“I choose you!” – the surprising power of queer gaming groups

Exploring LGBTQIA+ Gaming Groups: A Safe Haven for Queer Gamers

Hello! Eurogamer is once again marking Pride with a week of features celebrating the intersection of queer culture and gaming in all its guises. Things get underway today as James Croft ponders the particular magic of LGBTQIA+ gaming groups.

Reh is slaughtering Cabal as he battles Destiny 2’s Emperor Calus in the heart of the Leviathan. He’s throwing grenades at packs of space dogs, headshotting Psions, and double-jumping over flames as his fireteam attempt the tricky shadow realm raid once more. Calus’ health is low, and the tension mounts – if they pull this off they’ll finally defeat this fiendish boss, otherwise it’ll be back to the start yet again. But their rockets fly true, their supers crash into his mechanical body, and – at last! – Calus is felled. But Reh’s elation is short-lived. “Wow,” says a fireteam member over comms. “I can’t believe my first clear was with a faggot.”

That was the last straw for Reh. Sick of the homophobic commentary and eager to find a place he would be accepted, Reh took to Facebook – ISO queer Destiny clan! – where he discovered Guardians of the Rainbows, a group founded by two gay men in 2016. He’s been involved ever since, graduating to admin and de-facto clan leader. To Reh and many more of its members, Guardians of the Rainbows – which has grown into a thriving international community over the years – is a haven, a safe space away from the toxicity of gaming. But more than that, it’s a place of queer joy, and even the source of some of its members’ deepest friendships.

I can relate. In December 2022, after 15 years in the US, I returned home to the UK and moved to Brighton on the south coast. I was new to the city, so I did what I’ve done before when I wanted to meet new people: I found a local gaming store and played Magic: the Gathering. By pure chance, I sat down with Louie who, just after the Covid lockdown, had brought together a few MtG friends he’d met in person and on Grindr (they literally shared deck pics) to create a regular cadre of LGBTQIA+ players. That informal cluster has grown into the group that now calls itself Tragic: the Gathering – and its members have swiftly become some of my closest friends.

Louie admits he was initially worried how the group would interact outside the boundaries of the game. “If we’re not playing together,” he recalls wondering, “do we actually get on?” But we’ve started to see each other more and more outside our Magic-time, going to the movies, meeting up at the pub, even visiting an improvised Dungeons & Dragons show at the Brighton Fringe together. We’ve become a community, and it’s made me wonder about the relationships that LGBTQIA+ gaming groups tend to foster: why is it that I feel so close to these people even though I’ve known them for such a short time? What makes these groups feel like home – like family – for so many of their members?

ManicPixyGirl joined Guardians of the Rainbows for much the same reason as Reh. She’s trans, and frequently faced harassment and toxicity while playing first-person shooters online. “If I’m playing with random people I generally will keep myself muted to avoid experiencing misogyny or transphobia,” she tells me. In Guardians, by contrast, she knows that if anyone says anything out of line, others will call it out. Everyone works to make the space safe for queer people of all types, and it makes all the difference. “I feel safer talking on comms,” she says.

ManicPixyGirl relaxes after a tense raid encounter. | Image credit: ManicPixyGirl

James, who regularly plays Overwatch with a group of gay friends, agrees. “Gaming with LGBTQ people feels safer”, he says. “There’s a lot of hate online – you still get people who say derogatory things.” But as a group, it’s easier for James’ team to confront the homophobia they sometimes face. And although everyone I spoke to had experienced queerphobic harassment while gaming, James says he’s noticed allies are increasingly speaking up.”You do get quite a lot of people who are supportive in the chat”, he observes. “We like to help them out, heal them more or protect them.” In this way queer gaming groups like James’ Overwatch gang and Guardians of the Rainbows can help make gaming feel safer and more welcoming not just for LGBTQIA+ players but to everyone.

But it’s not just about safety. “I find in queer spaces in general there’s so much joy,” ManicPixyGirl tells me. “We’re all able to be fully ourselves. I’ve experienced it going out to gay bars, and I’ve experienced it in this clan. Everyone is so authentically themselves and it brings this joy out.” And for queer nerds, finding a group which affirms both their queer identity and their gamer identity can feel especially powerful.

Lee, a member of Tragic: the Gathering and an up-and-coming MtG YouTuber (one of relatively few openly gay creators in the space) put it like this: “Gay and nerd, that’s a bit of a double whammy in life – how many more detractions do you need?” But when he plays games with his Tragic friends he gets to share both of these parts of himself. “I feel pure joy [playing with Tragic]”, he says, “because they accept my joy around this hobby because they understand it.”

A screenshot of a green-haired Destiny 2 player character overlaid with the caption

Guardians of the Rainbows member Reh’s Destiny 2 Guardian. | Image credit: James Croft

Perhaps the joyous exuberance that comes from this double blast of affirmation is the reason why these LGBTQIA+ gaming groups can be so good for non-queer people too. Guardians of the Rainbows, while still explicitly a clan for LGBTQIA+ players, has always welcomed straight cis members. “It’s good not to segregate ourselves,” Reh explains, “because when we play with allies they stand up for us when they come across things that aren’t right.”

While the majority of Guardians’ clan members are part of the LGBTQIA+ community, it’s not uncommon for three or four members of a six-strong raiding fireteam to be straight. I asked Reh if he feared this might impact the nature of the clan, but the group is careful to ensure all potential members understand who the clan is for and the queer ethos it promotes. And if you’re wondering why a straight person might want to join an LGBTQIA+ clan, the answer, I think, comes back to that queer joy.

I know from personal experience that a queer fireteam is a fun fireteam, and there’s a sort of freeness that rubs off. Reh gives an example: there’s a notorious jumping section in the Kings Fall raid in Destiny requiring players to leap from platform to platform while avoiding a series of thrusting pistons. Incautious players can get shoved into the abyss by the pounding poles. “They’re very phallic”, Reh says, “and the straight guys will make jokes about the ‘penis wall’. ‘You got slapped with a dick!'”

This might seem like typical straight male ribaldry, but I think something deeper is going on here: the exuberant and unapologetic authenticity of LGBTQIA+ people can, in a sense, liberate straight cis people, allowing them to explore aspects of themselves they otherwise find difficult to fit within society’s rigid scripts of gender and sexuality. Thus, LGBTQIA+ gaming groups (like all queer groups) can be spaces where everyone – not just queer people – can be a little freer and more honest.

A photo of the author's Magic: the Gathering group sat around a pub table for its "AGM".
Yes, our Magic: the Gathering group had a genuine AGM. | Image credit: James Croft

But perhaps even more heartening are the kinds of genuinely deep relationships these groups so often facilitate – with members even becoming chosen families. James’ Overwatch team originally formed as a board gaming group, but they wanted to stay in touch during the pandemic – so they picked up Overwatch as a relatively easy game they could all play together online. And they played every day. “It saved my sanity during a lockdown,” he admits – and now his team are some of his closest friends. “Gaming together accelerated our closeness.”

It’s a similar story for Guardians of the Rainbows. Reh tells me a number of clan members have difficult relationships with their birth families, who don’t always accept them for being queer – yet they’ve found a place for themselves by gaming together. And the community built in Destiny 2 is slowly extending beyond it: after some Zoom meetings during the pandemic, a group of Guardians will soon share a cabin in Michigan, meeting for the first time offline. Reh’s excited, but nervous: his social anxiety is kicking in. But the clan has helped him with that, too.

The final word, though, must go to my Tragic: the Gathering friend, Lee. “My real family could not understand me at all growing up”, he tells me. “I was a weird arty gay kid in a family where no one understood the weird arty gay kid.” For him, “it was a lifeline to find groups where people understand what you’re talking about. You spend your formative years feeling so deeply alien, then suddenly shared references make you feel like there’s a little group of aliens running around together. I don’t feel so alone. I’ve found more solace in these people I’ve known for two years than my family I’ve known for 45.”

That’s a special sort of closeness – the magic created when queer gamers, sharing both a minority identity and a passion, find each other and say “I choose you!”