GLAAD Explains New Video Game Award Category: "We Can't Ignore This Space"

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Zeke Stokes, vp programs at GLAAD, talks about the introduction of the new category and what it means for gaming and representation in the medium.

On Wednesday, GLAAD announced that it would be introducing a category for video games that best represent the LGBTQ+ community at the GLAAD Media Awards.

The outstanding video game award will be one of the categories at the annual awards show, set for its 30th edition next April. In recent years, more and more games have included LGBT content, with notable titles such as Fullbright's BAFTA Games Award-winning Gone Home in 2013; last year's Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator, Life Is Strange: Before the Storm and Mass Effect: Andromeda; this year's Detroit: Become Human; and the upcoming Last of Us: Part II, among many others.

The GLAAD Media Awards were launched in 1990 and honor media from film, television, music and journalism for outstanding representations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Zeke Stokes, vp programs at GLAAD, spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the introduction of the new category and what it means for gaming and representation in the medium. 

Why did you choose now to introduce this new category?

We’ve been interested in this space for a while. In the past, we honored [2014's] Dragon Age: Inquisition for its inclusion of LGBTQ characters. A year or so ago, we worked with The Sims. Really, though, it has been the turning point in the industry. There was an unprecedented number of LGBTQ-inclusive games in 2017. Last of Us: Part II's trailer featured a lesbian kiss. The industry is ready to give LGBT characters bigger roles, so it's a lot of what’s already happening in the industry combined with the vastness of it all. Seeing a lot of young people gravitate toward gaming as a primary or preferred source of entertainment is another factor. The very baseline of it is a matter of numbers. If we’re working to make sure LGBTQ people are included in media, we can’t ignore the video gaming space, and it's super evident the gaming industry is willing to make this step.

You mentioned the Last of Us 2 trailer. Are there any other specific moments from this year that stand out to you?

A lot of it can be traced to the experience of LGBTQ people who are gamers and the environment and the atmosphere for LGBT players in the gaming community itself. We want to make sure that we’re getting LGBTQ stories in the content and opportunities for the players to have some agency in the game. We’re helping to create an environment in the community where LGBT people are welcome. We want bullying to become a thing of the past.

How does GLAAD view video games as a form of representative media, particularly when compared to film or television?

When you think about LGBTQ in a AAA game, you look at the numbers compared to films or TV, and in many, many cases the numbers aren’t even comparable. Games are bigger. That’s one of the reasons it's super important to be paying attention to games. We’ve seen the industry begin to embrace this. A lot has been done at the sub-AAA level, but we’re interested in making sure the big-budget games are including [LGBT themes].

Do you hope to reach a new audience with the introduction of this category?

Absolutely. When it comes to reaching a wide swath of young people this is an important way to do it. For LGBTQ people, gaming is one of those spaces where they can experiment with owning their identity [when] they may not be ready to do in their real life. A place to try on their authentic self in an environment that is not threatening. Making sure that we are reaching people where they are with messages of inclusion is very important.

Did you consult with game publishers before today's announcement?

We’ve been in conversation with a lot of the studios leading up to the announcement. We didn’t want to enter this space without their counsel. We have been working behind the scenes with a lot of the big companies to leverage their insight and expertise to create a category that would have weight and meaning and attract submissions to give the industry an optimistic path forward. The feedback has been universally positive. We’re working with content creators just as we have in Hollywood to help them craft these stories.

How many nominees do you expect in the category, given this is its first year?

One of the first questions we asked was if there would be a robust slate of nominees. Looking at this year and what’s slated to come out, we feel that we’ll have a really solid slate of nominees. It exceeds a dozen.