It's not really gay, but it's definitely gay adjacent. And I don't know if it has any place in gaming or modern entertainment outlets.
Homoeroticism is something that's existed in art for a long time - it's a way to show homosexual love but also not be super blatant about it. It arouses the feeling of gayness without actually being outright gay. Wikipedia says that it focuses more on the temporary desire and less on the actual identity. In video games, homoerotic is used as a tool to queerbait it's LGBTQ+ fan - serving them queerness in piecemeal and never following through. And while it was a necessary precautionary style in the old days - it definitely has no place in modern art forms - especially gaming.
It's very difficult to separate what the difference between queerbaiting and homoeroticism, and the difference lies in the history. In the old days, it was usually against the law to be openly homosexual, so you had queer poets and writers who would create these different allusions to queerness in their works.
Jean Broc's Death of Hyacinthus is definitely what some would consider homoerotic. upload.wikimedia.org
However, nowadays that kind of thing doesn't fly - and for good reason. Homoeroticism, nowadays, is used by straight people to bait queer people into a false queer narrative otherwise known as queerbaiting.
Why does it not have a place in the landscape anymore? What's so terrible about not having characters be explicitly queer but having queer moments? After all, isn't it more interesting? Isn't there a mysterious allure to the constant wondering of, "What if?" No, and using this style to manipulate queer people is a dangerous thing to do - as it often strips our experience away from us in detrimental ways.
In previous articles, I talked about the danger of a game like Life is Strange being touted as a queer video game, when it was clearly queerbait-y at best. It is a prime example of a negative use of homoeroticism to entice it's players and make them believe that they are having an honest-to-God experience. We are given a kiss and a strong friendship and it gives us the idea that these characters are definitely queer - they have to be - but we are never given confirmation.
We are left with an unfulfilled feeling, because a "What if?" is no longer enough. And yet, Life is Strange is still incredibly popular. It's still considered by many to be a positive representation of queer women. Why is that? It's because we're starved, all throughout history we've been given nothing but homoerotic images and subtext and led to believe that that was enough. So, we grew complacent, and we cheered at the slightest nod in our general direction.
It's hard to say if homoeroticism still has a place in modern media like film, television, and especially gaming, because the politics around everything are so tricky. Is it possible to just evoke the emotion without giving an audience the follow through? Can something survive on tension alone? I don't think so, because nowadays, queer people don't want piecemeal. They want the full experience.
The evocative depiction of a sexually ambiguous character or a beautifully sculpted man or woman is no longer enough.
Shann Smith is a lover of video games and has played them since he could hold a controller. He is a freelance writer, playwright, screenwriter, and also writes the Video Gay-Mer column on Popdust. If you have any games you'd like him to unpack, hit him up.
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