Xbox ANZ – Channel Marketing Manager Mitch Shelley On Inclusivity In The Gaming Industry

Now more than ever, all facets of the gaming industry – from development teams to the games themselves – are championing inclusivity.


The team at Xbox ANZ are constantly looking at new ways to explore how to further represent, include and provide a safe space for the LGBTQIA+ community. Whether it's through the content being presented to gamers, or in-game tools to report against bullying and harassment.

Every little thing makes a difference. . . Games like 'The Sims' have been trailblazers in expression – allowing players to explore romantic and sexual relationships with the same gender since release in 2000. . . And recently, the franchise has even added the ability to choose pronouns, add top surgery scars to Sims, and more.

In 2020, 'Call Of Duty Warzone' added six Pride flag Calling Cards to its game, allowing players the option to represent their identity and sexuality in this way, and in 2021 they added two more for further representation.

Episodic adventure game 'Tell Me Why' from Dontnod Entertainment was an Xbox/PC release in 2020 featuring a transgender main character voiced by a transgender actor. Developers worked with queer organisation GLAAD to accurately and compassionately portray the transgender experience in the game.

Content creation is at an all-time high, too, and queer streamers on platforms like Twitch and YouTube are building audiences and creating safe spaces of their own for their viewers online.

It's been a long, winding road to reach a fully inclusive industry – a road which continues on. . . But huge steps are being taken to get there.

Xbox ANZ Channel Marketing Manager Mitch Shelley – a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community, and a part of the Microsoft team for around a decade – has first-hand insight into the leaps and bounds queer representation in gaming has made over the years.

We sit down with Mitch to learn about the journey so far, and what needs to happen going forward to continue the shift in how the LGBTQIA+ community can see themselves, represent themselves, and feel safe and at home in the world of gaming.

Talk a bit about where you see inclusivity in the gaming industry at present.
I think that the games industry is in a better place than some others at the moment. While it certainly isn’t perfect by any means, I believe there are a number of individuals and organisations that are working hard to make it a more inclusive space. You can see this across many areas, such as improvements towards captioning in games, AUSLAN signing and general accessibility at events, and even dedicated accessories and peripherals for people with limited mobility are all incredible steps towards better inclusivity that we’ve seen over recent years. I think however, that now it is crunch time with the world seemingly in turmoil about views around self-expression and gender representation. The industry needs to be firm in its commitment to inclusivity and stand strong for its community regardless of how they identify.

Mitch Xbox inclusivity
Mitch Shelley

What do you think is the biggest shift you’ve seen regarding this, over your time in the industry?
I think it boils down to just overall LGBTQIA+ representation in the industry. We’re seeing greater inclusion of queer characters and themes in video games. Not to mention some incredible creators out there as well.

How do you think we could go forward from this point toward a more inclusive environment and industry?
The biggest thing that springs to mind is gender expression, and while there is still a ways to go here, I believe it's starting to head in the right direction. Character customisation has been steadily allowing people to express themselves and fully reflect their true selves visually, but in many cases, players are still generally stuck with the good ol' binary symbols when starting their adventures. I can't tell you how proud I was to see they/them options when I first booted up Forza Horizon 5. I really hope this is a sign of things to come for the industry, especially with the number of troubling trends in the world right now. I think there is a huge opportunity for the games industry to be a true leader in inclusivity and to be a voice for people that right now feel like their rights and even their existence are coming into question from people who should not only know better but BE BETTER.

For Xbox, what sorts of tools are available to players, particularly in the queer community, that can help to keep them safe when playing online?
At Xbox, we are committed to providing a safe and inclusive space where the LGBTQIA+ community and all players can be their authentic selves, and to creating gaming experiences that are welcoming and accessible for all players. To support the broader player-base and queer community, we have developed a multifaceted approach to safety that includes in-game reporting tools to help players flag issues of inappropriate behaviour or content, and we invest in 24/7 coverage around the globe to help respond to and investigate these reports. Additionally, we have moderation tools that work across text, images and video, because it’s critical that harmful content is blocked before it reaches our players. Players have access to automatic text filters, which empower players to customise their gaming experience and decide what kind of content is not okay to receive – these filters automatically block content before it reaches the player and help prevent negative experiences. We are deeply invested in the safety and well-being of our players – which includes the queer community – and continue to accelerate and implement proactive measures to block hate speech as well as invest in innovative technologies to help moderate potentially toxic communications, while also allowing individual expression. At the end of the day, there is no place in the video game community – or our society – for hate, personal attacks and threats. Everyone has the right to create, play and contribute to our industry without the fear of being a target of violence or harassment.

Tell Me Why Image 1
'Tell Me Why'

You’ve had involvement in LGBTQIA+ initiatives at Microsoft and Xbox throughout your career. What sorts of things have you done over the years?
This might be a bit of an indirect way to answer but stick with me. Having not really had visible role models growing up or even early in my career for that matter, I try to throw my hat in the ring for any opportunity that comes up these days so I can be the person I never had for someone else. I do honestly feel lucky to be in a place where I'm comfortable in being myself and not have to hide a piece of my life away. I've been lucky enough to have been a Co-Chair of our LGBTQIA+ resource group [GLEAM] at Microsoft for a few years which has honestly been one of the most rewarding things I've done in my career. It's been amazing to help drive support and visibility for key milestones throughout the year such as Wear It Purple Day, IDAHOBIT, Coming Out Day etc, and not just the standard annual Mardi Gras/Pride beat that we see from a lot of organisations. As a father and husband, my other passion point is celebrating diverse family makeups. Going through the process of having a child as a same-sex couple is obviously not without its challenges and is also really intimidating. We were lucky enough to have a colleague of my husband's support us and share their own journey which was crucial in helping us set our path as well. Because of this, I now take any chance to talk about our journey, be it sharing through our family's resource group, or even really stepping out of my comfort zone and speaking on a podcast about being a gay dad as my way of paying back. The process as a whole also really highlighted to me the importance of equal primary carer benefits regardless of gender.

How do you express yourself in the world of gaming?
Online and offline I’m a proud member of the community so overtly you’ll almost always see my sloop in 'Sea Of Thieves' flying a rainbow flag. But otherwise, I don’t have a concrete answer. The beautiful thing about the gaming world is that it will generally let you be whatever you want to be. Today might be a green hair, purple beard kind of day with my character, while tomorrow could be something completely different.

When did you get into games and what has kept you engrossed in them?
I’m showing my age here, but for me it all began when we were given our Atari 2600 for Christmas one year. This was then followed by several weeks of buying cables and adapters and trying to figure out how to make an ancient TV work with it. I think for me it's the fact that games suspend reality, even for just a little while so in a way it’s the ultimate escapism. It also lets me do things that are impossible in the real world – I mean who doesn’t want the ability to fly or chuck fireballs at monsters when you are having a bad day. I’m a huge RPG, survival and city-builder fan, so gaming gives me the chance to truly escape into the things that I love.

Do you have a favourite game that sticks out for you in terms of being truly inclusive/involving the queer experience?
The first titles that spring to mind for me are anything from Bioware. Games like 'Mass Effect' and 'Dragon Age' give players a great story that offers a level of choice and direction to make you truly feel like it’s 'your story'. Not only can you spend hours upon hours customising your avatar to suit who you want to be, but they also offer up many romancing options that allow you to express your sexuality in the way that you want, as opposed to only offering up options to build straight relationships like other titles have done.