WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS
No matter where I go, it seems you are destined to follow me in my quest for queer content. You are an elusive little nuisance. Half the time, I don't even notice you're there. I play a game or watch a show. Two characters are always coded as queer. They share glances, light touches, and even a touch of homoerotic tension in a bedroom - and for a hot minute I think "IT'S GONNA' HAPPEN! YES. YES YES!" And then... nothing. I'm left hanging - wondering what's going on? Is it me? Did I do something? Wait. WAIT! Why are they dating a woman/man? What happened - you said - they were just - wait. Wait a minute. No. NO! GODDAMMIT QUEERBAITING!
It's hard to live in a world where this menace pervades so heavily. I've talked many times about my dissatisfaction in queer content across the board - especially in video games. And the problem isn't that queer characters don't exist - because they definitely do - they're just hinted at. We're left with a lot of could-bes and what-ifs, and queer consumers are always left with one question: "Why didn't it happen?"
WHAT IS QUEERBAITING?
TV Tropes defines queerbaiting as, "A media work's attempt to lure an LGBT fanbase with either false hints of representation or stereotyped, non-essential LGBT characters." It's something that's existed in media for a long time, but only recently got its name thanks to numerous online fan communities. Some major non-video game examples include Ryan Evans ( High School Musical), the entire cast of Supernatural, John and Sherlock of Sherlock. The list could go on and on and on, but you get the idea.
DOES IT APPLY TO VIDEO GAMES?
Yes but, video games are different, because they're only just beginning to catering to the queer community. Queerbaiting happens because the queer community is a minority - and a lot of people don't want to cater to a minority (no matter how harmful it is to said minorities). Usually, its used when discussing film and television. If you have a tumblr, you've no doubt heard it flung around just about everywhere. But that doesn't mean that it only exists within these contexts. No one want to look like bad guys in the eyes of public, so they'll put these characters out there that "could be," to try and satisfy everyone involved.
This kind of strategy worked for a while, until queer people gained a louder voice that straight people both listened to and agreed with. And for a long time, most gaming companies just didn't pander to queer audiences. So, why try? And they have
almost avoided it, at least in a lot of the games I've played.
Unfortunately, it still exists - it's just a lot harder to find. Of course, there are early examples - in my article on trans characters in gaming, I talked about one: Flea from Chrono Trigger. A character that's presented as trans, but is hardly explored in any way, shape, or form. There are numerous other coded characters throughout the gaming landscape - but most of them aren't made to pander to audiences. They're the butt of a joke or just down right offensive.
I've got three words for you: Life. Is. Strange. A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about Life is Strange for this column. I had been told it was great - I played it, and it pissed me off. For a long time, I thought it was just the ending - then I thought about my entire experience. I thought about the lead up - Chloe and Max's relationship. Queerbaiting got me again and I didn't even realize it.
We'll start with sexualities. Max and Chloe never discuss their sexualities. Max literally never has a single dialogue option in which she states her attraction to girls - neither does Chloe. You just assume, because that's what queerbaiting does! It traps you! You fall for it, because the game not only gives you the lingering looks and the near-flirtatious
joking. They go one step further, giving you kissing.
But are they ever confirmed to be dating in-game? No. Do they openly state their attraction? No. They're best friends - and Life is Strange makes sure that you can always interpret them that way. Max and Chloe are so definitely queer. Chloe's intense feelings for Max and her missing friend, Rachel, are heavily hinted at being romantic. Max's constant devotion to keeping her alive, and being there for her borders on almost obsessive.
But that step is never taken.
WHAT DO I DO WITH THIS INFORMATION?
Lots of new games come out every year - and recently we've been given a lot of amazing content. But as Life is Strange has proven, queerbaiting can still happen. Keep a look out for games like this. When playing a game with a so-called queer character, ask yourself:
1. Is the character's queerness canonical?
2. Is the queer character stereotyped/joked about?
3. Is there an ambiguous almost-but-not-quite queer scene?
If you can answer yes to any of these questions - you're being queerbaited, spread the word on social media. Tell people. Tell me! I'll make sure everyone knows. We have to stop queerbaiting in its tracks, because we deserve better.
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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