This article is part of our new women in gaming series, Makers of Now.
Queer indie video games mean a lot to Aimee Hart. In fact, they mean so much to the Editor-in-Chief of Gayming magazine—the first video gaming website dedicated to the LGBTQ community—that when asked about some of her recent favorites, she pauses our Zoom conversation and goes quiet for several minutes just to make certain she’s not about to leave any out. It’s this profound care for and knowledge of the indie gaming industry that’s quickly catapulted Hart, who uses she/they pronouns, to the top of the “home of queer geek culture,” as Gayming calls itself.
Based in the U.K., the website was conceptualized in 2019 by Robin Gray as a direct response to the lack of representation for queer gamers and has swiftly established an audience of over 1.5 million people in just four years.
What began as a site that strictly covered gaming has expanded to an events platform—boasting fêtes like the world’s first LGBTQ+ gaming awards ceremony and Gayming LIVE Online, which convened video games, drag artists, and queer culture in one virtual room last year.
As Hart wrote in her introduction letter as editor-in-chief in 2021: Gayming isn’t just cis, white and skinny. Gayming is fat. Gayming is trans. Gayming is BIPOC. Gayming is for everyone. These aren’t just words, but a mission statement by which the magazine—and Hart—navigate a more traditionally exclusionary space.
In our conversation, Hart told Jezebel about her long-held passion for queer indie narratives, the unique perils women and queer people face in the gaming industry and world at large, and what still needs to change.
How did you arrive at Gayming magazine?
Before Gayming, I was a freelance writer for a ton of different websites, mostly indie ones like Game Revolution. When I first started getting into gaming, I was just fascinated by the queer context and subtext of video games. I think that made me stand out—and not always in a good way. At the time, I wasn’t really sure what to write about outside of my own experience with gaming, so when I was writing these kinds of articles, I had a lot of pushback immediately. The people I was working with were always like, “You gotta get your voice out there, you’ve got to be special,” and that came with a lot of blowback [online]. But there were some positives to it as well, because people noticed what I was writing about and would reach out to me which was always nice and special.
I moved on from gaming publications to the Daily Star, which is a publication in the U.K., and I was working with some really cool editors. One was queer and always looked out for me. Somebody suggested I meet with Robin; he lives like a 20 minute train ride from me, so I met him, and he basically said that he wanted to create a publication that was for LGBTQ gamers in a way that—yes, obviously you’ve got really great websites doing so many cool things and highlighting the people Gayming does, but it’s always felt more like, monthly or occasionally. Robin wanted something focusing entirely on LGBTQ people in gaming and that’s how I got brought in initially as Gayming magazine’s deputy editor.
When you talk about blowback online, was that directed at what you were writing or at your identity?
It was both. Obviously, it began with my writing. It was a very long time ago, I’d written a piece analyzing like, lesbianism in video games and people were upset because it wasn’t [air quotes] cannon or true or accurate. Basically, people who are protective of characters who aren’t real got really offended and were upset that I would be looking at anything to do with video games from a queer perspective. And that was even before the whole “woke” argument we see nowadays. It was very much like, “Oh, you’re trying to push an agenda on the gaming community and industry,” which was always funny to me because a lot of the industry freelancers I became friends with were all queer.
Obviously, when Gayming started there was constant blowback. A whole publication dedicated to LGBTQ gaming? That’s ridiculous! That’s not necessary! That thinking has always been an undercurrent. When we announce something, or when we work with partners, or whenever we’re highlighted, there’s always someone saying it. It’s almost become like a game for us. The critics are not very clever or creative.
Gaming has a history of being hostile to women and queer folks. Is that something you considered when you were pursuing this career? Has there ever been a time where your visibility as a queer femme in gaming has posed problems?
I grew up in a very small town and I’m still living in that small town. I’ve always known that I had to stick to a few certain roles to survive. I can say that it [the industry’s acceptance of non-cisgender, heteronormative people] has obviously progressed throughout the years, but it [entering the industry] was kind of that same feeling when it came to the internet. For gaming in particular, to go back to your previous point of like visibility, I was always kind of a little nervous at first because some of these people you get in your emails...they quite literally sound insane. I’ve had people email me my old address, my mother’s house. My mother’s disabled, my dad’s old, and I’m a carer for them. My niece also lives with them. Obviously, being emailed your address where your elderly parents and young niece live was awful. It was absolutely awful. So yeah, I have been hesitant. There’s this moment of like, is it worth it? But I could just exist and people would be upset with me. I’m definitely hyper aware of it, and I try not to think about it as much. I have social media, but I don’t go on it a lot. I just keep to myself.
Have you heard from readers or folks within the gaming industry and community about the impact of Gayming and what its existence has done for their own experience?
A lot of the stuff that puts me off social media as a gaming journalist...it’s really debilitating, but some of the most positive things I’ve ever experienced in life have come from gaming. For one, I’ve become more comfortable with being out, which was something I didn’t really expect when I went into gaming. I’m way more open about who I am and much less apologetic about it.
I’ve also had tons of indie developers come up to me or email me and say, “You covering our game has really changed our lives.” It’s shocking for me because it’s so easy to feel as though you get nothing out of it—like you have so little impact. So, when people say, “Oh, this has changed how I felt,” or, “This has made our game get more sales than it probably would have because nobody else was covering it,” it’s always touching. I think that’s the thing that most touches my heart and what I’m most proud of. Queer indies, I love them.
Do you feel like there’s been more progress within the industry and community where the creation of queer narratives by queer people is concerned? What changes would you like to see in the next year?
It changes from day to day, which is a very wishy-washy answer, I’m afraid, but it’s the one is the most true to how I feel. It depends on what I’m seeing on that particular day, but I do believe game developers care. There’s so many horrible people out there who say, “You’re forcing these poor game developers to write queer narrative or to write queer characters,” and I’m just like, a lot of the gays that you hate are making your favorite video games. If you want a video game without queer people involved, you wouldn’t have any video games.
There’s some really great characters now. You’ve got Ellie from The Last of Us, and I know Aloy from Horizon had an option to kiss a woman, but I think there needs to be more stories focusing on LGBTQ characters that aren’t just white stories as well. I’m speaking as a British white woman, but when it comes to queer stories, too many people focus on just white people. Yeah, we’re getting great stories from Ellie, Aloy, and any other queer characters that might be evading me at the moment. But do I think it’s enough? Not really. I think we need more, but I may be just greedy... Actually, I don’t feel like that’s greedy at all.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.