Inclusivity and Diversity in Gaming Still a Work-in-Progress, Experts Say

Old habits die hard

Key Takeaways

  • A new survey found nearly 9 in 10 openly LGBTQ+ gamers face harassment.
  • Issues regarding the unique harassment and mistreatment suffered by minorities and women in the gaming world are being addressed in new ways.  
  • Niche gaming communities have provided refuge for LGBTQ+ gamers to connect and be open.
A veiw of a gamer from behind, with the background of a gaming screen tinted red.
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The gaming world continues a slow transformation toward inclusion, but a new survey shows that some of the community’s long-held problems remain.

Online Roulette released a new survey of 788 self-identified LGBTQ+ gamers detailing their experiences in it. The findings show that they experience an increased degree of harassment and discrimination, compared to their cisgender and heterosexual counterparts. Approximately 88% who are out to their gaming communities have experienced harassment within the past year.

"Our study shows that online gaming still has a significant problem with harassment, and half of LGBTQ+ gamers are still uncomfortable being open about their sexual identity with their gaming communities," the report reads.

"And while society as a whole may not be the supportive environment that sexually diverse gamers need, to many gamers, specific gaming communities are providing LGBTQ+ gamers support and friendship, as well as fun."

LGBTQ+ Harassment & Gaming

Additional research may be needed to create a fuller picture of the issue of harassment faced by LGBTQ+ gamers. But from what the survey shows, the landscape is grim.

The gaming scene has tons of issues, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. In fact, a 2019 Anti-Defamation League Survey found 74% of US adults say they've experienced some form of harassment while playing online multiplayer video games.

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Many gamers see harassment as a sort of rite of passage in gaming culture. However, the harassment LGBTQ+ people face is unique. It is an identity or hate-based harassment, not simple ribbing.

Online Roulette’s survey found that 40% of LGBTQ+ choose to forego online gaming altogether to avoid hate-based harassment and discrimination. Others choose to hide their sexual identity, lie about their gender, or specifically avoid certain video games due to the reputation of their players.

Prominent gaming communities on platforms like Twitch, Discord, and Reddit have tried to address these concerns. They clamp down on the usage of bigoted language, including homophobic and transphobic slurs and general insults.

For instance, r/gaming boasts over 22 million subscribers, by far the largest gaming subreddit, and it has a specific rule barring the usage of bigoted language. Platforms like Twitch have taken new, sometimes controversial stances in hopes of creating a more inclusive environment. Major industry players are making moves to address issues with alienation, but the community remains unaltered.

Gaming’s Bigotry Problem

There’s a trend of female gamers on social platforms like TikTok showcasing the sexism and harassment they face from fellow gamers.

These videos often include recordings of gendered insults and old-school tropes about women’s place in society, accompanied by the female gamer outperforming in the game. They’re designed to highlight the toxicity women face, and put a spotlight on the underbelly of gaming culture.  

"...Online gaming still has a significant problem with harassment, and half of LGBTQ+ gamers are still uncomfortable being open about their sexual identity with their gaming communities."

"Can the toxic men on this game stop being so predictable," opens one viral TikTok video with nearly 2 million views. Immediately, one of the male players proceeds to hurl rape threats while continuing to tell the streamer to "go to the kitchen."

Sexism is an issue in the gaming world that prompted Online Roulette to study the experiences of marginalized communities concerning the industry.

"We’ve explored research focused on gender inequality in esports, and reports find that women continue to battle toxicity within the community," said Michael Foster-White, Online Roulette's editor-in-chief, in an email to Lifewire.

"Thinking about these issues, we wanted to conduct a new survey focused on LGBTQ+ players to see how present similar issues are within the community."

Specific LGBTQ+ online gaming spaces have popped up over the years as places for people to connect free of the general harassment often associated with the hobby. Transmission Gaming is a Discord server that connects transgender gamers for community building and cooperative gameplaying.

Iris Gribbin joined the community after feeling separated from the general gaming world due, in part, to her gender identity. It has become a refuge for her and thousands of other gamers.

A couple playing video games in the bedroom while eating pizza.
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"I've definitely experienced some alienation even from groups that I've grown up playing games with…there's always that risk of bringing [your trans identity] up and then finding out quickly that this seemingly nice person thinks that you're a freak," she wrote in a Discord message to Lifewire.

"I definitely feel more safe in gaming groups that are explicitly [LGBTQ+], and I feel like it's only in those spaces that I can still really be comfortable trying to make friends."

As the survey concludes, the gaming world remains a work in progress when it comes to inclusivity and diversity.

New research highlighting the pitfalls of the culture, Gribbin suggests, along with representation is the key to change the community from the inside out. Upcoming video games with increasingly diverse casts also may reset the standard and help the culture become accustomed to the sexually diverse and gender expansive.

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