News Release

New LEVEL UP! study to examine the mental health benefits of video games for LGBTQ+ youth

Researchers aim to recruit 5,000 LGBTQ+ youth aged 14-29 across Canada, the USA, the UK, Australia, and Mexico to share their experiences

Business Announcement

University of Toronto

LEVEL UP!, a new study recently launched by the International Partnership for Queer Youth Resilience (INQYR) and led by researchers at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work (FIFSW) and Brock University’s Faculty of Education, is examining the possible mental health benefits for LGBTQ+ youth and young adults who play video games.

The international study will provide new insight into the role that video games and gaming communities can play in creating safe, identity-affirming spaces for LGBTQ+ gamers who lack safer spaces to explore or express their gender and sexual identities.

“Video games can provide a more immersive experience than other forms of media such as TV shows and movies, because players can control characters and make decisions that impact the game or storyline,” says Dane Marco Di Cesare, the study’s principal co-investigator. “Because the line between player and character can blur, positive and meaningful LGBTQ+ representation may have greater impacts on well-being."

“Our research consistently finds that LGBTQ+ youth face discrimination, threats and rejection, particularly offline, that negatively impact their mental health and wellbeing. Online, however, LGBTQ+ youth engage more in ways that build their resilience and create affirming communities for their peers,” says Shelley Craig, co-investigator and INQYR’s founder, professor at FIFSW and Canada Research Chair for Sexual and Gender Minority Youth. “We are excited to launch LEVEL UP! to capture the impact of gaming on LGBTQ+ youth given the explosion of video games in the last few years."

In launching the research, LEVEL UP!’s investigators aim to recruit 5,000 LGBTQ+ youth aged 14-29 across Canada, the USA, Mexico, the UK, and Australia. The researchers will also examine how the video game industry creates LGBTQ+ characters and tells LGBTQ+ stories within games.

Video gaming has emerged as an important activity for youth today, with estimates suggesting that 10 percent of gamers over the age of 18 identify as LGBTQ+. In 2021, the global gaming industry saw a 20 percent increase in revenue, surpassing that garnered by sports and movies.  LEVEL UP!’s researchers have also noted an increase in LGBTQ+ representation in video games, with more storylines and characters exploring LGBTQ+ themes and inclusive romance options. Games such as The Last of Us: Part 2, Assassins Creed: Valhalla, and Life is Strange 3 are some examples.

“Representation matters,” says Di Cesare, who is also an avid gamer himself. “LGBTQ+ youth seeing themselves meaningfully and appropriately represented within video game characters and/or storylines can be affirming and can have a positive impact on their wellbeing.”

Research Assistant Shannon Cheung, who regularly plays video games as well, agrees. “Positive LGBTQ+ representation in video games is important to me because, on a fundamental level, it communicates to me — and so many others, LGBTQ+ or not — that I have a place in our world,” Cheung says. “All the East Asian characters that I grew up with in the early 2000s were martial artists, socially awkward, nerdy high schoolers, or seductresses, and none were LGBTQ+. Seeing positive LGBTQ+ representation increasingly show up in video games helps me nurture that younger version of me, who thought that to be accepted in this world, I had to be someone I wasn’t."

INQYR is an interdisciplinary and multilingual international research partnership designed to understand and support the resilience of LGBTQ+ youth and young adults in an increasingly digitized world. Hosted by the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, it’s the first initiative of its kind to be funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Partnership Grant.


For more information contact:

Dane Marco Di Cesare, Assistant Professor
Principal Co-Investigator, LEVEL UP!
International Partnership for Queer Youth Resilience (INQYR)

Shelley Craig, Professor
Co-Investigator, LEVEL UP!
Project Director, International Partnership for Queer Youth Resilience (INQYR)
Canada Research Chair for Sexual and Gender Minority Youth

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