I’m taking a bit of a detour from everyday gaming features to talk about something that doesn’t really get talked about a lot: Gay characters in video games.
Homosexuality can be a sensitive topic to talk about in any context and, unfortunately, homophobia still exists prominently in our supposedly modern world. There are many outcries from the public that the entertainment industry is too stuck with the “traditional” heterosexual characters and couples. And this is true; if you go to see any romance film 99% of the time it will be about a boy and a girl. As technology develops and the video game industry flourishes more and more, with increasing popularity across many different countries and age groups, do game writers have a responsibility to represent different sexual orientation relationships? Is this something they are failing to do currently?
I wish I could say that it only took me a few minutes to compile a list of characters that were homosexual, but it took me much, much longer.
In the Underworld in Fallout 3, under the museum, you meet a Ghoul called Carol who shares her story with you. At the end of which she states “no one bothered us down here, and we were happy enough to leave them alone. And once my Greta showed up, it was a good enough life for me,” and if you play as a female Greta warns you to stay away from Carol. Perhaps saying that making the only gay characters in Fallout 3 disfigured Ghouls is a type of homophobia is being a tad too sensitive – there are a lot of Ghouls in Fallout given the post-apocalyptic setting. But this is still the smallest speaking role available in the game.
Likewise in Red Dead Redemption: in Mexico, you have a conversation with major character Captain De Santa who openly has his arm around the non-talking flamboyant Quique Montemayor. The sexual orientation of De Santa or his relationship with Montemayor is not mentioned again throughout the game. Although it could be seen as positive that they include this relationship without drawing attention to it, it’s worrying that the only major character in this game that is implied to be homosexual also becomes a serious enemy. Earlier in the same cut-scene De Santo is dragging two girls to Colonel Allende, so it isn’t difficult to figure out how you’re meant to be feeling towards De Santo and his rebel-murdering amigos. Did the writers put this implication of De Santo being gay to make him more dislikeable?
In Bioshock you come across various audio logs concerning Sander Cohen, who you learn was an artist who suffered through genetic experiments that ultimately led him to insanity. It is also hinted at that he was gay and in love with major character Andrew Ryan, who Cohen refers to as the man he “once loved.” Again this is an unseen character, and this is one of many subplots you can discover by listening to the audio logs scattered around Rapture. However, it would be far too critical to say that the writers deliberately belittled Sander Cohen as you learn about many different characters via audio logs.
While Carol and Sander Cohen are extremely minor characters, this isn’t the problem that should be being addressed. With the possible exception of Red Dead Redemption’s implications, the fact that these characters are gay is not offensive, but the fact that the only characters in games are minor and often non-talking or only appear once. It is obvious that writers avoid gay protagonists, but why?
In some games it would change the storyline if the protagonist was gay; especially in games where the player gets attached to the desires and relationships of the character. In these games, like in the film industry, the protagonist will tend to be heterosexual. This is because the creators want to appeal to who they assume buys the most video games: straight teenage boys. And as we all know this is a stereotype that is beginning to fade. But would it really affect the sales of a game? This we will not know until someone tries it. It doesn’t have to be the main focus of the game or the character, but it can be integrated into the personality of the protagonist.
It isn’t all bad news, seeing as in RPG games like Skyrim you can choose the gender of your character (who is the protagonist) and marry or have relationships with other characters regardless of their gender. This is also true of The Sims games which allow all the same social interaction options between men, women and aliens – other than “Try for Baby,” for obvious reasons. For both simulation and RPG games this perhaps isn’t the designers’ choice but for the purpose of convenience: they aren’t actively creating a gay or bisexual character, but they are not going out of their way to programme out the possibilities of different sexual orientations. The repercussions of doing so could be terrible, and their choice could upset a lot of people.
What I’m trying to say here is that equality amongst different sexual orientations must be displayed wherever possible: even video games. Equality will be found by the same attitude being shown to all people, no matter what their gender, race, age or sexual orientation. The attitude that the gaming industry and gamers have towards heterosexual characters and protagonists is that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t even cross your mind when you’re playing a game, unless the matter is having attention drawn to it in the game. This should be the same for gay/bisexual characters or protagonists: it shouldn’t be a main concern for the player unless the game explores relationships. Consoles and video games were invented to provide entertainment, and they should not be used as a medium for indoctrination of beliefs – whether they are negative or positive.
There should be more gay major characters in video games, but it shouldn’t be the focus of the game. Writers do have a responsibility to represent all sexual orientations, but it shouldn’t be for political reasons. This is a troubling and sensitive topic, but it shouldn’t be. There shouldn’t be homophobia, but there is.
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