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Glitching: LGBTQ+ and gender diversity in contemporary gaming

Published: 16 February 2022
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On 16th February 2022, as a marker of LGBT History Month, the Centre for Democratic Futures organised an event on behalf of the LGBT Pulse Staff Network at Southampton University. It addressed this year’s theme of politics in art. The event was chaired by Dr. Rafael Mestre. In his opening remarks, he pointed out that gaming as a form of art is open to all but also polarised by different groups.

The event had been organised by Dr. Vanissa Wanick who in her introductory remarks highlighted some “gold” at the end of the gaming-LGBT rainbow. One in five workers of the c.73,000 in the UK gaming sector, for instance, are LGBTQ+ identifying, comparing favourably to 3% in the national population. She highlighted that game design at the Winchester School of Art plays an instrumental role in supporting LGBTQ+ inclusivity. Drawing on her experiences as teacher of games design, Vanissa emphasised that fostering students’ appreciation of diverse storytelling supports the awareness of “otherness” and contributes to the entertainment values of games. Her overarching question to audience and panellists was: What is the story that we wish to tell?


In the subsequent panel, Vanissa posed three questions to the invited speakers: What are the biggest challenges facing the gaming sector? What is the role of training in progressing diversity issues? What advice would you give the gaming industry to embrace diversity?

Dom Shaw, Equality, Diversion and Inclusion Officer at Ukie, remarked that Covid lockdown had provided a backdrop of opportunities and barriers for game design and LGBT issues. He underlined that Covid had provided an impetus to re-consider inclusion in all forms of social activity, gaming in particular. Dom argued that everyone can build a game and all it takes is simple things to relate complex ideas and feel included, such as LGBTQ+ ideas and aspirations. He therefore made the case for amplifying ongoing commitments to promoting equality issues, noting that people broadly, and LGBTQ+ individuals, have more than one identity. It requires industry leaders to engage with schools, to push company cultural boundaries, to support a wider set of new leaders, to #Raise the Game, the UK initiative advancing these issues across the UK.

The second panellist argued that game playing is not a neutral activity but encapsulates power. With this opening salvo, Auxane Boch, researcher at the Technical University of Munich, provided insights into the wealth of research around the relationship between humans, computing and the real-world impact of gaming products on player thinking and outlooks. Her intervention drew attention to the ability to block or foster different representations in well-known games, each impacting on views of diversity and others. Auxane endorsed the ideas of educating younger people about difference as early as possible and game design informed by ethnic groups themselves. These tie in with outstanding research questions in the field of computing and human development. Such questions include biased recruitment practices, the impact of traditional, mainstream masculine identity on gaming culture, and gamers’ everyday behaviours.

As founder of Wyrdren Games, Sally Sheppard’s practitioner experience of gaming development can be encapsulated as “from frustration comes innovation”. She engaged the audience with a frank account of her burgeoning gaming career to date. This relayed moving beyond early assignments to set and well-rehearsed scripts in games to going out alone commercially. In setting up her own business she has been able to allow LGBT identities and character choice emerge through her company’s games. She acknowledged that this path had not been without risks. Yet, this was offset in how being a small firm allows her company flexibility to promote wider narratives, reflecting diverse gamer abilities and passions. Allowing for diverse scripts in games better reflects how young gamers know their own minds, merit the chance to tell diverse stories, and encourages them choosing to work in and enrich the gaming sector.


In the following question-and-answer session with audience opportunities to enter the gaming sector and the influences of the “male gaze” and profit were discussed. Overall, the webinar focused on the micro politics of the everyday within the gaming sector, rather than considering the macro politics of policies, laws or parliament The event concluded with ideas for further discussion and action among speakers around the LGBT-gaming sector topic, pointing to a rich vein of democracy in action.

Glitching Event

Centre for Democratic Futures- LGBT History Month 2022

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