Video games have long fought to be taken seriously as a medium, but for many players, their entertainment value is often their saving grace. When the world seems like a cruel place where human rights are under daily assault, the positivity that video games inspire can be its own way of fighting back. And over the past few years, the Facebook group Gayety Gamers has been providing exactly that for queer players—a space to find friends and share laughs over a mutual love of playing games.
Gayety Gamers started around 2019, not long after trans gamers Ray Monaghan and Jessie Gender became friends while working at Out Magazine. Ray helped develop the group from the beginning and became involved as a moderator. Jessie, meanwhile, had left journalism to become a YouTuber, making video essays analyzing the queer aspects of video games and Star Trek. The two reconnected through Gayety Gamers, and since those early days, the group has grown into a family of over 61K members.
For Ray, being involved in such a huge online gaming community has allowed him to expand his idea of what constitutes a ‘queer game,’ and he wants to do that for other members as well. “There was a time when I felt relegated to certain areas of gaming,” he tells INTO. “I felt like I couldn’t venture outside of role-playing games, or The Sims—life simulation games—because those are safer games. More women, more queer people are using those games. And I want folks to realize and find ways to engage in all kinds of creative platforms, and to feel empowered to do so.”
Throughout its existence, the group has remained a beacon of positivity, supporting members through COVID and now the current climate of heightened legislative attacks against the trans community. “It’s nice to have space where you can go and talk about the battles that you fight or the issues that you face or commiserate about the horrible stuff, but I think it’s even more important to focus that energy on something that we enjoy and love and want to build,” says Jessie. “Because that’s where we actually are able to move forward.
“It’s important to push back against and talk about the hateful stuff, but we are able to create our own conversations when we build upon things that are out of joy.”
INTO spoke to Ray and Jessie about Gayety Gamers, how collective positivity and humor combat the darker side of the internet, the power of community versus individualism, and about the queer angles in nightmarish games like Dark Souls. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
INTO: For readers who might consider joining, how would you describe what Gayety Gamers is all about?
RAY: I think it’s just about connection with other queer folks who love gaming. It’s really that simple. I think it can be tough for a queer gamer out here. It’s not always easy to find a group of like-minded individuals who also love gaming that make you feel safe. And I think that’s something that the gaming group does. And I don’t want to be sad about it, but it makes me feel a little sad sometimes, because it makes me realize just how many queer people there are out there without chosen family, without direct connections. This [group] is how they do that. That’s why I would encourage people to join because you can add to your already existing chosen family and find some cool people who are like-minded.
JESSIE: I totally agree. It’s definitely important to point out how many queer people don’t have access to people in their vicinity. And groups like this, and especially in gaming just generally, is an extension of something that’s been going on since the internet started, which is allowing people who are often isolated and cut off from being able to see the other queer people in their community because of the spaces that they’re in.
And I always like to phrase it that way too, because we tend to think like, “Oh, there’s maybe one queer person in [an online] community.” But generally, there’s probably a lot—they just don’t know each other because they’re not able to be out or feel safe coming out to each other. So a space like this allow people to meet and interact with members of their community and their found family [when] sometimes their own families or their own communities won’t accept them. And so getting to do that, especially getting to do that around something we enjoy—it feels productive, and feels generative and constructive.
Jessie, being a YouTube content creator involves working with communities but it’s a little different, where it’s centered around your content. I’m curious how you find the community in Gayety Gamers to be different and what you get out of it.
JESSIE: It is one of those weird things when you are a YouTuber—and I’m lucky to be of a size where I am a decently known figure within certain spaces, like I also do Star Trek content. And it’s a weird place for me. When I go to a Star Trek convention, or a nerd convention, I get recognized a bit. And it is sort of about me. And I always try to focus on the stuff that I talk about—it’s not about me, I’m the weirdo dork who’s making content for you—that does sort of center on me as a person. And in groups like this, it feels easier to just be part of the community and feel part of a group of people, where it’s not me being centralized.
When the world seems like a cruel place where human rights are under daily assault, the positivity that video games inspire can be its own way of fighting back.
That’s a very queer ethos, generally. A lot of our society celebrates individualism … But I think as queer people we like to celebrate community and in solidarity with each other. That’s why it’s the LGBTQ community, that queer community, because we recognize that we have differences, but in those differences, there’s strength. I mean, the queer community is just as diverse as every other community in the entire world, because we’re a part of every community. And so, I like going into communities like Gayety Gamers, because you’re allowed to become more part of the crowd and more part of the community, more part of the family, in a much more equitable way that pushes back against the hyper-individualism of our world generally.
Do you have any stories of people that have met or made connections through the group?
RAY: I’ve personally made connections with people through the group, which has been really cool. We’ve worked a little bit with Calix, who you may recognize from Drag Race, who’s done some of the live streams on the group. And I’ve also learned a lot more about the people that I knew previously. I feel like my gaming friends and my real-life friends—those are two things that never really cross. And all of a sudden, I’m like, “Oh, my God, you’re part of this group?” And even Levi [Chambers], who owns the group, it’s like, “Wait, you play games? Why do we never talk about this?” And so it actually has deepened my relationship with people already and helped me make connections. And then also, there are lots of people—I don’t know them personally—but I see them make connections in the group itself. You know, join online games together and play games together, but also meet up in person.
JESSIE: For me, I can’t think of any specific story, but it’s just getting to meet people who share a common interest. I am someone who plays a lot of solo games. …And that can be a very isolating experience. But then you can go online and actually get to share with people who not only are playing the same thing as you—and you sort of feel a connection that way—but understanding it in the same way that you are.
Just to use a random example, if you look at something like Dark Souls, there’s this sort of overriding idea around Dark Souls as a franchise, like, “Oh, you have to be a tough gamer or to get you have to get good at gaming and work really hard.” And I actually find for me personally, there’s a lot of queerness in those games, both in the backstory and the world. It’s a story quite literally about a man in power lying to everybody and saying that the world has to exist in one specific way that he has determined is the case. And for the world, not actually being that way and falling apart because of it. And that’s a story I think many queer people resonate with: we live in a world that tells us we have to be a certain way, and it actually does not have to be that way. … But that’s not the conversation you get about something like Dark Souls in the overriding, gamer TM discourse, capital ‘G’ gamer. But you get it in queer spaces, you get it in spaces like this, where you can start talking about that.♦