E. Keogh shares their perspective on the gaming community as a nonbinary gamer.
Non-Binary; adjective: Not relating to, involving, or consisting of only two things. See also: Nonbinary; not identifying as strictly male or female.
Existing as a bisexual nonbinary person in everyday life is difficult enough. My existence is a constant debate not only by people outside of understanding who I am, but by people within the queer community as well. I’ve been out as nonbinary to friends since the age of 18. Now in my 20s, people close to me still use the wrong name, use the wrong pronouns, and debate my existence and rights as if I’m not a human being that's right in front of them. I don’t expect people who don’t know me to get it right on the spot, or if they see my student ID and assume the name I no longer use is my name. However, members of the queer community themselves have misgendered me, deadnamed me, and they weren’t strangers to my coming out. Whether its blatant disrespect towards me, or the fact that I’m not the perfect example of androgyny, or that they’ll never be able to see me as anything other than my biological sex, I’m not sure.
Before I came out, though, the obsession with gaming happened. Although I wasn’t aware of anything about being trans and nonbinary before college, the fact that I could play games as a girl absolutely astounded me. Tomb Raider became one of my favourite games of all time. Lara Croft could perform amazing feats of strength, agility, and could make it through anything, all while being a girl. Before I discovered the different identities that were out there in my late teens, I believed there were two options, stay a boy, or become a sissy.
As an adult, my hobby has become somewhat of a safe space for me. More recently, games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons have included gender-neutral options for character creation. The main games that come to mind are The Sims 4, and, unexpectedly, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. I can make my character in New Horizons wear skirts or dresses, I can make my house look whatever way I want (as long as I have the bells), and Cold War allows the player to pick nonbinary as a gender option, with proper pronouns used throughout.
Although all games should include such options, the few of them that do include them are very welcomed by the queer community. Not by all, but by most. I do agree that there is a problem with representation in games, but it's not completely the game developers’ fault. After it was released, there was massive backlash from the community over the choice of gender in Cold War. The main comments that came from parts of the community were that nonbinary people “didn’t exist” back then. This would be a linguistic issue, and one I am not completely versed in. Genderqueer as a term has only been around since around 1995; Riki Anne Whilchins claims to have coined it, though it was seen in multiple zines before this. Though, there are multiple depictions of gods and people being neither male nor female. So although the language wasn’t explicitly there, why are some gamers so against the inclusion?
In my opinion, it’s down to the rampant sexism, racism, and homophobia within the community. Stereotypes are rarely true, but the ‘alpha-male’ gamers hating girls and POC (People Of Colour) stereotype is one for a reason. Even in today's world, where the Black Lives Matter movement is quickly gaining traction amongst young people, blatant racism is still experienced by many.In fact, a TikTok user by the username @silksheets has started “racial slur speedrunning”, which involves saying phrases over the voice chat such as “I’m Black” to see how long it took to be called a slur. In an attempt he made recently, a player in the game called him the N-word in 1.27 seconds. As a gamer, I’d like to think there is a majority of players who aren’t so disgustingly ignorant as to use slurs at all, but clearly there is a major problem with the fanbase that hasn’t disappeared, even after the wide adoption of the movement. An indication of a much wider problem, if it wasn’t painfully obvious already.
I really hate to think how the fans of the Black Ops series will react when they find out that all the main characters in the campaign aren’t real, and that zombies didn’t exist during the cold war either
This problem isn’t only experienced by POC, the issue is experienced by all minorities. Although the culture around ‘gamer bros’ appears to be a thing of the past, it is still very much a problem within the community. The example of a nonbinary gender being added to a game and massive community backlash ensuing is just the tip of the iceberg. I really hate to think how the fans of the Black Ops series will react when they find out that all the main characters in the campaign aren’t real, and that zombies didn’t exist during the Cold War either.
The toxicity of the gaming community is visible to anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the last 20 years. It’s not only minorities here that fall victim to online abuse, but we get the worst of it. As I’ve mentioned previously, my existence is always a debate, and as playing games is where I go to relax, to come home after a hard day and farm some crops on Stardew Valley, maybe make some bells on the stalk market in New Horizons. I don't find myself joining many online voice chats for the reason that I sound obviously queer. I’m not saying that all people “sound queer” but my voice can be quite effeminate, and as a result, on the few times I’ve not attempted to drop my voice an octave, I’ve been singled out on voice chats and called every and all the names and slurs under the sun imaginable by online gamers.
I usually find myself playing offline, story-driven games like Stardew. I can play as my authentic self without being on the defensive about why I deserve the most basic of human rights.
People judge others online based on their voice - higher than average voices aren't that uncommon and aren’t an indication of my queerness. The fact that I’m targeted by people for the sound of my voice, called slurs, and at one point was targeted in a battle royale game, for being queer is disgusting. I don't enjoy being targeted, and certainly don’t enjoy being called slurs online, which is why I usually find myself playing offline, story-driven games like Stardew. I can play as my authentic self without being on the defensive about why I deserve the most basic of human rights.
Then comes the problem of gatekeeping. It is a tool used by gamer bros to keep their spaces straight, white, cis, and male. Before the term nonbinary came to be in widespread culture, the gamer girl was the enemy. Excluding girls from male-dominated spaces has always been an issue, but even in the 21st century, they are not allowed in all spaces. The culture around it is strange to me. Men seem to be able to choose if you are worthy of being called a gamer based on your sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, and what games you play. Even if you’re into the niche games they play, there’s still a high risk they’ll dismiss you as a fake gamer, only pretending to like the games they do in order to become an esteemed member of the real gamers who play multiplayer on Call of Duty.
Nonbinary streamers are hard to come by too. Representation in games is great if we can get it, but representation in the streamer community and in the wider gaming community is needed. Of course, there are nonbinary streamers, but none get the same recognition that most of Twitch’s top earners get. Mention Ninja, and most people know who he is. The argument made all the time to me is that some streamers are better than others, some are funnier, some are boring and people don't want to watch them stream. That’s not the issue, there are plenty of great queer streamers. The issue is Twitch only has an LGBTQIA+ tag, which means streamers can only pick that one tag, and not have specific ones for people to follow trans streamers, for example. Youtube’s algorithm has been notorious for picking out queer content and making it show up to fewer people.
More and more queer people are finding each other, and fanbases of games like Animal Crossing are making safe spaces for gamers to genuinely just enjoy games.
The gaming community has gotten better in a few ways. More and more queer people are finding each other, and fanbases of games like Animal Crossing are making safe spaces for gamers to genuinely just enjoy games. However, the communities for games like Call of Duty, League of Legends and many others seem to allow alt-right members to foster a community of hatred against anyone who doesn’t fit their norms. The state of the communities for queer people, more specifically trans and nonbinary people, is still abysmal. But, with the increase of people becoming activists and actively fighting against intolerance, inequality, hatred, and violence against minorities, it gives me hope that one day I, and many others, might be able to hop on Call of Duty and just enjoy the experience without being called multiple slurs or fearing the threat of violence. The future’s looking bright, with acceptance of minorities increasing, and people realising that through meaningful action, things can be changed, we’ll get there.