People often don’t consider what it means to see yourself included in modern media, especially if they’re used to seeing people like themselves commonly in media. There’s the scoff of “Why does it matter?” or “It’s just a game, TV, a movie, etc.”
Except that it means the world to see yourself in the media you consume.
This is especially important during Pride month (observed in June in the US, in October in the UK). Queer rights are under assault by those who think we should not exist in peace, nay that we should exist at all. So it’s even more important to see good representation in games, movies, etc.
Why does it need to be good representation? A couple of reasons, the first being that bad representation furthers stereotypes about queer folks; which can lead to mistreatment in the real world as well as distrust and hatred. Another reason good representation is important is to give people a sense of belonging, that we matter, and that we get to exist in the virtual worlds that many of us escape to when the real world is doing its level best to destroy us. When I see nuanced, queer representation – specifically bisexual representation – mental walls come down and make a joyful noise as they do. That joy we get when we are allowed to exist in the media is unmatched.
“Another reason good representation is important is to give people a sense of belonging, that we matter and that we get to exist in the virtual worlds that many of us escape to when the real world is doing its level best to destroy us.”
To be specific to my rainbow corner of gaming, there’s some bi representation, but not much, and even less good representation. In the category of good representation, nearly any character in Dragon Age 2 can romance the player’s character Hawke, regardless of the gender the player selects. There are also a few listicles on bi representation in games but – again – good representation is few and far between.
For these few scraps of goodness, there are also characters like Joseph from Dream Daddy who is closeted and duplicitous. He embraces the tropes and stereotypes people have about bisexuality, as well as men being on the “down low”. Though he’s a terrible example of bi representation, what’s worse is when we don’t exist at all. Maybe. No, that’s not true. I’d rather have a crumb of good representation than several bad examples like Joseph.
What often happens to fill the gaps of representation is queer folks will argue for or imagine certain characters as bi, trans, poly, lesbian since the media isn’t overt in stating these characters’ orientation. It’s not done to force an agenda, or shove our “way of living” down others throats as is claimed; it’s to feel a sense of belonging. It’s to know that we get to exist in imaginary worlds we have come to love. It’s a thin, homemade bandage to cover the fact that we don’t get to be represented in these worlds as we truly exist in this one.
Not getting to exist in the media takes a toll; it’s a slow death by 10,000 cuts. It hurts seeing another game, film, or TV pilot talked up without a shred of obvious queer representation. It hurts seeing people of color (POC) who might, maybe, could be queer in some way – they’re definitely coded queer – but then aren’t when we finally see them in-game or on screen. The double cut, and it’s deep, is when we do get queer POC representation, but then they die horribly, or have one moment to be the quest giver; and then we never see them again. It’s those moments when we get a scrap of screentime or are fridged that adds up over the years and decades to finally shred you with that one cut that goes too deep.
When I get to see not just a queer character, but a queer POC, it makes me hopeful. It makes me hopeful that this character will make it to the end of the story and be happy, because I can imagine myself as this character. I want to see them succeed in the way I hope others would want to see me succeed! Instead, these characters are simply plot points. They are a plot point instead of a fully fleshed-out person, and this reflects how many people see us and treat us this way for their own personal and political agendas. It certainly reflects how we’re viewed by the creators of that media material. We’re often the sassy black woman to a white, cis queer man’s arc as a main character, or our whole reason for existing is to lament our queerness and otherness.
That last point often extends into the idea that someone being queer is the thinly veiled reason they’re a villain, whether that is implicitly or explicitly said. Their whole world wraps around their identity and how much they hate it. Villains are often “coded” (i.e., portrayals which hint at a character’s identity without being explicit) as queer. This can be traced back to the Hays Code, which prohibited “perverse” portrayals of sex. There are plenty of examples among Disney villains (e.g., Scar in the Lion King and Ursula in Little Mermaid – famously made in the image of Divine, a drag queen) who were implied to be queer but never explicitly stated to be out.
While there are certainly folks who have a hard time accepting themselves and go through cycles of hating who they are; that is not how many of us go through life. We try to just live our lives, raise families, clip coupons, and do taxes like everyone else. This is hardly the “gay agenda” which politicians weaponize as a threat to truth, justice and the American way..
“The gay agenda is so different from what homophobes would tell you. We just want to get groceries, do laundry, raise kids, play games and occasionally see friends in summer for barbecue; that’s it.”
The gay agenda is so different from what homophobes would tell you. We just want to get groceries, do laundry, raise kids, play games and occasionally see friends in summer for barbecue; that’s it. Instead, imagine that your life, who you are as a person, was being regulated to non-existence. The only place you can escape is in games, but you can’t even find solace in a digital world that has no excuse to not include you.
The worlds we visit in games are made up, whole-cloth, from the imaginations of studios made up of many folks. But games aren’t inclusive, and that is the crux of the issue , that people intentionally exclude us or want to erase us to the point of non-existence, even in made up worlds.That takes a toll on us, mentally. So consider why it matters that we get to exist in games, before you go, “It’s just a game, it doesn’t mean anything.”
Someone seeing themselves well-represented in a game may make them feel like they matter for a day, if not for longer. That sense of belonging may save their life, something which is a serious concern among queer youth. For many of us, it’s never simple as it being “just a game.”
This article is not a substitute for medical advice or professional counseling. While we at Take This want to provide you with resources, we do not recommend or endorse any particular site, treatment, therapy, or resource. We provide these links at our sole discretion but have not necessarily vetted or reviewed any particular resource. We assume no liability for the use of the information or resources on these sites and encourage you to use your own best judgment when reviewing these resources.
If you live in the US and you’re having suicidal thoughts, reach out to the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline or call/text 988. If you’re outside the US, you can find local crisis lines at Suicide.org. If you’re even debating whether you should call them, you should call them. The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline handles all psychological crises, not just suicide.
Tanya DePass is the founder & Director of I Need Diverse Games, Rivals of Waterdeep Producer & Cast Member, a partnered Twitch variety broadcaster, and RPG developer/writer/consultant. She’s the Creator & Creative Director for Into the Mother Lands RPG. Additionally, she’s a Senior Annenberg Civics Media Fellow at USC. Additionally she’s part of the Inaugural TGA Future Class of 2020. She was also named as one of Gamers of the Year 2020 by Kotaku along with three of her contemporaries. Her work to make the industry more inclusive has been highlighted in Game Changer, Directed by Tina Charles, WNBA star & olympian as well as filmmaker. The short documentary premiered at Tribeca 2021, as part of the Queen Collective. Most recently, she’s been named Board Chair for Take This.