This is my 5 cents to Andrew Meade’s article on the absence of relatable gay characters in video games and to the INSANE reactions it spawned on gamasutra.com.
There were of course the unfortunately usual homophobic and offensive comments (thankfully moderated and deleted by gamasutra staff, good job). Expected and ugly. But most concerning to me are the ones that appear moderate, asking for the purpose of including gay protagonists. Not recognizing the purpose comes from their privileged perspective and I need to rattle that perspective for a moment.
Andrew Meade already wrote a follow up to his article, tackling related social responsibility issues for game creators. He fairly well adresses what games could teach the heterosexual audience and how game creators could use games to promote a more inclusive way of thinking. I’m going to focus on the individual player experience and how gay gamers are excluded from having certain essential experiences by having game makers ask “Why a gay guy?”.
The argument I’m going top present applies to every kind of LGBT people, as much as to heterosexual women, disabled people, ethnic minorities and other minority groups. Though I’m going to mostly refer to gays here, to keep it simple. And this post only addresses heterosexual people with the discussed views on homosexuality. Don’t waste my time reminding me, that not everybody thinks like that. Thanks.
Defining Emotional Content
Let’s talk about emotions. If you don’t consider strong emotional content to be essential for a memorable piece of fiction, you can leave now, recharge your batteries and plan for the destruction of all humans. Because you probably are a robot.
Affection, fear, tension, relief, desire, satisfaction, joy… No matter the subject of a story, feelings are what separates cold information from intense experience. We need to talk a bit psychology basics here.
Scenes, stories and images trigger emotional reactions by resonating with just three basic desires that are programmed into the human mind: Survive, be safe from harm and be well provided for.
As it turns out, humans as a species tent to achieve these goals better when working in groups. So they project their desires onto other humans of their choosing, like members of their family, their tribe, society. Even sometimes going as far as sacrificing their own well being or life for the well being of their peers. (There are interesting studies about that in the realms of evolutionary psychology.)
Whenever there is something at stake in a story, no matter if horror, romance, adventure, whatever, it traces back to those three desires. The protagonist always either wants to save his life, be safe or ensure the possession of something. Or he wants all that for somebody else or is looking to bind with somebody else who can help ensure survival, safety and maintenance.
Meeting the three demands just for yourself works fine as a hook for survival games, anything related to treasure hunting or being the champion of something. But being a hero is all about meeting those three demands for somebody else. Taking responsibility for other people and fighting/sacrificing your ass off to ensure their survival, safety and maintenance.
The closer the relationship between peers, the stronger the emotional interdependence. Providing for your partner probably triggers stronger emotions than providing for a stranger.
And this is where sexuality comes in and the ignorance starts.
Sexuality Is Not Just About Sex Acts
One of the biggest misconceptions many heterosexual people have about the term “homosexual” is, that they think it mainly describes a preference regarding who to do it with. Especially bigoted persons are even going as far as calling it “a lifestyle choice”.
Of course with that view in mind, it makes sense to ask, “Why a gay guy?” If there is no actual sex acts in the game, why should anybody care, if the protagonist would prefer to have sex with another dude?
But in fact, the term includes all forms of same-sex relationships. Partners for sex, for affairs, for raising children, to marry, to grow old with. Or in storytelling language: partners to die for, to protect, to conquer, to save, to provide for, to avenge.
Every emotional investment a character has in another character from the opposite sex, like a plumber wanting to save a princess, a man wanting to marry a woman, a girl and a boy holding hands, a mother and a father caring for their children and a wife mourning for her fallen soldier husband, all of that, while having nothing to do with sex acts, is sexual. In this case heterosexual.
If you are a woman in love with another woman, you can draw more emotions from a game where you play a woman in love with another woman, because you can project real life feelings onto your player character. It is that simple. When there is an articulated demand for gay protagonists, it is not a demand for anal sex or girl-on-girl action. It is the simple demand for relatable emotional content.
There was a lot of fuzz from heterosexual gamers regarding how they were made uncomfortable or downright annoyed by the same-sex signals they got from NPCs in Bioware’s Dragon Age 2. The signals are mild, rare and can even be completely shut off be the player, depending on his ingame decisions. The player has a choice in that game.
Gay player’s don’t have that luxury. They put up with, to them, reversed gender relations, actively ignore constant sexual innuendo and try to squeeze their emotional content out of what little they get. They do this almost literally with every game out there. And in my opinion they are too quiet about that.
This is the landscape we are dealing with. Heterosexual players, so used to getting their love and sex stories tailored to their needs, that they throw a fit just for getting presented with another option. And on the other hand, homosexual players, so used at having to adjust to stories not written for them, that they don’t even speak up anymore.
That is the privileged position you are questioning the relevance of a protagonist’s sexual orientation from, my straight lads. It is bloody relevant, to you and to everybody.
List Of Demands
Every game which offers character selection or customization, being inclusive enough to allow the player to pick different genders or ethnicities, should be inclusive enough to provide a campaign that allows the player to pick his sexual orientation.
Every now and then there should be an IP starring a gay hero or heroine.
Hetero sexual players, journalists and makers should be strong or chilled enough to deal with that.
Emotional content for everybody and heroes for everybody.
Thanks and happy new year.
reblogged from my home blog howtonotsuckatgamedesign.com.