A curious thing happened to me the first time I was able to play the Sims. I had spent a good two or three years avoiding the game entirely, part because leading isometric polygons through the daily minutia that I
loathed seemed like some strange form of meta-torture, but also part because I didn’t have a computer that would have been able to play it.
Come one visit to my friend Robert’s house, I witnessed that, not only did his mother have dominion over a neighborhood of her own, but his sister, his irrationally effeminate brother, his father (zuh?), and Robert himself also ran little fake peoples’ lives in this puppet/flea circus.
Robert told me to try the game out, and so I started a family of three, unprepared for the onslaught of accidental urinations these 300 or so polygons would unleash on me (it was okay though; their family name was Poop). Robert’s sister was over my shoulder screaming at me for the better part of 10 minutes for not entering the get-rich cheats, not putting food away, not placing a toilet sidelong from a door, and not NOT sending my kid to school.
Once she went away, though, and I was left to the computer with nobody peeking over my shoulder, I started a new Sim. This one, a male, sensibly dressed, but not conscious of his style choices, somewhat messy, introverted, technical, unathletic... me. Well, adult, computer-generated me. And with this new avatar free to live whichever life he chose, I did something unprecedented to my understanding of video games, and to my horrendously sheltered life:
I courted a guy, and then I kissed him.
The shockwave of this action went completely unnoticed by the others in Robert’s house, but – aside from some unspeakable things I did to my Nintendo Power magazines – this was the first time I was ever able to really embrace my homosexuality in any form, virtual or corporeal.
I can’t say that it was my first step to self-acceptance, because in honesty, that would come much later, but it was an instance where I could reflect myself as I truly am: a guy who seeks opportunities to initiate kisses and cuddlz with other guys. And that instance felt really good.
The Sims was the first game I knew of which let gay characters have starring roles, let alone include them. And yet, for as ineffectual it has been to heteronormative society at large and as inviting it has been to a regularly jilted GLBT audience
, queer characters have been almost entirely excluded from the medium. The most popular recent game to include homosexual options for characters was Mass Effect 2, but its implementation is limited strictly to female characters. Bioware sidestepped criticism of this in the first Mass Effect by saying that Asari – the only race with which a female Shepard in the first game can have intercourse – are technically unisex, but that line of reasoning doesn’t exactly stand on the firmest legs
for the sequel, especially if those legs belong to a frat bro.
Off the top of my head, the only other big name releases in this generation with what people would call a “full-fledged” gay option are Fable 2 and Dragon Age: Origins, but for every positive step toward GLBT inclusion that’s made in video games, there’s an instance
pushing gay gamers’ faces back down in the mud
What’s the deal? Isn’t the video game a nerd’s ultimate repose from ridicule? Haven’t those of us who sat in the back of math class playing Snake on our graphing calculators suffered enough torment from others to respect everyones’ differences and, you know, not be douches to each other?
No, apparently we haven’t.
For a medium so racked in a history of sanctuary for the downtrodden, video games are about one thing: winning, and when you win, you don’t just sit proud of your accomplishment, you rub it in your opponent’s face. You have proven that you’re a better competitor than they, and that you are therefore more masculine. We all like to be the big manly winner. And nothing is less manly or more demeaning than, what? yes, liking men.
Even if video games have an opt-in route for seeing these manfests, the fact that you, the player, are using this as an opportunity to flex your digital muscles means that any inclusion of this “sissy stuff” – regardless of whether you even see it or not – impugns your big, muscly, machine gun-having, octoplet-making manness. You ~have~ had octoplets and can bench 285, right?
This probably sounds like a ridiculous conclusion to a few of you, but I swear it’s true. The player’s hyperbolic image of himself is what drives every new IP to have the biggest, manliest new Master Chief, or Marcus Fenix, or Nathan Drake it possibly can, and they’d better not be making no gay eyes at their buddies.
I know that this is how it is, because when you take another medium, one which has ~always~ been sustained on the nerd dollar, you find a climate so fully embracing of queer characters that it even has open transgendered individuals.
Comic books are, by many counts, a nerdy gay Yin to video games’ nerdy I’m-not-gay-you’re-gay Yang. Where there are scores of writings about how homosexuality has been censored and negatively-stereotyped
in video games, there are compendiums
(warning, the side ads may be NSFW) online cataloging hundreds of gay characters in comic books. And with such a huge number of representations of queer individuals in the medium, it’s hard to deny that the majority of comic readers aren’t at least tolerant of these characters’ existence.
Maybe it’s the detached state of reading versus the involved state of playing that turns so many gamers off to the notion of gay allies and main characters in the fabric of their recreation. Every video game character is, in some way, an extension of the player. Even if player choice doesn’t motivate the plot of a game whatsoever, it sculpts the character. Link and Lara solve puzzles the way the player would, because the player IS solving the puzzles. If, suddenly, a male character were drawing attraction from other male characters, it must be because of something the player is doing, which can open the doors to a whole bunch of questions they might not be ready to ask themselves.
But here’s the thing: you can be the super-masculine, 285-benching dude and still like dudes. Gareth Thomas, a retired rugby player from Whales, made 100 caps in his career, took the British Lions to their first Grand Slam Victory since 1978, is 6’3” of pure muscle, and is gay. You and your drinking pals could get into a bar brawl against him and he would put all of you down, and then he would cuddle up to his boyfriend as he drifted off to sleepyland.
I understand that it would be a culture shock to the millions of guys on Xbox Live fragging and teabagging each other around the clock, but just once I’d like to see a big name company make a main character into a respectable, likable, masculine hero who, midway through the game, springs the revelation that he has a boyfriend, and I’d like to see that company do it unflinchingly and honestly. It would be so great to witness a developer say, “Yes, you’re playing as a gay man. He’s hardwired that way, and we're pretty sure you'll still be attracted to the same people you were before you played our game,” instead of having to backpedal
on some mishap
the gay gamers among us.
Meanwhile, I’ll be over here with my gay, gay Sims. read