This independent research project was completed in the Summer of 2018 with Logan Reynolds and funded by the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships at Northeastern University.
This study sought to understand the common experiences of queer college students in the United States and design a story-based video game that represented these students. While queer representation in media is increasing, many gamers still find that there are few explicitly queer characters in video games, especially those made by large studios (Jones, 2015).  For this project, students attending post-secondary institutions in 10 different cities were interviewed to inform the game’s plot and character design. Interviews focused on students’ identities, school and community experiences, and perceptions of representation in media. Plans for a 2D simulation game with seven playable characters, along with descriptions of the research goals and methodology were printed in a project book that shares a name with the game, Queer Frontier.
Our research was guided by six primary goals.
i. understand current representation
ii. collect stories featuring diverse identities
iii. experience regional diversity
iv. create a community resource
v. identify trends and untold stories
vi. plan a game featuring diverse representation
In May and June 2018, we met with 21 queer students attending school in 10 cities to learn about their identities, school experiences, and perceptions of queer representation in media. These students were recruited through LGBT student groups, LGBT campus centers, and social media, and each interviewee was paid $10 for their participation.
During our travel we visited nine cities: Dallas, Texas; Waco, Texas; College Station, Texas; Austin, Texas; San Francisco, California; Palo Alto, California; Chicago, Illinois; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Atlanta, Georgia. Our interviewees ranged from 18 to 28 years old, and were attending community colleges, state schools, and private universities.
Interviews were intended to last an hour, though the shortest was just over 30 minutes and the longest was nearly two hours. After collecting basic demographic information, our questions focused on six topics: identity, school, community, health, future plans, and media.
We hoped to establish our participant’s identities first, and then explore how identity impacted different parts of their experiences.
After processing our interviews, we sought to identify common experiences and identities that are underrepresented in games.
Non-binary people exist.
Television and film are beginning to feature non-binary characters, but this identity is largely untouched in video games
Family relationships are rarely black and white.
Many of our participants had come out to parents and extended family, and a majority of them described mixed reactions and understanding of their identities.
Coming out is complicated.
Many students described being selectively out in certain environments, or being out publicly in their college environments, but not at home. Rather than an event or milestone, being out may be a status.
So is religion.
While Christianity and queerness are presented as opponents, we found that our interviewees had varied opinions on religion.
Region is a poor predictor of school resources and community acceptance.
Some students described difficulties finding affordable health care and community events in California, while students in Texas received competent healthcare from the university for no price or a small copay.
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