Adrienne Shaw, “Talking to Gaymers: Questioning Identity, Community and Media Representation,” Westminster Papers in Culture and Communication 9, no. 1 (2012): 67–89.
  • The gaymers I interviewed expressed ambivalence towards in-game representation that refl ected: an understanding of inadequate LGBTQ representation in other media; the importance of play experience, over game representation; and diversity among gaymers.  This ambivalence, I argue, demonstrates that identity politics-based representation arguments are ultimately fl awed. Identity politics builds upon a notion of liberal democracy (Brown, 1995), and presumes an internal coherence to identity groups that is at best problematic and at worst violent (Butler, 2006).
  • Identity politics arguments for representation confl ate, but fail to recognize the co-constitution of, game content and homophobia in gaming. It is worth noting, for example, that Sara Andrews was a transsexual woman looking for an open-minded group of people with whom to play. Content-based calls for LGBTQ representation in games typically focus on sexuality, not gender; and they do not address the policing of gender and sexuality in online (and offl ine) gaming spaces via hate speech. Moreover, the hegemonic construction of the gaymer label (a homosexual male player, often white) by marketers, journalists and researchers excludes Andrews and many others. Calls to increase LGBTQ representation in games presumes a coherence of, and attempts to normalize, identity within and across those who identify as members of LGBTQ communities. Such an approach ignores critiques of how certain groups are excluded from game spaces and game texts, something I return to in the conclusion. Though this research was conducted in 2006, arguably the beginning of public awareness of ‘gaymer’ communities, in the conclusion I address how the academic and popular awareness of this identifi cation category has since resulted in a narrowing of the category, refl ecting identity politics
  • Despite popular rhetoric to the contrary, analyses of how people use the internet fi nd that offl ine identities are emphasized in online worlds (Campbell, 2004; Miller and Slater, 2000). Perhaps nobody knows you are a dog on the internet, as one New Yorker cartoon claims (Steiner, 1993), but if you are the only dog you know and you want to fi nd others like you, proclaiming your ‘dog-ness’ becomes an important part of how you present yourself online. This is particularly true for marginalized groups. As Larry Gross says, the ‘potential for friendship and group formation provided by the Internet is particularly valuable for members of self-identifi ed minorities who are scattered and often besieged in their home surroundings’ (2001, 227). The problem, however, is that attention to online groups often reproduces a simplistic version of identity politics. Certainly, some argue that glossing over differences is politically advantageous (Bernstein, 1997). However, it also defi nes community members in relation to a specifi c norm of gaymer identity.
  • […]  attempts to ‘correct’ representation in game texts often presume that gay male (usually white and American) representation can appeal to ‘gaymers’ (and no one else), and that queer representation can be reduced to an expansion of romantic pairing options. Moreover, identifying the gaymer subject solely in relation to ‘mainstream gaming culture’ marginalizes gaymers and obscures the exclusionary identity politics at work in gaymer and LGBTQ communities.
  • It is, moreover, politically problematic to assume that only homosexual gamers are the targets of, or bothered by, homophobia in online gaming (or elsewhere) or desire queer game content.
  • The silencing of more radical and substantial queer politics in the assimilationist gay rights movement is critiqued at length by Michael Warner (1999) among others. It is this type of sentiment that demonstrates the failure of an identity politics approach to gaming representation: there is no coherent gaymer or LGBTQ identity or community to be represented. The experiences of homophobia noted so often in discussions of ‘gaymers’ intersect with experiences of sexism, transphobia, racism, classism and ethnocentrism in ways that cannot be properly accounted for by a focus on sexuality. Indeed, gaymer as described above is an intersectional identity that troubles a reductive identity politics approach. Interviewees’ ambivalence about representation refl ects this intersectionality and the failure of identity politics.
  • One reason given in mainstream gaming forums for not making sexuality an issue in video games is that games are all fantasy and thus sexuality should not be important. When this discourse arose in my interviews, however, it was asserted that representation needed to ‘matter’ in games, or it ran the risk of being tokenistic.
  • First, as is often raised in discussions of LGBTQ game representation, there is a presumption that non-normative gender and sexuality formations are ‘real’ issues that do not belong in ‘fantasy’ games. Second, it is often diffi cult for people to imagine representing LGBTQ communities without addressing political confl icts, including homophobia and transphobia. Finally, and somewhat contradictorily, the discussions assume that ‘good’ representation of LGBTQ communities would not be inherently political, as the representation of those identities should not ‘matter’ to how a character interacts with a game world. This de-politicization of sexual and gender identities is, I argue, highly problematic and, ironically, is closely tied to an identity politics argument for representation.
  • Moreover, members emphasized that gay or queer representation in games would only be good if it was not stereotypical.
  • ‘Stereotyping is one step beyond the initial stage of sheer invisibility that minorities have to move through on their way to even token representation’ (Gross, 2001, 253). Gaymers did not want to be placated with token characters; they wanted good games. If those games happened to include non-binary, non-normative gender roles, and non-heterosexual relationships and references, all the better.
  • Sender (2004, 5) similarly discusses the fear of offending mainstream markets that results in reduced LGBTQ media visibility. In either case, however, there is an assumption that equality in the marketplace is an indicator of social progress. That is to say, the identity politics’ focus on media visibility promotes a neoliberal ideal of equality through consumption
  • The ‘girl games’ movement did not result in the creation of a place for female gamers in the mainstream video game market, but rather in a ‘ghettoizing’ of content designed to be ‘for girls’ (Cassell and Jenkins, 2000; Kafai et al., 2008).
  • Related to this, many of my interviewees’ lack of desire for gay game characters refl ected a critique of identity-based marketing. Both identity-based marketing and identity politics-based calls for representation essentialize identity and rely on the liberal democratic assumption that assimilation into structures of power leads to perfect equality (excluding a critique of those structures of power).
  • Subverting sexuality norms without playing too much into stereotypes is diffi cult. A major issue in media representations, for example, is that sexualities are not defi ned by physical traits (Gross, 2001, 16; Sender, 2004, 123). Representation is always a balancing act; one must mobilize tropes of homosexuality and bisexuality without becoming too stereotypical, and make sexuality relevant but not exceptional. This may be why the genres in which sexuality is deemed relevant, such as role-playing and simulation games, are also the ones in which queer content has made inroads (e.g. The Sims and Fable).
  • In the history of gay representation, for example, we see the struggle to have a ‘voice’, that is create representation, as well as the excavation of a historical texts for signs of queer identity in the past, which takes place within a persistent struggle over whose ‘voice’ counts. Along with this struggle there also exists the possibility of the ‘gay voice’ being appropriated for capitalist gains, which often results in only the most desirable (marketable) members of that community being represented (Sender, 2001; 2004), further underscoring the limits of identity politics approaches to representation
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