“The game industry is far behind contemporary media in terms of LGBTQ representation, and it is failing its LGBTQ consumers.”
That sentiment has held true for years, and now the statistics from GLAAD’s first annual gaming report prove it. Media watchdog and LGBTQ advocacy group Today Published GLAAD Gaming: The State of LGBTQ Inclusion in Video Games offers a comprehensive breakdown of the industry from the perspectives of queer players and developers.
According to GLAAD, 17 percent of the total gaming audience identifies as LGBTQ, or one in five gamers. This figure corresponds to the figures for Generation Z. Still, only 2 percent of all games on the market contain LGBTQ content, a saturation level far below that of film, TV, 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 primetime scripted broadcast shows at a rate of 10.6 percent 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 catalog of 90 titles with LGBTQ themes, and Nintendo’s Switch eShop had 50 games tagged LGBT. Steam had 2,302 English-language games under its LGBTQ+ tag, but that number dropped to 1,506 when filtering out “adult only sexual content” titles. Together, these games composed less than 2 percent of the Xbox, PlayStation, and Switch digital libraries, and they made up just 1.7 percent of Steam’s offerings (excluding adult-only content). For reference, it is Estimated That about 1 percent of all games released in the 2010s contained LGBTQ themes.
“Despite the significant progress we’ve seen, gaming continues to lag behind other forms of entertainment media when it comes to representation,” said GLAAD Associate Director of Gaming Blair Durkee.
GLAAD’s report identified the following reasons behind the lack of LGBTQ representation in video games:
“Some of the reasons for exclusion are passive. Often, game companies have not considered that they should represent LGBTQ people, nor do they see us as a core part of the core gaming audience. Some of the reasons for exclusion are active. Companies worry about alienating that core audience. do what they perceive to be resistant or hostile to LGBTQ content. However, this imagined core audience is a myth, and one of the reasons why it was crucial for GLAAD to create this gaming report. LGBTQ gamers are part of today’s active gamer market. A significant portion and, for the most part, non-LGBTQ gamers are not nearly as resistant to this content as people assume.”
More than 60 percent of non-LGBTQ respondents said they are not bothered by LGBTQ protagonists and NPCs in their games, and 70 percent said they are okay with titles that offer the option to customize a bisexual, gay, or lesbian character. Resistance to these themes is diminishing with each new generation of players, GLAAD found.
One of the main takeaways from the report is the idea that developers seem to be making games for outdated stereotypes rather than market reality. Straight, white, cisgender men certainly play video games, but the real gaming audience is more diverse and only gets more variable.
“The lack of LGBTQ representation in video games is often explained by the assumption that the stereotypical core 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 gamers are LGBTQ, up from 10 percent to 70 percent. Nielsen’s 2020 Report“
This figure is even higher for young players, the next generation of gamers. About 25 percent of athletes under the age of 35 identify as LGBTQ, a higher concentration than is reported in the entire human population. This trend drives home another conclusion of GLAAD’s gaming report — the idea that LGBTQ players are particularly drawn to games because they offer an immersive outlet for expression, experimentation, and escape.
“The interactive nature of games, the opportunity to build community in gaming and the long history of LGBTQ game industry professionals make this medium a uniquely powerful tool for LGBTQ people to safely discover, connect and express themselves,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “Especially for LGBTQ gamers, gaming can be not only a source of escape and entertainment, but also an important outlet of self-expression.”
In a GLAAD survey, 72 percent of LGBTQ gamers said that characters representing their gender identity or sexual orientation made them feel better about themselves, and this number was even higher among younger gamers. Overall, 36 percent of LGBTQ gamers reported that video games helped them explore their sexual orientation or gender identity, and this percentage increased to 41 percent among LGBTQ gamers of color. Notably, GLAAD found that gamers of color are less resistant to titles with queer content than white gamers.
More than 40 percent of LGBTQ gamers said video games helped them cope with a lack of acceptance in the real world. At the same time, 51 percent of LGBTQ gamers said they wanted video games to do more in terms of inclusion, and 74 percent wanted more opportunities to explore and express their true selves in games.
“Games are a medium in which players can be anything, but the games industry continues to rely on very narrow representational options,” GLAAD said.
Transgender content faced the most resistance among all respondents. Regarding LGBTQ players, 63 percent said they are more likely to buy a game that supports 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 just as likely or more likely to buy a game that included the option to embody a transgender protagonist. Among non-LGBTQ gamers, 80 percent responded similarly.
Representation in video games has grown in importance amid an avalanche of anti-LGBTQ violence and legislation in the United States. In the first week of 2024, More than 500 Anti-LGBTQ bills have been proposed or passed in the US, most of which target transgender youth. This is already a dramatic spike from 2022 and 2021, which are record-setting years in terms of anti-LGBTQ legislation.
According to GLAAD, queer gamers are more likely than their counterparts to use gaming as an escape, and this is even more true for those living in states that have proposed or passed anti-LGBTQ legislation. While 66 percent of all LGBTQ gamers said they use gaming to express themselves in ways they don’t feel comfortable with in the real world, this figure rises to 75 percent for gamers living in states with proposed or active anti-LGBTQ bills.
“For these LGBTQ gamers, gaming is essential to combating real-world discrimination and targeting,” GLAAD said in its report. “Game developers need to understand the role of gaming in the United States for LGBTQ gamers, and especially in states where LGBTQ gamers are disproportionately targeted and attacked.”
The researchers offered the following recommendations for increasing LGBTQ representation in sports:
The percentage of games with LGBTQ representation should be proportional to the share of gamers who are LGBTQ.
Game developers should strive for a presentation that promotes inclusion and acceptance.
The games industry must take responsibility for making their communities more inclusive.
The games industry should consult with LGBTQ media content experts.
LGBTQ sports industry workers should be placed in positions of power.
Among all the percentages, GLAAD identified a clear pattern in its first gaming report: representation is very important to most LGBTQ players, and most of the rest of the audience isn’t too bothered by queer content. Sometimes, it is also preferred.
“We’re almost invisible in game presentations, despite being a significant percentage of gamers,” Ellis, GLAAD’s president, said.
The report’s survey data was collected in collaboration with Nielsen Games and includes responses from 1,452 active PC and console gamers in the US, with a boost sample of LGBTQ gamers to ensure the accuracy of community-specific questions. The survey was distributed between June and August 2023.
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