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Friday, April 12, 2024

The Queer Appeal of 'Dead by Daylight'

A few months ago, a friend introduced me to this peculiar horror game he was playing on Nintendo Switch. The game, Dead by Daylight, originally came out in 2016, but quickly enveloped my life. Working from home with minimal social interaction and looming financial precarity put a heavy strain on my mental health, and a horror video game where I’m constantly fighting for survival felt like a kind of virtual exposure therapy.

If you haven’t played before, here are the gameplay basics for Dead by Daylight. Five players are in each round: one killer and a team of four survivors. The team of survivors work together to repair generators, while the killer attempts to catch the survivors and impale their bodies on giant hooks strewn across the map. If the team of survivors is able to repair five generators, then any survivors who have not been sacrificed by the killer can try to escape out the exit gates.


I am definitely not the only member of the queer community currently obsessed with Dead by Daylight. The game is quite popular with Twitch streamers who use the LGBTQIA+ tag. Even Trixie Mattel, from Rupaul’s Drag Race, is an avid fan of the game and recently played Dead by Daylight on Twitch as part of a charity stream.

Dead by Daylight fleshes out its survivors and killers with detailed game lore exploring their backstory and motivations. In June, the development team behind Dead by Daylight, Behavior, acknowledged a lack of diversity in the game’s lore: “We did set our character’s preferences in the past, notably in heterosexual relationships,” the developers posted on the game’s official Twitter account.

We spoke with five Twitch streamers who are members of the queer community and regularly play Dead by Daylight to investigate why a video game that was not intentionally created for the queer community has gained such traction with this audience.

Sammy, aka simplesammy, primarily streams as a survivor in Dead by Daylight. He is especially drawn to the character of Zarina. “I was honestly so surprised when she was released, because I relate to her so much. My dad is a Syrian immigrant to Canada, and her story is similar. She is the child of two Arab immigrant parents (reference) who come to the U.S,” he said.

In the game lore for Dead by Daylight, Zarina Kassir considers changing her first name to Karina. Sammy identified with the pressure to adopt a more Westernized name, “My name is Sammy. That’s my full name; it’s not Samuel.” In English, the name Sammy is often considered a nickname, but “…in Arabic, it means of a higher caliber. It actually has a beautiful meaning.”

While he culturally relates to Zarina, Sammy admitted that Dead by Daylight might benefit from additional queer representation among its characters. “For a game that has so many queer people playing it, why not have one of them be somewhere under the umbrella?”

Sammy compared the experience of watching a Dead by Daylight stream on Twitch to watching “a mini horror movie” and mentioned the popularity of the horror genre within the queer community. “When it comes to Dead by Daylight specifically, you can be a survivor being chased by a killer. In a way, that is an allegory for queer folks who run away from the cishet society’s views of what their life should be.”

Joe, who streams as justsaynotojoe, was drawn into playing Dead by Daylight by watching other people stream as the survivor. “I think the thing that appeals to me about Dead by Daylight, is the same thing that appeals to me about a lot of horror movies. You’re rooting for that survivor. You’re rooting for that final girl, especially. Gays love a strong female character surviving at the end.”

Dead by Daylight regularly partners with horror movies to release paid downloadable content featuring licensed characters. If you are playing Dead by Daylight as the killer, you can be Michael Myers from Halloween, Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Amanda Young from Saw. Multiple characters are incorporated from the Stranger Things universe: Nancy Wheeler and Steve Harrington as survivors and the Demogorgon as a killer.

It was one of these horror franchises that brought Jude, aka mermaidqueenjude, back into playing the game, “I started playing Dead by Daylight again when they released Silent Hill.” With numerous, iconic horror villains on the roster, players might feel enticed to keep playing the game (and spending money) based on intellectual property they are already familiar with. “As someone who grew up on the Scream movies…having Ghost Face in the game is one of my favorite things and makes me so happy.”

Also, Jude appreciated how Dead by Daylight featured a drag queen serving Jane Romero realness on their Twitter account and stood by the video when some Twitter users negatively reacted. Jude said, “They were blocking people who were being homophobic and transphobic in the comments. Behavior has been so vocal about protecting queer spaces and uplifting us in ways that they can as a development company. It makes us feel safer than other gaming communities.”

Evidious, aka Evidious515, is a member of team Stream Queens on Twitch and describes herself as a “bearded, busty, beer-loving drag queen who plays a lot of Dead by Daylight.” During our conversation, she shared similar views about Behavior’s posts on social media. “I think that being embraced by the development company as queer, LGBTQIA+ individuals has been great.”

The variety of gameplay experiences is another reason that Evidious loves streaming the game. “I’ve always been a gamer, so it’s nice that you can change up perks, change up killers, and change up survivors. Each match feels brand new.”

Violet, who streams as ThatNerdViolet, also enjoys playing Dead by Daylight as both the killer and the survivor but streams more as a survivor. “While I’m streaming, I tend to prefer survivor a little bit more, because it gives me that downtime when I can still chat with my community and make that connection. Whereas when I am a killer, I’m really focusing very hard going after those chases.”

Cosplayers from a variety of backgrounds also enjoy getting in on the spooky fantasy. Violet said, “My first ever cosplay that I did on the channel was actually a Dead by Daylight killer. I did The Trapper, and it was awful!” She laughed as she went on, “My skin was dry and the makeup was going all over the place.”

Sammy, Jude and Violet are all members of team Rainbow Arcade on Twitch. Twitch teams organized by LGBTQIA+ streamers, like Stream Queens and Rainbow Arcade, can provide queer creators with a sense of belonging and potentially, grow their audience.

In the four years since the initial release of Dead by Daylight, Behavior has taken the time to build an inclusive culture around its video game. While this video game might not have been originally created with a queer audience in mind, Behavior openly embraces the fandom. In addition to directly addressing criticism from some in the LGBTQIA+ community, this June, Behavior released an array of emotes celebrating International Pride Month available on the official Dead by Daylight Discord server.

Other game development companies might want to consider following Behavior’s lead and actively nurture a relationship with this segment of the gaming community. In a recent Nielsen study, 10% of gamers self-identified as LGBTQIA+. In addition, the study found that LGBTQIA+ gamers spent 8% more per month.

Many of the queer Twitch streamers that we spoke with held an affinity for playing Dead by Daylight as the survivor. I agree with Sammy’s assertion that queer people collectively relate to narratives centered on escape and running away, but I would take it one step further. Behavior created a game where, to be the most successful, survivors must combine their efforts to escape from the killer. During an unprecedented time when many queer people are feeling increasingly alienated, the communal gameplay of Dead by Daylight is providing a much needed cathartic release.

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