Log in

No account? Create an account
24 October 2012 @ 06:16 pm
No Gay Heroes  

I will give the games industry this: it has made tangible progress. The fact that games have gay options at all is a positive sign of the times- a decade ago, I would not have enough of a pool of reference to make this article in the first place.

That said: within the games that have a protagonist that is not obligatorily heterosexual, there is a troubling trend. All homosexual protagonists can only be homosexual by player choice, and are coded bisexual by the game's inherent structure.

When gay content in games comes up, it can be pretty easily be divided into two categories- content unrelated to the player (I.E. a homosexual relationship between two side-characters, such as seen in the Green Knight story quests for a Sylvari character in Guild Wars 2, or a homosexual NPC who the player character cannot/will not interact with in any sense beyond the platonic, like Hiiragi in .hack//G.U.) and content connected to the player (I.E. a homosexual relationship or situation in which the player character is a participant.) We will concern ourselves with the latter category and what it implies and represents.

Many games now contain homosexual content connected to the player/player character, but a trend can be seen that rather undercuts the significance of it. In Jade Empire, Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age 2, Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, and Mass Effect 3, there exist a number of party members who may be interacted with and wooed by the (male or female) player character. Out of these, Mass Effect 3 is the only game that features exclusively homosexual characters who may be "romanced", Steve Cortez and Samantha Traynor. The original Mass Effect only contained an option for homosexual romance for a female player character. Mass Effect 2 would carry over the data of the female player character having had a relationship with Liara T'soni and allowed for a "minor" relationship with the NPC Kelly Chambers, but once again did not contain any option for homosexual romance for a male player character, and did not have any homosexual content in the game that would count towards the "Paramour" achievement, which the game's heterosexual romance options did. In all of the above games, homosexuality is not an innate aspect of the player's character, and can be entirely avoided or ignored in favor of playing a heterosexual protagonist who only participates in heterosexual relationships. In essence, the protagonists of these games are inherently bisexual, in that they are capable and written as willing to be in relationships with individuals of either gender, but are in practice treated as monosexual by most players. This can be contrasted with the protagonists of Persona 3 and 4, who have a variety of relationships with male and female characters, but can and will only engage in a romantic or sexual relationship with characters of the perceived opposite gender, and are therefore innately heterosexual.

In those games, the protagonist is somewhat of a blank slate, having multiple options for expressed personality and behavior, a mutable appearance based on the choices made by the player, and a gender that is defined by the player's choice. In .hack//G.U., the protagonist is more defined- he has a predetermined name, appearance, personality, and role in the story. Player choices that define him are much more limited, essentially being the choice of party members to use in combat, the choice to give items to party members, multiple dialogue options in optional emails to party members, and one final choice in the third game in the trilogy. That choice is giving a rare "promise" card to a party member who has a strong bond to Haseo, the protagonist, in order to get a character-specific scene before the ending credits roll. These scenes are divided into the categories of "best friends" and "lovers", depending on the nature of the character's relationship with Haseo. Save for one, all of the best friends options are male, and save for one, all of the lovers options are female. All options are presented as being "in-character" for Haseo to make, so he is once again a protagonist coded as bisexual (with a stronger preference for women) by the game's structure. Other games that follow this model are Final Fantasy 7 (though it barely has a homosexual option in comparison), and Persona 2: Innocent Sin.

There also exist a category of games which are even more mutable and free-form in their romantic content, and therefore include homosexuality as a matter of basic flexibility. Skyrim, the Fable series, and The Sims series all fall under this umbrella- essentially, all characters are bisexual because they are generally half-characters, either with a limited amount of dialogue or constructed wholecloth, personality and all, from a generalized in-game system. Romantic content with them is generally very generic. A similar example (though from a game I have not played) is how in Spelunky, a retro platformer, you can rescue princesses for power-ups- but in the game's options, you can switch these princesses to handsome hunks or adorable puppies, depending on your preferences. Once again, this is a very shallow aspect unrelated to the main game, and a choice. All player characters are coded as inherently bisexual.

Outside of this, there are a massive number of games in which the protagonist is written into the game's story as heterosexual. Examples from games in which there is a defined love interest for the player character who is the opposite gender are incredibly common- from Mario and Princess Peach to Altair and Maria, the "canon romance" is deeply entrenched in games and their stories. There are an equal number of games that do not have a protagonist in an explicitly stated romantic relationship, but heavily imply the romantic tension between a protagonist and an opposite-gender lead, which amounts to the same thing.

I cannot think of any games outside of a subset of dating sims (of which only a tiny fraction are even available to be played in English), let alone mainstream games, in which the protagonist is coded exclusively homosexual. Moreover, I cannot think of any games in which the protagonist can engage in a homosexual relationship without it being predicated on player choice.*

This is a problem. There are no gay or lesbian heroes, only bisexual ones, in the arena of LGBT protagonist. Bisexual representation, while it is there, is similarly troubling, because it is entirely predicated on player choice. No protagonists are explicitly bisexual, enjoying relationships with men and women alike- they are bisexual because they can choose to be with men or women. Given how common it is, even now, for people (typically detractors of the LGBT community) to believe that homosexuality is a choice, it does not speak well that protagonists in games are only queer when the player makes the conscious choice to play them as such.

This is simply not how it works. Not every person is attracted to both men and women, and those who are don't just choose who they're attracted to. Giving choices to players to define their character better and give them the narrative they want is not wrong, but making it the only situation in which the character the player controls can be anything but straight is strange and unfortunate.

Given that a majority of the population of humans is heterosexual, and thus a majority of the population of gamers, it is not surprising that stories are written with a heterosexual consumer in mind, and games are built for heterosexual players. Additionally, given how averse a large proportion of gamers are to even the option to make the protagonist not a straight, white man with large muscles and short hair, it is far from surprising that even if game developers are more progressive than that mindset, they can't do anything without being tethered to appeasing that demographic. In order to get an unambiguously homosexual protagonist, one who is not homosexual by player choice, a game developer first has to overcome the hurdle of the number of players who object to the idea of being "forced" into the role of a gay man or woman. Meanwhile, gay gamers continue to play games in which they are put into the role of a heterosexual man or woman, heedless of what they would rather be the case!

But regardless of those gamers who would object to playing the role of a homosexual character, it is a step we need to take. In the name of more diverse stories and characters, in the name of giving respect and representation to demographics who are too often neglected, in the name of reflecting all of the people who play games, not just the lowest common denominator, games have to take the leap and put themselves out there with characters who don't just have the capacity to be gay, but the innate attribute that they are gay.

*If you, reader, can think of any examples, please let me know in the comments! I am always looking to keep my info up-to-date, and examples here would both help me and provide me with something to look into playing.