“The game industry is out of step with contemporary media in terms of LGBTQ representation, and it is failing its LGBTQ customers.”
This sentiment has felt true for years, and now the statistics in GLAAD’s first annual gaming report prove it. The media watchdog and LGBTQ advocacy group today published GLAAD Gaming: The State of LGBTQ Inclusion in Video Games, offering a comprehensive breakdown of the industry from the perspective of queer players and developers.
According to GLAAD, 17 percent of the total gaming audience identifies as LGBTQ, or about one in every five players. This figure falls in line with statistics for Generation Z. Still, just 2 percent of all games on the market contain LGBTQ content, a saturation level that falls miserably short of those in film, TV and other forms of entertainment media. GLAAD found that 28.5 percent of films from the top 10 distributors in 2022 contained an LGBTQ character, and LGBTQ characters appeared as series regulars at a rate of 10.6 percent on primetime scripted broadcast shows in 2022 and 2023.
For the gaming stats, GLAAD ran the numbers: In November 2023, the Xbox store had 146 games with LGBTQ content, while PlayStation offered a list 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 figure 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 (without the adult-only content). For context, it’s estimated that about 1 percent of all games released in the 2010s included LGBTQ themes.
“Despite the significant progress we’ve seen, gaming remains woefully behind other forms of entertainment media when it comes to representation,” GLAAD Associate Director of Gaming Blair Durkee said.
GLAAD’s report identified the following reasons behind the lack of LGBTQ representation in video games:
“Some reasons for exclusion are passive. Often, game companies have not considered that they should represent LGBTQ people, nor do they see us as a major part of the core gaming audience. Some reasons for exclusion are active. Companies worry about pushing away a core audience that they assume are resistant or hostile to LGBTQ content. This imagined core audience, however, is a myth, and it is one of the reasons it was paramount for GLAAD to create this gaming report. LGBTQ gamers are a significant part of the existing active gamer market and, by and large, non-LGBTQ gamers are not nearly as resistant to this content as many assume.”
More than 60 percent of non-LGBTQ respondents said they weren’t bothered by LGBTQ protagonists and NPCs in their games, and 70 percent said they were fine with titles that presented the option to customize a bisexual, gay or lesbian character. Resistance toward these themes is waning with each new generation of players, GLAAD found.
One of the report’s key takeaways is the idea that developers seem to be building games for an outdated stereotype, rather than the reality of the market. Straight, white, cisgender men definitely play video games, but the actual gaming audience is much more diverse and it’s only become 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 man between the ages 18 and 34,” GLAAD said. “However, our data shows that 17 percent of active gamers are LGBTQ, a 70 percent increase from the 10 percent counted in Neilsen’s 2020 report.”
This figure is even higher for younger players, the next generation of gamers. Roughly 25 percent of players under the age of 35 identify as LGBTQ, a higher concentration than reported in the human population as a whole. This trend drives home another conclusion of GLAAD’s gaming report — the idea that LGBTQ players are drawn to games in particular 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 makes this medium a uniquely powerful tool for LGBTQ people to safely discover, connect, and express themselves,” GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said. “Particularly for LGBTQ gamers, gaming can not only be an escape and source of entertainment, but also an important outlet of self-expression.”
In the GLAAD survey, 72 percent of LGBTQ players said that seeing characters of their gender identity or sexual orientation portrayed well made them feel better about themselves, and this number was even higher among younger players. Overall, 36 percent of LGBTQ players reported that video games helped them discover their sexual orientation or gender identity, and this percentage rose to 41 percent among LGBTQ players of color. Notably, GLAAD found that gamers of color are less resistant to titles with queer content than white players.
More than 40 percent of LGBTQ players said video games helped them cope with a lack of acceptance in the real world. At the same time, 51 percent of LGBTQ players said they wanted video games to do more in terms of inclusion, and 74 percent wished for more opportunities to explore and express their true selves in games.
“Games are a medium in which players can be anything, but the game industry has continued to rely on very narrow representational options,” GLAAD said.
Transgender content faced the most resistance among all respondents. Concerning LGBTQ players, 63 percent said they were 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 purchase a game that includes the option to embody a transgender protagonist. Among non-LGBTQ gamers, 80 percent responded the same way.
The importance of representation in video games has only grown amid an avalanche of anti-LGBTQ violence and legislation in the United States. In the first weeks of 2024, more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills have been proposed or passed in the US, a majority of which target transgender youths. This is already a dramatic spike from 2022 and 2021, both record-setting years in terms of anti-LGBTQ legislation.
Queer players are more likely than their counterparts to use gaming as an escape, according to GLAAD, and this is even more true for people 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 doing in the real world, this statistic rose to 75 percent for players living in states with proposed or active anti-LGBTQ bills.
“For these LGBTQ gamers, gaming is necessary to cope with real-world discrimination and targeting,” GLAAD said in its report. “Game developers need to understand the role gaming plays for LGBTQ gamers in the United States and especially LGBTQ gamers in states where they are disproportionately targeted and attacked.”
Researchers offered the following recommendations for increasing LGBTQ representation in games:
The percentage of games with LGBTQ representation should be proportional to the share of gamers who are LGBTQ.
Game developers should strive for representation that promotes inclusivity and acceptance.
The game industry should take responsibility for making their communities more inclusive.
The game industry should consult LGBTQ media content experts.
LGBTQ game industry workers should be hired in positions of authority.
Amid all of the percentages, GLAAD identified a clear pattern in its first gaming report: Representation matters a lot to most LGBTQ players, and the majority of the remaining audience isn't too bothered by queer content. Sometimes, it's even preferred.
“We are nearly invisible in game representations, 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 players in the US, with a boost sample of LGBTQ gamers to ensure accuracy for the community-specific questions. The survey was distributed between June and August 2023.