According to the International Game Developers Association’s “Game Developer Demographics” report from 2005, there are about as many LGBT people in the games industry as there are in the general population (about 5 percent—although, admittedly, some studies put the “real world” number around 10 percent).
Talk to a few people “in the know,” though, and you get the distinct impression the industry’s a much lonelier place than the number implies.
Jeb Havens, probably one of the most visible and vocal LGBT developers, says, “It’s not like there’s only a handful” of gay people making games, “but there’s no presence or community. There’s no ‘gay’ face to it.”
Hopefully the lead designer at Troy, N.Y.-based 1st Playable Productions (www.1stplayable.com) is ready for his close-up, because if anyone is going to be the “gay face” of the games industry, it’s Havens. The 26-year-old, who makes a mean board game when he’s not crafting titles for 1st Playable, has spoken about diversity within the industry quite a few times over the last few years, including the Game Developers Conference and the Sex in Video Games Conference in 2006, and just led a series of LGBT roundtables at this year’s GDC.
“I started about a year and a half ago,” he says, “after attending my first GDC in San Francisco and being surprised that there was no mention of gay anything. The topic never came up at all.
“Almost everyone was male,” Havens recalls, “and there was such a strong frat-boy heterosexuality among the industry people that it made me realize that even if there were gay people in the industry, they probably wouldn’t feel very comfortable talking about it.”
Talking about being gay isn’t a problem for Brian Sharp. The 26-year-old employee of Midway Games (he works at the company’s office in Austin, Texas) says, “I’ve been out in the workplace since, well, since I came out. It’s never been a problem.”
Sharp, who got into the industry as a high schooler when a family friend started a game company, has had ample experience. After that first gig, where he worked on graphics and engine programming, he moved to 3dfx, Ion Storm, Ageia and Maxis before his current stint at Midway.
“I have never experienced any direct discrimination as a result of being gay,” Sharp says, “although there’s definitely the unstated assumption in a predominantly male, predominantly straight industry that everyone thinks ‘that picture of that chick is really hot.’”
Don’t take that to be an out-and-out indictment of the industry. “I don’t bring it up randomly or wear a t-shirt that says, ‘I’m gay,’” Sharp says, adding that whenever the subject of his boyfriend has come up, for instance, “Co-workers have been, without fail, completely nonplussed at the idea, which is exactly what I’d hoped for.”
Being gay seems to be a non-issue at Brooklyn-based mobile development company Sonic Branding Solutions as well. While he worked there, Mark Thrall, who previously worked at Liquid Entertainment and Warner Bros. Online, said “I’m completely ‘out’ in all aspects of my life. I moved to New York with my boyfriend and he frequently walks with me to work. We’ll exchange a kiss outside of the office.”
The 29-year-old admits to being a bit nervous about discussing sexuality when he first entered the industry, “but when the issue came up with a few co-workers, they reacted quite well. One of them even apologized for using the term ‘gay’ so much, and he completely stopped using the term as slang.”
His experience at Warner Bros. was much the same. “The guys there didn’t bat an eye,” Thrall says. “I brought a date with me to a dinner party and that was my big ‘coming out.’ Again, no one said a concerned word—no one cared.”
Although amiable indifference to gayness in the gaming workplace is acceptable enough, bona fide interest is always preferred. That’s what Anne Gibeault has come face to face with at Montreal office of Ubisoft (www.ubi.com).
The 36-year-old animator (she’s worked on such titles as Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, King Kong and Splinter Cell: Double Agent) says, in her experience, her game-development peers have been a pretty welcoming bunch. “I’ve never heard anything homophobic,” she says, adding “I’ve always been out, everywhere I’ve worked. Everyone reacts fine with it.”
That’s especially true of Gibeault’s family situation. “I have a baby,” she shares, “and it seems everyone is pretty curious how we managed this, me and my girlfriend.”