Diversity has always been a pivotal issue and conversation point in the gaming world and given the nature of games themselves, there should without a doubt, be room for everyone. In this interview we chat with London Gaymers, to find out their origin story, how they’ve impacted the gaming community scene and what adventures are to come.
Cliqist: Let’s find out more about you. Please tell us who you are and what you do.
Curtis: Hey there! I’m Curtis and I’m one of the co-founders of London Gaymers! London Gaymers has been going for just under six years now and was originally a small community of LGBT and video game fans on Reddit but has since expanded into a community of thousands! We exist to help more LGBT+ gamers in London to find and make new friends in a safe and welcoming environment. Gaymers are a group of people who identify themselves as gay (LGBT+) and have an active interest in the geek gaming community, whether board, card or video games.
It’s a group particularly at risk of feeling segregated and alone if they don’t get the support and friendships they need. LGBT+ people face many hurdles and challenges in their lives which affects their confidence and social skills. When coupled with the often singular experience of playing video games, the feeling is often amplified and leaves gaymers feeling particularly isolated. Finally, add to that the disconnection that a large, busy city like London can inhibit, especially for those new to the city, and you can see why a community like London Gaymers is so important.
We run events both offline and online year round, from game tournaments to cinema nights, bowling, gaming evenings, board game days and much more – in fact we run more 100+ events every year!!
The group is entirely run by volunteers with no paid staff members, so a massive thank you to everyone who donates time to help us run the group!
Is it difficult to get support from companies or do you think that your ethos of diversity and inclusion actually helps you stand out, when it comes to partnerships?
It’s a bit of both. Sometimes we find companies and organisations are super receptive and want to partner up to run stuff with us as soon as possible, which we think is just fantastic! They really see the value in what we do and why a space for LGBT and gamers to find friends like them is so important. One example of this is when partnered up with MCM London Comic Con last year to run a Diversity Panel – that was very exciting for us to run the first LGBT and diversity panel at a UK comic con and the staff at MCM were amazing.
We also have a fantastic relationship with a number of venues in London, not least Loading Bar, who have hosted us for over 15 full day long board and video game days.
Other times however it can be a little slow going, or some organisations are just not looking to further their LGBT or gaming outreach which we totally understand. Overall we’re finding more and more people are keen to get involved with us and partner up!
On the ground with London Gaymers
What would your say are the founding principles of the London Gaymers group?
I’d say we have a few simple founding principles: Inclusion – and that also means we’re open to everyone, regardless of their sexuality. To be welcoming and supportive of each other – we’ve all got shared experiences and being conscious of those is really important, and accessible – to everyone, which is why we run such a wide range of events and meet ups to cater to all different types of interests, and also why we keep as many of our events as we can free or as affordable as possible!
Have you come across any negative feedback since your founding?
We do find some people don’t quite see why we do what we do, which is unfortunate – and we get the odd internet troll, but generally speaking everyone has been incredibly supportive!
Playstation played a massive part in London Pride in 2017 and of course London Gaymers were at the forefront as well. What was that day like for you?
It was an amazing day! Showing the world that you’re proud to be who you are is so important and marching with such an amazing community of gaymers supporting each other was an absolute highlight of the day.
We had loads of gaymers in cosplay too – dressed up as their favourite video game character, which was really fun (although some people had to change their costume last minute when we realised we would be marching in the middle of a heatwave!)
We’re planning to march again this yea in the Pride in London parade – but even bigger and better this time!
You got involved in the esport scene in 2017, tell us more about that and if you have any plans to continue?
We did indeed! We formed an Overwatch team at EGX Rezzed, which we spontaneously called the Hoggyhogs and ended up winning the tournament! We went to EGX Expo in Birmingham to fight in the grand finals but unfortunately came up short, either way it was a lot of fun, we even got branded Hoggyhog caps!
Do we have plans to reform? Nothing solid yet but watch this space!
We also do a lot of streaming games and online friendly tournaments for the gaymer community, from Dota 2 to Heroes of the Storm, Splatoon 2, Overwatch and more – so who knows when the next esports team could pop up.
Have you plans to expand what London Gaymers does, outside of the UK?
We don’t have any plans outside the UK just yet, but we do have great links with friends in Gaymer groups that exist around the world, from our close neighbors in Scotland, Portugal and France, and as far as Phoenix, Houston and Australia!
You have a large following, especially on Discord. Do you think that Discord has played an important role in the community aspect of LG. What other platforms have helped?
Discord has absolutely been a big part of growing the community. It’s become an online community not only for people to meet up and play games, but chat, make friends, discuss similar interests even if they aren’t gaming related, and also can be useful for people who want to get to know a few members of the community before coming to a meet up,
Our Discord channel is also where we run our online Dungeons & Dragons games (we have four dungeon masters running over ten games at the moment!), our World of Warcraft Guild which is one of the largest LGBT+ guilds in the EU, our Guild Wars 2 Guild, Destiny 2 clan and is the home of our weekly Nintendo Night online gaming night. So its become a really useful place to create online communities – especially useful for those who don’t live as close or can’t make it to as many meet ups in London, but still want to be part of the community.
Twitter has also been a really great platform to engage with people who haven’t found us yet and also keep people up to date with what’s going on with us, when the next events are and what we’re doing that they can get involved with!
For people who are wary about creating games that feature a LGBT lead, what would you say to them to help them see the benefits of such inclusion?
When I was growing up, there weren’t many really great LGBT leads in gaming. However, I do remember playing the Sims and trying to romance another male sim – and finding out the game didn’t block you from doing that and in fact normalized it, that was quite empowering at the time and definitely make me feel less ‘alone’ and ‘different’.
More and more AAA games are including diverse characters, including LGBT+ romance options in RPG titles such as Mass Effect and Dragon Age. The Last of Us Some games do it in a more subtle manner, for example if you listen to ambient dialogue you can learn about LGBT+ characters in Destiny 2.
The Last of Us did an excellent job of featuring LGBT+ characters, the DLC story pack ‘Left Behind’ being particularly successful, and beautifully moving.
And then there are smaller, indie titles that are championing LGBT+ characters and story-lines such as Gone Home and Life is Strange, and the popular dating sim ‘Dream Daddy’ that approached the subject in a more playful manner, while remaining sensitive to story-lines. There are ‘less risks’ to do this in an indie title then there is to create a new, say, Call of Duty with an LGBT+ protagonist, which would unfortunately not be as positively received by all.
We’re seeing it in other mainstream media more and more too (e.g Star Trek Discovery) and hopefully some more of this will transition over to the gaming scene and we’ll start to see some more brave AAA developers like Naughty Dog add meaningful LGBT+ characters and story-lines to their games. We’re always looking to work with and challenge the industry on LGBT and inclusion, by engaging with them directly, them using us as a sounding board or something as simple as hosting events with their LGBT+ networks.
Now for some more gaming specific questions. We like to get opinions on important sectors of gaming that affect creators and consumers. What are your thoughts with regards to platforms like Steam? Have they helped or hindered the indie scene in the last few years, given some recent backlash?
I think initially Steam was really good for the indie scene, but over the last few years, the store has become more convoluted, difficult to browse, their UI doesn’t highlight indie game producers and the system struggled. As you mentioned the backlash towards green light and the lack of quality control (add to that games that come out in Early Access and don’t live up to promises) leaves you questioning your purchasing decisions.
It feels like it’s actually consoles that are starting to really highlight indie fantastic indie games and producers – all three current systems have very healthy online stores with a great range of indie games and content that feels curated. Indie game producers also seem to be flocking to the Nintendo Switch especially, which is fantastic news for gamers everywhere!
Are there any exciting secrets you can share about what LondonGaymers has planned in 2018?
Oh I can’t say too much yet, as I wouldn’t want to ruin any surprises from our first ever Town Hall event, which is scheduled for later this month (February 2018) where gaymers can have their say on how the group is run and learn about our plans for the future.
However, our sixth birthday is coming up in March so we’ll have some special events planed to mark that occasion, and we’ve just launched a volunteer programme called London Gaymer Ambassadors which encourages more people to get involved with this fantastic community in a way that suits them.
Have you got a favourite LGBT character in video games?
That’s a really tough one but, I think it has to be Tracer from Overwatch – British and LGBT! Although, Bioware also write fantastic LGBT roles for their characters (I have a sweet spot for the Iron Bull!)
What have been your most recent favorite games?
I’m a little late to the it but I’ve just picked up Persona 5 and having a blast with that – the world is fantastic fun to explore and the presentation is just sublime. Otherwise I’m still finding myself picking up Breath of the Wild regularly (I can’t get enough of Hyrule!)
Recently London Gaymers were announced as part of the Top 10 finalists, in the British LGBT Awards. Congratulations to everyone nominated and especially to the Gaymers You can follow them on Twitter and if you want to support them at the British LGBT Awards, can cast your vote for them here.