Many of you will remember my last post – “Awful Lot of Heterosexuals Around Here”. It generated no small amount of feedback. The reception was definitely mixed. Some people were welcoming to the notion, some people didn’t really think that it mattered either way, and some people got kind of…ugly.
A few days ago it was reposted on Gamasutra, and a host of other sites also linked to it. Seems that the topic hit a bit of a nerve, and it got a fair bit of exposure. Jim Sterling, Reviews Editor of Destructoid read the piece and was inspired to write a very thought-provoking follow-up on it – a case for why Nathan Drake would make a great homosexual. (Disclaimer: Just as Jim said, One would never mean to dictate to Naughty Dog how to handle their own IP, it was merely just a notion that was built upon.)
So yeah, all this stuff happened.
I had intended to just make my statement and fade off into the night , but too many questions have been asked, and too many topics have been discussed. There are things I have to answer to. Chiefly, the biggest questions that were brought up ad nauseum were “Is it really our problem? And if it is, how do we proceed?”
I made a lot of aggressive claims a few weeks ago when I wrote my initial piece, so I do owe it to everyone to follow up with some thoughts and ideas on how we can specifically improve and innovate – through developing relevant and (most importantly) fun games.
Fun is the sticky wicket here, isn’t it? I mean, as so many have pointed out, games are about fun – the base of fun is usually derived from mechanics. Therefore, barring a game where the mechanics involve having sex, it shouldn’t really matter. Right? I say no, that’s not right. First off, not all games are meant to be fun anymore. Who here thinks that
serious games like Passage and The End of Us are fun? Conversely, some Euro Games aren’t specifically “fun” either, but fun can be a by-product of the experience. For instance, I don’t think that Puerto Rico is particularly fun, but it is immensely complex and nuanced – requiring deep strategy and understanding to master. Fun can be had through the experience, but I would hazard a guess that Puerto Rico wasn’t made specifically to be fun.
This doesn’t make games like Puerto Rico, Passage, and The End of Us worth less just because they aren’t chock full of fun. They are deep, meaningful experiences that stretch the mind – intellectually, emotionally, and philosophically.
This is something we should already be aware of though, that some games don’t need to be fun. We should also know that games don’t have to be one or the other. We don’t need to have two piles marked “Fun Games” and “Serious Games”. Heavy Rain is fun, and that deals with some pretty intense subject matter. To call games like Heavy Rain “Hybrid” would likely be trite, but for lack of a better ludic term, that’s kind of what we’re dealing with.
So, now that we’ve (hopefully) come to a common ground on how fun is perceived in games, we can move on to the major issues we have at hand. People wonder if being socially responsible is our duty. I say yes. I say it’s our duty because we are humans, and we have a responsible to other humans to do right by them. Why am I focusing on games? If I worked in any other field, I would be pushing this topic, but I’m not. I make games. WE make games. We can make some amazing experiences that touch and enlighten, and in the process we can maybe teach a little bit of tolerance, and spread a bit of love. Isn’t it our business to craft innovative experiences, or have we just given up before we’ve even started? Are we just resigned to churn out formulaic drivel? I would hope we aren’t.
Some people have tried to use an argument against this point that I find to be a bit counterproductive. They say, “Why aren’t there more handicapped protagonists? Autistic? Don’t they deserve a shot? How about other minorities such as Blacks, Hispanics, Samoans, or Aboriginals?” They seem to think that somehow, my focus on queer issues can be invalidated by rolling out a laundry list of other people that don’t get a shot at glory in video games. Well the thing is, that’s a good question. Why aren’t these people in games more? I focus on LGBT issues because it’s dearest to my heart, and I have a platform to rage at the world from. So to the people that are genuinely posing these questions, why don’t you write something about another oppressed or underappreciated group of people? We all deserve the limelight, but using the lack of exposure to various cultures and people as an excuse to not focus on this particular issue doesn’t really help anything.
So now we get to the huge question, and that’s how do we actually make games that are welcoming to the LGBT community without pandering? How do we integrate it into a game without it being a shoehorned “feature” that’s on the back cover? How do we make it seem like something that isn’t forced? I have some ideas I’d like to explore.
After the fallout of my previous article, I was having a pretty in depth conversation with my devastatingly brilliant colleague, Jeff Verba. If you click the link, it will forward you to his twitter account, where I hope his drunken New Years Eve pictures won’t contradict the high praise I just heaped upon him.
We were discussing the topic of organic vs. forced characterization. We were postulating that maybe a few more queer characters needed to be forced into games before they would start appearing organically, but then the topic shifted to genderless love; more specifically, the interactions that players can experience in Dragon Age: Origins.
As people, we love. We also have attractions. Some of us may want one gender over another exclusively. Some may want a little bit of both. But attraction is shared amongst all of us. How many times have you heard a butch guy say, “I ain’t gay or nothin’, but
[insert x celebrity of same gender here] is a handsome man”? That’s an acknowledgment of an inherent attraction that radiates from someone, and it’s totally not gay. It’s natural. I think Robert Downey Jr. is a damn sexy man, and my wife has been known to softly sigh a bit when Sherry Moon Zombie walks on screen.
But our society puts constrictions and rules on gender. Isn’t love and attraction genderless? This is where Dragon Age: Origins comes in to play.
Please, correct me if I’m wrong, but looking back on the matter, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a trace of homophobia in Ferelden. Seems that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, provided you’re not a mage, that is.
I enjoy gender bending in RPG’s, usually playing through ones I like at least once per gender to get a feel for the different responses and character options. My male warden became romantically involved with Zevran and Morrigan. My female was involved with Leliana and Alistair. Never once did I think that my choices were odd or different. It wasn’t like I was saying “Yeah, I’m gunna be gay in this game!” It just…happened. It happened, because I loved the characters. We were saving the world, and every night we made camp, sat around the fire, and got closer and closer as we marched nearer to our suicide mission. The connection grew strong – by day, we fought side by side to save the world. By night, we sang songs and broke bread – actions symbolized by a massively robust tree of dialogue that was seemingly never-ending.
How could one not love Zevran’s antics, or Alistair’s self-deprecation? They became a part of my life when I played through those games, and I cared about them. To be honest, Dragon Age: Origins made me want to become a Game Developer, and I think that my ability to explore genderless love in a safe, natural, and welcoming environment was a big part of what touched me so deeply. It’s really kind of beautiful, when you think about it.
Or, as Jeff put so succinctly, he said that Zevran was “Sexy, sultry, and knew what to say and how to say it to woo me – and because I was in an environment where my choice wasn’t chastised, I explored it. To me, that’s where gaming can make a difference.”
Similar to in Thank You For Smoking, when Rob Lowe was telling Aaron Eckhart that smoking in a movie needed to be a period piece (i.e., outside the current restriction of society) to sell, maybe we need to make more games where it doesn’t matter in the game world what race, creed, color, gender, or sexual alignment you are.
Many people have said that it doesn’t matter to them what gets their characters off. Ok, that’s fine. People have also said that it does matter. That’s fine too.
Gamers are a diverse sort; so let’s celebrate that diversity by continuing to allow people to explore who they are and how they feel through a non-judgmental and welcoming environment. My answer to the how and why lies here. We need more games where you can do whatever you want without fear of pious judgment.
We need to teach people that gay men don’t go swishing all over the place covered in glitter and wearing neck scarves. People need to learn that bisexual women (And bisexual men!) aren’t just slutty tools to be used for some seedy after-hours three-way. Maybe we need to learn that not all lesbians are man-hating ball-busters.
Using games, to teach people how to love without gender is the first step, steps that studios like BioWare are already taking, but more of us need to get behind it. I think it’s a far nobler cause than creating another shooter with a square-jawed everyman committing mass murder under cover of snide quips.
Now, the above thought is aimed at everyone, but let’s shift the focus to a game that is a
dyed in the wool experience that is built from the ground up to appeal to LGBT audiences, and focus on LGBT characters. I have a number of quick game ideas that I would like to share with the community to get the ball rolling. I also do this, because I don’t
want to be yelling about stuff without offering solutions. Even if you disagree with everything I have said to this point, you can at least give me credit for following through on the matter. Keep in mind, I just quickly jotted these down – light on mechanics, heavy on story.
- Queer scientist is about to find a cure for AIDS, but a fundamentalist terrorist group trashes the lab, steals the formula, and abducts the scientist’s life partner. The scientist has to try and infiltrate the organization to get everything back. This could be a stealth/action-RPG, with a deep cadre of characters and locations. The scientist would need a broad cast of supporters to help out, as the scientist would not be accustomed to an aggressive and violent environment.
- Browser game could be a fun, light-hearted platformer where the character runs around and has to put all the pieces of the rainbow back together.
- Drag Queen + Grindhouse = OMGHOWAWESOMEWOULDTHATBEAWESOME!!!
- In the future, spies are transgendered and can switch gender at will to suit the situation. Character gets bonuses for using genders in unique and clever ways. Character could wrestle with being initially straight, corn-fed Iowa boy that goes into the program to protect his country, but becomes confused by the changes he is constantly dealing with.
This is just a short list of thoughts that I had. I know they aren’t amazing, but hey – it’s a start, right? At least I’m offering more solutions than problems. I welcome everyone to take a minute of their time – regardless of how you feel about the issue – and jot down a few lines outlining a game focusing on LGBT characters or issues. I think you may surprise yourself when you find that it’s not impossible to make something cool. I’m already getting a bit partial to the Grindhouse Drag Queen revenge odyssey that I’m envisioning.
In closing, this is going to be it for me on this topic for a while. I don’t want to beat it to death, though I fear I already have, but the issue was challenged far too much to let it rest with that.
We have great power. We can change lives, we can entertain, and we can bring people together. Let’s do it. Let’s work towards a nobler cause – and not just this cause, but any cause. Anywhere where you see someone needing support from society, pursue it. Why? Because we can, that’s why.