Group Brings Fun, Connection to a Locked-Down World During COVID-19

By Chris Rudisill
November 27, 2020

For Zach Smith, gaming has been a safe space for much of his life. “Some of my first memories are of playing video games,” he says.

Smith, who is the executive director of the Charlotte Gaymers Network, remembers playing on a Sega Genesis with his sister when he was young. “For me, growing up and getting bullied as a gay kid, video games were a safe haven — an escape to sort of not face the kind of cruddy reality I was facing at the moment,” says Smith. “I think that’s why they became so important to me.”

Now, he and others in Charlotte are creating that same environment for the LGBTQ community — often in a virtual way during the COVID-19 pandemic. On July 6, Smith and Jonathan Barrio started talking about gaming after realizing there was a subset of Queen City Prism members, which Barrio also helped found, who were into the hobby or sport.

What started as a small conversation of about 15 people meeting for happy hour gaming sessions every day after work soon grew into a massive group of LGBTQ gamers, or as they like to say “gaymers.” During the pandemic-caused quarantine, gaming helped break the monotony of being stuck at home and provided a social outlet for people.

“This is something that people need and want and desire, especially in the middle of this pandemic,” says Barrio. The two say they grew closer to members of Prism through the subject of gaming and attribute much of that early success to Animal Crossing: New Horizons. This latest release of Nintendo’s social simulation video game came out on March 20, just as lockdowns were reshaping lives across North Carolina and the nation. According to the game’s website, Animal Crossing allows you to “create your personal island paradise on a deserted island brimming with possibility.” In 2020, that thought sounds very appealing.

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This story was produced by the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative, a partnership of six media companies working together in an effort started by the Solutions Journalism Network and funded by The Knight Foundation.

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