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Gaming makes you...gay?

A post I wrote for www.thegayhotspot.com in regards to being gay and a gamer, ie a gaymer.

As a child, my life was filled with geeky stuff – Disney films, outdoor adventures, trips to the science museum, the Redwall books, and video games. All of these things have shaped my worldview in one way or another. I had too many Disney Princess Barbie Dolls to count, plenty of casts of moose hoof prints found in Anchorage’s Kincaid Park, and Klutz activity books missing all the goodies that they came with back in the day. However, if anything, gaming made me gay. Maybe I’m being hyperbolic, there are a lot of factors in who we are. Either way, I owe much of my queerness to gaming, and most especially, the ladies of video games – Samus Aran of Metroid and Terra of Final Fantasy III.

Video games get a bad rap. Some people might say they’re a waste of time, they create anti-social behavior, hell, even some kids go shoot up schools after playing too many hours of id Software’s Doom. Those stock responses from critics are a debate for another day. I’m of the camp that says video games can actually be good for you. Many people like Jane McGonigal, author of Reality is Broken, would agree with me. Also, as a quick disclaimer, I am beginning a Masters of Fine Arts in Video Game Design and Production this fall at The University of Utah, so I am a bit biased. However, I don’t think this disqualifies the impact gaming has had on my life.

As a kid I went to a Southern Baptist Christian school where fantasy and make believe were never encouraged. Luckily, I was a voracious reader and my brother, for better or worse, brought home a Sega Genesis when I was 6 and that sealed the deal on my love for gaming. At last, through books and video games, I could explore worlds where the dogma of religion didn’t dictate my actions. I was in control of my avatar’s destiny. Fast forward a few years and my mother succumbed to my whining of wanting a Super NES. After all, the Super NES had Mario and the whole Nintendo crew that Sega didn’t have back then. Back in the 1990s, Nintendo was the go to place for role-playing games, or RPGs. Squaresoft (now Square-Enix) was a major player in creating first-class RPGs for this system, such as Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, and the Final Fantasy Series. The queer metaphors within Final Fantasy III unconsciously developed a sympathy for my latent queerness.

As queers often recollect about themselves, I always knew I was different and that my school and Christian community disliked those who were different, including the mysterious and notorious homosexuals. Yet, here in a video game, a young female named Terra was being persecuted both by society and the government for being different- in this case, she was ostracized for her magical abilities. While I myself didn’t have magical abilities (and still don’t, dammit!), I felt a sympathy for this characters as I myself was quite unpopular in my class for being the “different kid.” As the story progressed, Terra meets other societal outcasts – punks, rebels, disgraced soldiers – and in a game strife with metaphor that commented on genocide, miscegenation, totalitarian governments, and war, I would realize years later that Final Fantasy III taught me a very important lesson. It was ok, maybe even essential to be different/queer/that “notorious other,” because the world needs people like us to challenge the status quo. If Terra and her friends taught me that, then Samus Aran taught me what a feminist looks like, that is, if she lived in the future and was a bounty hunter in outer space.

Metroid was a game back in the late 80s on the NES that was quite impactful on the gaming scene. It’s challenging, non-linear gameplay was a fresh idea, and it offered multiple surprises within each game screen. It also featured a compelling mission – you play as a bounty hunter in space who is on Planet Zebes to destroy an evil alien race and save the universe. Pretty standard archetypal plot stuff, but it was the ending of the game that was the big shocker. Upon the completion of Metroid, Samus Aran’s space suit comes off and Aran is revealed to be a woman. This solidified Samus Aran as the first major female video game action star.

Samus Aran’s reveal certainly created a sort of cognitive dissonance for players. Her suit is rather masculine, complete with muscly components that suggest a man. It is safe to assume that most people assumed they were playing a man. Thus, when the game reveals to the player that they in fact have been playing a bad-ass woman, Nintendo did something for gamers. It allowed them to be a powerful assertive woman. I first encountered Samus Aran on her Super NES title Super Metroid (games went with quite the superlatives back in the day), and was surprised myself to find that the powerful character I was playing was a woman- someone I was not in real life.

I am very much interested that games allow people to play characters that they are not in their own lives. Look at the popularity of Everquest, World of Warcraft and other massively multiplayer online RPGs. These games offer something reality doesn’t provide. Metroid allowed me to play as a woman and be a woman. I was not the most masculine kiddo, and back then, that game gave my Barbies a new life. Now instead of Disney princesses, they were action heroes saving planets and galaxies alongside Terra and her crew.

Fiction of all sorts reveals to us who we are. Video games certainly did that for me, especially as I got older. The epic stories in RPGs created a sympathetic, sensitive side within me for the disenfranchised. It was part of the path to my coming out as gay. Even if the world presses against us, like it did to Samus Aran and Terra, we’ll still fight to make it a better place. And hey, we might even be the ones to save it.

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