How a video game for kids can help in the acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community

The acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community is virtually non-existent in the developing world, and it has seen a decline in the case of a few developed countries, as shown by the Accelerating Acceptance reports of the past three years.

LGBTQ+ acceptance has declined from 63% in 2016 to 45% in 2018, according to Accelerating Acceptance reports. Source

Before talking about combating it (which my project will focus on), let’s talk about why this is happening.

  1. Young people not having much exposure to the LGTBQ+ community.
  2. Anti-LGBTQ+ elements are doctrinizing people from a young age.
  3. Less percentage of the world population is in the community (brings us back to point #1).

Expose children and young teens to the community through the power of tech.

Equal is a (proposed) game intended for children that introduces them to the LGBTQ+ community early in their life so that they won’t feel alien to them, and thus increase the acceptance of LGBTQ+ community in the broader fashion.

It features something called stories. Kids can choose any from a list and start playing it. For example, there can be a pirate story that highlights the kids being a pirate to conquer the pirate lands by forming alliances and defeating enemies. The kid would be meeting people of diverse backgrounds, including people from the community, and there would be mini-games likecolor the rainbow flag,’ quizzes with a focus on LGBTQ+ related topics, etc.

It focuses on subtly introducing the concept that someone can be LGBTQ+ so that when they are to form an opinion about them in real life, the community won’t seem alien to them.

Though I am an ally, the way I look at this is from the perspective of someone outside the community. If I want to make Equal what I hope for it to be, I feel perspectives from LGBTQ+ people are crucial.

So I arranged for an interview with Ms. Varsha Raju, Mr. Sarath Muralidharan, and Ms. Shruthi Kumaravel, who are students belonging to the LGBTQ+ community, to talk about societal acceptance of LGBTQ+ and how Equal can help in increasing it.

As a preliminary step, I spoke with Ms. Varsha Raju and Mr. Sarath Muralidharan, who are students belonging to the LGBTQ+ community, to know about the current and past societal acceptance of LGBTQ+, and a little bit about Equal itself.

Ms. Varsha Raju is a student studying Bachelor of Technology in Instrumentation and Control Engineering from the National Institute of Technology, Tiruchirappalli (also referred to as NIT Trichy), in her third year now. She identifies herself as bisexual.

Mr. Sarath Muralidharan is a student studying Bachelor of Architecture from NIT Trichy as well, in his fifth and final year of study. He identifies as gay.

The conversation I had with both of them helped drive home the point that homophobic tendencies still exist in society today.

When asked about his parents’ and friends’ reactions to his coming out, Sarath said, “I first came out to my friends, and even though there were varied reactions, I’m very lucky to say that all of them were positive affirming responses. And with parents, I knew I wasn’t going to get an accepting response, but unless I broke their bubble, they’d never want to educate themselves on this.

I felt a lack of exposure and generation gap are two huge factors influencing it. The current generation has been exposed to LGBTQ+ more than the previous generations, due to a lot of people coming out as LGBTQ+ nowadays.

About the homophobic tendencies in India and the United States, Varsha said, “In the US, right now, it’s a lot more chill than it is here in India. The idea is more normalized.”.

She added, “But it’s hard to think of the country as a whole. I would say big metropolitan cities are one thing, but rural areas can have quite homophobic communities.”.

The situation in urban areas is much better than rural areas, no matter what country it is. And when comparing across countries, the western world is more accepting of the LGBTQ+ community.

They also gave me a few suggestions to include in Equal. Sarath talked about how a Wiki/FAQ section, which clears the doubts that kids have about LGBTQ+, could help. Varsha emphasized on normalizing the concept itself, and not portraying them as ‘different.’

I thank them for their suggestions and for shedding light on how the world is to an LGBTQ+ person.

For the full interview, please click here.

I wanted to get insight into Equal itself. What’s better than another interview 🥳

Ms. Shruthi Kumaravel is a pansexual student from the National Institute of Technology, Tiruchirappalli, in her first-year studying Bachelor of Technology in Computer Science and Engineering.

Siddharth Venu: Hey Shruthi! I am glad to have you here. How are you doing?

Shruthi Kumaravel: I am doing okay, what about you?

SV: I’m doing great, just anxious about the COVID-’19 situation here. I hope you are safe from that.

SK: I’m safe, thanks for asking.

SV: What are you doing nowadays to escape boredom in quarantine?

SK: Mostly Netflix binging and trying to code.

SV: Must be fun. My day goes by similarly, except I am more into Prime Originals.

Jumping into the topic at hand, when did you discover that you are attracted to people of the same gender?

SK: I figured that out in 11th grade, when I found myself attracted to one of my best friends.

SV: That must have been a confusing time for you. Is she in the LGBTQ+ community as well?

SK: She hadn’t figured herself out at the time but she came out as bisexual pretty recently.

SV: I feel happy for her! Coming out isn’t really an easy task.

Did you talk about your attraction to her?

SK: I did.

She turned me down politely but took it pretty well.

SV: Though she turned you down, I am glad to hear that she supported you.

Did you talk about your sexuality to your parents yet?

SK: Not yet. And i don’t think I will anytime soon unless it would be absolutely necessary.

SV: I understand. Some of my bisexual friends prefer to date people of the opposite sex just to escape the hard talk with their parents. Do you concur with them?

SK: I wouldn’t put it like that. I believe in just taking things as they come and having to worry about the talk only if I want to take things to the next level with a girl.

SV: I get your point. How about your friends? Did you discuss your sexuality with any of them?

SK: I’m pretty open with most of my peers.

SV: I’m glad to hear that! What were their reactions to you coming out?

SK: Mostly very positive, some confused.

SV: That’s fantastic!

I hope I can ask you questions about Equal (the project we are building to increase the acceptance of LGBTQ+ in our society).

SK: Yeah, go ahead!

SV: Let us assume you are 10, and you were playing this game. Do you think it would have helped you in accepting yourself later on when you discovered you were pansexual?

SK: I think it would have helped me break out of heteronormative ideas and helped me come to terms with my sexuality much earlier.

So the first time i came across homosexuality is in 8th grade when i went to a summer camp and a girl told me about her girlfriend back home.

I remember asking if she meant boyfriend, I couldn’t fathom that a same sex couple could exist when all i’ve watched on television or heard people talk about is a cis-male and cis-female together.

SV: I can imagine what that’s like. I didn’t even know about the LGBTQ+ community until I was in the 8th or 9th grade.

SK: When my hormones began to shoot up at high school and I found myself attracted to a genderfluid person, it was a new concept and it scared me that I had no one to talk to about it.

I feel being open to sexualities or genders earlier would have helped me not feel so alien about my feelings.

SV: Thank you for your elaborate answer.

What do you think can be implemented in the game that would’ve made your “accepting yourself” and “coming out” process easier?

SK: I feel like it’s important to just make children parented by same sex couples look like any other functional family.

LGBTQ people don’t always have to have a sad backstory, sometimes they can be portrayed in a positive light.

SV: I agree, we have to show that they are as capable and diverse as heterosexual couples.

What would be a good way to introduce characters from the community without painting them in a stereotypical light?

SK: You could show both of them having happy accepting parents, or bisexual people in heterosexual relationships.

You could also show trans-people with specific preferred pronouns without having undergone any biological surgery.

Within same sex couple, for example a lesbian relationship, one needn’t be ‘butch’ or ‘femme’. Both could be femme/butch.

SV: True! We should make sure we portray people in a diverse fashion with your suggestions.

As you know, Equal focuses on introducing the community to kids in a subtle manner. Can you think of any ways that can be incorporated by the video game for the same, other than introducing characters who are from the community?

SK: Well, there are going to be families in the game, I’m assuming.

SV: It depends on the story, but in general, yes.

SK: The families would have same sex parents.

SK: In case there’s a romantic sidetrack, it could portray the pirate pursuing another person of the same gender instead of the opposite.

SV: That will actually sensitize the player towards LGBTQ+ really well!

When we think about the overall mission itself, some may have the opinion that what it hopes to achieve is really high.

Do you think Equal will be a solution that will absolutely stop Anti-LGBTQ+ elements? Or do you think it will be something that helps people in accepting the community, complementing the existing efforts?

SK: I think it will play a part in normalizing LGBTQ concepts in young minds. And probably lead to a more accepting future. However, it may not help completely eradicate anti-LGBT elements that already exist in society.

SV: Thank you for your honest opinion. With the help of the community and its allies, I envision Equal to help people not viewing LGBTQ+ as something foreign to them.

Within Equal, it is planned to include mini-games that hints at and introduces them to the LGBTQ+ community.

These mini-games would be played for the kids to accomplish a certain thing — like defeat an enemy pirate.

A possible mini-game can be “coloring the rainbow in the correct order” (thus representing the LGBTQ+ community’s flag — at the end of the mini-game, we can reveal this fact), that could possibly be an introduction to Equal itself.

The mini-games further down the line can be more obvious with the LGBTQ+ topic.

SK: That sounds interesting.

SV: Do you think this would have an impact in the kids’ minds?

SK: It would, it would help them question out of heteronormative constraints that society would likely impose on them.

And since it’s at such a young age, it’d nice how they are introduced to these concepts before they’ve already formed concrete opinions.

SV: Thank you. That is why Equal targets kids primarily.

Can you think of any limitations to this idea? Do you think it can backfire, doing the opposite of what it intends to do?

SK: It could backfire if parents are homophobic and don’t want to get this game for their children scared that it could ‘corrupt their minds’.

SV: True, if Equal becomes a topic of discussion, parents who are anti-LGBTQ+ would actively try to not let their kids be exposed to the community.

SK: Yeah.

SV: Before we end this interview, can you give any feedback or suggestions, to take Equal to greater heights and accomplish its mission?

SK: I think this is a great idea and I wish you best of luck in making Equal real!

SV: Thank you so much Shruthi for taking time off to help build Equal. It has been an insightful experience hearing your thoughts and suggestions. Let us hope we see a day soon when people are judged for their actions and not who they are. Thank you once again.

SK: No problem. I hope so too!

The world we live in is not accepting of people who are LGBTQ+. Though we made vast strides in the last couple of decades, we still have a long way to go.

Equal can be one of the methods to help nudge society towards accepting people for who they are. It may not be something that solves the problem outright, but it is something that will help each individual get sensitized towards the LGBTQ+ community.

Though it is in its infancy and requires tweaks here and there, with the help of Open Source community, to whom I’m proposing this project, it can make a substantial difference to the world.

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