on Smite are known for being particularly toxic, and I've been called the f word, t word and plenty of other slurs for expressing myself authentically. It's also common to be called those things for just being bad at the game - like being called “gay” at break-time. As a school kid, I felt rejected from such games that were supposed to be my home, so I had to make do with singleplayer games that I didn't always want to play. Again, I felt like parts of society were cut off from me, although I didn't have the words to describe it then. It breaks my heart to know that young people may still feel unwelcome in a community that I have put so much time and energy into.
Games companies themselves also have a history of excluding LGBTQ+ people, but it is getting better. For example, in Smite you have to pay 400 gems (about £7) to change your account name. When I asked to change it for free because it made me feel uncomfortable using it, I received a very generic response of "these are the rules, we don't care who you are. No." This sent a message that trans people should pay to come out and play their game. On the other hand, in newer games you can now sometimes find non-binary options at character creation, mechanics that allow for same gender attraction and widened pronoun and gender options for online accounts. There is still a long way to go in the gaming industry, but as more of us speak out about its issues progress is beginning to show.
Online gaming as a LGBTQ+ young person has given me a haven away from the confusion of the real world. I've met some great people online who make me feel safe and a part of a community who are just there to have fun. There are also downsides to being LGBTQ+ online and, just like any game, you have to pick your battles. When you're young and confused, you don't always know which battles to pick, but gaming can provide some much-needed backup to stand strong in the real world. If you're a parent or teacher, know that gaming is a great way for teenagers to learn more about themselves and work through the overwhelming feelings puberty brings. I felt isolated at school, and gaming gave me a new way to enjoy the world.
Finley is a Just Like Us ambassador