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Gay Characters in Videogames

Gay Characters in Videogames


Author and Screenshots: Matthew D. Barton
Editing: Bill Loguidice and Buck Feris
Online Layout: Buck Feris
Additional Screenshots and Scans: Buck Feris and Bill Loguidice

Notes: All pictures were taken directly from the editors' personal materials unless otherwise indicated
Special Thanks: Buck Feris and Bill Loguidice

Creative Commons License
The following text (not including illustrations) is licensed under a Creative Commons License.




Box cover for Troika's 'The Temple of Elemental Evil'In Troika Game’s computer role playing game The Temple of Elemental Evil (2003), the player is presented with a role-playing scenario that may shock even seasoned veterans of the genre: The player is asked to rescue, and given the option to marry, an openly gay character.

After several hours (or days) of fairly routine hacking and slashing through giant frogs and bandits, the player’s adventuring party finds itself in the pirate-themed port village of Nulb, an “adventurer’s trap,” the like of which any player of TSR’s classic Dungeons and Dragons tabletop (pen and paper) game is likely to have wandered into on countless occasions. There’s a blacksmith for purchasing arms and armor, a house where the party can rest, and a special pirate named Bertram who flirts with a male member of the party. Bertram promises a lifetime of love and happiness in return for the winning of his freedom from his lover and master, a certain pirate captain who is happy to trade off his sex toy/punching bag for the right amount of cash.1 Surely, Nulb must be on the west coast of this game world!


Screenshot from Troika's 'The Temple of Elemental Evil.' The caption reads, 'You and Bertram are married in a small ceremony, and he opens a dentistry office in Verbobonc. You live happily ever after.'The party can elect to take Bertram with them or, more likely, allow him to remain in Nulb where he will pleasantly pass the hours until the player finishes the game. He shows back up in the concluding scenes if the player rescued him. A portrait is displayed with two men embraced, and the narrator levelly explains that you and Bertram were married and lived, as they say, happily ever after.

The irony is surely not lost on readers of Armchair Arcade; we expect to rescue a fairy princess, not a pirate fairy. Yet, The Temple of Elemental Evil does not blush in its mission to accommodate all types of players, even those male players who prefer the intimacy of other men to women.

So, what do we make of Bertram? Does his presence here indicate a radical re-envisioning of computer games; the long-expected (but often dreaded) incursion of the “gay movement” into that one literary sphere which has been, until now, the unquestioned domain of young, straight men of the middle and upper class? How far we have come from those naive days of SSI's Curse of the Azure Bonds, when gay characters were unthinkable, and female characters, if they were portrayed at all, sported enormous breasts on prominent display—even if the display came at the cost of their armor’s integrity!


Scan of the manual for 'Curse of the Azure Bonds'In general, I think we should admit that classic computer role-playing games (and the majority of modern games) are sexist, if by that term we mean that they exclude females and gays as potential players. The assumption made by game makers was that the overwhelming demographic of Americans who purchased and played videogames were a particular strand of white, straight males, who were often victims of vicious stereotyping themselves. I’m thinking here of “geeky gamers,” those nerds who wore calculator watches and were unequipped physically to win honor on the football field or basketball court. Sexuality for these unfortunate few was limited to masturbation and pornographic magazines (if one were lucky). Perhaps the only way to tolerate such a life is with considerable power of imagination, and these people had that pulsing at every pimple. What computer role-playing games supplied was a chance to escape from a world of tyrannical locker jocks, puritanical parents, and beautiful women (for whom hardcore gamers served only as a source of cheap amusement). A quick glance around any classic Dungeons and Dragons session will, more often than not, reveal a group of nerds in ill-fitting trousers and cheap tennis shoes who get a little too excited about a long sword +5, and who, when pressured, will admit that while facing an army of trolls in the darkest dungeons of Moridir does not warrant the quaffing of a potion of barkskin, actually speaking to an attractive woman is cause to soil one’s armor.

These are, of course, exaggerated stereotypes of “geeky gamers” that are both hurtful and wrong. Yet, when I recently posted about “gay characters” in videogames on a popular retro-gaming forum, an overwhelming number of responses contained the harshest stereotyping of gay people imaginable. Though gamers may have been subjected to stereotyping and insults most of their lives, this fact does not make them less likely to hurl them at others. The general consensus was that game makers should not include gay characters in videogames.


Why should anyone want to change this status quo? Why incorporate gay characters into a mainstream videogame? Tom Decker, producer of The Temple of Elemental Evil, counts adding Bertram as one of his “best decisions.” He describes his reasoning in a recent interview at RPG Vault:
Doing some of the writing for the game, I had a lot of fun with creating some of the characters and quests in Nulb. I particularly felt strongly that since we had several heterosexual marriages available in Hommlet, we should include at least one homosexual encounter in the game (although there were actually two, one was in the brothel that was removed) and not to make it a stereotyped, over the top situation, but on par with the other relationships available in the game. I felt strongly about keeping the character of Bertram in the game, and I am glad we were allowed to keep him, despite any controversy it might cause. It's been entertaining reading the boards about Bertram and reactions to him.

Unfortunately, Decker does not explain why he felt so strongly about incorporating gay marriage into his game, though his feelings seem to stream from a sense of fairness. Another possibility, of course, is that Bertram is present purely for shock value. Regardless, I think The Temple of Elemental Evil will go down in history as the first mainstream videogame2 to promote gay marriages. Is this something the videogame community should celebrate or condemn?


Gay Characters in Videogames: The Modern Moral Spirit

Before I begin to answer this question and take my stand on the issue, it is probably best to attempt to analyze exactly what the problem is with gay characters in videogames. Why is this even an issue?


Let us consider for a moment the ever increasing addition of gay characters to modern television programs. Such an addition would have been scandalous just a few decades ago, but now we have Billy of One Life to Live, Will and Grace, Willow and Tara of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Ricky Vasquez in My So-Called Life, strutting their stuff with all the temerity of Dr. Frank N. Furter (The Rocky Horror Picture Show). This is a short list, and I’m sure anyone with access to a cathode ray tube and a remote control could list at least a hundred more. Surprisingly, this surge of homosexuality into television programming has not sparked a moral revolution; far from it, anyone daring to speak out on the matter is likely to lose his job. When it comes to gay characters in television, movies, and even children’s literature—we’re forced to swallow. Ironically, the current president of the United States is sponsoring a bill to ban gay marriages. We can infer from this, perhaps, that Mr. Bush does not watch much television.


What we are seeing here is a radical re-envisioning of what it means to be a man of moral integrity in this age of political correctness and the occasional superstar’s slipping boob. We are entering a near-Victorian Era, though strangely in reverse, with our “updated” Ten Commandments being in effect exactly opposite of those inscribed upon those hallowed tablets with lightning bolts and the unquestioned authority of Jehovah. The Bible, after all, simply tells us to burn homosexuals, and that kind of teaching doesn’t sync well with the modern moral spirit. George W. Bush’s stance on gay marriage is quite clear; he and other religious fundamentalists feel we must protect sacred institutions from violation by "moral degenerates."

If I were asked to describe this moral spirit in any learned terms, I would reach for my copy of Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality, a three-volume work written by a rather controversial philosopher whose gay lifestyle was cut short when he died of AIDS in the early 1980s. Foucault tells us that we are entering a George Orwellian-like world where surveillance, confession, and therapy allow power to penetrate ever more deeply into our personal and public lives. Certain discourses trump all others; though we privilege the opening-up of academic discourse to subjects like sadomasochism, we at the same time limit and expel those aged voices which hold all such material as an abomination not only to the University, but the nation. Of course, in American rightwing rhetoric, being a liberal has come to mean embracing all forms of sexuality, and some of the left’s most influential thinkers (Kristeva, for instance) are now claiming that everyone is bisexual. Many feminists and queer theorists have urged gay couples not to marry. For them, seeking to gain legitimacy through the institution of marriage is merely replicating a facet of a corrupt and unworthy social system.


Screenshot taken from the movie 'Jeffrey'One of the changes in our moral temperament, according to Foucault, is the requirement to speak about sex in candid and learned ways. We are told to teach our children how to properly masturbate, if not how to wear condoms; we are told that two men or two women can live just as happily as a married couple than their heterosexual counterparts; we are even assured that two men can reap the physical benefits of an unimpeded sexuality and raise children in a positive and healthy environment. The sight of Dad #1 kissing and fondling Dad #2 is not only appropriate, but absolutely nutritious for the social and mental development of these bright-eyed youngsters.

We are routinely asked to speak about sex, and are also told to take pride in being able to do so. Let Grandpa Curmudgeon blush when our sixteen year old describes having anal sex with her boyfriend of the week; the new morality says that it is good; it is healthy for Nellie to feel comfortable talking and discussing such issues, and as long as she uses the proper form of protection, who are we to judge? Sexuality is purely a personal preference, we are told over and over again, and since every person is unique and entitled to his/her/its pursuit of pleasure, we have no right to intervene. The only thing that is important is to label, classify, and categorize oneself as accurately and clinically as possible. The bedroom has become a truly public place; it is our domain, sure enough, but we are obligated to form our personalities around whatever activities take place there. The only sin in this modern morality is not allowing (or forcing) someone to speak his mind—assuming, of course, that the comments are not hostile towards any of the 365 flavors of ice cream or yogurt available at the local sex shop. We value most highly the freedom of a man to confess his genetic pre-condition of homosexuality; such discourse must not be censored; however, that redneck preacher or Arkansas hillbilly who dares utter a protest must be silenced at all costs. Thus we reach the reversal of the so-called Victorian Era, during which we are told that even using the term “leg” was a serious faux pas, and concerned mothers wrapped dressings around piano legs for fear that seeing them might morally corrupt her children. Now our contemporary mother teaches her children the most frank clinical and popular terms not only for legs, but for clitorises, and the most suspicious young men are those who do not seem to have any desire to have sex with a woman or another man—such people are politely told to consider therapy. The asexual being is the only figure of moral suspicion and hatred these days. Age is certainly no escape—every third commercial on television is a promotion for one drug or another that will raise that old mizzenmast and help one set sail once again upon the sea of sexual pleasure and moral gratification. The last sexual taboos (pedophilia, incest, and bestiality) are no longer universally offensive. In short, we take our immorality as seriously as the Victorians took their morality.


Foucault asks us to question the notion that our sexual fetish is who we are. Many Americans argue that someone who prefers sex with other men is not just enjoying a fantasy; he is gay. Someone who enjoys both male and female sex partners is bi. This is not a sexual preference, then, but an “orientation”, a socially-constructed identity, and people are expected to conform to the rather arbitrary mannerisms, language games, and political positions that match their “type.” In fact, the homosexual as an identity did not emerge until we began seriously to discuss and portray him, usually in clinical terms. As any curious schoolboy knows quite well, just reading about and describing sexual activities, especially taboo activities, are exciting in and of themselves; no one should doubt Foucault is correct in his assertion that discussions of sex, even in the context of “this is evil and sick; let’s describe it in detail” does far more to encourage and fetishize the conduct than repress it. Foucault asks a simple but provoking question: Is all this talk about sexuality, with its obsession with labels and categories, really making the world a freer place?


The question is whether folks identifying with labels like “gay” would do better to resist them. It’s a complex and difficult problem. Consider the plight of the black identity; blacks can either downplay difference and “be like the whites,” thus gaining acceptance into mainstream society (“I’m just like you, but I happen to have black skin”), or they can establish and protect difference and resist assimilation (“Being black is about far more than skin color, but you can’t know what means because you’re white.”) There are obviously advantages and disadvantages to both possibilities, but one fact is certain: One cannot put a token in the arcade machine and keep it, too. Mainstreaming always involves a certain amount of violence as many of the characteristics that define a group are blurred or destroyed for the sake of homogenization.

Now, this has been a long and hopefully entertaining rant that may at first have only a tenuous connection to the subject at hand. Perhaps I have grown too fond of my own words and drifted off course like the drunkest pirate captain? I think not, matey.

Playing Gay Characters in Videogames


Playing a gay character in a videogame and seeing a gay character on a television may seem at first to be vastly different activities. We “watch” gay characters on television; we don’t “become” them. However, this attitude is rather naive in that it ignores the obvious role of living vicariously through a fictional character, a rather moot point in literature that nonetheless seems to escape most laypersons. In older literature, the person we are to identity with is made obvious with a name like “Everyman” or some Greek or Latin derivative of the term; the character we are supposed to be is stripped of as many particular or specific details as possible and functions rather like a hollow shell into which the reader inserts himself. Ben Johnson was quick to point out that the reason why Shakespeare’s plays are so wonderful is that he was a master at this subtle art. D.B. Weiss, author of Lucky Wander Boy, claims that Double Dragon II was the first game in which the player’s character was so well-defined that identification was difficult. Before that, it was just a pie-shaped wedge, and anybody could be that. It is obvious to anyone familiar with my earlier article why first-person shooters are so popular—the player can be the character quite literally; the game never shatters the vicarious identification by representing the character’s face or body. As soon as such an image would appear on screen, the player would snap a bit—“Hey, that’s not me, I’m much shorter,” and so on.


An obvious question arises when we read a work of fiction: Who are we supposed to be? Where does the reader come in? The reason why so many men do not wish to read romance novels is that they simply can’t identify with the characters or the narrator. Any fiction guide worth its font size cautions writers against works with no characters the reader can relate to; even space aliens should be given enough human characteristics to allow the reader to enjoy the story.3 A story about various forms of molds and algae, stripped of all personification, would be about as much fun as various forms of mold and algae.

Dr. Frank N. Furter from 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show'We are not forced to assume the role of that “transsexual from Transylvania,” Dr. Frank N. Furter, in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Instead, the character may stand out as literally alien and fundamentally exotic; a spectacle and glorifying of abnormality and explosive irony that very few people would choose to identify with. The characters most of us identify with, Brad and Janet, are two woefully naive young people who have hitherto suffered precious little of the immoral smorgasbord available a few miles up the road. We watch (with varying degrees of discomfort) as these characters are “corrupted,” Brad and Janet have sex with Dr. Frank N. Furter, thus betraying each other and forever sundering their loving relationship to each other. Janet becomes a nymphomaniac, and Brad, ah, poor Brad, has little for his pains but a gnawing awareness that he will really never fit-in anywhere. The straight white male in this movie has been screwed.


Now, contrast this type of identification with that taking place in these modern television shows, where gay characters are presented to us without any of the ridiculous animosity of Dr. Furter. Here we see “healthy” and positive people, enjoying wholesome lifestyles that would make The Cosby Show’s Huxtable family proud. We are handed portraits of gay persons and couples that we would feel good about having next door, just as The Cosby Show helped racist Americans get comfortable with the idea of having a black couple next door. One doubts seriously if the true black experience in America at that time would have been fit for the television. “They’re just like us” seems to be the motto of the modern spirit, though it is to be immediately followed by, “But we must celebrate their difference.” I’m the sort of chump who can’t help but grin at the naivety of people who insist that everyone is unique, yet must resort to a retinal scan or DNA analysis to really tell them apart—All in the Family seems to have had a more accurate view of race relations. Do we really do gay people a service by welcoming them into our world with the sole stipulation being that they act just like us?


People seek out literature (whether that be Microsoft's Xbox or a TV) for one purpose: to live vicariously through someone else. The harder it is for a reader or player to identify with a character in the literature, the less successful it will be.4 The audience must recognize themselves; they must think, “Oh, no, what will I do—the killer is in this darkness somewhere!” If all the audience sees are characters, and those too well-defined or eccentric for identifying with, the result will be boredom. There is a situation here that is most often described in terms of “marked” and “unmarked” characteristics. These are terms from linguistics that make a lot of sense when describing potential avatars in videogames. For instance, if the avatar is to be a knight, then we make certain assumptions that are considered unmarked. For instance, the knight is male, European, and strong. Someone may say, “Well, my knight is going to be female and speak with a Texas accent.” These characteristics are called marked because they clash with our expectations. Now, we could talk about marked and unmarked characteristics with some universal set of values in mind, but I think it makes more sense to look at what an individual player has in mind when determining what is “me” and what is “other.” For instance, someone with a Texas accent may wish to play a character with the same accent—this could conceivably make it easier for the player to identify with the avatar. Theoretically, it makes sense to say that the more marked characteristics a player must accept in her avatar, the less capable she will be of identifying with the avatar and enjoying the game. What I hope is apparent here is that characteristics aren’t “marked” or “unmarked” universally, but individually; we each have our own experience-informed way of categorizing such things. Furthermore, it is not necessary or always desirable for players to control avatars that are similar to them. A small girl in a wheelchair, for instance, may not want to play an avatar with the same disability and may even be offended if someone just assumes she would. Tact seems to be utterly necessary in these situations. We must strike a careful balance between making a player feel included without making brash assumptions his or her preferences.

This point at last brings us to my analysis of the “issue” of gay characters in videogames. Let’s make a quick example: Cinemaware's Defender of the Crown. At one point in this game, the player is asked to rescue a maiden—a typical enough subplot in this genre of games. If the daring rescue is successful, the player is informed that he has fallen in love with the maiden (the romantic scene is ripped straight from the cheesiest of soap-operas and will not be described in detail here). Here are the possible women the player can rescue:



Composite illustration made from screenshots of Cinemaware's 'Defender of the Crown'


Screenshot from Cinemaware's 'Defender of the Crown'As a youth, I was happiest when I rescued Rosalind of Bedford, who is the most beautiful of the four. I can say that because I am exercising my personal taste. I enjoy women; there are four women, one of them is my favorite. But what if I were female? Ostensibly, that choice would have been ruled out at the beginning of the game, when the player is asked to choose among four male avatars. But what if I were gay? Conceivably, one of these avatars could be. No matter how many times someone plays Defender of the Crown, though, he will not be asked to rescue Prince Herbert.

The rescue of Prince Herbert from 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail'Indeed, the reason why this famous scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail is so amusing is that the viewer knows exactly what Sir Lancelot’s reaction will be to the “male maiden.”


Defender of the Crown assumes that the player is male and will enjoy marrying a beautiful princess; the game does not take into consideration a female nor a gay character. The game should probably carry a message on its package: “Not intended for gay or female characters.”

This seems like a tidy conclusion, and the answer to the Defender of the Crown problem is obvious: Make one of the personas gay, make another female, make one black, and so on, until every possible player “type” is represented. Unfortunately, this article was not prepared in time for Cinemaware to consider it for the revamped release; there, the persona selection is omitted entirely, and the player must choose Robin Hood. Efforts to include all player possibilities in other games have been of mixed success. Electronic Arts' The Sims Online has been noted for its inclusion of gay character possibilities, but I’ll let this The Sims Online fan speak on the matter, since I have so little experience with this line of games. From what I see, I’m not missing much.


One of the strengths of role-playing games is the emphasis on vicarious living; most often, players are given quite a bit of freedom in designing their own character—someone whom he or she can relate to, but also someone he or she would like to be. New World Computing's Might and Magic VII offers a wide enough selection, though no obvious gay characters are present and, in particularly bad taste, the default party has a single black character—who is a thief.

Box cover for Broderbund's 'Lode Runner'What I’m working with here is the vast body of classic and modern videogames. The question I’m asking is whether or not there are any games here that a non- straight-white male would want to play, and the answer is overwhelmingly yes. Most of the games I have in mind are “classic” games like Atari’s Asteroids, Taito’s Bubble Bobble, Alexey Pajitnov’s Tetris, Broderbund’s Lode Runner, and so on—games whose “poor” graphics were actually wonderfully abstract and well-suited for the player of difference. Indeed, often the only player-specifications made in any of these games was on the front cover of the package—there we might see a man representing the Lode Runner, for instance. Without such redundant materials, anyone could have assumed the role of the Lode Runner; why did they just assume he would be a white male?


The reason is obvious. Young white males made up of the majority of the videogame buying public, so it only made sense to market exclusively to them. Consider that so many old videogame advertisements, whether for games or consoles, showed us a father and son enjoying a videogame while the mother and daughter sat back and watched. Computer Space, the first arcade game, featured this advertisement. The barefoot woman in the photograph seems to be offering herself as much as the arcade game; given this choice, I know of few men who would have sought change for a quarter. What all of this male-targeted marketing has created is a self-perpetuating demographic; new males are lured to videogames, but women, gays, and to some extent blacks, have been excluded. It is important here for the reader to realize that I am quite aware of the abundance of games featuring sexy female avatars; Eidos' Tomb Raider or Fear Effect 2 spring instantly to mind. However, the question I pose is whether Lara Croft and Rain are meant to appeal to young women who might identify with them, or young men with an appreciation for the well-endowed? For an idea of the problem I have in mind, imagine a game in which players were forced to choose a “Fabio” like main character wearing a thong. Screenshot from Sir-Tec's 'Druid: Daemons of the Mind'This kind of uncomfortable identification has been asked of women for too long in the videogaming world. Where are the games for “regular” girls, those without gigantic breasts and voluptuous lips? Indeed, one of the few avid female gamers I know personally constantly makes this complaint: “I have small breasts,” she tells me, “I don’t want to play a female character with heavy jugs; I just can’t relate to that.” It seems a female gamer would just about have to be gay to enjoy playing some of the modern games with female avatars. For the same reason that I wouldn’t want to play Fabio, she doesn’t want to play Lara. Fortunately for me, I can choose Sierra's Half-Life, whose main character bears a close enough resemblance to me for identification to take place.


Furthermore, regarding Fear Effect 2, I may as well describe my own prejudice concerning the presence of “lipstick” lesbians in videogames and movies. I have often discovered troves of lesbian pornography in my male friends’ adult film archives. When pressured, these friends revealed to me that they enjoy these films because they wish to avoid challenging their sexual identity by viewing other males having sex, especially when penises or other male parts are prominently displayed during the movie. For these sexually insecure individuals, women-only pornography is safer and more comfortable. Far from helping men grow more comfortable with alternative sexualities and ease “homophobia,” these “lesbian” films and games actually reinforce such tendencies. Any man who has actually had sex with a woman probably questions whether the women portrayed in these films are “real” lesbians, though trying to generalize or “essentialize” what it means to be a “real” lesbian is about as easy as deciding, once and for all, which game deserves the title of “Best Videogame Ever.”

Inconclusions

As I have tried to demonstrate in the above paragraphs, and in my previous article for Armchair Arcade, identification plays a major part in enjoying a videogame. If the game is abstract, like Tetris, identification takes place in the same way it does when we watch cartoons: We find enough of ourselves in the personalized features of the characters to identify with them. Readers of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics will understand what I mean when I say that identification becomes more difficult as the characterization becomes more realistic. I don’t want to go into great detail about Scott’s book here; any readers who found this article interesting should not waste time getting to the local bookstore (Graphic Novels section) and purchasing a copy of the book. Even though Scott is concerned with comics, we can practically take everything he says about them and apply it directly to videogames.


Let me give a quick example here, then I’ll try to live up to the feeling expressed in the above subtitle.

The smiley face

Consider a simple smiley face. The image is so abstract; so simple, so universal, that almost any human being can recognize him or herself within it. That smiley face is a sort of “essence” of a happy human face; all of the extra detail has been stripped away, and we are left with the simplest possible image that could evoke that recognition. Compare this simple smiley image with a photograph of the rather handsome young men below. We do not see “universal” humans there; rather, we see individuals, each with his own personality, life history, story, goals in life, and so on. If we were dealing with a small child, we could draw a smiley on a chalkboard and say “This is you!” I doubt the child would have much difficulty with the concept; indeed, small children frequently draw stick figures and claim that they are, “Mom, Dad, and me!” However, imagine trying to convince a child that one of the faces below was she. She would, hopefully, respond in the negative. What this demonstrates is that identifying with any particular avatar is easy or difficult depending on the relative abstraction of the avatar in question. The editorial staff of Armchair Arcade: Bill Loguidice, Matt Barton, and Buck Feris.In the case of an extreme abstraction, like the smiley face, identification is almost universal. However, if we put a bow and lipstick on that smiley, a yellow wedge becomes “Ms. Pac-Man,” a female, and thus allows a whole new sex to enjoy videogames (one wonders why Ms. Pac-Man was so popular with males as well as females; my thoughts are that the game was so abstractly represented that it did not cause any problems with identification. It probably helped that the game was particularly well-constructed and fun to play). Hans-Georg Gadamer, a famous German philosopher, speaks of this same situation in terms of a model versus a portrait in his book Truth and Method5. The idea there is that the model “is not meant as herself; she serves only to wear a costume or to make gestures clear,” whereas someone represented in a portrait is “so much himself that he does not appear to be dressed up” even if he is in an elaborate costume (128). An easy to way to imagine the distinction here is to consider a beautiful young girl in a leather jacket portrayed in a Macy’s catalog, and a Polaroid of that same young woman (perhaps in the same jacket) stored in a photo album at her mother’s house.


Let us return for a moment to the child being told that this image or that image is she. If we showed her a cartoon of a little girl, she’d probably agree. If, however, the cartoon had a feature that differed greatly from the girl; for instance, if it had four arms, or had an antenna jutting from her forehead, the girl would find identification harder, if not impossible. At this point, the parent could introduce a fictional explanation, as in, “Well, this is just a story of a little girl that one day woke to find herself with four arms,” and so on. This kind of “patch” is necessary for most games involving a very specific avatar; many games try to ease the identification by suggesting such a story: “In A.D. 2101. War was beginning,” we are told by the narrator of Toaplan’s Zero Wing (1989). Icom Simulations’ Deja Vu (1987) introduced a particularly clever scheme to explain the player’s presence; he has no clue why he’s there, either.

How can we get more women and gay gamers interested in videogames? Well, for starters, we can tell the marketing departments to stop privileging young, white males in their advertisements and start catering to a wider audience. To be fair, many companies have already taken this step, probably out of fear of the bogey-persons of political correctness.


Perhaps more important develop will be the need to create either very abstract avatars which anyone can identify with, or an abundance of avatars that cover most particularities. It is not true that a gay gamer would always want to choose a stereotypically “gay” avatar; the idea here is that enough choices would be present to include possibilities like playing black, female, gay, young, old, or even non-human avatars. So far, we have yet to see games where these choices have a real effect on the gameplay; interestingly, Curse of the Azure Bonds limited the strength of female avatars, but this “sexist” limitation has been quietly removed in later AD&D products. Should female avatars be more caring and compassionate than male avatars? Should black avatars be allowed to jump higher or run faster than their white counterparts? Should gay avatars be snappier dressers than “straight” avatars? Troubled waters lie ahead, for it seems impossible to ascribe any general characteristics to these groups without doing more harm than good!


Gay avatars are an inevitable development in the evolution of the videogame that will take place with or without this article. If we already see such possibilities opening up in even mainstream titles like The Temple of Elemental Evil, I doubt it will be long before even the idea of a fantasy role-playing game featuring only one white male avatar will seem a strange, misguided aspect of our distant past. Is this a good thing? Should we fight this trend or encourage it? I’d love to offer some general guidelines or at least some advice for game developers on this issue, but, as is perhaps more common in philosophy than we like, the issue only gets more confusing the more we try to analyze it. Perhaps the best approach would be to start talking to self-proclaimed gay persons and determine what they would like to experience in a videogame. To my knowledge, The Temple of Elemental Evil is the only mainstream computer role playing game that gives players a serious gay option without “forcing” gayness on a heterosexual player. Perhaps it will serve as a worthy model for games to come.





1 The Temple of Elemental Evil is actually a computer game conversion of a traditional pen-and-paper based D&D module. The village of Nulb was only “described in a limited fashion in the original module”, so the Troika team took significant liberties fleshing it out.

2 The ESRB, the board that rates videogames for suitability, elected to give The Temple of Elemental Evil a “Teen” rating, despite the gay marriage and homosexual innuendos.


3 A point has been made here concerning Edwin Abbot’s story Flatland, where points, lines, and geometric shapes are the only inhabitants of a fictional world. Even at this level of abstraction, personification helps the reader identify with the characters.

4 This is not to say that players who enjoy Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto III are necessarily felons. What it does say is those players who enjoy the game are able to at least imagine themselves in these situations, as I am easily able to imagine myself doing irreparable harm to anyone tailgating my vehicle. The player must say, “Given this context, I would act in this manner.”


5 Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Truth and Method. New York: Crossroad, 1985.

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bullet majortom | 17 Mar : 02:16

Comments: 7

Registered: 17 Jan : 20:04
The defn. of sexism put forth by the article is flawed, doesn't one usually have some sort of intent when sexism arises, not just a mere exclusion of some theme? Would games automatically be branded "racist!" should they fail to include / cater to minority racial themes? I hope not.

The decision made by game makers large and small to target the male age group spanning from adolescent teen boys to include "twenty something" men is an effect set in motion by the original base of the videogame social group and creators. Before game companies could even afford a scantily clad female on the box cover, the young white male was trading plastic baggies full of ..... diskettes, as we were all informed last month.

In regards to the retro - gaming forum mentioned in the article, I visited to find little to correlate with the branding of "harsh stereotyping", though I fully expected to find many brash fourteen year old scriptkiddies talking smack. Of course, that wasn't the case, in fact, a poll contained within the forum showed three options, with the votes for each statement alongside in answer to the question,
"What are your thoughts on gay characters in games?"

"If the game is good, I'm there, gay character or not" : 45 votes.

"I would like to see some games with prominent gay characters" : 18 votes

"I think it's a bad idea" : 36 votes

Personally, I really liked 98% of the posts on that page, and it was a rare example of the integrity and intelligence of decent forums on the 'net (as is this one).

I've simply got to throw this in, despite the man was being briefly touched upon in the article : PLEASE get off of George Bush, yeah, so he's mentioned something about gay marriage, one would think that due to his position, this would be a relevant fact to bring up, but he's just a straw man. Religious funadamentalist?! The couldn't pull a scripture quote from his tiny frontal lobe if a 50 gallon drum of light sweet crude depended upon it! The poor man (not really elected president) is trolling for votes with the gay marriage issue and does so at his own expense, please resist the temptation to further highlight his exceedingly apparent limitations and please to not allow him any means of legitimacy in the eyes of any conservative by giving him (even a tarnished) mantle of "Religious Fundamentalist".

Defender of the Crown; the game should probably carry a message on it's package: Not intended for gay or female characters (gamers?). Even without the label, I think that both "gay" or female gamers have probably figured out already that the product probably isn't their "cup o' tea". It's about simple observation of the product (guess what, if you're blind, this VIDEO game, most assuredly is also not for you!).

"How can we get more women and gay gamers interested in videogames?" I can't believe this question was asked. If there is a demand by gay or female gamers that can be met iun the market, most certainly it will be. Why? Maybe because additional money and market penetration will further a market some believe has matured.

I simply do not buy the argument that whole social groups of consumers are being fabricated by (undoubtedly skilled) gaming industry marketeers to form a stereotypical set of gamers, heck, if one could do that, why not try for the complete populace as opposed to a segment of it?

As critical as all this might sound, I loved the article, (just opposed to some of the ideas), it was informative, well written, and brave to tackle this subject in a fresh and engaging manner, another Armchair Arcade Accolade.

bullet Bill Loguidice | 17 Mar : 10:43

Comments: 307

Good points, Major Tom, and certainly as correct as Matt's from my point of view. There are many ways to argue both for and against games being all things to all people. Technically, it may not have been possible in the past (again may), but certainly either through good design or current technology, there IS a greater chance of that being possible now. I actually think regardless of your disposition, Defender of the Crown might be fun for anyone. However, if you think about it, it would be a relative minor change to have a few more respresentations in there. Again, this is no knock against what is a classic game, it's just a good "example" of how things can be made different.

By the way, that same classic gaming forum - my favorite - has the rumblings of a discussion going on about this at this link: http://www.monroeworld.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=21648

bullet kyhwana | 18 Mar : 00:32
Comments: 1

Registered: 18 Mar : 00:29
As a gay guy, I figure i'd just throw in my peice.
I'm not really a hardcore gamer, like some of the people I know, but personally I don't really care about playing a gay character in a game. It doesn't make that much of a different to me. Although I think the inclusion of gay characters in games is pretty cool and a good thing.

bullet chronos_tachyon | 18 Mar : 11:41

Comments: 3

Registered: 18 Mar : 10:50
I'm a gay guy, and a gamer, albeit not really a hardcore one unless I'm burning in a new game. (I do recall skipping a few meals -- not to mention classes -- when burning in StarCraft in college, so I guess I kinda count.) There are a lot of game types where the sexual orientation (or, really, any personal characteristic) of my character doesn't really enter into the gameplay -- fighting games, first person shooters, first person adventure (w00t! Samus in da' house!), yadda. In those games, it can be a source of great amusement to verbally mock heterocentricity when it chafes against my experience, since the rest of the game stands up on its own. (Street Fighter 2, particularly the Guile/Charlie/Jane drama and the Ryu/Ken subtext, was an endless source of this back in the day. StarCraft, to use my earlier example, was mentally rewritten by me to have Raynor and human!Kerrigan in a fag/hag-type friendship, with a tragic Raynor/Tassadar romance budding behind the scenes that ended with Tassadar's big sacrifice. This is really borne out by Raynor's mopeyness throughout Brood War, if you think about it.)

However, there are other genres, principally RPGs, where the personal attributes of the character are the driving force behind the story, and the story is the main reason for playing the game. Sometimes this doesn't really bug me, particularly if the story is closed-ended -- e.g. in Shadow Hearts, I don't mind Yuri and Alice falling in love, because it's predestined, and I can just "aww" at them from a distance. However, it gets downright frustrating in more open-ended games, where opening after opening is provided for male/female romances, yet same-sex lovin' is off limits. To recycle Shadow Hearts, if you had the choice between Yuri/Alice and Yuri/Margarete, but Yuri/Keith was out of the picture, I would have hated the game. When I played Baldur's Gate 2, I got severely irked by the fact that I accidentally bought the druid chick a non-refundable enchanted amulet of her likeness, and another female in my party immediately got jealous, and I stopped playing shortly after that. To jump genres a bit, I once tried out one of the Leisure Suit Larry games, then immediately quit with a cold knot in my stomach when I managed to kill Larry by hitting on a guy at the bar (not seriously expecting a reaction, pro or con).

bullet Bill Loguidice | 18 Mar : 14:59

Comments: 307

That's an interesting story about Liesure Suit Larry! I have the complete series, but haven't really gotten around to playing them extensively.

bullet ianwilson | 18 Mar : 17:24
Comments: 3

Registered: 18 Mar : 16:43
I'm glad there are some other queer folks posting to this article, because it proves that some of us have, indeed, been playing video games for a long time, and it has changed very little. I've been trudging through heterosexist quests since Link rescued Zelda and I still don't think the gaming industry acknowledges "gaymers" as a market force. While I enjoyed the article, I have to disagree with its main argument -- that the gay community is making instrides into the gaming industry, or that the industry is shying away from its (hetero)sexism. The queering of a pirate character hardly brings gays into the mainstream. Johnny Depp is not going to be the spokesboy for gay marriage anytime soon, even if he was a big flaming homo in PotC.

To take up a thread in majortom's response, the gaming industry does not ignore minorities (sexual or otherwise) because straight white 14-year-old boys somehow founded Gamerkind. Obviously, at least three of us (who have posted so far) were trading diskettes way back when, and still do, without sexual undercurrents. The gaming industry ignores minorities because of production costs. It's far too costly to risk alienating straight white homophobes from a game for the sake of art or progressiveness. To take another page from Scott McCloud, gay, female, and black comic characters didn't hit it big until the Internet opened up the comics market and cut production costs (read McCloud's Reinventing Comics). This hasn't happened in gaming yet.

Does that mean minority players won't play games? Sure, some will be turned off, others will keep playing. Characters have other traits besides race, gender, and sexual orientation that a player can identify with. Not that those things aren't important in self-definition, but that about personality, intelligence, sense of humor, etc.? What if one identifies with a character because he/she is well-rounded, not because of their bust size? Maybe that's what the gaming industry is really unready to tackle...

>>Ian

P.S. -- For a great hypermedia piece about race, role-playing, and avatars, check out Erik Loyer's "Chroma", Chapter 6:
www.marrowmonkey.com

bullet Matt Barton | 18 Mar : 18:34

Comments: 169

Thanks, all, for all of this valuable insight into the question of gay characters in videogames. As the RGR Forums regular know, my original position on this issue was much more extreme, but I "toned it down," so to speak, for AA.

What tripped me up in the article was the argument that was that gray area between tokenism and inclusion. To what extent can we assimilate gay players without doing violence to their difference? The second we try to essentialize gay players we run into difficulties, yet surely that thing we have in mind when we use the term "gayness" exists and can be, to some extent, defined.

What I find offensive is that so many of these games just assume the player is a white, male, heterosexual. That's got to stop, not necessarily for political, but economical reasons. Ironically, I think that inculding other avatar possibilities will actually expand the possibilties for "controversial" play and get us away from the stulifying forces of political correctness. The stereotypical blonde bimbo avatar (or, for that matter, the big dumb strong ogre enemy) is not nearly as offensive if the player can also choose a smart and savvy woman of advanced age, or even a lesbian. I favor the idea of leaving such choices up to the player; the game ought not make the choices but only respond to them and accomodate the player.

An avatar, simply put, is an incorporeal form we assume for the purpose of exploring a virtual world. This type of exploration is probably more a self-examination; a simulation that teaches us about our personalities and the consequences of our choices. A player could perhaps use a videogame to safely explore his/her own sexuality without fear of being ridiculed, harassed, or labeled.

All I know is that I would be upset if I felt the maker of my favorite game had been making wrong assumptions about me all along. I would want those game developers to take me into account and give me a world I can enjoy exploring--with an avatar I can appreciate being.

The original thread is located here:
http://www.monroeworld.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1126&highlight=gay

bullet majortom | 19 Mar : 00:05

Comments: 7

Registered: 17 Jan : 20:04
Ian brings up a point up Zelda and it's "heterosexist" (why sexist? !) games: as mentioned before, if you don't like the product it probably wasn't made for you in mind or marketed for you in mind, otherwise you'd have Nintendo already banking on the next Zelda to incorporate more of what you liked when your target group sold out the preceeding tome of gaming goodness. Obviously there was something about Zelda that holds up across many gaming tastes, there doesn't have to be any window dressing for the game to sell to "minority gamers". I think that games should be made for everyone but not each game should be made for everyone; for risk of diluting the original material the author(s) try to present.

Finally, did fourteen year old white straight boys found Gamerkind? No. Thankfully that wasn't what I had in mind when I wrote

"The decision made by game makers large and small to target the male age group spanning from adolescent teen boys to include "twenty something" men is an effect set in motion by the original base of the videogame social group and creators. Before game companies could even afford a scantily clad female on the box cover, the young white male was trading plastic baggies full of ..... diskettes, as we were all informed last month."

Finally, would game makers risk alienating their current market for the sake of art or progress? Probably not, but if there is money to be made and a demand to be met by "gaymers" it will be, is it being met now with games in their current form? What do "gaymers" want in their games besides a good edit mode?

bullet Bill Loguidice | 19 Mar : 00:35

Comments: 307

Perhaps we should not be looking to mainstream developers and publishers for the answers, but small, independent PC developers for the first breakthrough game in regards to having a multi-cultural, multi-sexual choice of avatars in a particular game. The "non-typical" community (i.e., non-teenage white males) needs their breakthrough game still. We'd had some close ones, though and I disagree that The Sims is not a valid attempt at this. There ARE attempts and examples out there, albeit not enough of them. I find the character creators in games like "Top Spin" and "Tony Hawk's Underground" VERY intriguing in that you can literally create ANY character (or even creature to a degree!) you want. I find myself making "hot chicks" mostly because that's what *I* want to play in a game, but it's ironic that the game's storyline doesn't always acknowledge this (Tony Hawk's Underground being one example as the storyline has some specifically male-skewed elements (or to put it another way, there are some elements that make it seem like your female character is a lesbian simply because the game assumes that you're a male by default, even though there are tons of female and "monster" creation options)).

bullet majortom | 19 Mar : 03:19

Comments: 7

Registered: 17 Jan : 20:04
Finally (yes, I promise I'll abandon the word), Bill's got it. There are certain niche gaming enclaves that feed nearly every stripe of gamer. Spaz! (developer) began sporting ports of Saturn shooters. Rockstar Games ,themselves, were on the outskirts of gaming when they began, Vivid Interactive had hetero - soft - porn titles available for Panasonic's 3D0, and hentai import titles such as Princess Maker 2 made their ways to console and pc alike.

How long will gaymers wait until a small software development group startup finds distribution from a large corporate conglomerate like EA or THQ?

Will the end - product be articulate enough to engage "gay" gamers? Certainly there are "gamers", "casual gamers", even "retro - gamers", the sub-type's stated could be the beginning of many a various stereotypical gamer. Most gamers, I know of, only characterize themselves as gamers, by the TYPES of games they play to talk of the level design, and how they managed that last "boss", etc. . . .





bullet chronos_tachyon | 19 Mar : 09:17

Comments: 3

Registered: 18 Mar : 10:50
FYI, I *think* the LSL game in question was Leisure Suit Larry 1. It was *very* early in the game, no more than 10 minutes of playing.

bullet yung | 19 Mar : 11:13
Comments: 1

Registered: 19 Mar : 10:49
Very interesting article. As another gay (as hardcore as it gets) gamer, I think the whole videogame industry is run by a bunch of straight men. Since this is so, I think I'd have a hard time enjoying something that was written for the gay audience by somone who is not gay themselves. Could you imagine what would happen if someone straight was trying to write a branching story in an RPG with a gay leaning?

Maybe the gay gaming community should get together, be more organised, show that we exist and that we care. In the meantime we just have to suck it in.........for now.

bullet ianwilson | 19 Mar : 11:56
Comments: 3

Registered: 18 Mar : 16:43
I don't mean to knit-pick about Zelda, majortom, but I thought it was important to differentiate "heterosexism" from "homphobia" or something else of the like. (And maybe you're already familiar with the terminology, in which case I apologize for the semantics diatribe.) Heterosexism is merely an attitude, usually unintentional and unconscious, that assumes everyone is heterosexual. Most queer theorists would toss in the assumption that you want to get married and have kids, too, so heterosexism can affect straight folks, too. For me, it doesn't carry as negative a connotation as "homophobia", which is a more active dislike of queer people and culture.

Granted, we live in a heterosexist society, which means the gaming industry just reproduces heterosexism like any other billion dollar industry. The problem is that narrative-based games have to deal with this whole avatar/identification problem that industries like advertising or film don't have so literally. As Matt pointed out in his article, gamers encounter a form of cognitive dissonance when faced with unrealistic or undesirable choices. This would never happen in a film. You can identify with the protagonist of a film, but never to the extent as you would in a game. For instance, you would never use first-person language to describe the plot of a film as you would in a game: "I rescued the princess last night," or, "I got hosed by Revolver Ocelot," etc.

From what I've seen, creators of narrative-based games don't always treat their subjects with the level of subtlety needed for a game, and instead treat their plot like a film script, which breaks down in the example above. I'm hoping that articles like Matt's get some attention so more game developers at least start thinking about these issues (and some are!).

>>Ian

P.S. -- This is my first time on the site, so thanks for the engaging discussion!

bullet majortom | 19 Mar : 14:21

Comments: 7

Registered: 17 Jan : 20:04
I can certainly agree with Ian's definition of heterosexism, but I thought a strict definition of homophobia was defined as a fear (phobia) of homosexuals.

Anyway, I'm the one nitpicking, I'm very happy to see all the people inspired by Matt's article posting!

bullet chaironome | 19 Mar : 19:32
Guest

Great article, Matt.

As a gamer, I often enjoy playing characters that not so much resemble me but are an expression of how I would like to be. Take Benimaru, one of my favorite characters from King of Fighters. Benimaru is tall and thin, but has well-defined musclulature. He also wears pearl earrings and a crop top with tight white jeans. Many people consider Benimaru to be a gay character, but the game's story portrays him as a straight, vain male who tries to impress his female fans but females just find him to be arrogant. Indeed, I once cosplayed (that's Japanese for going in costume) as Benimaru at a local anime convention one year. I think the thing that drove me the most to do it was just wanting to live vicariously through him. I wanted to BE Benimaru, even it was for only one day. I find him very attractive and I can relate to him because he's vain, and I am too, only to a much lesser degree. It also helps that he's a strong character -- he'd gladly beat the crap out of anybody.

I find myself occasionally watching a movie and want some of the male characters to fall in love. I think too many movies out there will throw in heterosexual love at the end just for the hell of it. Would it kill people to have an action movie that doesn't end with the guy kissing a girl, but the guy kissing a guy? I remember when I saw Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the last hour or so of the movie I just wanted to see Sam and Frodo kiss, so much so that when Sam gets married at the end, I shouted "TRAITOR!" at the screen . I find the deeper meaning of the two X-men movies to be more about being gay than anything else. This is pretty obvious in X-men 2, when Iceman is "coming out" as a mutant to his mother, and his mother says "Have you ever tried NOT being a mutant?" You can pretty much substitute the word "homosexual" for every occurence of the word "mutant" in either film, and you'll be left with a strong message against homophobia, as many of the "anti-mutant" arguments are the same as those brought up against homosexuals. "I don't want my children taught by mutants in schools," etc.

I think with time, people will become more accepting of gay characters in all forms of entertainment, including games.

bullet Julian | 19 Mar : 19:33
Comments: 4

Registered: 08 Feb : 09:20
Hmm, difficult subject. I can't shake the feeling, though, that the real issue lies in the fact that everybody here assumes that people must have a fixed sexual identity. Weren't we beyond that already when the first MUDs offered a choice of 8 (or 16, I forget) different genders?

Tom Robbins experimented with that when he wrote Half-Asleep in Frog Pajamas, a novel written in the second person singular and casting the reader as a Filipina stockbroker - a recommended read for all straight white males out there.

However, I can't really offer a solution either - androgynous characters are explored in Deus Ex: Invisible War (which I haven't played, and therefore cannot comment on) and according to Salen and Zimmerman, the original Metroid only revealed its protagonist to be a woman at the end of the game. The only remaining option would be to not specify the gender of game protagonists at all - which seems equally unsatisfying.

Ultimately, I think the problem is a lack of imagination on the designers' as well as the players' side. Game designers should offer a range of different genders, while gamers should be more willing to experiment with their sexual identity. I think a game that would feature three or more genders could offer enticing play opportunities...

bullet fuxupyo | 20 Mar : 15:58

Comments: 1

Registered: 20 Mar : 14:37
I think there's pretty much room for every level of specificity when it comes to potentially-immersion-breaking characteristics of game avatars.

A lot of the more socially oriented games like MMORPGs allow that sort of thing to be customized, anyway. What's interesting to me is the way these choices are limited. For instance, in Everquest, all human characters are white, and all female characters (with the thankful exception of the lizard people) are top-heavy bimbos; yet when I was a Guide I officiated and attended several same-sex weddings. Shadowbane is an interesting contrast, since human characters can be black, but there are several single-sex classes (Fury, Warlock, etc.) and even a few male-only races.

I really think that this should be up to the discretion of the game designers. Just as it's not inappropriate for a film or novel to explicitly describe the main character's race or gender, I think video games aren't necessarily alienating anyone by making the bulk of their characters straight males. It gets tedious after a while, anyway; I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot more "minority" main characters in the future beyond the Lara Croft -eque tokens (just as literature and film are finally starting to deal with the issues of minoritized populations, after having been established mass media for ages).

The only historical tendency that I think we would do well to squelch is that of de-legitimizing non-white and/or non-straight and/or non-male groups. The best example I can think of is from an older game I recently finished for the first time: Final Fantasy VII. It features a black player character, Barrett, who is an embarrassing Mr. T stereotype. It also has a few scenes relating to homosexuality. One in particular takes place in a bathhouse and focuses on what freaks the gym queen patrons are. This, I think, is an element that the game community should discourage.

bullet Buck Feris | 20 Mar : 19:27

Comments: 12

Good lord, I was wondering why there wasn't much going on in the discussion boards. It's all here.

One of the viewpoints that I haven't seen expressed here is that an Avatar may be comfortably seperated from the player. All forms of art have a comfortable detachment. I really liked the movie 'Jeffrey', but I'm not gay. If I were playing TOEE and came across Bertram, I would definitely go there, just for the experience. I don't necessarily think that people are looking to play characters that resemble themselves or even who they want to be. I don't go see movies that are exclusively about 30-something white heterosexual males. I like to have different experiences.

Games are a tad different because they are told from a 2nd person perspective. Everything happens to YOU. Perhaps that changes the rules a bit, perhaps not that much. I don't mind being Laura Croft. I don't mind being a druid with a tight ass. I don't mind being an animal, or a god, or an alien, or whatever. In the end, a story is being told to me. I have to give in a little to experience it.

bullet Matt Barton | 21 Mar : 10:08

Comments: 169

I think the whole Leisure Suit Larry thing is fascinating, because it so clearly demonstrates how games can make social criticism and reward/punish a player for not adhering to the game developer's views. Though the other examples I pointed out in the article (DoC, etc.) do not include gayness at all, one could easily link the idea of the gay bashing in LSL with the overall absence of gayness in DoC. In LSL, gayness is punished, in DoC, it's simply ignored.

I was reading some of the mostly mindless comments on Slashdot concerning this article. Some people there think it would be great fun to create a FPS that specifically targeted gays (as in, shooting gay enemies). This kind of "hate" game reminded me of the game one of the Columbine boys supposedly modded so that the enemies were his classmates.

I'm sure by now we've all heard about the scandal with Vice City and the "Kill the Haitians" directive. I talked to several of my friends about this issue, and not a single one agreed that it should be taken out. Shane R. Monroe of RGR was appalled by the affair, and claimed that if any censoring was to be done, it should be to remove the game entirely, rather than focus all the attention on the Haitian aspect. What about the cops who are routinely massacred in this game? The prostitutes? I haven't played it, yet, but I'm sure I will be looking at these issue if I ever chance upon a copy.

bullet Metric Mike | 22 Mar : 20:00
Comments: 1

Registered: 20 Mar : 19:07
Not being a videogamer since Ms. Pac-Man, I had no idea that gay characters in videogames was even an issue, but it makes sense because videogames, like other forms of mass media, reflect what is going on in society.

As a gay man, I found the discussion of identification and avatars to be particularly interesting because I can remember being attracted to games that had abstract or universal characters like Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Asteroids, Space Invaders, Frogger, and Centipede. I never was interested in games that had "traditional" male heterosexual roles like racing car drivers or samurai warriors.

It's good to learn that gay characters are being introduced into videogames, as it reflects the continuing acceptance of gay people in general. For example, twenty years ago TV shows like "Will & Grace" and "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" would have been unheard of, and now we're seeing the same kind of trend with videogames.

Who would have thought that Pong would some day lead to the cutting edge of social change.

bullet Great Hierophant | 23 Mar : 00:47
Comments: 7

Registered: 23 Mar : 00:09
A couple of items struck me while reading this article. First, Temple of Elemental Evil is not the first well-known RPG to include a homosexual marriage. Fallout 2 did it five years previously, although it was a lesbian marriage and was not given the prominence of Temple's marriage.

Second, the artwork for Curse of the Azure Bonds has a special reason for being why it is. The plot for the game was adapted from a TSR Advance Dungeons & Dragons novel called Azure Bonds. In the book, the main character is Alias, a swordswoman of no mean ability who has these bonds on her and her dinosaur companion, Dragonbait. At one point, Alias and Dragonbait are captured and are to be sacrificed for some dark purpose. Alias is put into this special mail type garment for the sacrifice. The garment is not made for fighting in and has an exposed patch around the breastplate, perfect for a ceremonial dagger. Caldwell's cover art shows the garment as exactly described in the book. I think the artist was more inclined to illustrate than titiliate, especially as Alias's face is more matron than model.

Third, as for Curse of the Azure Bonds making females weaker than males, don't blame the programmers, blame the advertising. All of SSI's gold box games game with the tag that they use pure AD&D [1st edition] rules. The rules, written in the late 70's, unfortunately imposed this stereotype on females of all races when setting strength limits. Of course, good luck rolling an 18 using standard dice rolls. When SSI began developing its gold box AD&D games, a big tag was that it followed the rules as strictly as the game engine would allow. Eliminating the strength maximums for females would have hollowed this claim, so they kept them in. Too bad they made the character files so easy to hack.

Finally, I would like to address Defender of the Crown. The subject matter, wargames, medieval warfare, ancient England does not immediately lend itself inclusiveness. The moors (blacks) never quite got to England, and women at this time were treated as pawns and seals of alliances. They did not generally make warlords in the early 13th centure. I don't know how they could add homosexuality to the game without radically changing the game. There would be no reason to do so, especially as many states still punished homosexual acts. The market, still relatively young, consisted of growing companies catering to white middle and upper class males. No money to waste then on speculative ventures. However, I have rarely seen a gayer warlord than Geoffrey Longsword.

bullet Matt Barton | 23 Mar : 11:11

Comments: 169

Thanks for the info about the Azure novel. Actually, I read this novel (as I did the novel Pool of Radiance) back when I was playing these games for the first time. I'm a bit confused, though, as I thought the novels were produced after the D&D module and game as a way to stimulate interest in it. I'll have to check these facts.

bullet Great Hierophant | 24 Mar : 00:51
Comments: 7

Registered: 23 Mar : 00:09
How many good games have had their main character be black, hispanic, arabic, indian, or homosexual? I can't think of any off-hand. The leading men (and to a lesser extent women) of video games come from three races. The first are whites of European descent. The second are orientals of Japanese or Chinese descent. The third are "pacifics" with mixed white/oriental features. This does not count the games that have aliens, animals, or inanimate objects, as main characters. Some games can be difficult to impossible to discern race or sex unless provided for on the box or in the manual. Whites and Orientals are the biggest consumer groups for video games, so naturally the market caters to them. The video game makers obviously seem them as more affulent than other racial groups, which is why they rarely officially release their systems and games outside of Western Europe, Japan, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. (Mexico and Brazil can be exceptions, China and South Korea have strict import laws.)

Homosexuality is irrelevant to any game without a sexual element to it. There are many games with sexual overtones, like Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda, for example. Zelda and Mario rescue their princesses, and once rescued what do they do? Get hitched and shag, not necessarily in that order (assuming no sequels.) A nice fantasy, and if one changed the princesses into princes, then the quest becomes one of duty and honor only, not reward. You will never see hearts floating around when the hero rescues the prince. Such themes are appropriate for children when the rescuer and the victim are of the opposite sex, but not when they are of the same sex.

Then there are the games with sexual themes, when the characters actually play with each other. They may have sex, or sex may be implied, but it will not be shown on-screen because that would risk an "Adult" rating from the ESRB. To suggest homosexual sex would alienate many gamers. Hetereosexuals would want nothing to do with homosexual sex (especially gay sex) and homosexuals are not likely to buy a game just because it has homosexual characters. At least that is what marketing types think. To import homosexuality into games will instantly make it "controversial", something many game designers intentionally avoid. Outside a true role playing game, what hetereosexual wants to explore homosexuality?

Finally, what does it mean to have a homosexual character? Does that character have characteristics associated with homosexuals, like that they talk with a lisp, use limp hand gestures, engage in frequent bouts of histrionics, are more emotional or in touch with their feelings, have louder tastes than hetereosexuals, are more fashion conscious, tend to be non-violent or liberal, push sexual boundaries, are boyishly handsome, etc. Such crude stereotyping is exactly what the games industry should not engage in.

bullet Matt Barton | 24 Mar : 07:18

Comments: 169

Interesting points, Hiero. What your post reminds me of is the debate over Ms. Pac-Man. Of course, as you probably know, Pac-Man was supposedly designed to appeal to women, who would enjoy "eating" whereas they did not enjoy fighting or space ship games. Ms. Pac-Man was an upgrade kit for the original Pac-Man machine with several nice improvements, but most importantly the role-shift from male to female and the addition of silly romantic story segments.

What surprised everyone is that while, of course, Ms. Pac-Man was a hit with female players everywhere, it was not in the least resisted by males afraid or ashamed to play a female character. To this day, I've never heard a guy tell me he considers Ms. Pac-Man for girls only, or "sissy players," etc. The game is good, and that's all that matters.

This makes me wonder if whether or not a game that rocks would be a hit regardless of any gay or male-to-male romance. As someone pointed out earlier, The Lord of the Rings series was a huge hit, even though homophobes were likely uncomfortable during Frodo and Sam's intimate moments. Of course, neither Tolkein nor Jackson ever pushed this intimacy into sexuality, but it's undeniable that Frodo and Sam had a passionate love for each other.

What IF Tolkein and Jackson had included romantic elements in this relationship? What if Frodo and Sam were shown holding hands, kissing, and, in general, being romantically in love with each other? Would we still love these books and films?

My theory is that they would still be a tremendous hit, and people would have found ways to deal with their homophobia in the same way that male players dealt with the feminity of Ms. Pac-Man. What do you think?

bullet Great Hierophant | 24 Mar : 21:28
Comments: 7

Registered: 23 Mar : 00:09
I think you are correct. Ms. Pac-Man is abstract enough for anyone to play, even identity conscious males. The only feminine element in that game was the main character, and she was a single 16x16 sprite. Perhaps more importantly is that it is an enhancement of an already great game that people had not gotten tired of yet. But Ms. Pac-Man was one of the very few identifiably female main characters in video games in the 1980s.

Frodo and Sam began their relationship as master and servant, although by the time they leave the Shire for their journey, there is obviously a strong bond of affection between them. Through their experiences a bond develops that they become true friends, equals as much as a master and former servant can become, (see Sam's ingrained use of "Mr. Frodo.") I am sure that Tolkien had no homosexual subtext in mind when he wrote The Lord of the Rings. If he had a homosexual relationship between Frodo and Sam, decades before its toleration, the book would have likely been banned in both the U.K. and the U.S. as approving of criminal, immoral, and sinful acts. Peter Jackson's movie as a whole, "Braveheart with Orcs", does not bring me to suspect any homsexuality at all in the movie. The only time Frodo and Sam seem to be in physical contact is in times of great peril or trial, nothing particularly unmanly about that, is there? Fans would be protesting in the streets if Jackson had implied a homosexual relationship between the two, and I doubt it would have made the money it did as it would be a turn off to hetereosexual males, its biggest market.

bullet ianwilson | 25 Mar : 11:39
Comments: 3

Registered: 18 Mar : 16:43
This is a bit off-topic, but I wanted to point out Jackson's Heavenly Creatures as evidence that, as a director, he's not afraid of causing some homoerotic confusion in a film, even if it's not "in the script."

But regardless of whether Jackson or even Tolkein intended homoerotic subtexts in Frodo's and Sam's relationship, the signs are there (as Chaironome pointed out earlier in this thread). If I can shift back into game criticism, it's important that game critics are able to uncover homoeroticism in games where game designers never intended it. If the industry doesn't have plans to include more queer characters anytime soon, the only way queer people will be recognized in games is by finding "closeted" characters -- characters who can be interpreted as not being straight but weren't designed that way. This is especially important if critics are to have any influence over the game industry. For example, there seems to be a little backlash just on this thread about the gay gym/bathouse scene in Final Fantasy VII.

Will criticism about portrayals of gay characters deter game designers from the temptation to use those characters for comic relief in future games? I'd hope so. Even so, comic relief might be less harmful than vilification -- Final Fantasy villains (indeed, a lot of male anime villains) are often more emasculated and feminine than the series' heroes. Kefka (from FFV in the U.S.) was the Fairy Godmother of a long line of potentially gay bad guys.

>>Ian

bullet ccecce | 29 Mar : 18:08
Comments: 1

Registered: 29 Mar : 17:59

i havn't managed yet to read all the comments, but in reading your article i noticed that there was no mention at all of lesbian gamers.

(that's one of the reasons i became a game designer: to create arcade games with lesbian protagonists. and to bring lesbianism into the discourse of game design.)

i also feel as though the "reverse-victorian-era" conceit is a myth. white, heterosexual (though some gay) males still hold power in this society, and a male military-industrial complex still owns the media. and what little images of "gays" (gay men still; never lesbians) there are in the media serve to perpetuate popular stereotypes of gay masculinity.

ancil

bullet spiregrain | 29 Mar : 20:01
Comments: 2

Registered: 29 Mar : 18:48
Thanks Ancil, I was wondering when someone was going to mention lesbian or bi female vg characters. Reading all these comments, it really does seem like "straight white men" are majority vg players, and of course thats the stereotype, but I always figured it was just a stereotype, right? I mean I'm a bisexual woman and I am old enough to have played Asteroids and Pac Man at a time when they were considered avant garde games. And I have been known to play RPG games (both video and otherwise) for many many hours at a stretch (10+)--surely I and all the other, mostly queer and female players, were not the only ones of our kind on earth? I mean its not like I went out of my way to find some special group of bisexual and lesbian female gamers, we just knew each other from school and stuff...

I'd like to know what vg characters people think of as "gay vague". I'm talking about characters like Paine in Final Fantasy X-2, who seems kind of "dykey" but who never "comes out" per se. What do people think of these characters? Do you like them, when you see them? Do you see them? Are they "too closeted"?

I have to say that I find characters who are female and not total bimbos really appealing, and I prefer my male characters to be at least very mild nancy boys. Games with stereotypical or "heterosexist" social models in them just seem unintelligent and undevelopped to me--real people are never like that and it makes the game less well rounded. I mean, you may enjoy fantasizing that you kick butts, and thats all well and good, but some of the other aspects...I mean, do you REALLY find it fun to be Rambo McMachoface, or would you rather be a character with some weaknesses, like Tidus in Final Fantasy X, who is a crybaby and a total spaz? Tidus is so much more of a rich character because of the way he's developped. For a more macho example in the same game, even Auron has his weaknesses and failures. The straight hero power guy is just not a good or interesting character. Neither is the bimbo girl--in real life my breasts will never be 4,000,000ZZZZZZZZ cups and I would not want them to be, nor would I fantasize about them being so in a it-would-never-be-real-but-its-fun-to-think-about way, nor would I find a woman who had such breasts appealing or attractive so much as an object of pity. And I'm inclined to think that anyone who disagrees needs serious therapy...

Someone mentioned Leisure Suit Larry, which I was introduced to by my ex-girlfriend, a lesbian, who played it and just laughed at the stupidness. I was really amused that it came up in this thread, and I can't imagine anyone who was a straight guy being anything but embarrassed at that tragic portrayal of straight men. I think it might be more important to break down the idea that it's great and cool and studly for men to objectify women and treat them as sex slaves and for women to love it but always maintain their ever-vigilant chastity, than it is for us to introduce gay characters. But I mean important in terms of "the plot then ceases to be worthless" rather than in terms of "the plot will then be more PC".

Finally, I have to say, I am excited whenever there's a gay character. I'm excited whenever there's a black character. But I'm most excited when there's a character with a personality. In order for us to really be able to relate to fantasy worlds, I think they need to reflect a certain amount of diversity--however it's done--because people in real life have different personalities and having a cast of machos and bimbos is a dead cast, about as exciting as reading a book of inspirational cat quotes. I think everyone should be offended if they're being labeled in any way, yeah, hell yeah! You are only you, you will never find a group that you 100% "fit in" to, and thats not PC patrol, thats just like, the way life is and you might as well notice it if youre alive. Whats great is when difference is represented at all, on any level, in videogames. It makes them more fun, yeah? It makes them like life but more rad.

And to end this really long rant (sorry everyone) I'd like to mention that Tolkien was, in his life, a deeply religious Christian. While in my heart I know that Frodo and Samwise are meant for each other, I recognise that Tolkien himself probably never envisioned that for them. Also, Frodo is a romantic dead end--he's a broken creature, and can't continue the cycle of life on earth by falling in love with anyone, male or female. But, then too, it IS a total deus ex machina when Sam marries Rosie or whatever her name is, and I even thought so when I was six years old and the books were first read to me.

Anyway thanks very much for writing this article about videogames that references Kristeva and Foucault. Better yet that its about gay vg characters. Has everyone heard about the network of straight women who do fandom erotica of Kirk and Spock getting it on? The nerd world is sexually very weird and diverse...fess up, everyone.

bullet Bill Loguidice | 29 Mar : 20:07

Comments: 307

The last few comments were very fascinating. Thanks for posting and checking us out. As always, if you find any "deficiencies" or "ommissions" in any of the articles or have article ideas of your own, we gladly WELCOME well-written articles on ANY gaming topic from ANYONE. Simply go to the "Submissions" option and run your idea by the editors...

bullet Great Hierophant | 30 Mar : 01:23
Comments: 7

Registered: 23 Mar : 00:09
You know what I would like to see, a Grand Theft Auto with a Blacksploitation theme. You can pimp out some 'hos, build an empire based on cocaine, LSD, marijuana, rob banks to make political statements, and generally stick it to the man! The main character would be a young black man, living on the streets with plenty of choices before him, most bad. Of course it would incorporate that dreary wasteland Ney York style of the early '70s. Now that would sell, although the NAACP would be on it quicker than pirahanas on a man overboard.

bullet spiregrain | 30 Mar : 16:49
Comments: 2

Registered: 29 Mar : 18:48
Isnt that kind of just like Vice City excpept with everyone black?

I'd like to see a girly fantasy rpg in 'ebonics'.

I'd like to see a shoot-em-up/rpg vg that was all about ninja drag queens. They could kill with James Bond type girly weapons. I dont know if anyone but me wold buy it, but holy crap would I play the ass off of that game.

Either that or a resident evil type of game based on Meet the Feebles. I wish the people who make rpgs would be more creative--swords and dragons are all well and good, but it seems to me like rpgs could be so much more.

Like what is up with super serious vg??? Its just embarrassing sometimes. The true works of art are all the totally crazy games that break the rules.

One of the big problems with video games seems to me to be genre. Like everything has to be marketed for some specific genre. But the best games destroy all previous genres. Like Super Mario Brothers, for example. Being weird is a recipe for success in vg and not enough creators are allowed to take advantage of the huge creative possibilities. VGs need a trans-genre genre. Like the way with books theres the genre "literature" which includes works of sf, pop fiction, pulp, romances, all kinds of stuff as long as its really well done for what it is. What games would you guys put in that list? Can you have a central canon of vg? I'm thinking like Mario, Ms. Pac Man, Tetris, might be early works. To bring things back to the central subject at hand, I'm sure that if you took these "best video games" you'd have alot of ones that crossed lines and social boundaries of some kind. I would compare SMB to a kind of pop-surrealist breakthrough, Ms Pac Man welcomed women into the market, Tetris was a russian-designed game that was hugely popular at a time when everyone in the US was crapping themselves that the USSR was going to bomb the entire world any second.

Although people are becoming less intelligent in this country by the second it seems, it may really be that the videogame ideal in ten years will be games like "The KKK Finally Win" and "Fudgepacker Shootout" etc...

bullet Quix | 01 Apr : 05:43

Comments: 3

Registered: 01 Apr : 05:33
I thought I'd comment here. I have a few things to say.

It's worth mentioning that Homosexuality in video games HAS come up before. The specific example that comes to mind is Elite Force by Raven software.

In Elite Force there was a love interest for the lead, Alexander Munroe. Though the interesting thing is the player had the choice to play as "Alex" Munroe, a female lead. The love interest did not change. There was the same nervous glances and flirtatious comments.

It wasn't much, and it was easier to leave as is than redevelop the game for each lead, but it was still touching to me (and a close friend who happens to be a gay woman) that they didn't feel some need to hide that a woman could have genuine feelings for a woman. I thought that was something of a break through moment that no one noticed.

ccecce - good on you! I look ofrward to seeing some of your work.

Now... I'm not 100% on this but I'm fairly certain there will be another RPG coming out this year that will allow you to pursue male love interests just as you might pursue female. Unfortunately at THIS moment I'm not sure I can say anything more than that for fear of my NDA.

But with Temple and the game my company are working on it looks like times they might be a changing. And about time too.

---

On a completely different note, spiregrain, part of the reason tetris sold so well in the US was simply BECAUSE it was from the country that the US feared would bomb them. It was cynically marketed as "a product of the mysterious soviet state" in crimson red pacakaging with a picture of red square (which we all know has nothing to do with the game) and Tetris written in Russian by the US package design house.

Sure it's an addictive game alright but it was the "soviet" quality that pushed units.

bullet chronos_tachyon | 01 Apr : 09:32

Comments: 3

Registered: 18 Mar : 10:50
Has everyone heard about the network of straight women who do fandom erotica of Kirk and Spock getting it on? The nerd world is sexually very weird and diverse...fess up, everyone.


Heard of it? I hang out (in the online sense) with those women. Well, the Stargate SG-1 counterparts of those women. anyway (at http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/feistydanny/</a>). Actually, SG-1 is semi-relevant to this discussion, since it's targeted (particularly since season 4, when there was a writing staff shakeup) at the same demographic as most video games -- teen-to-20s hetero males. To the show's detriment, I might add.

bullet Bill Loguidice | 01 Apr : 10:20

Comments: 307

Just a quick comment on the Tetris note from "Quix"... Perhaps the Soviet factor pushed a few units, but it didn't become one of the best-selling, most pervasive games of all time and in the top 5 of many greatest games lists based off of that factor. Bottom line, it's a game that in its complete abstractness and simple to learn yet hard to master design appeals nearly universally to those with even a remote interest in gaming. If I had to define the "perfect" videogame, Tetris would either be alone or on a VERY short list of real-world examples. Interestingly, Tetris came out really after the arcade's heyday, but it would not have been out of place in the abstract worlds of Pac-Man and Asteroids, and that's saying a lot...

bullet Matt Barton | 01 Apr : 13:21

Comments: 169

Aghgh...Apparently, I've made Foucault's mistake of writing a whole bunch of stuff about sexuality and limiting the discussion to purely male (and gay male) topics. Still, like Foucault, I will excuse myself by saying that I'm simply more comfortable speaking as a man than for a woman, if that makes any sense. Would you really want to read some male hetero babbling on about the "true being" of lesbians ?

bullet Quix | 02 Apr : 06:35

Comments: 3

Registered: 01 Apr : 05:33
I'd just like to say I totally agree with Bill. Tetris spread around first the Moscow Center of Computing where it was developed then Moscow and finally the Soviet Union like a virus (as it was free to distribute, there being no sense of Intellectual Property at the time in the USSR) because it was a highly addictive game requiring no cultural basis or understanding to play, only a sense of logic. (And other prerequisites, eyes, a body with which to control it, etc).

However, in the US it was not so freely distributable, it had to be bought. And to get that word of mouth crack-coccaine addiction quality of Tetris started you needed to push units. And that's where the cynical "commie game" marketting entered the equation.

---

On a completely different subject (I love going off at tangents, but this one is bringing us back to topic) I can talk a little more about what I hinted at before.

http://www.lhtimes.com/community3.html</a>

This is the 3rd Community Diary from Lionhead (where I work, yay). The important thing to read from it is this:

You can also chat up women (and I am told even some men) and go from there.

I don't know for sure if you can marry other male characters in the game... but I believe you can build a relationship with them.

bullet Matt Barton | 02 Apr : 07:12

Comments: 169

Thanks for the link, Quix. That's definitely going on the reading queue.

You know, one element that I'm starting to see coming out in these discussions is the idea of re-appropriation, which I didn't touch on in the article. Basically, what I think I am seeing (comments here, Slashdot, etc.) is that many gay players (males as well as lesbians) are often able to re-appropriate games and themes intended for straight players in ways that make them READ gay. I've read several accounts of gay players describing some romantic scenario in a game that obviously wasn't "supposed" to happen; the gay players were stunningly inventive and resourceful in making these things happen. There are even accounts of gay players working with bugs in a game to produce the right results.

I guess some people would argue that if you're not doing what you're "supposed" to be doing in a game, you're doing something wrong, but I find this kind of thing fascinating. Perhaps we'll see "historical revisionism" in some of the classics as more and more gay retrogamers demand more inclusion in the works, but it's startling how gay gamers have seemingly always been capable of framing/seeing "hetero" games in new and "unintended" ways.

bullet Quix | 02 Apr : 11:18

Comments: 3

Registered: 01 Apr : 05:33
That's an interesting way of looking at things, Matt. I've definitely seen characters in games, male and female characters, who were never written gay, were probably written straight, but came across to me as "just not out".

Stories are open to interpretation in just the same way games are. I think my favourite gay character ever was Toy in The Ballard of Halo Jones (Alan Moore comic book).

If anyone knows the book they might remember her. She was Halo's fellow soldier and it was not once ever said that she was gay. It was not once ever said that she loved Halo but her protectiveness of Halo and the regret she had whens he died showed the writer's intent of the character.

She could be read as "straight with a sterling sense of camarardary for her fellow fighters", quite happily. She could also be read as "in love with Halo but scared or reluctant to tell her how she felt". To me, it was always the latter. It made her death very much more poignant.

Similarly, a lot of game characters can be read that way. It's never out and out said that they're gay but they're written very loosely because they're incidental characters. That has the unexpected bonus that because there is little in their story to prove otherwise, they really could be whatever you make of them yourself.

As far as "not doing what you're supposed to" in games. What are you supposed to do?

Games are sand boxes to play in. You can build sandcastles if you want, or you can do things you're "not supposed to" like bury your toy cars and play treasure hunting.

bullet Matt Barton | 02 Apr : 11:32

Comments: 169

Games are sand boxes to play in. You can build sandcastles if you want, or you can do things you're "not supposed to" like bury your toy cars and play treasure hunting.

I agree with the sentiment, here, but I think what you have said is more true for some games than others. For instance, I recently wrote about the game Elite in the Game Reviews section--that game is about as "sandbox" as you can get, with very little emphasis on a "mission," goals, or objectives.

You can't really say, for instance, that chess is a sandbox. There are very specific rules to follow and a specific goal. If you break these rules, or don't pursue the goal, then you can't be said to be playing Chess. You may be playing with the pieces, or playing a game like chess, or just downright playing, but I think it's vital that we don't collapse the distinction between "playing" and "gaming."

bullet fallnangel681 | 07 Apr : 19:59
Comments: 1

Registered: 07 Apr : 19:35
Well, I am a gay man, lets get that straight right from the start. (get it....get that straight.) Anyway, I was never a gamer until about 2 and a half years ago, when I met my love. He introduced me to gaming for the most part. Sure I had played starcraft with my roommates at college a couple of times, but nothing serious. Now we are going to school together to learn to MAKE games.

Anyway, let's get back on track. The idea of me being able to identify with a character easier because he or she is gay....is true. I LOVED playing the Legacy of Kain series because of the love hate relationship that cropped up between Raziel and Kain. And in the end, they were one, it's great and TOTALLY gay. Yes I like playing this game more than playing say......Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb where he is CLEARLY a "breeder". But will that keep me from playing games because they don't have a gay undertone or character? NO. Will I seek out games because they do........Possibly, but I will still listen to the critics of the game, and determine from there. So basically it's not a major selling point for me but it IS a selling point. NOW Knowing that I will NEVER be a soldier, because of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", I don't really relate to games like Medal of Honor, whereas my partner that was a former marine LOVES these types of games.

Sure it could be a marketing ploy to have gay characters, main or otherwise, but it certainly isn't affecting my decisions on what games I buy. Or couse the thing with playing characters like lara croft doesn't mean that I want to be her. But I did kind of get offended when I was playing Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, and the woman in the Elfsong inn, EVERY TIME she even brushed her breast it jiggled mezmerizingly. It really kind of grossed me out. THAT was a marketing ploy right along the lines of strengthening their main demographic much like politicians do.....(i.e. president bush's endorsment of an amendment barring me from marriage.)

Another point that people aren't really pointing out is that shows like Will and Grace, Queer Eye, and others do more to perpetuate the stereotype of homosexuality more than they promote what being gay is really like. I KNOW people like that, but I am FAR from like that. In fact my love and I are always noting how much we HATE "gay" guys referring to the prissy swishy bitchy little queens that parade themselves around. To them their sexuality is WHO they are not PART of them. Cause really My defining characteristic is not that I am gay. I am who I am, and I happen to be gay.

So That's my point of view, hope it helps sort this out.

Jeremiah

bullet Spaceno | 08 Apr : 18:58
Comments: 1

Registered: 08 Apr : 18:35
Hi All, first time to this board. I'm a straight male gamer, who has played games probably since I was 5 (32 now).

I think some points are being missed here. I'm not going to discuss about connection to the characters but take it another way with two directions.

The first is very simple - your going to play a game if it's good no matter what the character is. If it's fun and enteraining your going to play. (Oh, LSL was a joke game that never took itself serious. The how goal of the game was to pick of cheap/unreal women in the 80's.) Starcraft, Warcraft, Baldur's Gate II, Half-Life, Everquest..any game that challenges is fun. People play. I've played Mario brothers because at the time it was fun, I didn't dream I was Italian. No matter what the sex, race, or religion of the character. I do agree better made games blur these things.

Now the second point, the major one is just this - game designers are lazy or poor or pressed for time (game ship date slips are bad) Look, if you make tons of threads(choices) were the character can be any race, sex, monster, it gets complex to keep straight. It's much easier to make it male, white type, and go from there (sorry that is me). That way they don't have to keep different branches of the story straight. It can be done yes but it is much more difficult and time consuming. Yes, I would enjoy playing a game that is different as a lady than a man or played different as races but that would mean that designers need to spend more time on games. With profits and overhead, we are lucky to get a game that doesn't have 10 bugs let alone a really deep game that alot of people here talking about here.

Lets try to define an example - you start an RPG and have a choice to be men/female. You adventure and come to a choice of marrying a men or a woman. That's 4 different story threads - man/man, man/woman, woman/man and woman/woman. To make it really work it story has to be different. Say this happens in the beginning and has to be told throughout the whole game. It's just a lot of code and things to keep straight. It's much easier forcing everyone into one path.

Just something to throw into the mix. I'm not disagreeing with anything anyone said here but just trying to make people aware of what another reason could be.

Oh, one more comment - Tight body guys/big chested girls, I had a girlfriend who was an artist. She told me that it's much easier to draw that type of the perfect person than other body types (not that I'm saying games aren't sterotyping).

My view - don't care what the character is just give me a bug free, fun game for my 40 dollars.


bullet CitizenX | 12 Apr : 09:21
Comments: 1

Registered: 12 Apr : 09:08
I was directed here from ENWorld and found the discussion interesting. Please excuse me if I make the discourse stray further off topic.

As spelling errors probably indicate, Im an English Professor. One of the main issues of storytelling is characters, their motivation and devlopment. I agree that video games have been steadily evolving into more sophisticated storytelling from the days of Pac Man and Asteroids. It would stand to reason that they to would come to incorporate a wider range of characters than the main stream. However, until those who create the medium grow more diverse, we cant expect the characters they create to be more diverse. I am a white, Hetro male in my late 20s. Could I write a story with a protagonist who differed from me? certainly. But its not my inclination. People write what they know, and so I would argue, people program what they know. If there is a desire for more diverse sexuality in game characters, then more Gay/Lesbian/Bi/ect individuals need to become programmers.

Several refrences have been made to the relationship with Sam and Frodo in LotR. What I find typical of the arguments presented about the true extend of their relationship is thus: the assumption that because two characters care about each other that their relationship my be romantic. Men in modern society are frowned upon showing affection for other men, for fear of being viewed as homosexual. But there is a longstanding tradition in literature of male characters who are close but not sexual in their intimacy. Look at the relationship between Horatio and Hamlet for a simple enough example. It is a falicy to assume that two character, regardless of their genders, are sexual with one another due to a close proximity.

bullet Bill Loguidice | 18 Apr : 21:49

Comments: 307

For those interested, here is Slate's take on the article and subject matter: http://slate.msn.com//?id=2098406

bullet Lacerta | 20 Apr : 17:25
Comments: 1

Registered: 20 Apr : 16:26
New reader here.......great comments thread with interesting discussion.

Speaking as a hetero female gamer:

I have never liked Lara Croft and all her big breasted big bummed sisters. Lara is too much of an adolescent fantasy to appeal to me.

I would be perfectly happy playing a gay character (macho or not) in a game and would probably prefer it to playing a macho male hetero character

Including lesbian characters would be great but I would be concerned about the male fantasy potential which is pretty unfair as it limits female-female relationships being taken seriously. The female fantasy, or interest, potential of male-male relationships is of course ignored - see the references to slash fiction above! Interestingly, in Japan, there are games involving male-male relationships marketed to women.

I get very very bored with computer game manufacturers assuming that I am male, heterosexual (and often a teenager). This includes marketing campaigns and game packaging. I have been put off games by this. So many games contain women I am supposed to aspire to or react to as a hetero male. Tiresome. I can play such games and enjoy them since many are very playable, but I would like a change.


bullet EndOfOctober | 10 Jun : 14:32
Comments: 1

Registered: 10 Jun : 13:37
Rather late to the party, I realize, but I found the article and subsequent comments very interesting.

It occurred to me while reading through Matt's article that the trend of female/gay characters in videogames might speak to another, more general issue: the level of creative involvement by players. As we've moved from games where there was little if any 'character development' necessary to play to games like EQ/CoH/WoW where character dev is an essential part of the experience, it could also be argued that the level of creativity expected from players has changed substantially.

When first playing early videogames, there wasn't much need to flesh out your character - it was all done for you by limiting the character choices to the ones the designers/writers imagined. Players hoping for an immersion into the 'world' they'd be fighting in would have to step outside themselves. And game designers knew their audience fairly well - straight, white American males.

As game complexity increased with the technology, games demanded that, rather than players stepping outside themselves, they'd be required to bring themselves (or some persona they wanted to play into the game. Players now had more (but not total) control over their character, and could create characters to fit either a self-identity or something they created for themselves.

It almost seems coincidental that as this subtle change was happening, more people outside the S/W/M demographic were discovering videogames. Designers and producers (and, sadly, marketers) of games may have realized one day that they were ignoring more 'market' by catering strictly to the original D&D crowd.

Women, the GLBT crowd, and people of differing ethnic origin would plonk down their cash just like the S/W/Ms would, but their expectations may not be the same as the S/W/Ms. And one of the things they realized is that people falling into those demographic groups found it a bit tough to play Sir Whitealot the Virginstealer, so they had to come up with a way to cover all bases (or at least more bases than they covered than before).

Not so much a theory, rather a few observations strung together in a semi-coherent way (I hope). As a gay gamer, I'd rather game companies not make assumptions about the characters I want to play - the most enjoyable part of gaming for me is the ability to use my imagination and to exercise my right to change my mind sometimes.

bullet Matt Barton | 11 Jun : 18:03

Comments: 169

You'll definitely want to keep your eye open for Issue #4, Endofoctober. Buck Feris is putting together an article specifically dealing with persona in videogames. Should be right up your alley!

Thanks for the great comment.

bullet gschmidl | 25 Jul : 16:18
Comments: 1

Registered: 20 Jan : 04:44
Belatedly, both Gabriel Knight 2 and Phantasmagoria 2 have openly gay or bisexual characters (in Phantasmagoria 2, it's the player character).

bullet browned | 23 Aug : 11:45
Comments: 1

Registered: 22 Aug : 12:22
Hello

Interesting topic. I am a University student who is doing research on gay characters in video and compuer games. I bulidng a list of the various games with descriptions.

However, I have not had much look getting information for the major companies or video games magazines or the ESRB.

bullet Matt Barton | 11 Sep : 21:15

Comments: 169

If you know Danish, you can enjoy an interview with me on the Danish National Radio program "Hard Disk." Check it out at
http://www.dr.dk/Videnskab/Harddisken/Programmer/2004/09/temple.htm


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