After reading Anthropy – The problem with Videogames and following the class discussion on identity, bullying and minority repression, I can’t help thinking about the place of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community in video games. Even though certain mainstream media (television, for instance) seem to acknowledge their gay audiences by means of gay characters included in the narrative, too few games have done something equivalent.
Since games fall under the “pop culture” umbrella as accessible mainstream media, they are undoubtedly a good mean of raising awareness and destigmatizing minorities like LGBT folks; doing so by means of representation wouldn’t in any way hinder a game’s success (or, to put it in concrete terms, its “fun factor”) on a large scale. If anything, it would only be a small effort toward building a more open-minded society.
Games developers used to be shy about tackling LGBT issues in their work. In the recent years, however, there has been an increase of independent games with overt LGBT themes, like the autobiographical testimony dys4ia by Anna Anthropy. Certain AAA games also depict homosexual relationships and queer identities, namely Maxis’ Sims (2000-2015) franchise and Bioware’s Dragon Age series (2009-2014). These games seems to be leading the way towards breaking the pattern of a predominantly heterosexual landscape in gaming (something I would go as far as calling the hegemony of heteronormativity).
According to the Wikipedia article on LGBT characters in video games, LGBT-friendly games were practically non-existent until the 2000s; before that, queer relationships and identities were mainly represented through innuendos, if the writers managed to get it past the censorship of their publishers. Encounters with LGBT characters were rare; embodying one as a protagonist was almost inconceivable.
With the slow evolution of social norms, progress was made but voices like that of Anna Anthropy remain to be heard. Indeed, in The Problem with Video Games, she states that “games are designed by a small, male-dominated culture and marketed to a small, male-dominated audience”, which inevitably results in games that cater to a minority of the overall population (the so-called “target audience”, which few developpers care to broaden) that excludes the LGBT community.
The Sims was a first step toward evolution of sexual representation in game, as it allowed same-sex romantic and sexual relationships, the latter present in the game as the euphemism “Woohoo”. This inclusion is justified by the nature of the game as a human life-simulation; homosexuality is a natural human behavior. It’s also safe to say that engineer Patrick J. Barrett III, and openly gay programmer, had something to do with it. The inclusion of LGBT individuals in the video game industry seems to allow a greater diversity within the games themselves.
It is the direction that the studio BioWare has chosen, by letting the player pick the kind of romantic relationships they wish to build (with varying degrees of freedom) in their RPG games like Dragon Age, which include canonically queer characters that defy genre stereotypes. This freedom of choice inevitably caters to LGBT players without depriving other players from enjoying the game as an immersive experience. Furthermore, this visibility of LGBT characters allows teenagers to relate to normal characters in safe environment without being marginalized or facing persecution; this eases the way toward self-acceptance, which is part of the path towards building one’s personal identity. And really, what is better than a kick-ass gay warrior to break stereotypes and serve as a role model?
Works Cited and Reference:
-Anthropy, Anna. “The Problem With Videogames.” Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals,
-Wikipedia, “LGBT characters in video games” <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_characters_in_video_games>
-Hinkle, David. “How the sims got its same sex relationships” joystiq.com <http://www.joystiq.com/2013/08/05/how-the-sims-got-its-same-sex-relationships/>
-MacDonald, Keza. “A gay History of Gaming”, ca.ign.com , 25 Jan. 2012. <http://ca.ign.com/articles/2012/01/25/a-gay-history-of-gaming>
-Karmali, Luke. “Why we need more gay characters in video games”, ca.ign.com, 14 Mar. 2014. <http://ca.ign.com/articles/2014/03/14/why-we-need-more-gay-characters-in-video-games>