Curious to see the audience and wondering if anyone at all would show up, I recently attended the inaugural GaymerX gaming convention at the Hotel Kabuki. To my surprise, there was a line out the door for registration.
LGBT men and women — most in their late 20s, most in T-shirts and baseball caps, some in colorful costumes inspired by Nintendo's 16-bit era, the Pokemon phenomenon and other more recent fandoms like "Harry Potter" and "The Hunger Games" — gathered loudly in Japantown to pay tribute to hours spent playing video games, reading comic books and obsessing over the lives of characters who don't exist.
The generation that was born after the video game explosion of the '80s, was raised during the superhero comic book revival of the '90s and embraced the tech-savvy geek culture of the new millennium is now making events like ComicCon in San Diego a force to be reckoned with.
And the LGBT geeks among them have started a minimovement of their own. The gay gamer community (cleverly now referred to as Gaymers) has come of age. While they've always been welcomed at mainstream geek fests, they now have their own convention and even their own Web series.
"Gay culture is still relatively under-represented in gaming and I'd like to think that our series sheds some light on one aspect of it," said Artúr Tyutin, the San Francisco-based creator of GAYMERS, a Web series about gay men and their joysticks. GAYMERS premiered at GaymerX and is now available to watch at Facebook.com/GaymersTV.
However, the popularity of a video game convention catering specifically to the LGBT community has yet to grab the attention of the mainstream video game industry. Companies such as Redwood City-based Electronic Arts and Canada's BioWare, which were both present at GaymerX, have made strides in including LGBT characters in their games, but Tyutin thinks other major players in the industry need to make more of an effort.
"Whenever I asked someone at GaymerX which video game characters they related to, every person had a difficult time coming up with an answer," Tyutin said. "If there were more queer-positive characters in video games, questions like this wouldn't pose such a problem in the gay gaming community."
Queer representation is very important to Gaymers, and the lack thereof has made it unwelcoming for most of them to come out as LGBT in online gaming spaces. Besides sexual orientation, that's probably a key component of the Gaymer experience: They are less likely to assert their personalities the way heterosexual gamers can.
While geek culture at large tends to be a gay-friendly safe space, the cyber sphere where gamers gather safely behind a screen can be a cruel, homophobic, racist, misogynistic place where derogatory terms come at you faster than the alien homing missiles in "Halo."
"The homophobia exists because other players aren't aware that members of the queer community exist in gaming," Tyutin said. He encourages fellow Gaymers to team up with other gay or ally gamers to have the support needed when the time is right to come out in their digital life.
Oscar Raymundo is the head of marketing at a leading LGBT media company. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.