Video game companies roll out the mandatory rainbow flags, but only as far as it doesn’t hurt their bottom line.
Every year when the month of June comes around, there is a change in the air – everything is rainbow-coloured and paraded, and every corporation puts its best inclusivity hat on. The whole world, and especially the US, is no stranger to commercial exploitation of holidays. In that regard, the video game industry is no different.
(Don’t) taste the rainbow
Many popular game titles are having some sort of pride month events, sales or giveaways. Destiny 2 sells (proceeds donated to a charity) a real-world rainbow pin, which will also give you a corresponding emblem in-game. Forza Horizon 5 plans to give a rainbow livery for a Zonda Cinque supercar to all players. Halo Infinite and League of Legends have some sort of a rainbow-coloured cosmetic items. Kid-centric obstacle course gameshow-like Fall Guys provides a free “painted with pride” costume and a selection of prideful profile pictures to everyone. But ever-popular tactical shooter Valorant out-tactics all of them. Their free banner pack offers banner cards for bisexual, lesbian, gay, pansexual, ace, non-binary, and trans pride. God forbid we make someone feel excluded, right?
There might be other games that have Pride Month events, but most of them have one thing in common – these are either Western market games, or they are made by Western developers. For example, there is not even a whiff of a pride month celebration in such a colossal game as Genshin Impact. The game is developed by miHoYo in Shanghai, China, and they do have a request for a pride month event on their official community website. But opinion is split even within the community, many pointing to the lack of in-game necessity for the event, and general rejection of LGBT culture in official China.
The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow
The celebration of gay pride is nothing bad in and of itself. But when a 60s social movement is transformed into a capitalistic cash grab, it loses all of its authenticity.
Every June, all major consumer goods corporations switch to a rainbow profile picture on social media and preach inclusivity and acceptance for all, no matter who you are (without any specifics, of course, the legal counsel won’t allow that). But even then, there is a catch. The world is not as uniform and acceptant of this relatively new form of pride. Therefore, by broadcasting the message of gay love you might alienate a part of your audience and take a hit to your bottom line. The solution? Easy: only participate in Pride Month activities in markets with heavy LGBT trends! That’s why, for example, Bethesda Softworks paints its Twitter profile picture in all the Pride colours in the US and Europe for 30 days every year while at the same time gamers in the Middle East and Russia can continue to play without feeling emasculated. There are also local laws that need to be observed, like the Russian law against LGBTQ propaganda to minors, but a genuinely determined company could step around that by restricting its Pride-related events to players aged over 18. Bethesda, having stopped digital sales in Russia earlier this year, probably wouldn’t even have to do that – but then again, since it’s already not making any profit, why bother?
Pride Month gets a lot of attention in the media and in games. But why? What makes people treat this month so differently? There are annual events with giveaways, but there are hardly any events during Black History Month (if we’re talking about the US, where there is a lot of discussion on racism) or WWII Victory Day. There is very little mention of International Women’s Day, Ramadan, any Hindu or Buddhist holidays, or anything else. Pride Month is treated by game developers the same way as New Year, Christmas, Easter, and the Chinese New Year. The latter probably could not have been ignored any longer given the size of the Chinese market, which only proves this point.
The Pride celebrations are extremely popular among left-leaning western young people, which is one of key demographics for video game companies. For an industry that is pushing for a long lasting “game as a service” model, to take advantage of this trend to make money and groom its audience enough so it can do it again next year is a win-win scenario. What some of the said audience is thinking, is less relevant. If you scoff at something as big and accepted as Pride Month, you could be labelled as an uncultured relic of the past and dismissed, without any care for what you have to say.
If the selection of in-game holiday events will stay dependent on how much positive press and income can be accrued by the game’s creators, that is probably what we should expect. That is the nature of the capitalistic society we live in. But then let’s call them “thematic sale events” or something, so companies can stop pretending that they care about a specific thing for a specific amount of time.