Multiplayer interaction meets the real world
By Hana Khalyleh – Feb. 26, 2015
Many of the most iconic video game characters throughout the medium’s history were forced to complete tremendous tasks on their own.
Link was the chosen hero, overcoming trial after trial to awaken his courage and save the land of Hyrule. Samus was a solitary bounty hunter, quiet and somber, braving the beasts of deep space. Even Pacman had to escape the chilling hauntings of colorful ghosts on his own, as he set out on his quest to eat the yellow dots.
The accomplishments of these characters through each level of gameplay poses the question, “must the heroes always have to endure alone?”
The Phoenix Gaymers, through regular meetups and a solid online network, work to ensure that the answer to that question is “No.”
The group’s goal is to create a support system for LGBT gamers who might be caught in a tough space between the larger gay community and the straight/mainstream gamer world. (Read more about LGBT characters iv video games in “Overcoming the Griefers” here.”)
One hero at a time, the Phoenix Gaymers provides a haven for self-expression as well as a supportive network that ensures no player must conquer any quest alone.
A SAFE SPACE IN A DUNGEON CRAWL
According to the Gaymers, there is a shortage of spaces for the members of the gaming community to interact with each other, and those systems get even smaller within the LGBT community.
“We are providing a safe space in the LGBT community for nerds and geeks,” said Shane Blissett, co-chair of the Phoenix Gaymers. (Read Blissett and fellow Gaymer Brandon Cooper’s engagement announcement in “The Two-Player Experience” here.)
Blissett, one of the founders, is the last remaining member of the original meetup group of local gay video gamers from 2005, which, according to him, consisted of only six or seven people.
In 2010 Blissett came across an online group with the same name as his social meetup. And, as soon as the two merged, the official Phoenix Gaymers that’s in existence today was formally established.
According to the Blissett, the Gaymers were founded with the objective of creating social circles in an underrepresented portion of the gay community who find solace in the world of video games.
“I think [gaming] allows youth, and adults as well, to role-play and thrive through situations to help prepare themselves without worrying about real-life consequences,” said Delos Russell Hawkins III, Phoenix Gaymers co-chair.
PUTTING THE “GAY” IN GAYMING
According to their Facebook page, their mission statement is “Providing a safe and fun environment for the LGBT Community and friends to come together, have fun, play games, socialize, and generally support each other.”
The group’s Facebook page, now reaching 1,201 members, acts as the primary forum for engagement. It is here that the Gaymers discuss the medium that, according to many of the members, supplied them with an escape from their worries throughout their lives.
“Video games are an excellent outlet for LGBT youth because they don’t have to worry about discrimination and rejection from their friends and family when they are involved in a virtual world. You get access to an avatar that can take you into a whole new world, one where you are the prime mover, and oftentimes, the hero,” said Chris Sonnenberg, a member of Phoenix Gaymers. “I think video games represent escapism at its finest, and I believe that’s one of the reasons why the LGBT community in particular is attracted to video games.”
The group meets twice each month to celebrate gaming: on the first Saturday they organize ice-cream socials at McAlpine’s Soda Fountain and on the third Saturday they throw a gaming party at the Phoenix Pride LGBT Center.
The group’s parties, which generally draw about 70 guests, are where the Gaymers do the most of their group gaming. To facilitate all attendees, members bring the newest games, most-recent generation of gaming consoles, popular card games such as Magic the Gathering and dozens of board games.
Gaymers who don’t have the latest and greatest, or want to try out something different, Hawkins added, are welcome to play for as long as they’d like during the party.
But there’s more to the group’s gatherings than just games. For starters, attendees are encouraged to wear gaming-themed merchandise or dress in full cosplay (costume play). Then, discussions surrounding trade theories and gameplay strategies ensue.
The idea, according to Hawkins, is for the members to find and maintain connections with others who share the same interests.
Many of the parties also feature a raffle drawing for gaming merchandise or other miscellaneous prizes. At one party, for example, all guests were given collectible PEZ candy dispensers. And, last month, the group hosted a food drive for the Joshua Tree Feeding Program.
REACHING THE NEXT LEVEL IN THE COMMUNITY
The Gaymers do more than just play games. In fact, the co-chairs and event managers make it a priority to schedule “Side Quests” for the group to get out and about as a group. Side Quests range from hiking South Mountain to trying out new restaurants.
“It’s important for us to be fit and healthy, I think,” Hawkins said. “It’s more than just playing video games.”
Last year, the Gaymers started to branch out into the more mainstream LGBT and larger “nerd” communities by holding a panel at Phoenix Comicon 2014 entitled “What is a Gaymer: Discussing LGBT Gaming Communities.”
As part of the panel, the Gaymers led a conversation about niche groups within the LGBT community, and extending the reach of the community to those who don’t quite fit into the larger scheme of things.
“You have a gay culture that is not really supportive of video games and then you have a gaming culture that isn’t always supportive of gay culture,” said Hawkins during the panel. “So you have these people that are stuck in the middle, that kind of don’t fit in.”
To help bridge the gap, the Gaymers participated in the 2014 Pride Parade – dressed as various Nintendo characters and wearing Mario Kart-style cardboard go-carts.
“We are always looking for new ways to be more engaged with the LGBT community,” Blissett said. “We’re excited to start in that direction.”
Encouraging engagement and interaction is a worthy goal for this community, agreed the co-chairs.
“It’s our responsibility to be visible,” Blissett said. “For me, this group is one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. It’s made me more outgoing. I hope it’s caused us to be more socially active and socially aware.”
The Phoenix Gaymers are currently in the process of constructing a float for the 2015 Phoenix Pride parade and will also have a booth at both days of the festival, April 11-12. Additionally, they will be hosting another panel at Phoenix Comicon, May 28-31, at the Phoenix Convention Center.
For more information on joining the group or attending an event, visit facebook.com/groups/phxgaymers.