Dispatches from PAX South: GLAAD’s Blair Durkee 'queers up' some misconceptions about LGBTQ life in gaming

This past weekend, I attended PAX South. For any who don’t know, PAX is a series of conventions for the gaming community which takes place six times during the year across the country (and around the world). PAX South 2019 was hosted in San Antonio, Texas and drew in thousands of excited gamers to celebrate the games we love.

Community is the primary focus of PAX, and the diversity of the community was the highlight of the convention. Years ago, PAX weathered significant controversies related to diversity and has since sought to make amends; it now regularly features a diversity lounge and several inclusive panels.
I made a stop by the diversity lounge at PAX South and found it bustling with activity and chock full of resources. The room was lined with booths for various organizations. GaymerX, for instance, was there to provide pronoun ribbons and promote an upcoming convention of their own (GaymerX East ’19 in New York City, April 27-28).

Houston Gaymers, a local organization, had a presence in the diversity lounge but also held their own party at a nearby club on the first day of the convention. The Houston Gaymers PAX Party 2019 drew a large crowd to celebrate the LGBTQ gaming community with great company and, of course, great games. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was a big hit, as was the Oculus Go Lounge. It was incredibly exciting for me to see so many members the LGBTQ community rallying around our shared love for games.

The capstone of diversity celebration for the week was one of the many panels featured at PAX South, the 11th “Queering Up Misconceptions: LGBTQ Life in Gaming” panel. I had the privilege of being a panelist as we took part in some incredible discussions.

PAX SOUTH 2019 - The 11th Queering Up Misconceptions, LGBTQ Life in Gaming

I began by explaining why I, representing GLAAD, was at PAX South in the first place—a fact that might seem strange to anyone who knows GLAAD primarily for our work in other entertainment fields (such as television and film) and news media. The reason is that GLAAD’s foundational mission - to promote full acceptance of the LGBTQ community through telling our authentic stories - is a mission in which video games can, and must, play a role. Games have long included LGBTQ representation, and we believe they are capable of doing so even more effectively in the future.

One of the best ways we can encourage this trend is to honor games which are pushing the medium forward in terms of representation. Last September, GLAAD announced the addition of the “Outstanding Video Game” category to the GLAAD Media Awards, and we’re excited to announce the first nominees this Friday.
Advocating in the gaming space is uniquely challenging but also presents an incredible opportunity for us. To the extent that media can influence culture, gaming is influencing the culture of the future, as younger generations continue to gravitate toward games as their preferred outlet for entertainment. And for the LGBTQ community ourselves, games provide us the ability to not only see ourselves represented but also to actively explore and live out our identities within these virtual worlds.
I pointed out that the gaming community is not always welcoming of LGBTQ gamers the way that PAX usually is. Sometimes, it can even be incredibly hostile. While many were boldly showing our pride in the room that day, we often fear to do so in more general gaming contexts. And we’ve gotten so used to this situation that we often forget to question it.
But I believe that gaming can be just as inclusive as our "Queering Up Misconceptions" panel at PAX South this year, and indeed, I hope that we all believe that it one day will be. By being visible and telling our stories—at PAX and elsewhere—others will see that LGBTQ people are here and that we own gaming spaces just as much as anyone else.

About the Author: Blair Durkee is a special projects consultant to GLAAD, specializing in gaming.