PS Berge

PS Berge (they/them) is a doctoral student at the University of Central Florida. Their research falls at the intersection of queer game studies (especially tabletop roleplaying games, gaming fandoms, and queer power fantasies) and toxic technocultures (including cross-platform dynamics and white supremacist recruitment). Their work has appeared in or is forthcoming at ICIDS, New Media + Society, and ACM Hypertext, as well as Game Studies.

Contact information:
hello at

Rebecca K Britt

Rebecca K. Britt (she/hers) is an associate professor in the College of Communication & Information Sciences at the University of Alabama. Her research is interdisciplinary in nature, centering on the role of online collectives related to health communication and games (in particular, fandom), networks and the role of social capital to understand how social systems influence and disrupt health behaviors.

Contact information:
rkbritt at

Dance With Me, Claude: Creators, Catalyzers and Canonizers in the Fire Emblem: Three Houses Slash-Ship Fandom

by PS Berge, Rebecca K Britt


The fields of queer game and fandom studies have fostered critical discussions about the way fan communities perform meaning making in response to queerbaiting. Scholarship has emphasized how fans repurpose and remediate games through “queer play” and countergaming (Chang, 2017) -- reimagining the possibility for queerness in games. In this study, we perform an analysis of 115,268 tweets using four slash-ship hashtags related to the videogame Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Intelligent Systems, 2019) -- a Nintendo Switch game with a legacy of queerbaiting. By looking at slash-ship hashtag networks, we show how the FE3H gay shipping fandom works to not only resist heteronormative structures but visualize and center queer life through FE3H characters. We show how this effort is structurally supported by fan labor in the community at three levels: creators (e.g., fan artists, fanfic writers), catalyzers (e.g., event hashtags and organizers, data miners) and curators (e.g., voice actors, zine-makers). We ultimately argue that the fan-practices of the FE3H slash-shipper community extend previous definitions of queergaming and suggest that game studies has much to learn from slash-shippers about finding queer life in videogames.

Keywords: queer game studies, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Fire Emblem, shippers, slash, fandom, queergaming, catalyzers, canonizers, creators


Introduction: “Each battle, a chance to grow” [1]

Queer videogame scholars have focused on the work of documenting queer games and their histories, and on unpacking theories of “queer play” and “queergaming” that resist the heteronormative, hegemonic structures of videogame convention (Phillips, 2020; Ruberg & Shaw, 2017). A key component of the latter involves exploring the role of fan remediation in queering game spaces, as Chang (2017) writes:

Queergaming takes up this idea of borrowing, appropriating and repurposing to describe the strategies in which games and players take existing game titles, characters, stories, and worlds and queer them, remediate them to refashion and reimagine not only content and play but their very own relationship to ostensibly non-queer games and communities (p. 20).

This concept of queergaming applies to fan works and counterplay -- as players reclaim and reimagine videogames in queer ways. This focus on player remix creates a space for game studies and fandom studies team-ups that explore how media and community act upon each other in the context of queer play.

A crucial space for this appears in shipping -- a fan practice of supporting (usually romantic) relationships between fictional characters. Queer shipper videogame fandoms extend previous definitions of queergaming -- opening new avenues for exploring fan remix, queer celebration and resistance to heteronormative structures. Nintendo’s Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Intelligent Systems, 2019) -- a Japanese-roleplaying game (JRPG) in which the player takes on the role of a warrior-professor at a medieval monastery-school -- provides an important case study in gay shipping fandoms on social media. In this study, we structurally examine several slash-ships surrounding Fire Emblem: Three Houses (FE3H) on Twitter by investigating the “ship hashtags” of four character-pairings. By highlighting the actors that contribute to the creation, circulation and legitimization of gay fan content, we show how these slash-ship networks are united in a collective effort to make queer life visible through FE3H characters. We use ship hashtags as a case study in the joy and power, but also the structural complexity, precarity and labor at work in a queer game fandom.

A Rocky History of Gay Love and Queerbaiting in Fire Emblem

FE3H is the most recent installment in the long-running Fire Emblem franchise, building on the technical legacy of previous titles and featuring a sophisticated social system. Tasked with guiding one of the titular “three houses” of nobles, the protagonist (whose default name is Byleth) builds relationships with, trains, and leads the students of their house in battles. The social system of the game revolves around a network of character relationships, as the students under Byleth’s direction bond with Byleth and each other in battle and social interactions (which manifest as “support levels”). When support levels grow between characters, the player watches cutscene interactions between them as their relationships unfold. Because this applies to both the non-player characters (NPCs) and Byleth, and with 40 (as of the most recent downloadable content [DLC]) recruitable members available, this means that the narrative for each character is largely emergent, depending on who the NPCs interact with most. As their support levels grow, characters banter, flirt, confide and argue with one another, and because support levels are variable, no two players will have the same relationship dynamics among the members of their house.

While recruits with high support levels do better in battle together and raising support levels is necessary to progress through the story, the player largely controls which other characters the recruits bond with. By taking the characters to meals together or making them cooperate in battle, the player can pick and choose which supports they want to build. As a result, FE3H quickly becomes a matchmaking game, as the player decides which recruits to pair for missions and activities. At the end of the game, many of the characters share “paired endings”: narratives about what they go on to do together after the events of the storyline (Figure 1). Some of these paired endings are romantic, others adventurous or tragic, and some ambiguously platonic. Nintendo has doubled down on matchmaking elements with DLC Cindered Shadows (Feb. 2020), by adding the Wayseer -- an astrologer who allows you to spend Renown points to build support between characters and even guarantee that “compatible” characters will be married at the end of the game. Unsurprisingly, fan communities online (especially on Twitter) share passionate responses to the relationship dynamics between characters, and shipping one’s favorite couple is common practice.


Figure 1. Dorothea and Petra’s paired ending, describing them returning together to Petra’s homeland. (Intelligent Systems, 2019). Click image to enlarge.


While the presence of support levels between characters is an established part of the Fire Emblem series, the franchise has a history of poorly representing LGBTQIA characters and queer romance in its content. The LGBTQ Video Game Archive (LGBTQ VGA) notes numerous controversies in Fire Emblem games, with such characters as Soleil in Fire Emblem Fates (Nintendo, 2015) who demands the protagonist "cure her" excitement around other girls (Shaw, LGBTQ VGA; Harper, 2019). Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn (Nintendo, 2007) was the first game in the franchise to include an implied gay character, and Fire Emblem Fates featured the first same-sex romance option involving the protagonist -- although this resulted in “gameplay repercussions” (Shaw, LGBTQ VGA). Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (Intelligent Systems, 2017) included a gay character who was more “empathetically written,” but far from complex -- with his dialogue almost exclusively referencing his romantic interest in another male character (Shaw, LGBTQ VGA). FE3H has been largely seen as a step forward, and the game has numerous gay and lesbian paired endings: some involving Byleth and some between NPCs. In the case of Byleth, this is largely dictated by whether the player is playing as male Byleth (“mByleth”) or female Byleth (“fByleth”). In the base game, mByleth has only one gay romance option, while fByleth has five.

The original limitation of mByleth’s gay pairings despite the game’s enormous cast spurred criticism and accusations of queerbaiting. Richardson (2019) wrote an article in “The Casual Gaymer” series titled “Fire Emblem: Three Houses reminds me of queer high school life in the worst way,” lamenting that the game only offered him one gay romance option, Lindhart, and noting “what a situation that could be avoided were there more than one option for men or masculine people who are attracted to the same.” Fans were also frustrated by the presence of overtly flirtatious support dialogues between characters who ultimately had platonic paired endings (or none at all). Online articles pointed to masculine characters with arguably queercoded dialogue, such as Alois, Gilbert and Claude -- who participate in flirty scenes with mByleth in supports, but share decidedly platonic endings (specifying that Alois and Gilbert have families), with headlines such as “Fire Emblem: Three Houses is Catching Heat for Queerbaiting” (Thapliyal, 2019).

While JRPGs are often characterized by mistreatment of queer characters (Belmonte, 2017), FE3H occupies a uniquely complicated position. On the one hand, the game features canonical gay pairings. Yet not only does the game procedurally diminish the number of gay relationships possible, but paired endings themselves provide only a meager glimpse at queer possibility. Because they are short and textual, even “canon” paired endings leave much to the imagination. A prominent Reddit thread titled “List of Romantic, Non-Byleth Paired Endings” clarifies this problem. As the poster, a data miner who scraped all of FE3H’s paired endings shortly after its release, writes, “Reading through the mined text, and have found the list of supports. Listed below are the paired endings that are undeniably romantic, as in the words ‘love’ and/or ‘marriage’ are used in them” (Schleets, 2019, emphasis original). At the end of the post, they note that there are many endings that conclude with the characters “settling down” or “travelling the world together” and that are “deliberately vague [about] romance.” This setup is akin to what Nordin describes as “Queerbaiting 2.0” in which media producers include cursory references to or promises of queer possibility -- but ultimately fail to deliver (2019).

Queer game scholar Todd Harper identifies this very frustration in his aptly titled VICE article “Fire Emblem Doesn’t Just Need Gay Characters, It Needs Queer Life” (2019). Harper notes that much of the end-game dialogue between Byleth and their love interest is the same whether the relationship is gay or not. He points out that while FE3H does feature quantifiable representation, “Math isn't progress... It's just numbers… Fire Emblem's relegation of queerness to ‘a choice you can make, I guess’ while at the same time emphasizing the opposite-gender pairing off of characters is a perfect example of heteronormativity in action” (2019).

Slash-Shippers and The Visibility of Queer Life

A few months after FE3H’s launch, modders released a tool allowing players to marry any character, regardless of gender-pairing. This mod relied on tricking the game code to flag the avatar as fByleth or mByleth when playing as the other (Hernandez, 2019). This resonates with what Halberstam has said about queering game experiences: “queer subjects have to hack straight narratives and insert their own algorithms for time, space, life and desire” (2017, p. 187). In this case, hackers were modding mechanically gender-switching components into the game to enable gay narratives -- a phenomenon increasingly documented by queer modding scholars (Thompson, 2018; Taylor, 2019). Following the public accusations of queerbaiting, Nintendo added two additional gay romance options for mByleth in Cindered Shadows. Yet the project of queering FE3H does not stop at opening the procedural space for additional gay pairings, but extends beyond the game itself and its software (even when hacked). Instead, it’s in following Harper’s invocation -- the need for queer life and not merely “gay emblems” -- that we turn now to the FE3H slash-shipping fandom.

Media and fandom scholars have noted the significance of shipping and the social dynamics of shipper communities -- especially the boundaries drawn within and against them. This work has focused both on the roles shippers (especially queer shippers) play in provoking and challenging the industry, and the dynamics of fan labor (Navar-Gill & Stanfill, 2018; Armstrong, 2018). Others have focused specifically on slash-ships, which feature same-gender partners. Slash-ships are usually labelled in fandom spaces as “wlw” (women-loving-women), “F/F” or “femslash,” and “mlm” (men-loving-men) or “M/M.” Among shippers, slash-ships are considered the underdog, and often stigmatized compared to straight ships (Ng & Russo, 2017). What’s more, within gay shipping, femslash is generally overshadowed by M/M ships (Stanfill, 2017). However, as Ruberg writes, “Gamers, of all people, know what it’s like to be told by those who do not share their passions... that they care too much” (Ruberg, 2017). Dym et. al (2018) perform an extensive analysis of videogame fanfiction networks, describing how fans responded to source material by opening space for more queer characters and interpretations. Although they do not focus specifically on slash, they note that even “small details provided by the game developers provided a significant payoff for players” (para 39).

Our approach to fan-networks is largely structural. Gonzalez (2017) notes that shipping takes place within the technical and social contexts of digital communities and operates with boundaries, norms and regulations much like a larger fandom. Likewise, De Kosnik (2016) discusses the essential role of fan archivists in curating fan works within fandom and shipping networks. In other fandom networks, Rouse and Salter (2021) examine how fans who produce cosplay content on OnlyFans struggle with platform moderation practices, monetization, legal issues and other challenges associated with the labor of their work. Our study emphasizes the complexity of structural actors in the fandom, and our analysis engages with the activity of fans at multiple levels of the network who participate in creating, catalyzing and curating slash-ship content. While much of fan scholarship tends to focus on fan-creations (fanart, fan fiction, etc.) we argue that the success of slash-shipper fandoms in the FE3H community is largely due to the tremendous role of organizers and curators within the network.

Immediately following the release of FE3H, fans online began creating queer content as way of establishing legitimacy for the gay ships they supported -- especially those denied paired endings in the original game. This resulted in the composition of artwork, fanfiction, animation, cosplay photoshoots, memes and comics, which were circulated on Twitter, DeviantArt, Reddit and elsewhere, and solicited and curated through events, indie zines and content accounts. We see the work of slash-shippers as an extension of queergaming -- one that deliberately resists the procedural limitations of the game’s systems and engages in “remediating,” “refashioning” and “reimagining.” Ruberg (2017) has noted that queer readings of game characters are inherently precarious -- often characterized as “pathetic and delusional attempts to see something that isn’t there.” They note that “at best this hegemonic thinking posits that queer readings focus excessively on small tidbits of homoeroticism that are insubstantial, subtextual, subcultural and always second-rate alternatives to the allegedly obvious, reasonable, literal, ostensibly hetero interpretation of bodies on-screen” (p. 200). In this sense, slash-shipping in videogame fandoms is a subversive act of resistance -- artists, organizers and curators take the invisible, the insubstantial (or “emblematic”) dynamics of these characters and give them (queer) life.

Our study suggests that the collective effort of the FE3H slash-shipper fandom is not only to resist and alter the original game itself, or to demand more queer representation, but rather to tangibly center queer life through FE3H characters. FE3H slash-shippers aren’t as interested in seeing more gay characters as they are in seeing more gay characters. And as we will show through our examination of the #ferdibert, #doropetra, #edelthea and #claudevain ships -- fan-creators, catalyzers and canonizers in the network are all engaged in this collective work of centering queer life.

Study Design: “A new path to tread”

Twitter posts were gathered using Crimson Hexagon, a subscription-based social media data library, for data collection and analysis from 26 July, 2019 (the game’s release date) to 24 February, 2020. All tweets in the timeframe were collected and served as a foundation for analysis, which included tweets, retweets and engagement metrics. The total 7,133,314 tweets using #fe3h or #fireemblemthreehouses were queried for context regarding media content. A smaller population of 115,268 using a selection of slash-ship hashtags were then exported and analyzed for media data, as well as volume over time and roles of influencers in the network (Appendix 1). These included the extremely popular ship #ferdibert, moderately popular ships such as #doropetra and #edelthea, and one less popular ship, #claudevain. Within this sample, we wanted to feature ships that were canonical and non-canonical, as well as both F/F and M/M ships.

In this study, we refer to networks as groups of fans who share an experience in the larger #fe3h or #fireemblemthreehouses community. To examine this network, hashtags served as the initial basis for analysis, specifically, the four ship-hashtags. Our approach is relatively horizontal -- relying on quantitative data and analytics to allow us to examine the broader structures of the fandom. The work of Dym et al. (2018) in examining fanfiction metadata is an important precedent for taking networked approaches to queer game fandoms. The present study did not examine the full corpus of ships possible in FE3H; this was deliberate, given that we sought to explore fan activity within a small range of ships. Additionally, while we focused structurally on gay ships, trans and other queer interpretations of these characters were certainly present -- but were unfortunately underrepresented by the largely structural approaches used in this study.

Ethical Considerations

There are necessary ethical considerations when performing fan-studies scholarship, particularly involving marginalized communities online and we are attentive to ongoing concerns regarding fan studies on public platforms (e.g., Zwitter, 2014). This article avoids including names and handles or quoting directly from most community members, with two exceptions: 1) public figures, such as the voice actors for FE3H and 2) organizational handles, which are largely anonymous intermediary accounts designed to signal-boost fan content. Finally, we provide examples of fanart when we discuss the role of creators. All works included are either promotional thumbnails for zines and events (intended for public audiences) or are included with permission of the artists, with attribution and our gratitude. Our hope is to showcase the incredible talent of the community and demonstrate scholarly attentiveness and appreciation without creating risk. It is not lost on us that by performing this study we are ourselves entering into the network as a canonizing force!

All Aboard! The Ships in Context

Before we can dive into the dynamics of the slash-shipper fandom at large, it’s important to characterize the four ships themselves. Below, we share contextual information about each ship and profile the activity of their network. Of the selected ship hashtags examined (Figure 2), the prominence varied significantly: some ships were highly active while others had little engagement (Appendix 2). Part of the work of this study was examining the ways that subgroups of the shipper fandom approached queer meaning-making differently. The breakdown in activity between the ships was as follows (dominant ship names are listed first):

  • Hubert x Ferdinand: #ferdibert and #hubernand (86,666 tweets - 75 percent)
  • Dorothea x Petra: #doropetra and #petrathea (18,335 tweets - 16 percent)
  • Dorothea x Edelgard: #edelthea and #dorogard (9248 tweets - 8 percent)
  • Claude x Sylvain: #claudevain (1286 tweets - 1 percent)

Figure 2. Fanart of the four ships collected. Artwork created by (left to right): @rathaver, @chisiuwu, @doodlefox2, @pillver. Used with permission of the artists. Click image to enlarge.


For efficiency, we will mostly refer to these ships by their dominant ship names. Below, we briefly contextualize each ship and summarize the larger activity within the hashtag, with particular attention to the structural elements involved in driving activity: events, accounts and engagement spikes.



By far the largest slash-ship in the network, the #ferdibert sample comprised 86,666 tweets. Ferdinand x Hubert is not a canon romance in FE3H (though they share a platonic paired ending in which they become joint-officers of Empress Edelgard); in their support conversations during the game, however, Hubert and Ferdinand share romantically coded dialogue and arguably follow a classic enemies-to-lovers arc: going from bitter rivals at their lowest supports to flirting overtly in their higher supports (Figure 3). #ferdibert was the only ship in the sample to have gained enough prominence to be declared “fanon” by the shipping wiki (Ferdibert, n.d.). Many #ferdibert posts pulled from the motifs of tea and coffee -- drinks which spur the initial rivalry between the characters.


Figure 3. Hubert and Ferdinand support dialogue. “Is it a gift? Perhaps for someone you fancy?” (Intelligent Systems, 2019). Click image to enlarge.


Supporting hashtags:

#ferdibertweek2019 served as an informal challenge to visual, written and merchandise artists on Twitter. This event created 8,521 tweets and retweets with the #ferdibert hashtag: its highest point of engagement (Appendix 2; visible in the first week of December, 2019). Engagement with the hashtag also spiked during artist events like #inktober and #kinktober.

Boosting accounts:

  • @ferdibertweek2019 organized and signal boosted the #ferdibertweek2019 event.
  • @ferdibertgang organized and recruited for a shipper Discord server.
  • @FerbieZine collected submissions for “Coffee, Tea, & Maybe Me,” a nonprofit zine supporting the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice.

The tremendous popularity of #ferdibert is likely due to a combination of factors: Hubert and Ferdinand are students in the same house (Black Eagles), meaning they are more likely to interact in playthroughs. M/M ships already tend to be popular, and both enemies-to-lovers arcs and the dynamic of goth-and-gloom meets cheery-and-ditsy is classic in slash fandoms. But outside the context of its initial popularity, we found that #ferdibert was supported by a wide array of boosting accounts and events.


Unlike #ferdibert, Dorothea and Petra are a canonical romance option in the game, with their ending specifically mentioning a “loving” relationship. Dorothea and Petra’s paired ending has also garnered community attention because Petra doesn’t share a romantic paired ending with any other femme character (including fByleth), making this one of the few gay paired endings between two femme characters not involving Byleth. #doropetra’s other spikes in engagement (in September and December) were both the result of two fanart posts going viral, garnering thousands of retweets (as well as art responses and reaction images). These images both depict Petra and Dorothea passionately kissing in profile -- and these trended in the larger #fe3h community (drawing attention outside the queer subcommunity).

Supporting hashtags:

#doropetra was spurred on by an event hashtag #doropetraday, which was cross-listed and boosted by #FEFemslash (an event focusing on creating Fire Emblem femslash content across all ships and games) on 23 November, 2019. Because of this, the hashtag spiked in prominence during #doropetraday in late November and again in mid-February for #femslashfebruary (Appendix 2).

Boosting accounts:

  • @DoroPetraDay sent out the “call” for #doropetraday, soliciting fanfiction and art -- which it then circulated alongside prompts for creators.
  • @FEFemslash (Fire Emblem Femslash) also boosted the event and circulated in-game screenshots of the character’s paired endings as “Resources to get you started” (@FEFemslash, 29 September, 2019).

The #doropetra ship is characterized by a few unique features. Petra represents one of the few racially diverse characters in FE3H, and is often represented in fanart; Dorothea is one of the few commoner recruits in FE3H, unlike Petra, who is of royal heritage. #doropetra played a crucial role in our samples as the single canonical ship.


A ship of Dorothea and Edelgard (house leader of the Black Eagles), #edelthea, like #ferdibert, is not canon, despite Dorothea and Edelgard’s flirtatious support dialogues:

Dorothea: “There’s no telling how life will go. Something could even spark between the two of us!”

Edelgard: “You and I? Now that is an entertaining thought.” (Intelligent Systems, 2019)

Like the previous hashtags, this ship was predominantly spurred by community events soliciting fan content. #edelthea follows the pattern of previous ships, though it differs in execution (such as the division between SFW and NSFW events).

Supporting hashtags:

#edelthea engagement spiked during the community event #edeltheaweek in February 2020 which was also boosted by #femslashfebruary (Appendix 2). A separate event, #edeltheansfwweek was organized for June 2020 by an account, calling for sexually explicit #edelthea content.

Boosting accounts:

  • @edeltheaweek posted a linked Tumblr page with seven days of prompts for fan artists and writers as well as rules (for example, NSFW content was permitted but wouldn’t be retweeted to the event account).
  • @edeltheaweeknsfw circulated, solicited and organized events around specifically NSFW #edelthea content.
  • Allegra Clark, who voices the characters Dorothea and Shamir in English and is herself “chaotic bisexual,” often solicits and signal boosts memes and fan content. She has requested content featuring Dorothea on several occasions, and retweeted #edelthea content, writing “YEAH, WE GAY / KEEP SCROLLING” (Clark, 2019).

These event hashtags often boost and cross-promote one another within the larger FE3H fandom; @edeltheaweek, for example, consistently retweeted other #fe3h ship events such as #marihildaweek (an event celebrating the ship of Marriane x Hilda) and #FEFemslashFebruary. As the Tumblr page for Edeltheaweek says: “After the week… this account will be reblogging and liking Edelthea content; thus, it will become a hub for Edelthea content!” (edeltheaweek). The ship, while not canonical, draws from the characters’ flirtatious in-game interactions. At one point in FE3H, Dorothea tells Edelgard that when she’s around her, she doesn’t worry as much about her love life and eventually she sings about her!


The smallest part of our sample, #claudevain, proved an informative case study when compared to the others. While all the other ships examined were between characters in the same house (Black Eagles), Claude and Sylvain are from two different houses (Golden Deer and Blue Lions respectively), and so do not share in-game support cutscenes. Instead, fan representations of #claudevain are more speculative, but tend to focus on their shared characteristics as flirty, thirsty troublemakers. As a result, very little structural support for #claudevain was present, compared to the other hashtags (Appendix 2). We uncovered no boosting accounts or event hashtags to support #claudevain at the time of collection. While fan content was still prevalent -- fanart, sketches, comics and fanfiction -- this ship remained relatively unpopular (garnering only 1286 tweets) and lacked the signal-boosting, organizational and curating actors of the other ship hashtags. While the ship was the least popular in the sample #claudevain ultimately demonstrated the most significant evolution of a slash-ship over time.

Slash-Ship Fandom Networks: “Such power dwells within?”

Our study suggests that the labor of queering FE3H is not simply that of fan creators themselves, but a collective effort by an entire network of organizers, curators and artists coming together to imagine the possibility of queer life for these characters. Moving beyond the simplicity of paired endings, this is a collective project of making gay love visible, readable and tangible. We found that this project was enacted across three structural layers of the fandom:

  • Creators, who produced the content for the network. We refer to creators as the part of the network that themselves perform the production of fan content.
  • Catalyzers, who encouraged and equipped creators by coordinating events and providing resources. We refer to catalyzers as those who didn’t necessarily produce content but instead precipitated the creation. In this way, catalyzers reshaped the activity of the fandom by galvanizing and redirecting fan activity.
  • Canonizers, who legitimized, signal-boosted and curated fan creations. Canonizers were focused on collecting and circulating extant content.

We’ve arrived at these terms not as concrete labels for fan identities (shippers are unlikely to refer to themselves with these terms) but rather as useful categories for identifying how fans participate within the network. Using these categories, we’re able to unpack the way that fan labor is involved in reimagining queer love in FE3H. We trace this work across each of these structural groupings and show how all three layers have been integral to the continued success of this queergaming fandom.


Fan-artists (visual artists, but also fanfiction writers, animators, meme-makers, cosplayers and merchandise artists) were guided by a collective emphasis on representing queer life through these ships. Fanart did occasionally lament the queerbaiting dynamics of the original game; we found one piece that featured Claude holding a sign that said “NO HOMO” while the specter of Nintendo held a gun to his head. Yet the majority of the art depicted the characters of these ships in slice-of-life scenes. We found that fanart of these ships featured scenes of physical intimacy between characters, but also portraits of domesticity, modern remixes and other portraits of queer possibility (Figure 4). For communities invested in visualizing gay love, fan-creators are essential, rendering queer life through textual and visual media.


Figure 4. #edelthea artwork by @schereas. ©schereas. Used with artist permission. Click image to enlarge.


The importance of artists -- especially visual artists -- became immediately clear from our larger analysis of the network. When we examined both populations of tweets and retweets, we found links to embedded media (images, animations, web content, etc.) as represented in the Twitter API as a shortened “” link were nearly ubiquitous (Table 1).


Media Content

Full Population of #fe3h Tweets (of 7,133,314)

Media: 7,071,640 (99.14%)

Image: 6,127,623 (85.90%)

Ship-Hashtag Population (of 115,268)

Media: 114,940 (99.72%)

Image: 102,197 (88.66%)

Table 1. Media content in community tweets.

Our data showed that nearly all tweets in these hashtag subgroups were posting or retweeting (mostly visual) media content: primarily images (fanart: drawings, paintings, sketches and comics; memes; cosplay pictures; and screen captures), and links to external media (e.g., animation and fanfiction).

Given the dominant role of media content in the ship hashtag subcommunities, it makes sense for the artists and creators themselves to play a key role in the network. In fact, of the 115,268 tweets and retweets collected, only 1,538 (1.3 percent) of them were original tweets (as opposed to retweets and replies). Across all the ships, the most prominent of these original tweets were almost exclusively from content creators, especially visual artists. This suggests that the larger community has been structured around a much smaller group of fan-creators and that FE3H fan discourse on Twitter predominantly takes place in the replies and retweet threads of these creator posts. Fan artists and creators, then, are not merely an output accessory of the #fe3h community, but its structural foundation. This theory tracked when we examined the specific ship hashtag subpopulations, as the most prominent spikes in hashtag engagement followed viral fanart (such as in the case of #doropetra) or content creation events (such as #ferdibertweek2019). Larger engagement with these hashtags was metrically rooted in the creation and circulation of new fan content.


Figure 5. A #ferdibert shipper’s Spotify playlist (Buseman). Click image to enlarge.


This fan content serves a key purpose in queering the original characters and narrative of FE3H. #ferdibert, #edelthea and #claudevain, as non-canonical ships, illuminate a collective reestablishment of these characters’ relationships in an inarguably gay context, against the original source itself. Likewise, #doropetra takes their understated textual romance and makes Dorothea and Petra’s love explicit (sometimes literally!). Even relatively niche ships like #claudevain still revolved around new content. Fan artists ensure that we can see gay love. Fanfiction writers let us read it. Musical artists and playlist-makers let us hear it (Figure 5). Merchandise artists let us hold it (and, importantly, pin it to our denim jackets). This work is essential to the slash-shipper community -- and is often the force driving larger fan engagement.


But while fanart was undoubtedly at the core of community discourse, creator activity was enmeshed in a network that encouraged such work in the first place -- and the structural actors that support fan creation warrant additional attention. We found that the impressive output and engagement of fan-creators was rooted in the labor of catalyzers within the network. These intermediaries prompted, encouraged, equipped and organized creators and their content. Significantly, event hashtags (such as #ferdibertweek2019, #doropetraday, #doropetraweek, #edeltheaweek and #edeltheansfwweek) often launched, organized and hyped by event handles (like @ferdibertweek, @DoroPetraWeek and @edeltheaweek) focused the discussion around particular ships by galvanizing fan creators to generate content. These accounts would encourage artists by providing tools, motivations, prompts and community spaces (like Discord servers) to create new work.


Figure 6. Prompts by @EmblemWlw to encourage femslash-shippers (@EmblemWlw, 2020). Click image to enlarge.


Similarly, hashtags that shared interests with the original ships (such as other Fire Emblem fan hashtags like #FEFemslash, and also other LGBTQIA+ and artist hashtags like #inktober, #kinktober and #femslashfebruary) boosted engagement as people from related fandoms, as well as gay Twitter, cross-posted and boosted these fan creations and events across publics. Larger Fire Emblem shipper accounts also helped boost activity for slash-ships -- @EmblemWlw and @FEFemslash posted prompts, retweeted and circulated events and organized creators (Figure 6). In this way, catalyzers also negotiated the publicity of slash-ships, signaling to the larger #fe3h fandoms and artist networks for engagement. These actors galvanized the activity of the network, as we can see with #claudevain, which had low engagement when compared to the others because none of these catalyzing actors were present to support it.

Catalyzers were crucial to queerly reimagining the limitations of the FE3H game itself -- mining the game for useful themes and dialogue. For shippers, the actual writing of the game became merely another “resource to get you started” for imagining queer possibility. Non-canonical ships like #ferdibert and #edelthea utilized themes and dialogue from the game (rivalry over coffee and tea, in-game songs, etc.) in their calls for slash content. At the same time, catalyzers in the #doropetra ship (despite having an “undeniably” romantic ending in the game itself) sought out visible and explicit representations of queerness in their event calls and prompts. Given the diverse playthrough experiences of the game, data miners and players who logged their experiences with screenshots and video were likewise acting as resource-sharing catalyzers.

While creators often get scholarly attention in fan studies, we found that catalyzers were essential in not only driving engagement, but shaping queer possibility in slash-ship networks. Catalyzers solicited actively gay interpretations of characters -- often focusing on queer narratives and motifs in their calls. While fan-creators delivered gay content, catalyzers asked for it -- prompting modern remixes, alternative-universe imaginings and scenes of domesticity. By providing prompts, events and toolkits, catalyzers shaped the collective focus of the community on queer life and performed much of the organizational labor of the network.


Finally, the practices of queering FE3H relied on the role of canonizers to curate, legitimize and celebrate fan works. Canonizers included wikis, zines, collection threads, Tumblr pages and Pinterest boards of fan-made content. The very nature of these ship hashtags suggests an important organizational ethos, as shippers make use of the Twitter API and hashtag system to organize their content into a navigable, virtual coalescence. By using these hashtags, shippers can find each other and content that mirrors their queer experience of the game. But the effort to curate, canonize and legitimize these creations doesn’t end with the API; as with #ferdibert, the content was not only solicited by accounts like @ferdibertweek for events, but those same handles then worked to select and compile #ferdibert content during and after the event.

Even more significantly, the work of @FerbieZine to publish “Coffee, Tea, & Maybe Me,” a zine of exclusively #ferdibert content to support LGBTQIA+ advocacy, illustrates a new layer of queer visibility as fan work becomes remade in an activist context. In this sense, we see #ferdibert as a space that moves beyond ephemeral reimagining to literal republishing of FE3H characters for the purpose of queering Hubert and Ferdinand’s relationship. The labor of zine-making within the slash-ship fandoms was extensive: organizers made calls for reviewers and moderators, managed applications, sent acceptances and rejections and communicated with visual, written and merchandise artists. Despite the high labor involved, other slash-ship communities quickly followed suit with their own plans to launch fanzines.


Figure 7. Left: @itsapplepai and @knvoa’s collaborative contribution to the “Coffee, Tea, & Maybe Me” zine. ©itsapplepai & ©knvoa. Used with permission. Right: Cover of the zine. Click image to enlarge.


This same effort was performed by FE3H English voice actors, who played an important role in legitimizing fan content. FE3H’s voice actors have often engaged the fandom directly, such as by posting videos reading fan-made memes “in character” (Whitten, 2019). In the hashtag groups explored here, voice actors solicit, react to and legitimize fan content and by doing so they grant, as faces of the game’s production, validation to community work. Joe Zieja has used social media and his position as the voice actor for Claude to advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights and discuss the queering of Claude within the community (Zieja, 2019). Likewise, Allegra Clark retweeting fan content (Clark, 2019) has boosted the visibility of slash-ships.

Canonizers performed the most complex structural role within the network. Fanzines served as testaments to community efforts, and as material proofs of queer possibility for these characters. Canonizers take queer desire and make it visible -- holding the work of the community up to the larger public.

Post-Timeskip: Two Years Later...

We first began collecting data for this article in February of 2020, what feels like a lifetime ago. Much like Byleth, who falls into a dark abyss and returns to the monastery five years later in FE3H, we’ve experienced a kind of timeskip -- and just as Byleth sees the characters of the three kingdoms having grown up over the years, we can see how the FE3H slash-shipper fandoms have evolved on Twitter over the course of this study. In the time since we began collecting data, the slash-ships we examined have flourished thanks to the labor and careful organization of fans. Although FE3H released over two years ago, the slash-shipper fandom remains engaged and active and even smaller, relatively unknown ships have found their audiences. We want to draw attention to a few of the most significant shifts in the network since our initial collection.

High-Level Organizers

Perhaps the most prominent evolution in the fandom since our initial collection is the growing role of accounts which organize the full breadth of events, zines and information for the larger Fire Emblem fan network. For example, @CalendarFe3h actively manages a calendar of all character and ship-related events within the FE3H fandom (no small feat!) and maintains an extensive list of resources for event planners, mods and zine contributors. Likewise, the account @fezines keeps a running spreadsheet of and signal-boosts ongoing calls for zine submissions and active projects and @FEMerchs boosts merchandise artists and zines. These larger accounts represent another layer of catalyzers in the network -- and connect the smaller publics of individual ships and the larger fandom. Much like catalyzers within individual ships manage and organize creators, these catalyzers organize the ship-fandoms themselves!

Where Are They Now?

#ferdibert: The key players in the #ferdibert ship have shifted: @FerbieZine and @ferdibertweek2019, the accounts that drove much of the initial engagement with the ship, were suspended on Twitter or deleted -- a reminder of the precarity of fan labor (and especially queer fandom visibility) on social media. Yet other accounts like @ferdibertgang and @ferdibertweek2021 have risen to keep the fandom going with scheduled events and continued content circulation.

#doropetra: In the time since the original #doropetraday, a new event, #doropetraweek, was run by @DoroPetraWeek in March-April 2020 and boosted by #FEFemslash. These accounts codified written prompts, retweeted fanart and hosted a Discord server in anticipation of the event. Following in the footsteps of bigger ships like #ferdibert, the #doropetra community released a zine called “A Lover’s Lullaby” in early 2021 (Figure 8).


Figure 8. Promotional image for “A Lover’s Lullaby” (doropetrazine). Click image to enlarge.


#edelthea: #edelthea has experienced a significant surge in artwork, fanfiction, and interactions largely thanks to the “Edelthea Big Bang!” event organized by @EdeltheaBB on Twitter. Like the other tags, #edelthea has been supported by new organizational accounts, and published a fanzine, titled “To a Brighter Dawn,” around the same time as “Lover’s Lullaby.”

#claudevain: Poor #claudevain! Our original sample did them few favors. Yet the #claudevain ship has had the biggest glowup in the time since our collection. In 2021, support for #claudevain was newly thriving, as accounts like @cldvnweekend circulated and organized an event, “Claudevain Valentine Weekend,” in February 2021 -- and the community recently went into production on its own zine, “Checkmate 🦌🦊 @ Creation,” organized by @claudevainzine. The impressive growth of #claudevain is indicative of the critical role that catalyzers and canonizers play in driving fan activity.

Although these snapshots are cursory, they’re further evidence of the work that structural actors play in shaping slash-shipper networks. Yet despite these changes, the larger effort of the slash-ship communities remains the same -- showing, soliciting and celebrating queer life through FE3H characters.

Conclusion: “Here is something to believe in!”

Although largely a matchmaking game, FE3H is limited by its own procedural systems, which dilute gay love into textual snapshots and recycled dialogue. In many ways, FE3H demonstrates the problem with overfocusing on “but-is-it-gay?” representation. Ruberg notes that such inquiries often mean occupying a defensive position against what they call the tenets of gamer homophobia: that “any game not clearly marked as gay must be straight… any interpretation of a game not spelled out explicitly… must be personal, invented, and therefore invalid” and that “making queerness visible constitutes an act of violence against the hetero status quo” (2017, p. 199). Likewise, Phillips, Shaw and others have noted that the media industry’s emphasis on LGBTQIA representation often “engage[s] in a neoliberal politics of diversity” (Phillips, 2020, p. 8). Yet perhaps the most crucial issue with inquiry that focuses on headcount-driven-representation is that it often centers what isn’t there. Such studies emphasize the denial of queerness and the rejection of queer audiences. Where they do linger on queer possibility, it’s in lamentation at what might have been. Instead, queer game scholars argue we must look beyond headcounts and explore the more complex possibilities of queergaming. As Hibby Thach has argued: “representation matters and has mattered, but we have got to move past just arguing for it solely… We don’t only need better representation; we need better games, better protections for the marginalized being represented, and better worlds, both online and offline” (2021).

Slash-shippers complicate representation narratives by refocusing our attention away from queerbaiting and headcounts. Rather than linger on the disappointing paired endings in the source, slash-shippers actively carve space for queer visibility and joy through art, organizing and archival labor. Notably, not all FE3H slash-shippers identify as gay, bisexual or even queer. Yet all the fans who participate in the structural layers of slash-shipping -- creators, catalyzers and canonizers -- shape the community around queer play. We might see slash-shipping as itself a kind of queergaming -- a radical reimagining of possibility -- hijacking of the narrative and characters of FE3H. Slash-shippers open the boundaries of queerness in games by decentering what is canon, blurring what is “real” and what is possible. By reimagining FE3H’s matchmaking game and celebrating gay love through its characters, slash-shippers themselves engender the very queer life that Fire Emblem buried.

Game studies might learn something from slash-shippers in this. The work of queer game studies is itself engaged in these same practices: making queer play visible and celebrating queer possibility. Queer game studies interrogates and reimagines the material it examines. Like slash-shippers, who perform “queer readings” of character relationships that are often mischaracterized as “insubstantial, subtextual, subcultural,” so too is the work of queer game studies often dismissed as “reading too far” or projecting our interpretations onto others (Ruberg, 2017, pp. 198-200). Slash-shippers engage in the project of making queer life visible: boosting and celebrating it through fandom. We, too, have an opportunity to center queer life in the ways we make, the ways we teach and build tools, and the ways we curate and celebrate queerness in media. We hope that, over the course of this article, we have done this work ourselves: centering the community, the joy and the labor of FE3H slash-shippers. What more might we learn from slash-shippers whose organization and creativity lend themselves to both queer joy and resistance? How might we also learn to discard the arguably uninteresting problems of headcounts and queerbaiting and instead set our sights on exploring queer remix and community through play? FE3H slash-shippers are a community engaged in our same work: actively reimagining the queer possibility of videogames. To echo Todd Harper’s invocation, with a small twist: game studies doesn’t just need to study gay characters… it needs to center queer life.


List of Abbreviations

Fire Emblem (FE)

Fire Emblem: Three Houses (FE3H)

Japanese-roleplaying game (JRPG)

Men-loving-men (mlm)

Women-loving-women (wlw)

Downloadable Content (DLC)

Non-player characters (NPCs)



Appendix 1. Query selection from July 26, 2019 to February 24, 2020.

Query 1 -- Large population:
(“#fe3h” OR “#fireemblemthreehouses”)

Query 2 -- Ship-hashtag population:
(#claudevain OR #ferdibert OR #hubernand OR #dorogard OR #edelthea OR #doropetra OR #petrathea)

Identifying Media: […] AND “”

Identifying Images: […] AND “imageType:image”


Appendix 2. Visualization of hashtag activity over time. Click image to enlarge.

Note: The visualization for #claudevain ends in November, 2019 to make the peaks in engagement visible. The other activity visualizations end in February, 2020.



This research was supported by the Public Opinion Lab at The University of Alabama, which provided software support for data collection. We would also like to thank L.M. Davenport for her tremendous help in proofing this manuscript before submission. We are grateful to the wonderful editorial team at Game Studies and the anonymous reviewers who gave this article a serious "Gambit Boost."

Finally, we both would like to express so much gratitude to the incredible artists who gave us permission to display their artwork in this article -- we’re honored to showcase their work:





Featured in “Coffee, Tea, & Maybe Me” (






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