Next month is Pride month – a time to recognise and celebrate of the lives, achievements, and history of the LGBTQI+ community… And one Sunderland PhD student is taking this to another level, by using her successful gaming network to shine a light on queer themes in video games.

Steph Farnsworth is the brains behind Multiplay – a platform for education researchers, sociologists and media and gaming scholars to collaborate and share their ideas and expertise – with the ultimate aim of establishing gaming as an area of study in the north-east and beyond.

Next Wednesday (June 1) Steph will be joined by speakers from around the world for Multiplay’s Queering and Questioning Video Games Conference, which will explore the queer contributions to the video games industry while celebrating the start of Pride.

Steph, 31, who is studying a gaming PhD at the University of Sunderland, said: “Queerness is an essential part of life. So many people are queer in society, and we can’t and shouldn’t ignore it – particularly the queer narratives we experience as gamers and how they can transform people, and even wider society.

“It’s really important for gamers to see stories they can connect to, and people who they want to be. It’s also really important to have queer-affirmative events because the gaming community has not always been a welcoming place to marginalised gamers. We want to look at how we can do better as a community, and at the impact queer games have on players.”

Steph added: “Games are embracing queer stories now. ‘The Outer Worlds’ and ‘Anthem’ had asexual characters, gay and bisexuals are more commonplace and ‘The Last of Us 2’ and ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ had transgender characters.

“These are big names in the gaming world, and they are starting to make content that is more reflective of our society. There’s still a long way to go, but there has been good progress in the last few years.”

Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Programme Leader of MSc Inequality and Society at the University of Sunderland, Drew Dalton, is attending the event as a keynote speaker.

Drew has significant industry experience in the Third Sector, human rights and in education. He has been Chair of several organisations, including those that have highlighted LGBTQI+ histories and those that support LGBTQI+ Muslims. Currently he is the Founder and Chair of ReportOUT, a global human rights charity for sexual and gender minorities.

Drew said: “With the gaming industry estimated to be worth more than £300 billion in 2022, eclipsing that of Hollywood and their film industry, it is time in amongst this rapid growth, to examine some pressing themes which have largely been overlooked – such as queer lives.

“The industry ranges from good to bad examples of queer lives, so it is time to open the lid and take a look at what this looks like now.”

Drew added: “I am overawed at the success of Multiplay and what they have achieved in such a short space of time.

“I am personally honoured to be a keynote for the conference, and to be talking about queer lives and computer games. It is amazing to see these discussions starting to really produce groundswell.”

Since launching in July 2021, Multiplay continues to gain momentum with an ever-growing committee. Since its last Valentine’s Day-themed conference in February this year, 48 new members joined the network – taking the current total membership to 134.

“It’s overwhelming and a real privilege to see it grow,” Steph said.

“We have a huge number of conferences planned, we’ve launched a podcast and are working to put together a journal with the help of the University, who have been incredibly supportive of the network.”

The Queering and Questioning Video Games Conference is supported by the University’s Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies and the Participations Interdisciplinary Research Network.

Register for the free event here.