Games are an escape.
Games are an escape from your struggles, whether they be personal struggles or the terrors of the world, they allow us to take a step away and focus on a reality that isn't our own. And as a queer kid growing up in the Southern United States, I retreated to video games for most of my young life. And I've spoken in length in many other articles about how, despite my love for video games, the lack queerness has soured me to them a lot of the time.
Instead of giving you yet another example of the lack of representation present in games, I'm going to talk about a very specific aspect of queer gaming culture. It revolves around a very specific part to a lot of games across many genres: Character creation. We've all done it - whether you've created a Mii or played through Dark Souls III, you've most likely created a character of your very own. Often times, these characters have little to no real back story and are largely designed to be a catalyst for the player.
So, why is this important to queer gamers?
Because these characters can be whatever we queer gamers want them to be. A major, more recent example is that of the Sole Survivor of Fallout 4. After the game came out, I saw a large amount of different players across the internet posting their OCs. They gave them very specific storylines, and a lot of them were queer. They had entire lives not spoken about in the base game. Some of them three the base game out entirely.
The same thing happens across many different games from Dragon Age: Inquisition to Terraria to Sims (on a grander scale). We have to work harder to build a world in which we can escape to - so we project ourselves onto characters that we are allowed to create. For instance, my characters are always good natured gay men, who become heroes in a world that previously didn't accept them.
In Fallout 4, this was the reason I was drawn to the Minutemen and the Railroad. Unlike the Institute and the Brotherhood, the other factions were underdogs. The Minutemen, a militia of the Commonwealth dedicated to the people, starts out the game barely existing and disgraced after what happened in a town called Quincy. The Railroad, a band of ragtag fighters seeking to free the much feared Synths (synthetic humans) from their tyrannical creators.
My character fit so well into these groups, because I wanted to create a queer character that fought for people who got shat on all the time. It wasn't what the game intended, obviously, but one of the very few good things about Fallout 4 was that it didn't matter. You could make your character do ALMOST whatever you wanted (so long as it stayed in their very specific factions, but that's neither here nor there).
Not only could I, a queer person, be a hero to an entire group - but to an entire society. In this game, my character makes history and changes the world for the better. This cathartic experience is one of the reasons I still play Fallout 4 to this day. I do the same thing with Dragon Age: Inquisition, Mass Effect, etc. There's something so powerful about being able to look at this queer character that you, a queer person, created and saying, "You're a hero to all the people in this world."
That level of freedom is so important to a queer audience, because we're so used to hearing straight people tell us that things have to be a certain way. That's why more linear games can often leave a queer gamer bored or annoyed, because we're forced to sit through this character living out another straight fantasy that we always see. Does this mean we hate these games? No, of course not. I love Final Fantasy X as much as the next guy, but it's romance bores me to tears.
When I escape, I don't want to escape into a straight person's fantasy romance or a straight man's power fantasy. If game developers won't give me my own characters, then let me play the games where I can create my own fantasy. Let me make the Inquisitor a gay Elf; Let the Sole Survivor be a queer secret-Synth who has a harem with literally every romanceable companion because they all fell in love along the way; Let ALL OF MY SIMS GET GAY MARRIED!
Sure, it's not the same as giving me real characters, but it's something to keep me going until I get to play next great queer game. So, I guess I'll take it.
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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