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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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35 Comments

  1. OrbitMonkey

    I think the most common knee-jerk reaction to this from hetro gamers will be “Ok, but I don’t want gay sex rubbed in my face whenever I play games”…

    But as sex is increasingly prevalent in games, I think its only fair the option for some gay titillation is there too. If you don’t want it, don’t choose It.

    A bit of kudos should surely go to the origional Fable too. In that your Hero could have a relationship with another guy & it was no big deal. Maybe that’s why people never bring it up?

    Not that its something I did, i’m a REAL man!! *Goes off to kill a bear barehanded*

    #1 3 years ago
  2. tenthousandgothsonacid

    Great article but it made me double take as ‘queer’ is quite a pejorative term here in blighty

    #2 3 years ago
  3. ultramega

    It’s great to be Canadian
    =D

    #3 3 years ago
  4. GwynbleiddiuM

    Great article Brenna and this comes from a dude that lives in a country that its president stood tall in front of the brightest minds at Columbia University and looked the world in the eye and said there are no homosexuals in Iran.

    Anyway, I was always a George Carlin kinda guy who believes that the world will go its own way regardless of our beliefs or actions we take to prevent shit from happening. You can call it nature’s way to correct itself or whatever. This ain’t an issue in my mind and no matter how the rest of the world choose to deal with this matter eventually they will realize and accept it even though if they can never understand it.

    Lots of movies, tv shows, musics and video games are helping to make people realize that. I myself am not gay, I simply understand the fact there are many things in this lifetime that I don’t like but they’re there and they were there for a long time and suppressing them is not the answer.

    My femme Shepperd is gay though, she’s in love with Liara, and she is longing to be with her again. I’m all against suppression in any for and kind, suppression will leaves unfillable holes in the souls and unhealable wounds on societies. Look at mine for example, damaged beyond repair, every time we try to break free we suffer more to the point of suffocation, and I have been suffocated for long and I don’t wish that on anybody.

    “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.”

    This is what really I don’t like when people say it. Actually I relate more to a fictional character especially in a video game because I literally been through every shit with them and we emerged from those obstacles not victorious but relieved. Take Solid Snake for instance, he is practically my role model, the qualities I found in him are rare in men and I know those qualities existed because I’ve been there and witnessed it. His pain and suffering was also mine, so was Shepperd’s, so was the Grey Warden’s, So was the Arthas’ (even though he finally fallen victim to his own ambition to save his people, but I was there and understood his angle and what that drove him), So was many others. The very last of the REAL people with great qualities in them all are gone, Martin Luther king Jr., Gandy, and there’s still Nelson Mandela, …

    I think you would agree with me in the world of reality fails, you go to the next best thing, I mean ask Jesus, Moses and Muhammad.

    #4 3 years ago
  5. absolutezero

    VIDEO GAMES!

    I sure have fun playing my video games. Nice bit of escapism into another world far away from our own, or into the future or the past!

    Fantastic. Videogames! hooray!

    Also someone please kill Hamburger Helper for her own good, she is neither gay or bi and instead is a fat squealing fangirl.

    Videogames. Also Also it might just be me but mating with an Asari in Mass Effect is not really gay. They are a single sex species, for that matter they are another species.

    Video Games! Furthering important issues!

    Alsox3 no one gave a rats ass about that Cannibal Corpse guys rant when it was first aired about 4 years ago (I am under no illusions that this is what sparked this piece). Now its suddenly a huge deal because the great games Media has clawed its ragged form over to fed.

    Im all for a site like Gaygamer if it was solely aimed directly at video games and just happened to have a well moderated user base for homosexuals to gather. Its not like that at all though, its fucking polemic like that guy shouting Racism at RE5.

    Remember Mario and Sonic and video games and joy? Yeah neither do I.

    #5 3 years ago
  6. Sini

    You’d think they would fix this disease already. Then again, maybe this is yet another take to solve the overpopulation problem. Aids didnt work, time for gay pride.

    #6 3 years ago
  7. Quasar

    just look at witcher 2, how a love story should be written, and not this gay shit from bioware

    #7 3 years ago
  8. absolutezero

    I think having thought a little more about it that to single out games as an area where work needs to be done is naive.

    Just last year a major studio movie came out called “The Kids are Alright”, it was basically a slice of life story with the exception that the two parents were women in a relationship. What do homosexual men get? Gay best friends and Gok Wan! Equality!

    Over and above adding sexuality into areas where it should not really be an issue (Did you know the big eagle cat thing from The Last Guardian is gay? True story) we need to look at even larger areas of mankind that has fallen by the wayside.

    When was the last time you played a non-white non-Christian non-male character?

    When was the last time a major production had a muslim main character? When are we going to escape the terror of Russia as an enemy?

    #8 3 years ago
  9. Christopher Jack

    I have a pretty neutral stance on homosexuality in games. I don’t care if someone chooses to be hetero, homo or asexual. I simply don’t enjoy it being shoved in my face, making a deal out of it is the biggest problem, there should always be the option but pointing out that it has the option is what annoys me, why should I give a shit? I’m not an overzealous religious nut so why should I care either way?- & who gives a shit what those preaching bastards think in the first place? They’re wrong & are just too ignorant to see otherwise.

    #9 3 years ago
  10. Ireland Michael

    This is a far better piece than that self indulgent “Gaymer” article that Kotaku posted up in an attempt at “social commentary”. Not only is it well written, but this one is actually about video games!

    I’ve never made any bones about my own personal sexual preferences, and its been a long time since I cared if anyone had an issue with it. But this sort of thing right here shows you the kind of unique narrative that gaming is capable of when done well.

    In a book, the characters and stories are always going to be the same every time you read them. The straight characters will always be straight. The gay characters will always be gay. The same people will die, the same people will get together, and the same people

    Although most of us won’t deny that BioWare’s relationships have a habit of going from nothing to madly in love in five seconds flat, that’s not really the point here. The point is that this is actually being done at all. And other than a few whiny bitch-fests from Fox News (who nobody takes seriously anyway), has there really ever been that much of a negative backlash?

    No, not really.

    I think one thing I can be proud of in my generation is that homosexuality is a far more accepted thing now than it ever was 20 or 30 years ago. You see it everywhere: television, music, video games. And nobody, bar some irrelevant politicians and religious nut-jobs, have an issue with it anymore.

    I mean, there’s always going to be haters, but its not as bad as it used to me, not by a long shot. Those few people who still make an issue of it are not likely to ever amount to anything more than trailer park thrash anyway.

    I think video games themselves, whilst clearly capable of being artistic, don’t work well for making relevant social commentary within their own stories. Stuff like sexual preference, ethnicity, disabilities, etc. work best when they’re just part of the world, part of the character’s identity.

    Who in this day and age doesn’t know someone of different ethnic origins? Who in this day and age doesn’t know at least one person homosexual person? It makes the game world richer, more realistic, just by being there, because those kind of people simply… are.

    Great piece. Always be proud of who you are.

    @1 and @9 Unfortunately, gay people have to have heterosexuality “rubbed in their faces” all the time. Just consider and ponder on that idea for a second.

    @2 Much like the word nigger, it’s only as insulting as you let it be.

    On top of numerous other things, the way I spoke (camp, posh, like the stereotyped gay voice) had the word “faggot”, “gaybo” and “queer” thrown my way more than a few time. When I was younger, I used to let it get to me all the time.

    Now? I just laugh at the remarks and pretty much say “Yep, I’m the gayest bastard you’ll ever meet.” Partially cause it’s true. =P

    I’ve also learned that most people don’t mean anywhere near as much offence by some of those remarks as we think. They’re simply naive.

    #10 3 years ago
  11. Patrick Garratt

    I’ve updated the byline on this: it was actually written by a freelancer.

    #11 3 years ago
  12. Ireland Michael

    This isn’t Brenna’s? Whoops! Great piece regardless of who it was written by. Great writing, Julie.

    #12 3 years ago
  13. Patrick Garratt

    Brenna posted it earlier. She put Julie’s name in the intro paragraph but not as the author. Apologies, Julie.

    #13 3 years ago
  14. NinjaMidget

    Interesting article! I think that if game designers feel that players should have a sexual choice in games that it should be more open to accommodate homosexuality. But again this shouldn’t be thrown in peoples faces as a publicity stunt, but players who are of that disposition should be able to explore and find these options readily available.

    Although, if there are scenes of a sexual nature there must be equality in how it is communicated i.e. not showing raunchy lesbian scene just because its different and would turn a lot of people on, but keep it to the potentially sensual and passionate nature of the straight relationship showing even heterosexual gamers that this is the norm for some people.

    Also great to see the vg247 community taking this issue seriously, twas a joy to read the thoughtful comments!

    #14 3 years ago
  15. DarkElfa

    I’ve never had anything against gay men or women. If they’re attracted to each other, than so be it. Indeed I’ve known a quite a few gay men and women you would never know were gay if you didn’t see them with their partners.

    Those are the kind of gay people I don’t mind.

    It’s the other ones that turn me off and no, I don’t mean sexually. With women, other than the rare bull dike, the problem doesn’t exist. But with men….ugh.

    Enter the flamboyant queen. You know, the ones you see on fashion based reality TV shows. The ones that run around like they’re composed of 98.9% liquid crack and 1.1% pure crystal super fag.

    For these men it’s like being gay has to be some kind of trumpeting call to gay arms. If you need a pure example of the form, one need only look no farther than the latest season of Dancing with the Stars. He’s gone now but when he was there, he was “back from outer space and in your fuckin’ face”.

    I think this is the sort of thing that turns men at least, off of open gay sexuality. When we think gay, we imagine the flaming, “fabulous” ultra fairy and think “God kill the queen”.

    In gaming however, I imagine it depends on the character’s place in the story and who is writing them. I think making a character gay for the sake of demographics is as bad as making one black or Muslim for the the same reason. If you are a straight white male, you are most likely going to write what you know, which is a character being straight, white and male.

    You want these writers to write more stories starring no white, not straight, non “Christian” males? Don’t expect them to get it right.

    #15 3 years ago
  16. Ireland Michael

    @15 In truth, the “flamboyant queens” aren’t any more common than the “butch dykes”.

    Television is not a valid barometer by which to judge real life, especially not “reality” TV shows.

    #16 3 years ago
  17. DarkElfa

    @16, No, they probably aren’t, but it’s always the extremists that make there way the furthest into the public eye.

    Indeed I lived in the gay part of New Orleans for many years. You rarely noticed the non queens unless they held hands or made out and most didn’t do that in public anymore than any straight man.

    But the queens, they were like 13 year old girls. All “look at me, LOOK AT ME!!!” No, they aren’t any different than they are on TV. They just talk a lot more about penis in real life than they do on network reality shows.

    …and I mean all the damn time. Of the hundreds of queens I’ve known, they all talked about dick damn near 40% more than any man I’ve ever seen talk about tits. That was also annoying. Again, that was just the queens.

    The “norms” as I came to know them, would blend in at church. They were just guys who liked men. People who haven’t lived with and around them in heavy population for years would not know there are so many different sects of gay men and women. But it’s always the extremists, the ones who have to take it to the extreme that make a bad name for everyone else.

    Even the norms didn’t like the queens, they said that the queens made things harder for all of them. It was hearing normal Muslims talk about terrorists. But I get it, sometimes you have to radicalize to draw attention to your cause. But I’ll never like radicals, they’re like the nerd that cam’t just be happy watching Trek, they have to go to a convention and dress up like a Vulcan.

    To them and every other radical, be it gay, political or religious, I feel for your need to expose your cause and I wish you the best, now get out of my fucking face about it.

    #17 3 years ago
  18. Ireland Michael

    “Of the hundreds of queens I’ve known, they all talked about dick damn near 40% more than any man I’ve ever seen talk about tits.”

    Frankly, tits and soccer is all most men I know talk about anyway. It really isn’t any different.

    Most gay man I know never “talk about dick all the time”. Frankly, the only time their sexual preferences ever come up in conversation is when we’re having serious debates or discussions on stuff like current social issues – marriage, relationships, etc.

    #18 3 years ago
  19. DarkElfa

    Most gay men I knew didn’t talk about dick at all Michael. I don’t lump the queens in with gay men any more than I’d lump Muslims in with Al-Qaeda.

    Simply put, they are the terrorists of open gayness, trumpeting their cause in everyone’s ears and then blowing themselves up in public.

    #19 3 years ago
  20. triggerhappy

    “Simply put, they are the terrorists of open gayness, trumpeting their cause in everyone’s ears and then blowing themselves up in public.”

    LMFAO OMG TEARS & EVERYTHING :D

    #20 3 years ago
  21. OrbitMonkey

    @Ireland, I did ponder the whole rubbing hetrosexuality into gay peoples faces… Erm, does that sound rude to anyone else?

    *cough* Anyway that’s why I said its only fair for titillation for anyone who wants it….

    #21 3 years ago
  22. lexph3re

    Ugh* why can’t people just except neutral principles with gaming characters. THEY ARE NOT REAL so who cares about their sexual preferences just the task at hand. I wouldn’t care what the developers choice is in the characters sexual preference is as long as it doesn’t consume the games course! With the fate of the world/universe/neighbors dog on the line.

    it isn’t a throw in someones face what they lay in the game. People are just to f’n sensitive

    #22 3 years ago
  23. speedxl01

    I agree totally with this article, well written, @1 a gay man is a REAL MAN too.. so just you know hehehe

    #23 3 years ago
  24. OrbitMonkey

    @23. I don’t like what your implying! *buttocks clench*

    @19. These Gay terrorists… They members of The Talibum?

    #24 3 years ago
  25. DarkElfa

    @24, More like the Mafia, they’ll break the legs on your coffee table.

    #25 3 years ago
  26. Psychotext

    So strange to see “queer” written up there like that. I’m used to it being an insult.

    #26 3 years ago
  27. DarkElfa

    Words like queer are like empty bowls. They only have in them what the server puts in them and the receiver sees in them.

    #27 3 years ago
  28. Brenna Hillier

    Really surprised to read in several comments that queer is used as an insult. Julie used “gay” in her title, but I changed it to queer when I posted it for her because in the circles I move in, “gay” is seen as non-inclusive of the LBTQI etc people who are part of our community. But there aren’t any hard and fast rules for what language to use; the best tactic is to ask and be responsive to correction, I think.

    #28 3 years ago
  29. Psychotext

    @DarkElfa: You could say that of any word. I only comment because to my LBGT friends “queer” isn’t an acceptable term. I guess it really varies on location.

    Case in point, Brenna’s LBTQ (I?).

    #29 3 years ago
  30. Freek

    Great article!! Really nice to read about somebody elses point of view on what for me is just another story point on the road to saving the galaxy.
    Games as a positive social infleunce is something that isn’t talked about enough.

    #30 3 years ago
  31. blackdreamhunk

    I don’t really care what is in the game. There was a huge fight over on the bio-ware forms about this before. “I simply don’t enjoy it being shoved in my face” that statement I agree with. In real life I run away from look at to guys kiss. Let lone see couple make out in public. Like people go get a room. I am going to go watch pron I am not going to the gay section unless it’s lesbians lol. This is just an awkward topic for some people.

    If this is a big issue then sex should be removed from game period!

    Some play games to run away from life. The world is full of problems already. Add such topics may turn people off from a game if it’s forced. I don’t think bio-ware neglects the gay community in their games.

    #31 3 years ago
  32. Joe_Gamer

    Interesting viewpoint. While I have no objection to LBGT characters in games, aside from the annoying in your face stereotype that only actually exists in media, it is important to note that including alternative lifestyle partnerships can easily double or triple the workload of the writers, animators, etc so don’t expect too many companies to adopt this style.

    Also, that god damn title sucks, I was expecting a discussion of awkward camera angles and limited “field-of-view” in keeping with the traditional definition of the word “queer”, oh and can we all agree that the word quiltbag is a terrible, terrible word that should never be used. Sounds more like the basest sort of pejorative than a description of someones lifestyle. We don’t need an acronym covering EVERY alternative lifestyle imaginable.

    #32 3 years ago
  33. sb319

    Pointless drivel. Video games have nothing whatsoever to do with adult sexuality, be it homo or hetero. If a game ever finds a way to intelligently represent any human relationship other than killer/killee, in a way that contributes to play rather than just being wallpaper, then we can have conversations about lgbt representation in games. Hell let’s start by not representing every female in every game as a leather-clad vixen whore. Maybe we can get that right before we start worrying about the “alternative lifestyles”.

    #33 3 years ago
  34. Mace

    My opinions about this kind of topic can be summed with something like: Yeah, sure. *shrug*

    #34 3 years ago
  35. OrbitMonkey

    @33 How fucking dare you try to oppress the Leather Clad Vixen Whores!! Do they not have the right to love, to feel!! You BIGOT!!

    #35 3 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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