Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Publication Title

The Game Culture Reader




Despite, and perhaps because of, popular press reactions to stereotypical depictions of beefy boys and busty babes in video games, the realm of gender, sex, and sexuality remains a lacuna in the emerging field of game studies. Of particular interest is the notion of performance and the ways this impacts both on gender and on game play. The combination might be expected to offer a very interesting way of approaching LGBTQ characters in digital games, especially given the recent inclusion of such characters in some popular and well-studied game franchises, including Grand Theft Auto (Rockstar 1997-present), Jade Empire (BioWare 2005-08) and Mass Effect (Electronic Arts 2007-present). In addition, there is a well documented history, complete with the authority of a Wikipedia page, of characters who are gay, who might be gay, who could be gay, and who are ambiguously gendered, which is more than gay enough for the people who leave messages on YouTube and on Xbox LIVE. However, this enumeration highlights the mass conflation of gender, sex, and sexuality— that is, the performance of a conventionalized set of behaviours, the chromosomal assignment of XX or XY, and the locus of erotic desire, respectively (Sedgwick 1997)—in contemporary popular culture. For Richard Dyer (1978, 2002, 2005) this situation means the continued depiction of LGBTQ characters according to the rubric of the dominant culture. As Dyer (1978, 2002, 2005) explains, these constructions rely on stereotypes that attribute queerness to a very reduced set of features as opposed to recognizing even the barest physical, emotional, and libidinal differences entailed in LGBTQ identities. Indeed, the approach taken by game makers and by game players confirms Dyer’s position insofar as game designers so far have left characters such as Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard unchanged other than to say “now he has sex with men.” Similarly, players—including gay ones—have taken characters’ cross-dressing or androgyny as sufficient for membership.

Original Publication Citation

Ouellette, M. A. (2013). Gay for play: Theorizing LGBTQ characters in game studies. In J. C. Thompson & M. A. Ouellette (Eds.), The game culture reader (pp. 47-65). Cambridge Scholars.