In this blog post we discuss how people belonging to sexual minorities experience the working life and events in the Finnish game industry.
The analysis is based on the online survey conducted by We In Games X Better Games Together during the spring 2023. The link to the survey was shared via We in Games Finland’s channels, in PlayFinland Facebook page, and organisations that are part of Better Games Together initiative. The data consists of 130 respondents, of which some belong in one or more LGBTQIA+ categories, and some don’t belong to those categories. More analysis of different aspects of the data will be published in upcoming blog posts.
The LGBTQIA+ community is not one group of similar people
The LGBTQIA+ community is an umbrella term that combines together people belonging to sexual and gender minorities. In this post we focus on sexual minorities: gay, lesbian, bi- or pansexual, etc. people. In another post we will take a closer look at gender minorities, focusing on transgender and non-binary respondents.
The respondents of the survey were asked to tell themselves if they were a part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Looking at the responses, 38% told they do belong to the LGBTQIA+ community, while 13 % were not sure. Compared to percentages from other countries, this number is higher (but not surprisingly high). According to the UKIE’s game industry study in the UK from 2022, 24 % of people working in the UK game industry belonged to sexual minorities. In the Developer Satisfaction Survey by IGDA from the year 2021, 32 % of the respondents were not heterosexual.
Regarding their background in the industry (years in the industry, junior or senior level), there were no remarkable differences compared to all respondents. Slightly more people belonging in the LBGTQIA+ community were studying, and slightly more had 2-8 years of working history.
The complex, and sometimes complicated, relationship with the word “LGBTQIA+ community” could be seen within the answers more than once. It should be noted that while discussing “the LGBTQIA+ community”, people might mean very different groups and aspects of belonging. There is no such community that would consist of a homogenous group of people, and within the so-called LGBTQIA+ community, there are different subcultures.
The need to address the complexity of belonging or not belonging was discussed by the LGBTQIA+ respondents. Some of them spoke very critically about their relationship with the LGBTQIA+ community. They wanted to tell about the experiences of being left out of the LGBTQIA+ community, not feeling represented by them, or not sharing all the values with a certain group of LGBTQIA+ people. They hoped for a different kind of approach when the community is discussed at work related context. Some respondents were worried that they would be seen as a part of a certain kind of LGBTQIA+ community at the workplace, just because of their sexual orientation. In this case they felt like being marked in the wrong way.
Acknowledging the diversity within the LGBTQIA+ community may be especially important as looking at the people from the outside. Building one’s understanding about certain groups of people cannot necessarily be done by following only some representatives for the LGBTQIA+ community. That is why it is important to meet, of course, other people firstly as individuals.
Staying closeted is not a simple yes/no question
In the survey, we asked if respondents felt it is necessary to stay closeted about belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community in the Finnish game industry. Of all respondents answering this question (n=129), 48 % answered that it is not necessary. The majority of the people who did not belong to the LGBTQIA+ community, 60 %, considered it unnecessary to stay closeted. Of people belonging to the community, only 29 % agreed similarly.
Those who were not sure or felt that they maybe belong to the LGBTQIA+ community felt that there was no need to stay closeted quite often (59 %). This suggests that the fear of coming out is not the reason to select “maybe” answer, but rather the reasons were related to personal thoughts and self-identification processes.
LGBTQIA+ community members answered the most often (52 %) that coming out was dependable on the circumstances. They were for example elaborating that there were certain very heteronormative game studios and individuals, or discussed some social contexts in which they were not being confident revealing their sexual orientation in a professional setting. In some responses the big studios were considered safer and more supportive of coming out, but overall the whole Finnish game industry was seen as quite diverse and liberal. Some mentioned that they had shared their sexual orientation only with their closest work companions, hesitating to share that with everyone.
One dependency mentioned in the data was the position in the professional field, related to the customers. People working near the player base felt being in a more vulnerable position and it was seen as unwise to reveal one’s sexual orientation for the players. Some respondents also compared coming out as non-heterosexual to revealing one’s gender: sexual orientation was mentioned to be easier to reveal than belonging to trans or non-binary gender.
The complexity of coming out situations can be underlined by reading the reasons for not coming out. Among those members of LGBTQIA+ community that considered that it is better to stay closeted, most often mentioned reason was that sexual orientation had nothing to do with the work. They might have wanted to separate their working and private lives from each other. It might be fruitful to map out the situations in which sexual orientation or non-hetero family becomes a part of the working life context: it could be events that people attend with a partner, or free discussion, maybe some other situations. Sexuality itself is a topic that is seldom discussed in the workplace.
There were also comments that revealed more negative situations, or the fear of them. One person who agreed that there is no need to stay closeted mentioned that they lost some job opportunities since being open about their sexual orientation. There was also a story of a company wishing that an employee would not bring out their non-hetero family situation.
Among the people who did not belong to the LGBTQIA+ community, as many as 60 %, considered it unnecessary to stay closeted in the Finnish game industry. It should be noticed that it was not asked how accepting their attitude towards LGBTQIA+ minorities was. It could anyhow be assumed that within this group of people there are a lot of allies that are accepting but won’t necessarily state it very loudly.
Based on these results it would be tempting to conclude that the game industry is an industry where sexual minorities can usually feel accepted, but we would like to emphasize the context and the surrounding people. The complexity of the situations in which one’s sexual orientation is discussed was pinpointed in the survey results. Since the game industry is also a part of the wider societal discussion, it would be interesting to make comparisons with some other industries.
Good everyday representation; homophobia still alive in outdated joking
Inquired was also how much homophobia respondents felt exists in the Finnish game industry. The respondents agreed that homophobia could not be called inexistent, but that the amount of homophobic attitudes in the industry was not huge.
All the groups analysed gave quite similar answers. “None at all” – answers were a bit more dominant among those people who did not belong to LGBTQIA+ groups, but this answer was selected also by those belonging to LGBTQIA+ groups. LGBTQIA+ people felt a bit more often that sexism, gender based discrimination, racism, xenophobia and transphobia exists in the Finnish game industry (selecting the options 3 and 4 out of 1-5), but these differences were not remarkably different. It might be that people belonging to marginalized groups do tend to become more sensitive to other kinds of minority positions, too. The differences in noticing or not noticing homophobia can be partly explained by different positions for experiencing social situations. Not noticing it won’t mean indifference, which is also good to remember.
It can be seen that the answers varied a lot. In many of them there were assumptions and sometimes the weight of minority positions could be rough. In some responses, on the other hand, there were statements about the Finnish game industry being the most progressive.
Over 1/3 of those LGBTQIA+ members who left a comment for this question mentioned that they had never encountered any homophobic actions in the game industry. One reason mentioned for that was that there is such a large LGBTQIA+ representation in the industry.
Among the LGBTQIA+ respondents, everyday homophobia was experienced to be alive mostly in degrading sayings. It was believed that those kinds of old-fashioned jokes were used not always with harmful intentions, but more of a habit. However, there were assumptions and some knowledge that homophobia still existed behind curtains, in smaller circles even it was not openly brought to a daylight.
LGBTQIA+ community members in the Finnish game industry events
In the global game industry scene there have been discussions about the safety of industry events for LGBTQIA+ people in the game industry. In our survey, we particularly asked about event safety in Finland, both in IGDA events and We in Games Finland’s events. 100 % of respondents from non-LGBTQIA+ group selected options 4 and 5 related to big IGDA events, number 5 standing for extreme safety.
Of LGBTQIA+ community respondents, 84 % selected the options 4 and 5, and from persons listing unsure of their belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community, 93 %. It is still worth noting that the small number, under 10 persons, who selected less safe options, all belonged to LGBTQIA+ groups.
This was the first year when we inquired the reasons why game community members do not attend events. Compared to non-LGBTQIA+ members, LGBTQIA+ groups answered more often that they did not find the events inclusive, there was too much focus on alcohol, or did not feel like going if their friends were not going.
LGBTQIA+ groups also mentioned more often that events were too focused on alcohol consumption and that as the reason for not going to events. They also preferred to see more alcohol-free industry events and would be more likely to attend them, but nobody was very definite about this.
There were also respondents within LGBTQIA+ groups who would not attend the events if alcohol was not served and who did not like the idea of non-alcoholic events. As always, it is good to remember that grouping people by some category might reveal some underlying issues, but answers won’t apply for all.
Is DEI a company’s PR act?
During the last years we have seen a raise in diversity acts from game companies. While many good things have come out of that, it does not always mean that public talk is actually taken into action inhouse.
For the questions “On a scale of 1-5, how much do you agree with the following statement: Sometimes I feel like my workplace/school only talks about diversity and inclusion because they think it’s good for their marketing, brand, or PR.” given opinions spread out quite evenly. This question was not only about LGBTQIA+ community, but covered different forms of diversity.
Some respondents praised their companies, telling how they seriously wanted to make the industry and gaming safer for everyone. But there were also comments of how certain members of the LGBTQIA+ community were harnessed as the figures of the diversity of the company, sometimes without their full consent. A respondent commented for example, how they felt used because of being type-casted at the workplace regarding their sexual orientation.
It could be seen within the responses, that the risk of someone’s minority position becoming “hyperactivated” or even politicized could happen during the DEI processes. For these individuals, this was something that disturbed their actual work. Looking back to the diversity discussion in the game industry within the years, this might look somewhat similar to what women working in the male-dominated industry have experienced.
It might be important to discuss carefully, whether the members of the LGBTQIA+ community want to be seen through that lens at the workplace. One frame won’t fit all, and putting someone from the team to a position of minority representation can be either empowering or exhausting.
At the large scale the Finnish game industry was framed as very accepting and inclusive, as it comes to the LGBTQIA+ people and especially people belonging in sexual minorities. It is important to understand the diversity of people and situations when discussing this topic.
As talking about being closeted about their sexuality, many respondents felt it was necessary to be aware of different social contexts. The workplace was seen as a place in which one seldom chatted about their sexual orientation, but when discussing family or attending events coming out was sometimes necessary. Homophobic attitudes were mostly seen as a phenomenon of the past, but still seen as a part of joking or other ways of speaking.
The feeling of belonging was not a simple topic within the LGBTQIA+ respondents. Some of them felt belonging in the game industry and the LGBTQIA+ community, some did not want to be framed as a part of the LGBTQIA+ community, even when belonging in those categories. Also the DEI discussion was seen mostly as positive, but also potentially exhausting. Some of the respondents noted that the ongoing discussion might make them hyper visible in the sense that they found negative, compared to the earlier feeling of “just being one of the guys in the company”.
It might be wise to be sensitive about type-casting people regarding their minority position, whether discussing the LGBTQIA+ community or the DEI work in the company. Many respondents talked about the clear need to be approached mainly as individuals, and not only as activists, representatives, or someone who might be good for the PR.