World Building

How video games serve as an uneasy refuge for queer Indian gamers

Video games such as Baldur’s Gate 3 allow players to experiment with all kinds of playable appearances and personalities.
01 December, 2023

“Gaming is a way where I can break out of the rules of this universe and be anyone who I want to be. It’s a different world where I may be accepted as I am,” Nick, a 30-year-old nonbinary transmasculine person from Delhi, told me. He emphasised how role-playing games allowed him more agency as a queer individual, where his choices have an immediate and direct impact in the world of the game, which is not always easy to see in real life. However, the solace he found in gaming did not come without the online harassment, homophobia and transphobia that exists within hyper-masculine gaming communities.

The queer gaming scene in India is probably as old as the gaming scene itself. But the invisibilisation of the queer community, due to harassment and homophobia, makes it difficult for queer gamers to find each other and build safe spaces. It was in the middle of 2020, during a COVID-19 lockdown, that I created an online Discord community, primarily for those who identified as queer and for allies who wanted to play in a diverse group. It was the outcome, partly, of the frustrating experience of playing online games on Indian servers, where one rarely came across other queer gamers. The Discord channel gradually grew to around fifty people—queers, allies and even non-gamers who just wanted to be part of a safe space, share interests and play games together. Through multiplayer games such as Among Us, Stardew Valley, Mobile Legends, Valorant and Pictionary, members of the group formed long-lasting friendships and discovered new interests. During the lockdowns, this online space became a way for us to talk about our experiences as queer people in gaming, our progress in the games we played, the kind of interactions we had in them and what we wanted from the games we played.

Many queer gamers have a mental checklist of what they would like in a game and how they want to be represented in the games they play. For some, it is important to know that the company that developed a game has inclusive, accessible, diverse and humane policies towards their employees and the players. Others may be more attracted to games where the playable characters are highly customisable. For instance, newer games such as Baldur’s Gate 3 offer players the option of any combination of voice, body type, hair, skin colour and even sexual organs. Gamers may choose a romantic connection with a teammate or non-player characters, which gives them the freedom to play with their identities and online personalities.

However, while video games may have provided refuge for a diverse range of players, most of the popular video games are still marketed towards young men. Many women who asserted their presence in games and tournaments—as players, content creators and game developers—have openly spoken about discrimination and sexism in the industry. They did so despite facing a sexist backlash from a male-dominated gaming industry and culture that resisted the increasing visibility and influence of women and feminism in games.