Why do I fawn over GBLT computer games characters?

I am a gamer, I looove my computer games. I can merrily sink several wasted hours into my lovely shiny pixels, especially story-based RPG type games. Yes it’s the official seal on my geekery.Sometimes my slightly obsessive nature can require Beloved to physically pull me from my computer so I do things like eat and go to work.

And you know one thing that can nearly guarantee my leaping to the games shops (well Steam) with my money? Gay characters. Let me see a gay character inb that game and my wallet’s already in my hands. Yes, I’m thrusting my gay agenda into your games! Nothing is sacred, straighties.

See, I’ve actually bought games purely because they’ve had a gay character. That’s been enough for me. Does that sound pretty damn desperate? Probably – but it’s so damn rare to pick up any game that isn’t wall-to-wall straight folks that just once, just for a second, being able to escape into a world where I actually get to be me is precious.

And I know right now that there are people running to say how many computer games there are that don’t include any sexuality at all! That is has no straightness! That sexuality is just irrelevant! Or that xyz character could be GBLT.

Don’t. Really, don’t. That excuse is a poor one unless you come from a la-la land that doesn’t have heterornormativity. And you don’t. And heteronormativity bites us on the arse twice here.

First of all – if that character shows no inclination for any sexuality whatsoever? Congratulations – heteronormativity will render them straight. Because of the myriad joys of privilege, straight is the assumed, the default.  If you see someone with no indication of sexuality at all, they will be taken as straight. Unless there is an overt indication that someone is not heterosexual then that is what they will be assumed to be. And don’t tell me that the game designers and distributers and 99.9% of the game players won’t see it through exactly the same lens. And yes it’s annoying and no, we shouldn’t assume straightness all the damn time – but we do and that’s not likely to change any time soon – if ever, given how much straight folks outnumber us. This is why I’m less than amused by the *hint hint wink put on your slash goggles* pretend-inclusion people expect us to buy.

When “no sexuality until shown otherwise” is considered default then I’ll concede that a game/book/TV series has no sexuality (and even then, I doubt it) until then, let’s not fool ourselves or pretend we’re looking at something that is anything but straight.

Secondly, I can nearly guarantee that I can look at your “completely-sexuality free” game/book/programme and see straight sexuality somewhere. We don’t see straight sexuality because our heterosexist society presents it overwhelmingly as the norm. We are so bombarded with heterosexuality from the very moment we open our eyes that it becomes background noise. This is why the sight of 2 men holding hands is ramming our sexuality down your throat and worthy of someone throwing a bottle at us, while my having to watch endless hours of straight folk all but having sex on TV advertising everything from perfume to cooking utensils is considered quite normal. I can’t even watch them hock loans to me without seeing a happy straight couple.

So, there probably is straight sexuality in that “sexuality-less” game of yours. A family, a couple, a love interest, a crush, something – something that, were it a gay or lesbian relationship, would leap out from the screen, doubtlessly yelling “PC” “gay agenda” and whatever other whining I’ll have to hear from disgruntled straight gamers who have been traumatised by the dreaded gay.

So, why does this matter so much to me? Why would I buy a game I know nothing about just because it has a gay character, regardless of its other flaws? Well, I’ve said before again and again why it matters.

Gaming is escapism, in some ways even more so than reading – especially the story-based games I prefer. It annoys me to read a book and be expected to identify yet again with a character who is nothing like me and be transported yet again to a world where I don’t exist. But it annoys me far more to actually participate, to play a part in this story and have my role represented by a straight person as well! I’m not just supposed to identify with a straight person, but I have to play one as well.

I loved Mass Effect 2, I really did, I had to be physically dragged away from the computer.  But it annoyed the hell out of me that there I was, Sparky Shepherd, saviour of the galaxy, having to dodge Miranda and Tali’s constant romance hints (there’s no “actually I’m gay, stop asking” option) while at the same time Jacob and Garrus and Thane were there WITH romance scripts but for some reason they weren’t an option – unless I played a female Shepherd. And if I played a female character, I’d have a choice of aliens who don’t have a male gender at all – or one potential fling that doesn’t even count as a romance option. And those not-as-equal-as-straight-relationship-straight-gaze-lesbian-relationships still make this game more inclusive than 99% of what’s out there

And is it really that much to ask? Is it really so much to ask that I get my geeky escapism going as well? Is it that hard to have a gay man as the hero? Do I have to play it straight every time – I did enough of that in real life, I don’t need to do it in fiction as well.

27 thoughts on “Why do I fawn over GBLT computer games characters?

    • Nope, not available. Believe me I did everything i could to jump Jacob and Thane, but not an option – i had Miranda virtually chasing me round the ship instead

      And that’s what bugs me. They have the dialogue and interaction there. Why not just open them up?

      • It’s been confirmed that there will FINALLY be a m/m option for Shepard in ME 3! Until then, I recommend Dragon Age 2 or Skyrim, which don’t make a big deal over including same-sex relationships (although in Skyrim’s case I haven’t actually found any NPCs who are LGBT+). My lesbian Breton married a priestess of Dibella.

        Personally, I was disappointed that I couldn’t make a pretty boy space marine. (As my friend said while I was fiddling with the sliders in character creation: “There are no pretty boy space marines, so stop trying to make one!”

  1. Tali, Thane, Ashley and Kaidan were all supposed to be romanceable for Shepards of the same gender. I have no idea why they changed it, but there are supposed to be same-sex romance options in ME3, so I am cautiously holding out hope.

    • Originally i think it was planned but they changed it. They did include 3 female (well, 1 female human and 2 assari) love interests in ME2 that a male or female Shepherd could have a fling with (not a full romance) We’re promised more in ME3 – I’d like to see it

      • I would have really liked Jacob being available as a love interest for men actually. He avoids the cliches, he’s a poc, he’s the only well-adjusted person on the ship and has some strangely hypnotic pixellated muscles. So yeah, shame on you Bioware.

    • Been reading AM for a few months, this is the first time I’ve decided to comment.

      It seems like the gaming industry in general has only relatively recently been OK with open portrayal of LGBT characters, much less make one the protagonist. Hell, Nintendo actually censored what few queer characters appeared in their games for a longass time.* There are pretty much none I can think before the last.. three years in mainstream gaming, and that amounts to exactly three games: DA:O, DA2, and Skyrim.

      In the first Dragon Age you have romance-able party companions including both same and opposite gender options, so there your character’s sexuality can be whatever you like. Same with DA2, the difference there being all romanceable characters can be romanced by either gender.

      And in Skyrim there’s dozens of characters your PC can marry, and there are no gender based restrictions on this, nor does anyone remark on a same sex relationship though it’s unusual.

      And those three are RPGs with customizable protagonists, where it’s assumed the player will build their character according to their own likes, dislikes and preferences. As far as games with a set protagonist and scripted narrative, I can think of exactly zero where the player character isn’t either explicitly heterosexual or just sort of assumed via heteronormativity. Lame.

      *Example: Super Mario Brothers 2. I bought it when it was released in the early 90′s, and I explicitly remember one of the minibosses being described as ‘a boy who thinks he’s a girl’ (or dresses like a girl I don’t remember the exact phrasing). Even this not exacty positive portrayal (it’s an egg spitting dinosaur, yea) of a possibly transgendered character was retconned from later releases and appearances.

    • The big ones I’ve seen are, as mentioned, Dragon Age Origins and Dragon Age 2 where you relationships are built through the game and actually have some impact and story arc and are amazingly involved as well. I wasn’t 100% happy with Zevran but yes, I still squeed

      In addition to the ones mentioned above, Fable 3 also has the option for you to form a relationship with random NPCs in the towns you run through. You’ll actually find it as part of their mini-bios – Fred, Blacksmith Gay. Janet, Shopkeeper, Lesbian. Michael, Town Crier, Bisexual. Again it’s a story based RPG and like Skyrim it doesn’t really encroach in the plot over much or form much part of the game but it’s still there

      Fall Out New Vegas allows you to take the Perk “confirmed Bachelor” and/or “lady killer” which gives you a damage bonus against that gender and some dialogue options. So, if you’re a man with “confirmed bachelor” there are 1 or 2 instances in the game where you can flirt with other men, for example. It’s not huge and it is only once or twice among hours of play but it’s there and establishes at least that my character IS gay.

      in Mass Effect 1 your character can have sex with an Assari, even if she’s female. Assari’s are aliens that are genderless but look female (and use female pronouns etc) it’s a stretch depending on how you regard a mono-gendered species. In Mass Effect 2 there are 3 “official” relationships for a man and 3 for a woman (they get you the romance achievement/affect the plot etc). There are 3 “flings” as well that either male or female Shepherd can have, 2 Assari and one bisexual human woman.

      I can think of a couple of others that have GBLT side characters, but none other that allow a GBLT protagonist.

      And yes, this is a sign of how desperate I am that I go hunting for these.

  2. The thing that gets me about the lack of LGBTQ romance options in CRPGs (and I have only played a few) is what it would take to NOT exclude them? Wouldn’t it be easier to code or write a character who approaches the protagonist romantically regardless of gender than it would be to only have that character approach the protagonist if they are the “correct” gender (ie, leads to heterosexual pairing)?

    • Exactly. Like take that Mass Effect 2 (and 1 for that matter) – SURELY it must be easier for all 6 love interests (and 3 flings) to be equally available regardless of whether Shepherd is a man or a woman. Surely it’s easier to just let it all be there rather than expressly write seperate scripts?

      And soemtimes you get random flirting from many NPCs, surely it’s easier if these NPCs don’t have seperate dialogues depending on the player’s gender?

      I think that an extra part that bugs me – because these game designers have gone to an extra length to expressly remove a GBLT option – it would have been easier to allow inclusion but instead they’ve gone out of their way to exclude it

      • See I’m not so sure about that. It actually might have taken extra effort to include homosexual romance options. Even if you chose to keep the dialogue exactly the same for both a homosexual and a heterosexual romance option with the same NPC, you’d have to record the the Shepard dialogue again with the other same-gender voice actor. Exclusion on the other hand is probably as simple as ‘if condition X do not offer dialogue option Y’.

        That doesn’t excuse exclusion, not that anything really would. Even if it is extra effort it’s a trivial amount, it’s not like the romance dialogues and scenes take up novels or something. I could be wrong, I guess I’d just like to think Bioware was just being lazy rather than giving the finger to those of us who wanted to see hot ManShep-On-Fishdude action. Especially since being the folks who made Dragon Age and whatnot they’ve been on the more inclusive side on the subject.

        On the thread’s original subject more generally, what I’d really like to see is non-het playable protagonists OUTSIDE of RPGs. It’s all well and good where the player can choose their character’s sexuality along with all the other stuff about them. I hope that’s something developers keep doing, it seems like they probably will. But in games where you’ve got a pre-written and designed protagonist, like ‘Your are Marcus Fenix, neckless space marine shitkicker’, developers seem to assume a few things:

        A) The average gamer is straight (and probably male), and

        B) Therefore the protagonist must be straight explicitly or assumed, because otherwise your average gamer won’t buy it.

        I think if they ever ditched these assumptions it would mark a proper sea change. Here’s hoping.

        • i’d love to see some non-het characters outside of just RPGS. RPGs have mopre character customisation but there’s still no reason why they are the only games that have dipped their little toe ever-so-slightly into the waters of inclusion. It’s one of the reasons I love RPGs because there’s a CHANCE. if I’m playing a first person shooter? Yeaaaah, no chance.

          Even for some action-with-story games like Assassin’s Creed or Deus Ex – is there really a reason why we can’t be the protag here?

          But then, seeing the utter whining of some straight gamers not just over Dragon Age 2 – but over Skyrim as well (Skyrim! It’s got like 5 minutes of optional inclusion!) and I boggle

  3. I did find it an issue as well that the options for male Shepard to have romantic options with other men wasn’t available in either of the Mass Effect games, even if the options for female Shepard were really well done, IMO. Here’s to hoping that in ME3, those options aren’t so limited, because otherwise, even with the well-execution of the female/female relationships, it does come across like fanservice.

    I did heard about the several options for male/male romance in Dragon Age 2, but I’ve yet to play the game myself. Still, and maybe it’s because I don’t play a whole lot of RPGs, it seems as though Bioware is the only one to include such options in the first place…

    Actually, I have a friend who not only plays a tons of RPGs but made a pretty thorough listing of LGBT characters he’d encountered in his time playing them.

    http://wwwthinkinginsidethebox.blogspot.com/2010/06/general-rpgs-lack-of-significant.html

    All in all, it really doesn’t add up to a whole lot, and then, of course, there are RPGs where romances are written right into the script, so one cannot NOT have a heteronormative relationship and just use imagination and subtext to fill in their own blank spots.

    • Oh that’s a very sad and very shot list…

      And yeah I’ve seen that – either the romance is expressly written and you’re pushed into it or it’s nearly impossible to avoid – so it’s hammered home, to play the game I must have a heterosexual romance.

      • There’s some good news though about ME3!

        Apparently, according to my friend, there is a male romance option for male Shepard that can be fully explored. Hopefully, it’ll be as well written out as the other romances in the game, although it is annoying that it took this long to include such an option in Mass Effect.

        Still, it’s something, right?

  4. This means I’m gonna have to get Skyrim, doesn’t it? I’m not much of a CRPG buff, but I really liked Arcanum. How’s it compare to that?

    • I haven’t played that game – so i can’t say for sure.

      Skyrim is an interesing game, it has a good plot and a good world (Elder Scrolls after all) – and your characters are inifnitely customiseable since you gain skills by what you use rather than levels/class. So if you want to be a fire mage in plate armour who picks pockets? Then you can be. If you want to use double handed swords, light armour and poisons? Your choice. the main thing is it’s HUGE. The world is VASt. Because I like side quests I tend to get distracted wandering around and talking to gazillions of people

    • Man those are really two different games, I’m not sure where I’d even start a comparison. The biggest difference in my mind, and this is undoubtedly just me, is that the depth of dialogue in RPGs has moved two notches or so towards the shallow end since they went from having gobs of text you read to speech that’s read by a voice actor. If you really care about that, you might find Skyrim a bit lackluster. I found the romance to be a bit disappoint in that regard, since there’s no new conversations you can have with your partner after you get married. On the other hand if older RPGs like Arcanum had too much to read you might like it more.

      The biggest difference most people would think of is that Skyrim is first person versus the isometric view of Arcanum. It’s real time. I haven’t done the crafting in Skyrim so I don’t know how that compares. The skill/level system is fairly similar; you gain levels, and put points into skills you want, though in Skyrim your skills go up as you use them and the points you get on level-up goes into improving your skills, as opposed to leveling up first and then putting points into acquiring skills as in Arcanum. It’s harder to screw up your character in Skyrim than it is in Arcanum.

      Everything is more streamlined these days. The quests tell you exactly what you need to do (for the most part, there’s a few puzzle quests) and there are markers showing you where to go. The days where you grab a ton of quests and pretty much wander under you find where you were supposed to go are over. You lose a bit immersion from this, but I think the convenience is worth it.

      Maybe I should have asked what you liked about Arcanum first before writing all this, heh.

      • For the most part, it’s the customization of characters (most important), the variety of quests, and the opportunity to roleplay a bit.

        If I want dialogue-heavy roleplaying, I’d try a tabletop RPG (which is my preference for the most part).

  5. Thought this might be of interest to this blog. Deirdra Kiai currently has an Indiegogo campaign for Pamplemousse, which is a point and click adventure game in musical form, and it has a gender neutral protagonist. If you find the name familiar but can’t place it, Deirdra is a writer on The Border House and is also known for the games Life Flashes By and The Play, so you can definitely count on them for doing gender and sexuality right.

    Here’s a link if any of you want to check it out: http://www.indiegogo.com/pamplemousse

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