I talk a lot about representation - it's pretty much all I talk about half the time. And that's true, it is, because it needs to be talked about. Why? Because it's still an issue. We are only just beginning to scratch the surface of representation in video games - which are still very white, very male, and very straight. It's hard to complain, because there is a lot of amazing LGBTQ+ centric video game characters out there. I've written about a few, and there's still more to explore as the conversation grows.
I'm unapologetically queer - and I've taken a very staunch stance when it comes to the media I consume. I don't read very many books with exclusively straight characters; I don't watch TV shows or films with exclusively straight characters either. Some people find this limiting, and sure, I guess it is. But those people, usually straight people, don't have to cling to the (very) little content that's made for them like we queers do.
I have a criteria:
1. Does the (insert form of media here) have an LGBTQ+ character?
2. Does the LGBTQ+ character have a storyline?
3. Does the LGBTQ+ character serve as more than a (insert LGBTQ+ stereotype here)?
4. Does the LGBTQ+ character die for no reason?
If the this criteria is not met - I usually tend to avoid the media all together - or I'll walk in with expectation that I'm going into a fantasy world where queer people don't exist.
Most video games don't pass this test. If there is a queer character, the character is sexualized, or stereotyped. Or the character dies in a really stupid way. Yes, there are great characters in a lot of games, especially now! That's so true! I know, and that makes me very excited - the excitement clouds the fact that we're still too far behind. I still see more games getting produced for straight men - I see straight protagonists or protagonists that aren't specifically stated as being LGBTQ+. I see games where queer storylines aren't a required part of the game.
I've been told by a lot of people, including my queer friends that I should cut the industry some slack. I understand that the industry can't change overnight - but something's got to give. More and more indie games are understanding the importance of strong, queer protagonists or at least well written, three-dimensional queer characters.
What's the deal with the rest of the industry?
What I want is simple. I want a game with a queer protagonist that saves the world. I want it to have the budget of a AAA title, and I want it to be either attached to an existing IP or a well known game dev's next big IP. I want this game to have the same depth in both story and design as Dragon Age: Inquisition or The Witcher III, and I want the character's romance with their lover to be as well written and least sexualized as it's straight counter parts. And last, but not least, I want everyone to know that this character is LGBTQ+ the second you see them - I want a character that represents me and the people in my community.
You might say that this is unrealistic. It is. You might say that this is unfair of me to ask, because they'd be leaving out an entire audience! That's very true, but I'll tell you something. I have spent my entire life playing video games where I have been forced to slog through the same tropes, day in and day out. I've watched characters fall in love, and betray one another. I've watched characters cheat and make poor decisions. I've watched characters save the world, and kiss the person they loved at the end.
I want that. Queer people want that - we've always wanted that. Why? Because it validates us and normalizes us. It makes us feel like we belong in a world that has spent a lot of time making us feel like garbage. Most people don't understand that, especially in an industry like video games. It's perceived not as a chance to positively impact a community by putting them on an equal playing field, but as an aggressive usurping of power.
This causes people to get... irrationally upset. I'm not going to harp on the aggressive tactics of gamergaters or people like them - their loud, grating voices speak for themselves. But make no mistake, they only thing they do is hold video games back. This fragility that permeates the gaming world breeds this hate. And it needs to stop.
Yes, my fantasy game may exclude an entire audience. But we've been an excluded audience our entire lives, so I think the straight community can deal with it just this once.
Look, I'm not going to say that we haven't made strides. Games like The Last of Us, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Night in the Woods, Gone Home, etc. But even then, only two of those games had actual queer protagonists. Side characters were there, sure - major party members were even there, but that's not enough. I've had to sit through a million games with straight protagonists and forced heterosexual relationships. Now, it's a straight person's turn.
So, as great as the strides that we've made are, they aren't far from enough.
Shann Smith is a lover of video games and writer of plays and screenplays, based in NYC. Do you guys have a game that you think is significant to the LGBTQ+ community? Email me, and I'll give it a look!
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