Editorial: Homosexual Options in RPGs

Buggered from both ends

Gaming’s depiction of the gays has come a long way in the last decade, 2006’s Enchanted Arms not withstanding (though to be fair Makoto’s fabulousness was that game’s one redeeming feature IMO). It is also no secret that Bioware have been somewhat leading from the front in this respect, with 2005’s Jade Empire featuring homosexual options, 2007’s Mass Effect featuring a possible lesbian romance option, and then 2009’s Dragon Age: Origins again featuring homosexual couplings.

As listeners of the Megaphones Ahoy! Podcast 110 will be acutely aware of, Bioware have continued this fine tradition with Dragon Age II, to some small disquiet from the “straight male gamer”. Essentially one Bioware forum poster named Bastal has designated himself to being the voice of the “straight male gamer”, essentially contending that all gender and orientation groups are being catered for, save that of the game’s largest domographic; the “straight male gamer”. This contention is patently absurd given that heterosexual men are given not one, but two female romance options, which Bastal dismisses as exotic love options that won’t appeal to the majority of the “straight male gamer”, allowing his homophobia to run into racism (one option has darkish skin, while the other is an Elf).

As listeners to last week’s podcast will also know however, there is at least one point where he is not entirely mistaken for taking umbrage. And that point is of course that the “straight male gamer” is chastened with rivalry points should he decline a  homosexual liaison with one of the game’s male characters, Anders. On this score Bioware is not all the way in the right, while Bastal is not all the way in the wrong.

Personally speaking this design decision would matter not a jot to me, I would have little hesitation in putting my back to the wall and pointing Anders firmly in the direction of the GLAAD ship Riddlethos, but then I tend to do grey playthroughs, making decisions on their relative merits. I have however encountered enough people who favour doing pure alignment playthroughs to know that this will prove to be a problematic imposition for some, placing them well outside their comfort zones.

Simply put; whenever a developer attempts to create for the player a great narrative whilst also maintaining a great freedom in its telling, then these components will invariably come into conflict at some point, and this certainly qualifies as one such case. The situation demonstrably serves to benefit the narrative, whilst mechanically inconveniencing players attempting to do a pure alignment playthrough, and can probably be chalked up to being a legacy oversight of the game’s short development cycle (like so much else!). Ironically enough this exact same point has also come in for criticism from the gay community, with calls for lead writer David Gaider to be sacked for daring to portray a gay character as being less than sweet tempered at having his advanced rebuffed.

Back in the real world however, it must be noted that if anything this uncomfortable situation really just brings the game’s role playing aspect closer into line with reality. I mean in RL we are able to control our own actions, yet we are able to manipulate another’s response to them, and that is just as role playing should be; more uncomfortable situations wherein Negative outcomes are occaisionally unavoidable. What Bastal seems to be arguing for is the godlike ability to exercise complete control over all those around him, while having his every last action and utterance viewed in a positive light. That is not how the world works. We cannot prevent someone from propositioning us if they’ve a mind to, and we cannot prevent their negative reaction if we turn them down, that’s life. If anything Bioware can only be faulted for promising too much in the way of structural control and freedom (to the point of maligning entire genres of games for not possessing it), and then under-delivering on their own metric.

It is not choice alone that comprises the human experience.

Fair weather fruits

Yes, I believe that modern roleplaying games do not contain enough uncomfortable moments for the “straight male gamer”, but I am also of the opinion that they do not contain enough unpleasantness for teh gays either.

Rainbow coloured gay Utopias are fine now and then, yet when they are implemented time after time the developer begins to come across as unambitious, or worse still, playing it safe. I can only encounter so many gay Utopias before they begin to cease ringing true, after all that is not the historical gay experience, nor is it their experience at present (though milage may vary depending on location). No, gay people have often experienced bigotry and prejudice, an experience singularly lacking from modern RPGs.

Could you imagine your indignation at having your gay character subject to an attempted lynching by a rabble of townsfolk in some backwater shithole, and having to fight your way out? Better yet, can you imagine your shock and fury at having your gay lover murdered by said townsfolk, and then your subsequent catharsis at razing their shitty little town to the ground?

This is the potential of the genre, why aren’t developers living up to it?

At present games depict homosexuality as so much window dressing, it’s all for show. Game designers do not use this interactive medium to explore issues of real world prejudice, instead alien races are used as a catch-all stand-in for the broad spectrum of society’s dispossessed. My appreciation for this narrative device has reached diminishing returns, why has no developer yet had the stones to pull off a realistic scenario?

Would it even be possible for an RPG to pull off one such scenario without initiating WWIII?

Perhaps this is another one of those instances which separate gaming from film and television. Where one media is deemed mature enough to explore gay issues in a nuanced, multifaceted, and frequently confronting manner, while the other cannot portray a rebuffed character’s snarkiness without inviting the accusation of furthering gay stereotypes.

The Pipher conundrum

Arguing for developers to omit contentious content which they hold as important is ultimately futile, it will only end up bubbling to the surface in myriad amusing and unforeseen ways.

These are the games that will tend to make legions of red-blooded gamers like Bastal into their rabid fans for life, without quite ever understanding why.

You see these games have something that most other games lack …

And this poses an additional problem for a certain type of gamer. You see there exists gender-confused individuals who utilize the female option existing in most modern WRPGs to live out their lady for a day fantasies, and yet Elderscrolls Skyrim locks this content from those who would appreciate it most. They lock it away from the homosexualists and the catamites, they deny it to the felching dandies and the slippery Motoks, you see it appears that only the male player-character model will feature bent and veiny penises in the place of fingers!

I fully expect the LGBT community to be paralyzed by choice with the release of Skyrim, if anything, this is the game that short-changes the ‘straight male gamer’.

I have half a mind to start my own petition demanding that lady Mages show more Wizard sleeve!

22 comments

  1. *shrug* I think it just makes sense in the case of Anders. If a dude came on to you and you politely declined, that individual might be hurt and embarrassed enough to be more trite with you in the future, despite how tactful your refusal was. You can after be a good friend to Anders and regain his good will toward you.

    Or, you can punish him for being a whiny brat who can’t take rejection and be a jerk/bitch to him.

  2. Agreed, there is no reason why you should be able to control character interations 100%, because it’s not like we are able to do so in RL, and isn’t that what these games are about? Realistic social interaction?

    I think WRPG players have been given far too much control over social interactions in previous games, and thus kick up their heels if they can’t script every conversation as though they were directing a play.

    The genre really needs a bit more uncertainty and unpredictability in character responses.

  3. Agreed. I like not being able to be best buds with everybody while also keeping my own interests in mind. Gives responses more weight.

  4. I agree with Ethan on this one. It stands to reason that, regardless of how tactful the rejection, one who is sensitive would be hurt and potentially have a bit of difficulty recovering emotionally. And, as in the real world, it then becomes impossible to please absolutely EVERYONE, and someone is going to dislike you or your character. People who are bitching about “the straight male gamer” not getting enough love should go off and play, perhaps, every other game ever made? Ridiculous, the complaining. Truly ridiculous.

  5. What Deimosion and Ethos sayeth.

    I appreciate that some power gamers (Lane, I’m looking at you) may want to get all the paragon points or whatever they are called, but the fact is that this type of play has in-game consequences: you have to make it with another guy. It’s by no means required. If you don’t want the pay the price of a little man-on-man love, then you can always go for the other set of points instead.

    No one is required to have a relationship in DA2 with anyone. You get talents either way. As a ‘straight, male gamer,’ I think the way they have it set up is perfectly reasonable, and anyone who is complaining is just butthurt (no pun intended) that they can’t have everything exactly the way they want it in their own tiny, narrow, bigoted, little universe.

  6. It’s really no different from KOTORII’s alignment system. Fact of the matter was, some characters (Like HK-47 and Mandalore) you just couldn’t get full influence with if you went light side. And it made sense: If you do light side things, you’re going to piss them off.

    If you rebuff someone’s advances, expect them to be at least a little upset about it, no matter who they are. The only way they wouldn’t be upset is if they didn’t care and weren’t really serious about their advances anyway.

  7. I also posit that if the “straight male gamer” doesn’t feel like he’s getting enough love, he should probably reconsider his standards.

  8. Yeah, we have enough tits and ass to last us for the next decade. I’ll take more, we just don’t really have the right to complain.

  9. Well, Ethos, I was more taking a stab at the “straight male gamer” by implying that the rage of the “straight male gamer” comes from said gamer type not being able to get laid, but I guess being nice and simply saying they don’t have the right to complain works as well.

  10. We always have the right to complain, but sadly that right is often squandered on fruitless concerns.

  11. Good point. I actually do try to let people know that whenever I ask how someone’s doing and they say, “Can’t complain!”

    “Of course you can complain! It’s just that sometimes you shouldn’t because nothing bad’s happening!”

  12. I don’t try for all-paragon points. For instance, in DA2, I say fuck the Templars. I don’t like them and I don’t like their ways, so if Aveline doesn’t like me for that, or Fenris hates me for siding with mages, I am OK with that. But, as a general rule, at least as I envisioned my character, he was sympathetic to mages/apostates and their plight. Anders is a mage, and I was more worried that my sister, Bethany, wouldn’t like me if I had rivalry with him, so I tried to avoid it. In the end, I chose the “less rivalry” option because I wanted to pursue the romance with Merrill and/or Isabella.

    I tend to play my in-game ethics rather similar to my real-life ethics. And I have had more than one friend say that I’m an “IRL paladin,” referring of course to the AD&D class rules for paladins, who had to scrupulously observe a lawful good alignment. It’s not that I find playing super-goody-two-shoes characters palatable. It’s that I sort of am a super-goody-two-shoes.

  13. I similarly RP to my own ethics, with my characters (ideally) reflecting my own morality ( or lack thereof). I’ve never been accused of being a paladin though … :/

  14. I’m more like Lane, but in Dragon Age II at least, I find myself reacting more based on my initial thoughts rather than after my diplomatic and tactful filters get to them.

  15. I have a lot of trouble with non-paragon alignments in choice-based games. I always sit and think, “I have to save this person! I can’t risk upsetting them! They have feelings!”

    Only when I go more than all-out and basically just go crazy with the evil can I stand being anything less than a paragon.

  16. I think excessive to the point of offensive fanservice is more serious a problem for the “straight male gamer.” Rikku would be the posterchild for the phenomenon. She’s 15. The camera probably shouldn’t be strategically positioned for tit and ass shots 90% of the time she’s on-screen.

    Also to SN’s topic, with the exception of individuals who’ve never had an advance rebuffed or done a little rebuffing of his or her own…it’s kind of awkward. Immediately parting ways afterwards is pretty nice.

  17. As for alignment, I generally just go with whatever seems like the best option. In ME1 by the end of the game I’d maxxed out Paragon and was around 2/3rds to 3/4ths on Renegade. ME2 I think Bioware fucked up because nearly all the Renegade options were retarded. It’s like the response wheel comes up and the options were: 1) Do something reasonable, 2) Do something chaotic evil that probably won’t work anyway, 3) Ask more questions. With the exception of a few relating to the ending (I won’t spoil it), I was near always Paragon. My brother played it and felt the same.

  18. My only “straight alignment” playthrough of a Bioware game was in KOTOR1. If you never played that, it means you dragged the shit out of the last battle as the villain regen’d off of things you could only destroy with darkside stuff. So not having any darkside stuff I couldn’t destroy them and it too forever.

  19. EP, I shot that fucking bartender that poisoned me on Omega. I think I also used a Renegade right-click option a few times during negotiations with people I didn’t like. I figured, why should I respect the rights of this chode?

    Also, I naively told both women to CTFD during the Miranda/Jack fight, and for the rest of the game, Miranda wouldn’t speak to me. I took her and Legion with me for the final run though, and everyone lived, so I was happy with that.

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