Rise of the Gaymers

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from Bloomberg Businessweek,

In Looking, a new HBO (TWX) comedy about gay men in San Francisco, a handsome, single nerd named Patrick goes on dates with a series of thirtysomething professionals.

Patrick is a video game designer for a fictional tech company. He spends long hours creating products like Naval Destroyer (which he refers to jokingly as Anal Destroyer when his mostly straight co-workers aren’t around). He’s part of what, in the real world, is an often-mocked, but hugely profitable $5 billion industry in the U.S.

The bulk of this work occurs in the Bay Area, one of the gayest places in America, and there’s no shortage of LGBTers working in technology. Yet Looking, which premièred on Jan. 19 and has averaged about 400,000 viewers weekly, according to Nielsen (NLSN), marks the first time guys such as Patrick have been portrayed in a TV series. “In our culture, oftentimes we view being gay as one very specific thing,” Jonathan Groff, the gay actor who plays Patrick, says of Hollywood’s tendency to stereotype guys as fashion mavens or one-liner-spouting sidekicks. Groff did the appropriate Silicon Valley research to get into character: “There’s a real community of gay gamers that connect and have parties and hang out with each other.”

It’s fitting that this group of gay gamers—or gaymers, as some call themselves—first coalesced behind the comforting remove of a computer screen. The website gaygamer.net was marginally popular when it launched in 2006; many of its ardent fans have since migrated to forums on reddit.com, where obsessives of all stripes can form subreddits, or digital communities, around virtually anything.

“Gay geeks have been fighting for their own space,” says Matt Conn, 26, an independent game publisher, who points out that game plotlines are overwhelmingly heterosexual, and players online have a locker room habit of ribbing each other with homophobic epithets. “They want to express their fandom and their geekdom and say this character is hot without a bunch of people calling them f—– or making them feel like crap.”

Conn joined Reddit in 2011 and realized there were “tens of thousands of people” like him who “shouldn’t feel like they’re alone.” He formed a Facebook (FB) group called SF Gaymers, through which he planned public meetups in San Francisco’s Dolores Park, where a few hundred acquaintances would get together and discuss their preferred video games while playing analog board games. Soon he realized that, like Comic Con or South by Southwest, what the gaymers were looking for was their own gathering.

In the summer of 2012, Conn created a page on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter for the first GaymerX, a two-day assembly in San Francisco that would, as the project brief explained, “show the true spectrum of gamers that exist.” The goal was to raise $25,000, but 1,500 allies contributed more than $91,000 over the course of one month. The event, which took place last August, became the first convention to be funded by Kickstarter. It sold out, raising more than $175,000 in ticket sales from 2,300 gaymers who traveled from as far as Australia to attend the festivities.

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