Finding a Place to Call Home: Personal Stories from Gay MMO Players

Two stories of two different men who have found a safe haven in a text-based roleplaying game.
This article is over 11 years old and may contain outdated information

It’s true, people’s attitudes are turning around and it’s becoming less and less acceptable to be that guy who calls everybody fags, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still happening (and with continually high frequency).

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When you are gay your most immediate choices are: ignore, fight back or quit. But why these choices? Why not have a place that you can enjoy yourself, game as you like, make friends and have that rewarding social gaming experience? That’s something a lot of gay players have to figure out and balance with whatever level of tolerance they muster.

Below are two real-life experiences from players of ThresholdRPG who have found a place where they are accepted. There, one has discovered love and the other has become something more than just a player.

Matthew Johnson

I have loved online roleplay games ever since I first discovered “Neverwinter Nights” on AOL as a teenager. It was so frustrating when I ran out of money (it cost $6.00 per HOUR, quite a lot for a student with only a part-time job), but my very first experience with gaming was also my very first exploration of my burgeoning sexuality. 

Gaming as an escape

Growing up gay in small town middle America is never easy, even when you can identify as gay. School was never-ending hell for me, and the gaming gave me a chance to escape from that. I wasn’t a freak in these games, and I had friends there. Unlike at school, if I was bullied, my friends, or occasionally admins, would come to my rescue.

But, it was very expensive, and when I went off to college, I definitely couldn’t afford it any more. Someone suggested I download a telnet client, and try MUDs. I was sceptical about the fun of something text-based and free to play, but I gave it a chance, and fell in love. The freedom of text-based roleplay has never been matched by any graphical game I have tried. Most of the MUDs were nurtured and supported by dedicated communities of players, and I loved this too.

However, there was one big drawback. Generally, neither the players nor the administration of these games were all that interested in creating a game space free from bullying and abuse. I quickly learned the best thing to do was to pretend to be female, as that was a far more acceptable thing to be than to be gay. I might be pestered or harassed by players for sexual favours, but I reckoned that was better than being called a fag, or being drawn into harassment of female characters.

Finding Threshold

After a couple of years of trying and abandoning several MUDs, I stumbled across Threshold. It was different, better, than the other games I had tried for a number of reasons. To begin with, it enforced roleplay, but unlike some other roleplay focussed text-based games I had seen, there actually were mechanics to enforce hierarchy, to challenge and improve your character, rather than just being fantasy improv with text-based props. It was a proper GAME and yet also had proper ROLEPLAY. Better still, players conducted themselves with maturity and respect for one another. The rare person who didn’t, was swiftly and thoroughly dealt with by admin.

There were gay players, and gay characters, and they weren’t abused, or subjected to constant homophobic language on either the in character or out of character communications.

At first I thought the presence of so many women in the playerbase might have been part of the reason why, but now I think the women too were drawn to the game for the same reasons I was, and the administrative philosophy just created this safe place to roleplay and play games.

A disappointing excursion into other MMO’s

Later, when some of the big MMORPGs started coming on the market, I got really excited about the potential. Like Threshold, they weren’t free, so I reckoned that might keep out the abusive behavior I had ran into in MUDs of old. And, like Threshold, they would have admin with a financial stake in maintaining a safe environment. And, they would have tons of players and tons of new content all the time! Exciting stuff.

It didn’t take me long to see how wrong my assumptions were. The bigotry, homophobia, sexism, racism, and just pure hatred and vitriol in virtually all of the playerbases for these games rivals just about any middle school playground. I still love many of those games, but one big reason I play games is to escape from the unpleasant things in daily life. I don’t know why Threshold has been able to succeed in that, where well-funded large companies with armies of admins fail.

But, regardless, I met my husband through Threshold, and he is the best thing that ever happened to me, so I am glad Frogdice have been so successful in creating a healthy and happy place to have fun and make lifelong friends. 

Brian Workman

Like Matthew, I grew up in an small town area where to be gay was not exactly in one’s best interest. For me, the answer was to move to the “big city” where I could start afresh; where being anonymous was also the opportunity to actually become myself. The Internet started really happening right around the time that I turned twenty-two and almost immediately when I embarked upon it I began with the most social of Internet activities: IRC. I quickly found that the world online was a mirror for the world offline, except somewhat more raw. Online, a person wasn’t hampered by the same self-imposed constraints that kept them in check on the street. Personalities were much bigger because being a douchecanoe didn’t result in being punched in the face, and being gay didn’t mean you could be hazed bloodily into a storm drain. The worst that could happen? You got kicked and banned from a channel. But really, there were enough alternatives for a person, gay and bigot alike, to find a place online where he could fit. And in what feels to me to be a natural progression I moved from text-based chatting to text-based gaming and it was from a friend in IRC that I learned about Threshold.

From IRC to MUD

So, I logged in. I was kind of nervous. Not because I was gay, but because now I had to figure out if this was a place I could hang out in. I’d already spent all that time and effort in finding my IRC buddies and I wasn’t sure I wanted to invest that kind of time and effort to see if I could do it here. Too, I’m not exactly the subtlest personality you’ll ever see online. Because Online you can be whatever you want to be and I have chosen to be: that unapologetic gay guy who talks about life, love, sex to the same degree that the straights do. And some people have trouble with that. They tell me I’m flaunting my gayness. No, I’m not, really. I’m just talking about me and my life. Nobody’s ever accused a heterosexual of “flaunting” just because they were talking about themselves.

I don’t want it to seem like I’m saying that there are NO other havens online, even in the MMOs that seem populated with haters who decry everybody as a fag and everything untoward is declared gay. I recognise that these circumstances are just cases of loud idiots just being loud idiots which by nature drowns out the quiet, accepting people (which is an entirely different topic). But even being an experienced netizen and knowing full well that the loud minority doesn’t speak for the silent majority I also know that it is still a huge problem that the MMOs do not really seem to care enough about policing their environments except where someone gets so offended they actually file a report.

Threshold: Welcome and recognition

In Threshold, instead of having to sift through the community to find sympathisers who might like and accept me, I am welcomed. That’s not to say that trolls haven’t visited Threshold, but if there’s one thing of which players and administration are not tolerant, it’s intolerance and they are dealt with.

So, after several years of being me in a way I sometimes feel I cannot out there in the real world, Pang began courting me. “How would you like to write for Threshold?” ARE YOU KIDDING ME! Pang knew and had seen some of the work I was doing independently, trying to build a MUD of my own (probably never for actual release, but because I’m kind of a nerd and this is fun for me). Ultimately, I would accept. It was a no-brainer. What kind of nerd doesn’t want to write for the game he’s enjoyed for so many years and to give back to a community that has embraced him for so long? Not this nerd.

So it’s been since 1999 that I have been actively playing Threshold.  In 2006 I was inducted as a developer and in 2008 I was made Lead Developer where I was more or less put in charge of all development on Threshold and I can’t say that I’ve felt more embraced by a pair of more caring people than Michael and Pang. Threshold has always been a place of acceptance for the myriad personalities and lifestyles not only from the administration, but also from the players who walk all sorts of paths in life.

And now I want to go through this entire piece and strike out the words “tolerance” and “acceptance”. My sexuality is not merely tolerated and acceptance suggests a change. There’s been no change, the welcome I enjoy in Threshold has always been there and always will be; world without end.

(Image credit: http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2009/08/17)


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Image of Gesslar
Gesslar
I live in Canada where I pretend to be a writer and I'm also the Lead Developer of ThresholdRPG (http://www.thresholdrpg.com/)