GLAAD’s first annual gaming report is here to tell us how gay games are

“The gaming industry is beyond modern media in terms of LGBTQ representation and is failing LGBTQ customers.”

That sentiment has held true for years, and now the statistics from GLAAD’s first annual gaming report bear it out. Media watchdog and LGBTQ advocacy group Today has been published GLAAD Gaming: The State of LGBTQ Inclusion in Video Games offers a comprehensive breakdown of the industry from the perspectives of queer gamers and developers.

According to GLAAD, 17 percent of the overall gaming audience identifies as LGBTQ, or roughly one in five gamers. This figure corresponds to the statistics of generation Z. Still, only 2 percent of all games on the market have LGBTQ content, a saturation level well below that of film, television, and other forms of entertainment media. GLAAD found that 28.5 percent of films from the top 10 distributors in 2022 featured an LGBTQ character, and LGBTQ characters appeared as series regulars in 10.6 percent of primetime scripted broadcast shows in 2022 and 2023.

For gaming statistics, GLAAD ran the numbers: In November 2023, the Xbox store had 146 games with LGBTQ content, while PlayStation offered a list of 90 titles with LGBTQ themes, and Nintendo’s Switch eShop had 50 LGBT-labeled games. Steam had 2,302 English-language games under the LGBTQ+ label, but that number dropped to 1,506 when filtering out titles with “adult-sexual content only.” Together, these games accounted for less than 2 percent of Xbox, Playstation, and Switch digital libraries, and only 1.7 percent of Steam’s offerings (excluding adult-only content). For context, this is estimated About 1 percent of all games released in the 2010s included LGBTQ themes.

“Despite the significant progress we’ve seen, gaming lags behind other forms of entertainment media when it comes to representation,” said GLAAD Gaming Director Blair Durkee.

GLAAD’s report identified the following reasons for the lack of LGBTQ representation in video games:

“Some reasons for exclusion are passive. Too often game companies don’t think they should represent LGBTQ people and don’t see us as a core part of the mainstream gaming audience. Some reasons for exclusion are active. Companies worry about alienating key audiences they assume are resistant or hostile to LGBTQ content. But this imagined mainstream audience is a myth, and it’s one of the main reasons GLAAD created this gaming report. LGBTQ gamers are a significant portion of the current active gamer market, and non-LGBTQ gamers in general are not nearly as resistant to this content as many assume.

More than 60 percent of non-LGBTQ respondents said they are not concerned about LGBTQ characters and NPCs in their games, and 70 percent said they are fine with titles that offer the option to customize a bisexual, gay, or lesbian character. Resistance to these themes diminishes with each new generation of gamers, GLAAD found.

One of the main points of the report is the idea that the developers are building the game for an outdated stereotype, not the reality of the market. Straight, white, cisgender men definitely play video games, but the actual gaming audience is more diverse, and it’s only becoming more volatile.

“The lack of LGBTQ representation in video games is often explained by the assumption that the stereotypical mainstream video game consumer is a white, heterosexual, cisgender male between the ages of 18 and 34,” GLAAD said. “However, our data shows that 17 percent of active players are LGBTQ, which is 70 percent more than the 10 percent listed. Neilsen’s 2020 report.”

This number is higher for younger players, the next generation of players. About 25 percent of gamers under the age of 35 identify as LGBTQ, a higher concentration than is reported in the human population as a whole. This trend leads to another conclusion of GLAAD’s gaming report—the idea that LGBTQ gamers are particularly attracted to games because they offer an immersive outlet for expression, experience, and escape.

“The interactive nature of games, the opportunity to build community in games, and the long history of LGBTQ gaming industry professionals make this medium a uniquely powerful tool for LGBTQ people to safely explore, connect, and express themselves,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “For LGBTQ gamers in particular, gaming can be not only a source of escapism and entertainment, but also an important outlet for self-expression.”

In a GLAAD survey, 72 percent of LGBTQ gamers said that when they see characters of their gender identity or sexual orientation well described it made them feel better, and the number was higher among younger players. Overall, 36 percent of LGBTQ gamers reported that video games helped them discover their sexual orientation or gender identity, and that percentage rose to 41 percent among LGBTQ gamers of color. Notably, GLAAD found that gamers of color were less resistant to titles with queer content than white gamers.

More than 40 percent of LGBTQ gamers said video games helped them cope with not being accepted in the real world. Meanwhile, 51 percent of LGBTQ gamers said they want video games to do more in terms of inclusion, and 74 percent want more opportunities to explore and express their true identities in games.

“Games are a medium where players can be anything, but the gaming industry has continued to rely on very narrow representational options,” GLAAD said.

Transgender content faced the most resistance among all respondents. As for LGBTQ gamers, 63 percent said they were more likely to buy a game that supported a bisexual, gay, or lesbian protagonist, while 46 percent said the same about a transgender main character. However, 94 percent of LGBTQ respondents said they were equally or more likely to buy a game that included the option to play as a transgender protagonist. Among non-LGBTQ gamers, 80 percent responded the same way.

The importance of representation in video games has only increased amid an avalanche of anti-LGBTQ violence and legislation in the United States. In the first weeks of 2024 More than 500 Anti-LGBTQ bills have been proposed or passed in the US, most of them targeting transgender youth. This is already a dramatic increase from 2022 and 2021, both record years for anti-LGBTQ legislation.

According to GLAAD, queer gamers are more likely to use gaming to escape than their counterparts, and that’s even more true for people who live in states that have proposed or passed anti-LGBTQ legislation. While 66 percent of all LGBTQ gamers say they use gaming to express themselves in ways they don’t feel comfortable with in the real world, that statistic rises to 75 percent for gamers who live in states with proposed or active anti-LGBTQ bills.

“For these LGBTQ players, gaming is necessary to combat discrimination and targeting in the real world,” GLAAD said in a report. “Game developers need to understand the role gaming plays for LGBTQ gamers in the United States, and especially LGBTQ gamers in states where they are disproportionately targeted and attacked.”

The researchers offered the following recommendations for increasing LGBTQ representation in games:

  • The percentage of games with LGBTQ representation should be proportional to the percentage of players who are LGBTQ.

  • Game developers should strive for representation that promotes inclusion and acceptance.

  • The gaming industry needs to take responsibility for making their communities more inclusive.

  • The gaming industry should consult with LGBTQ media content experts.

  • LGBTQ gaming industry workers should be hired in empowered positions.

Among all the percentages, GLAAD identified a clear pattern in its first gaming report: Representation is very important to most LGBTQ gamers, and most of the rest of the audience isn’t too concerned about queer content. Sometimes it is even preferred.

“Despite being a significant percentage of gamers, we’re almost invisible in gaming representation,” said Ellis, president of GLAAD.

The report’s survey data was collected in partnership with Nielsen Games and includes responses from 1,452 active PC and console gamers in the US, with an additional sample of LGBTQ gamers to ensure the accuracy of community-specific questions. The survey was conducted between June and August 2023.

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