Are games companies targeting LGBT people?
Since LGBT character options opened up in huge titles like Mass Effect and SkyRim, a few (very few) members of the gaming world have pondered on whether this is for a specific reason. One reason could be to attract more members of the LGBT population to the gaming world.
The ‘Pink Pound’ has significant buying power, as reported on in the Financial Times last year, but mostly because of the difference in what is bought compared to hetero, cis-gendered people. This invariably means that the LGBT community gets targeted for things like holidays and luxury items, hence the stupid adverts we get on Facebook. Now, this might apply for things like fashion and beauty products, as apparently gay men should like those things, but what about non-stereotypical items like books, music and film. These are consumer products with obvious thematic attractions, but you can’t really have an LGBT genre in gaming. What would be the main aim? To have lots of sex and try to take over the world, infecting people with homosexuality wherever the character went? It’s guaranteed that would end with games companies being sued and going bust very quickly, as would any game based around stereotypes to do with race and religion. So that leaves the inevitable dropping of LGBT issues and LGBT characters into mainstream storylines. Since you don’t have many games that mention the fact that same-sex marriage is a key issue for many people, or that homophobia is still a massive issue in many parts of the world, most notably this month in Russia, this leaves characters.
The key question at this juncture though is whether the introduction of LGBT characters is to attract a specific audience, or whether it is merely representational of the society we live in and its tolerance towards a sub-community.
Gaming has really stepped up in the last twenty years as being a major source of income, and predictions in the US after the first quarter of the financial year are that spending will increase in this industry towards the end of the 2013 financial year. Mostly bolstered by a new wave of consoles having been announced by Microsoft and Sony, this is also because the cost of the technology to the consumer has been quite high, especially in more recent years [note – I only had the chance to get a PS3 for my birthday this June, just before the PS4 launch was announced, for that reason *evil mutterings*].
But then, if you combine the two factors – that LGBT people, on the whole as an averaged community, have more disposable income than hetero equivalents and that vast amounts of money are being spent on technology and gaming – it would be simple to assume that the LGBT community is the reason this market is still booming. However if that were the case, why was Commander Shepherd’s gay romance option such a big news item for Mass Effect 3, especially since the lesbian equivalent had already been available for a while. Ergo – no.
You would think that more LGBT people played video games due to the amount of flesh and absurd body expectations applied to the characters in them, but you don’t see a huge section in LGBT publications for gaming, or vice-versa – a section in mainstream gaming magazines for the LGBT community to vent in. It is our conclusion, therefore, that games companies aren’t tackling the community for their money, and that companies like Electronic Arts, producers of Mirror’s Edge, Fifa series, and Need for Speed series of games, are sincere in their efforts to expand equality. Which is nice to know.