Game Studies

On LGBT players of BioWare games

The Cyberpsychology journal has just published “Dressing Commander Shepard in pink”, an article about the experience of queer playing, focusing on Czech LGBT fans of Bioware role-playing games. It is a collaboration between Tereza Krobová, Ondřej Moravec (both of whom are/were my graduate students) and myself. Abstract after the jump.

This article explores the strategies of queer playing of video games and their relationship to the heteronormative game culture. Its premise is that most video games are, either implicitly or explicitly, heteronormative and the inscribed player of such games is in the majority of cases a heterosexual male. In order to achieve the same level of identification with an avatar and to enjoy a similar gameplay experience as the heterosexual player, the LGBT player may have to deploy various strategies to challenge the game and work around it, or to find the LGBT content which some more progressive games offer. The study is based on in-depth qualitative interviews with six players (5 males and 1 female) who identified themselves both as homosexual and as players of the Mass Effect or Dragon Age series, games that include several opportunities to initiate same-sex romance. We have identified three different queer playing strategies: imaginative play (queer reading of unspecified or heterosexual characters), stylized performance (the use of gay stereotypes to mark one as queer) and role-playing of a LGBT character. However, players do not seek sexuality in games to the same extent as they do in film or TV, and they tend to use these strategies, and especially the latter two, reluctantly or with reservations. These reservations may be linked to our finding that LGBT players consider their gay (or lesbian) identities disconnected from their identities as players or gamers. This can be explained by the mutual exclusivity of gay communities and the heteronormative game culture.