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!