living smart support characters reflecting the community in a respectful fashion, a mainstream video game featuring a strong, exclusively gay or lesbian lead is not exactly in demand from a majority of gamers. The same goes for games targeted for a GLBT audience. For this demographic, video games have concentrated on a different route to inclusion, one exclusive to the medium: active audience participation. In the last decade, role-playing and simulation games (like The Sims, allowing same-sex couples in 2001 and marriage in 2009) have taken advantage of giving players more say in the kind of protagonist they play as. As video games become more complex and technologically capable, players are able to deviate from the token image of the hero through their choices. This includes picking their protagonist’s gender, appearance, and responses in conversations with other characters—they can even strike up a romance. Some characters are open only to leads of the opposite sex, others to the same-sex, and some are available to both.
CAN YOU SEE ME? As public acceptance of the GLBT community grows, even the most hetero-normative, hyper-masculine cultures find ways to welcome us into their folds. It’s one of the reasons the stories of figures like Orlando Cruz and Jason Collins become so inspiring. And just like professional sports, other industries formerly dominated by straight men are finding ways to make the GLBT community feel accepted. Among these is the world of video games.
All of these player choices bear little consequence in their games. A lesbian or gay protagonist in a role-playing game is not any less successful saving the day than the straight, male version. And very rarely do characters respond to a lesbian hero differently compared to a straight male one. In these games, no player has to start a romance with a particular gamer. That is what makes such games so receptive to GLBT audiences. The choices are merely for the player’s immersion into the game world: to build the kind of character they can connect with.
Games that defied this trend started to appear in the late 1980s, as female gamers were given more consideration as a demographic. Game developers started producing more action-based titles with strong female leads, either alone (Metroid, in 1986) or as part of a team alongside
Social online games (also called massively multiplayer online games or MMOs) are an entirely different story. GLBT inclusion in these kinds of games are even less about what the game itself provides, and more about what the players bring into it. Such games emphasize group play and interaction over following a storyline. Such games are also more gender-neutral, with no token protagonist persona to support or defy.
As video games become more complex and technologically capable, players are able to deviate from the token image of the straight male hero. This includes picking their protagonist’s gender, appearance– and sexual orientation.
In its relatively short history (Pong was released in 1972), video games struggle to be recognized as part of mainstream culture, on par with films and television. But like its contemporaries, video game developers have demonstrated, through the game titles they release, who reigns in the industry. These games have reflected what developers thought the majority audience wanted to see: powerful male protagonists succeeding, from sports games to shooters. Girls in games alternated between specific, overly feminized titles, and portrayals in “boys games” as damsels in distress or eye candy. Issues include strict gender-conforming character roles, unrealistic body types, and ridiculous interpretations of the concept of “clothing” for women (Duke Nukem is an example). Any reflection of gay identity was either ignored outright or insinuated using characters with stereotypical homophobic mannerisms. Unfortunately, several fighting games relied on the latter.
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a male lead (Resident Evil in 1996). And recurring female characters in standing franchises, like Princess Zelda in the popular Legend of Zelda series (who is added ninja and pirate to her résumé in later titles), become more than just the prize at the game’s end. They become more nuanced with each title, developing as self-sustaining characters in their own right. This particular shift has not been as prevalent regarding GLBT identities. While games are featuring more secondary or
Bullying and homophobic behavior still occurs, and game administrators and developers are still learning how to respond to this. They do not always get it right: In January of 2006, Blizzard, the developer for the 2004 MMO, World of Warcraft, briefly attempted to ban the advertisement of GLBT-friendly player guilds in an attempt to curb harassment of the guilds’ members; public outcry ended this attempt. Now, more than 30 GLBT-friendly guilds exist for players to spend time together, participating on various servers.
There is still work to be done. Gamers still toss around hateful slurs during matches, characters are still stereotypes, and some games still offer fewer options for gay players than straight ones. Additionally, virtually no portrayals of bisexual or transgender characters exist in popular titles yet. But progress has been made, and quickly. It is through participating in the industry, writing to developers, and supporting games that include GLBT identities, that the GLBT community will see more games that want them to come and play—sooner than realized.
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Published on Jun 5, 2013
Published on Jun 5, 2013
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