Brock Research Explores Impact of 2SLGBTQ+ Representation on Young Gamers
Representation matters. That's why an assistant professor at Brock is looking to improve 2S&LGBTQ+ representation in video games.
More than simply a thrilling adventure, video games for Dane Di Cesare were a safe escape.
The Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education at Brock University recalls turning to virtual worlds in his younger days to get away from homophobic bullying he experienced in real life.
Limited 2S&LGBTQ+ representation in video games
Games of Di Cesare’s time, however, rarely showed positive portrayals of people from Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer (2S&LGBTQ+) communities.
Today, while 2S&LGBTQ+ representation is increasing in other media, such as movies and television, it remains limited in most video games, Di Cesare says, adding it is still often stereotypical, problematic, or completely absent. That representation, and its influence on young gamers, is at the centre of his latest research project.
New study examines 2S&LGBTQ+ representation in video games
Through LEVEL UP!, Di Cesare is exploring ways video games and gaming communities impact the well-being and identity development of 2S&LGBTQ+ youth aged 14 to 29.
The study will examine 2S&LGBTQ+ representation in video game characters and storylines across all game genres and platforms, as well as positive and negative experiences while gaming alone, with others, or on streaming channels such as Twitch.
Representation is key in video games
To accomplish this, the project’s research team — co-led by Di Cesare and Shelley Craig, Professor at the University of Toronto and Canada Research Chair for Sexual and Gender Minority Youth — aims to survey 5,000 youth across Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and Mexico, in addition to conducting interviews in Canada.
“As a queer person, and as a gamer as well, this is something that I saw in my own experiences,” Di Cesare says of the lack of representation. “Growing up, I never saw myself represented in the characters and storylines within games.” That representation is key in games, he says, because players are active participants in the media they’re consuming.
“If you’re watching a movie or a TV show, you’re there as a passive participant. If you are able to see yourself represented, that’s both powerful and affirming,” Di Cesare says. “Video games offer a bit of a different experience because you are controlling a character. Oftentimes, where the character ends and where you begin gets blurred as you project parts of yourself onto the character and into the storyline. There is the potential for representation to matter even more in this context, and this is something we are interested in examining.”
Helping 2S&LGBTQ+ youth thrive
The study, he says, can provide a better understanding of the needs of 2S&LGBTQ+ youth and, in turn, gaps in supports, to determine how to serve them better in all settings, including the classroom.
“We need to make sure that we’re doing more than just supporting them, that we are helping them flourish and thrive,” he says.
Di Cesare hopes the project’s findings will help game developers understand the need for representation in games and the teams that create them, and that the research will be used to help social and game streaming platforms create safe online spaces that eliminate hate raids, a type of co-ordinated harassment, and other forms of homophobia online.
LEVEL UP! is an initiative of the International Partnership for Queer Youth Resilience (INQYR), a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council-funded interdisciplinary research partnership aiming to support the resilience of 2S&LGBTQ+ youth using technology-engaged research and practice.
Learn more about the study