Not just a trend: Why queer visibility matters in games

Saturday, 29 October 2011 09:57 GMT By Julie Horup

Little drops can turn into a flood. Julie Horup explains why the industry’s growing acceptance of queer themes is more than niche appeal.

Quiltbag characters – some examples

Dragon Age: Leliana, Anders, Isabela, Fenris, Merrill, Zevran

Grand Theft Auto IV: Gay Tony

Mass Effect: Liara T’soni, Kelly Chambers

Fable: Reaver

Persona 4: Kanji

Assassin’s Creed: Leonardo da Vinci

Farenheit: Tommy

I’m about to have the talk. The one you dread so much that you’d rather venture out on a suicide mission to save the world from total annihilation. The conversation where she looks at you with those serious eyes and asks: “Where do you see us in the future?” It’s easy, though. As pretty much everybody else in a happy relationship I want to get married, have children and grow old together. It’s basic chemistry disguised as love, but no one can tell us it’s wrong.

Then I put down the controller and realise it’s nothing but a naïve dream.

It’s ridiculous, really, that as a lesbian woman I have to see my dream be fulfilled by a video game, because somehow our world is still caught up in restrictions when it comes to homosexuality. You want marriage? Here’s civil partnership. You want children? Well, too bad, they’re not officially yours at birth, unless you were the one carrying them during the happy circumstances. You want equal rights just as every straight person in the world already has? Then quit the gayness.

The Kids Aren’t Alright
Having to go up against those prejudices and many more is hard enough as a grown-up, but imagine doing it as a teenager. Having to face a world that won’t recognise you as an equal human being at such a young age can be devastating, humiliating and alienating. Worst of all, it makes you feel completely alone. Trust me, I know.

Sometimes, though, help can come from the most unexpected places. In this case it comes from video games and their courage to portray homosexuality as nothing but one of many personal traits, be it an optional choice of the protagonist in Mass Effect or simply by hinting that a NPC may be a bit more interested in you than usual despite the two of you being the same gender. It’s far from a common tendency in video games, but we’ve been seeing it a lot more the recent years.

This may not mean much to the average straight gamer, but to underrate the importance of the visibility of homosexuality in a video game would be disastrous.

This may not mean much to the average straight gamer, but to underrate the importance of the visibility of homosexuality in a video game would be disastrous. Just ask the still closeted youth, who has no one to turn to except the individuals appearing on their screen once in a while, speaking freely and proud about being a homosexual man or woman.

When Ellen Degeneres came out in 1997 on national television, it caused utter outrage, but it also somewhat paved the way for gay and lesbians across the world. When Commander Shepard came out in 2007, albeit the player’s decision, it suddenly opened a completely new way for young, homosexual people to find role models, who they could actually relate to. Some may say that only a fool could respect and look up to a fictitious person in a video game, but flesh and blood are far from everything in our technologised world.

Gay for Pay
It’s not just about having a gay protagonist on a screen making out with some random alien or another human being, though, it’s about the very message it sends. It shows young people that homosexuality is perfectly alright. In fact it’s being showed in such a way that one’s sexual orientation couldn’t be less important when judged by others, and isn’t that how it actually should be?

If you don’t know the answer to that particular question, let me help you: “Yes.”

This doesn’t mean that developers should throw in a gay person or two at every inappropriate opportunity to add some sort of enticement (Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix, I’m looking at you and your elevator scene – and you, don’t act like you have no idea what I’m talking about). Neither should it be interpreted as an easy and justified way to satisfy a certain segment of the gamers by adding a gay factor after launch. Going gay for pay, BioWare, is not acceptable.

QTE to the LGBT

It actually serves as an outlet for young people, who think they’re somehow broken inside, because they’re not like everyone else.

Instead homosexuality in games should be recognised as a possible way of accurately portraying the diversity of the world we live in. Developers have a unique opportunity to suppress homophobia via their games, a responsibility they should honour, whenever it makes sense. To think that a same-sex romance with Liara T’Soni results in nothing but arousal and erotic fantasies would probably be true in some cases, but more often it actually serves as an outlet for young people, who think they’re somehow broken inside, because they’re not like everyone else.

As video games become a rooted part of mass media, which bears as much weight as films and music as cultural vanguards in our society, it also takes on the responsibility of being diverse and without judgement of the minorities while showing the majority how our world isn’t always black and white.

I pick up the controller again, and for a minute, just a ridiculous almost worthless minute, the dream isn’t as naïve as I thought.

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