I am a 17 year old, heterosexual male with utter assurance about my gender and my sexuality. If anything, I am a game marketer's dream. A classic stereotype of everything that embodies the belief that gaming is for children or horny teens.
I would also like to state that I am probably horrifically under prepared to tackle such a complex subject as this. I currently attend college (in England, so its kind of like American University I think ?) and it has an LGBT community, and I am friends with a few people of differing sexualities. I am not completely ignorant to the plight of the LGBT community in today's world, and I do my best to keep up with news regarding it, which isn't saying much really.
Gaming In Color is an important film, I can say that much with complete clarity. But is it a good one?
Gaming In Color is a film about the LGBT community inside the sphere of gaming, like a Venn Diagram where they fall in between the circles of "Video Game Enthusiasts" and "LGBT" members. It charts a path through the recent developments inside LGBT video game related events, most notably the inclusion in homosexual romance in games such as Mass Effect 3 and Fable III, and the creation of the Gaymer X convention in San Francisco (notable now for it having to shut down in the conventional sense for becoming essentially "too popular, too quickly"). It is also essentially a call to arms for game developers to become more sensitive and more open to exploring the use of LGBT characters or issues in modern video games, and helps to illustrate the plight of being ostracized in a place that you already use for escapism.
Just to get it out the way, as far as technical points, the film is pretty sound. It won't win any awards for cinematography, but its not aiming to. There are some minor focusing issues in some of the segments filmed at Gaymer X which are a little distracting, but other than that, it's a nice flowing film which helps to serve its purpose of illustrating these messages.
The film raises a lot of questions. A lot. Dealing with them is another matter. Why is it that developers are so scared of creating LGBT characters? What has exactly fostered this culture of LGBT hate in a place which is usually stereotyped for outcasts? How are devs dealing with it? Is it right to have a convention which is predominately focused on these issues alone (Short answer; yes.) Is escapism and lack of consequences really good? Are games even art? All these and more in your latest broadcast at 11...sorry, I mean they are in the film.
It brings forward these questions, and lays them on the table, like a Magic : The Gathering tournament. But it makes no moves, it offers no solutions beside a reference to League Of Legends "Tribunal System. It brings a lot of difficult questions to the surface, but then leaves them there, floating and bouncing from one to the next without a lot of depth. For a film that deals with such an inherently complex issue, it feels disparagingly simple.
But I can't really fault it for that. In the film's description, it sites itself as an exploration of the queer side of gaming culture and the game industry's LGBTQ presence. And it's a fantastic starting point. For me, who knows little about the day to day trials of being discriminated against, it was pretty eye-opening in revealing the insidious nature of many even good natured non-homophobic people can just be inherently uncomfortable around this alternative.
But is that enough? To just lay out how difficult it is to be part of two practices which 'regular society' deems deviant and unnatural? Well yes and no. It's a fantastic introduction, but that's all it feels like. A fantastic starter, but you're waiting for the main.
For example there are certain issues I believe are integral that it misses out, one of them being the element of time in this rapid fire culture, when no one seems to have the time to invest, because they're either too busy or too wrapped up in this certain obsession. Can we really have diversity, in a gaming "state" where almost all of us already have enough games to last at least the next 7 years, where games are practically a dime a dozen and cookie cutter characters become the norm because no one has time to play lengthy games. Can diversity ever flourish in the casual game market, a place where characterisation is summed up in a single word or sentence?
It also presents a very contentious view on believing more minority characters should be included into games. One thing I couldn't help but notice is that it seems very unaware of the difficulties attached to writing a story, especially when writers find it very difficult to write outside of their own experience (I'm generalising, but I've written scripts for movies, and I know just how hard it can be to write from a different perspective. I also know how difficult it is to write a good story, let alone a mediocre one.) It takes a surprisingly simple view on the subject which I found deeply uncomfortable, because games as a medium blurs the line between role-playing and passive story-telling, and shouldn't be treated just as wish fulfillment.
Honestly the thing that surprised me most of all of this, is this call to arms to triple A developers, the most conservative, creatively barren, safe and homogenized part of the industry. It almost seems to miss the point of hard-working developers like Christine Love, a developer I've followed for a long time, who create games which deal with topics that are extremely relevant to the LGBT community, because it's too busy trying to convince Ubisoft or Activision to start creating games which deal with their aims and issues.
There seems to be an unspoken need for validation by the mainstream gaming culture, or otherwise it won't be valid. And it's fair, to ask for that. To draw an analogy with the film industry, Jared Leto winning an Oscar for his performance as a transvestite is a signpost to show that the industry is becoming more aware and more ready to accept roles which might have proved controversial. But progress is slow, and change which is happening right now, takes years to show effect in the mainstream culture. Why? Because mainstream culture is simple. Even a game as well selling as Naughty Dog's The Last Of Us is a blip when you compare it to the Call Of Duty series. The fundamental divide between profitable, easily marketable games and games with "artistic vision" is a difficult balancing act.
It seems to shrug off the work being done by experimental and indie devs as relatively inconsequential when compared to the impact say if Ubisoft made a game with a LGBT protagonist, but then it draws a difficult conclusion. If this is what you really need, then you have to grossly oversimplify the character to appeal to a market willing to only deal with surface appeal. Gears Of War is an example they use, and the characterization in those games is completely non-existent. Is that what the LGBT community really needs to help bring it into the mainstream, and more importantly, is it even worth it if you have to sacrifice integrity and any chance of representing your characters realistically?
It seems fitting then for me to bring up these questions and not to provide answers for them. Gaming In Color is a very important film, and one we could all really do with seeing. It showed the best of these people, and that is that they are people, not myths.
But for me ultimately it showcases the shallowness of both the gay culture and the gamer culture, and neither of them would really want to admit it. The "It's just a game" argument stopped being useful when people stopped treating them as shallow empty distractions, and now it highlights that if games aren't these empty distractions, and are worthy of our adoration, why can't we start treating them seriously?
There's a million and one cheap distractions, why can't we start having games which treat subjects seriously? And more importantly, why can't we have fun and be open with it? We can expand our horizons, but the thing I don't buy is that we need the triple A devs to do it for us.
Nevertheless, it's a good and important film. Shouldn't ask for more.
P.S This is my first blog post in forever that I actually feel is satisfactory. Hope you guys enjoy it. And a big thank you to the filmmakers, who spent an incredible amount of time creating this film which allowed me to talk about it in my own stumbling way.
My name is Alex. I'm 15 and I hide in my dark corner of the internet writing a so-called "blog" here on Destructoid. I think far too critically of myself which has reflected on my personality, as I'm cyncical and highly critical of...well a lot of stuff.
Anyway, games. It was all about the GameBoy Advance when I was young, and have grown up on an unhealthly diet of portable gaming (GBA,DS,PSP), a recent introduction of console gaming , lots of fictional media, and yummy food.
I'm lazy and very day-dreamy, non-committal and kind of temperamental. Plus I get distracted easily...I'm really painting a rosy picture here aren't I? Still, if you stick around, (I'm hoping) you may find something of quality here, and who knows, I don't think I'm THAT bad, right...right?
So yeah, vidjo games.
Deus Ex Human Revolution
Batman Arkham City
Total War:Shogun 2
Jurassic Park:Operation Genesis
Super Mario 64
House Of Dead III
Also, I have twitter now, even though I now feel like a complete sell out. Follow me and see how uninteresting I can be.