Not Playing With Myself
(This article was originally posted on the Gamers Schmamers Facebook page back in November, but with E3 upon us and an avalanche of new titles announced, this seemed relevant. Come on studios, give us this. It’s long past time.)
I never get to play with myself in games.
Some of you know me, some of you don’t. A quick introduction:
Hi, I’m Adam. I am 27 years old. I was raised Jewish, identify with it culturally but am more or less Agnostic. I am Hispanic, my mother being born and raised in Cuba. My father left my family when I was five years old. I am a recovering drug addict. I drink enough coffee daily to kill a small island nation. I recently got a haircut.
Most of you who know me already know most of that, and have for some time. What some of you, or at least those who don’t religiously follow my Facebook, may not know is that I am also Bisexual. I have been my entire life however I wasn’t open with it until about three(ish) years ago.
I’ll try to step off my soapbox with dispatch, but a little explanation is warranted.
Bisexuality is a rather particular sexuality, and one that doesn’t have as much traction in the ether of ideas as you may think. I have been told by many people, straight and gay, conservative and liberal, men and women that I do not exist. That my feelings are just misinterpreted and that I’m simply refusing to make a choice.
It’s tough being told that you’re not you. That you are impossible.
Lead to a lot of internal anguish and created miles and piles of distance between me and being open with who I was. Now, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t the victim of intolerance like many others who struggle with their sexuality can sometimes be. No hate crimes here. Just some mind maladies.
I certainly never saw myself represented in entertainment. Not really. Especially not in games. Nothing helped.
It wasn’t until I came across a choice piece of art that I discovered that I, in fact, despite all the apparent evidence otherwise (that I was told, at least), indeed existed. This work of art helped me to transcend from such clouded, closeted confusion, to openness and honesty all surrounded by the warming light of the truth.
I exist. And I always have.
But there’s always that question: What if? What if I hadn’t come across that piece? What if misunderstanding got the better of me and I denied my hope and heart and lived a life shrouded in secrecy?
Scary thoughts, I assure you. I’m lucky. Very lucky.
Anyway, I’m sure you can all see where this is going, but I’m going to keep writing.
Off the top of my head I can name at least a dozen straight relationships portrayed in gaming. Mario and Peach, the Pac-Man family, all of Final Fantasy 8, every Harvest Moon game ever, and so on. Not that there’s anything wrong with this, of course not, but can you think of any non-straight romantic relationship portrayed within the game BY THE GAME MAKERS?
I capitalize that because I can hear everyone lining their fingers up on their keyboards about to shout at me that you can hump just about anything in The Sims games. But that is by the player’s choice. That don’t count, yo.
Some quick research (cough cough google) reveals to me that LGBT themes and characters are fairly rare, and many of the ones that do exist are horrible, overdone stereotypes. For instance, in Metal Gear Solid 3, the character Volgin is a bisexual male. However, he falls victim to the tired trope of the ever-lustful bisexual. Obviously one is bisexual ONLY because they just can’t get enough sex ALLLLLLLLLLL the time. You see this all over the place (Mirror Universe Kira, my fellow DS9ers?), and, quite frankly, it’s insulting.
Jokes at the expense of the LGBT community also have dominated gaming. Maniac Mansion’s got ‘em. Conker’s Bad Fur Day, too. Even my beloved Chrono Trigger’s got a ribbing or two. Sure, sure, these aren’t the deepest of gaming experiences and we should all have a sense of humor, and most of us do. And I would never in a hundred million billion trillion jillion years tell ANY artist to EVER censor themselves, I’m just bringing this to light.
I know, I know. Some designers really are trying. Persona 2, as I understand, handles the subject matter subtly, but with grace. And kudos to the big boys behind Fable and Mass Effect and even Skyrim for trying to further the cause by including the option of a character’s sexuality and then making it not a big deal at all. Which it really isn’t.
However, do those games leave the option open for bisexuality?
I digress. But I just had to get that one in.
Gaming is evolving. It’s undeniable. More and more is it a reflection of our values and morals, and less just simple diversionary entertainment. Not that I have a problem with our Mario Karts or Little Big Planets, nor do I suggest we start shoehorning political messages into those types of games. Honestly, I wouldn’t want them.
But look at Bioshock: Infinite or Spec Ops: The Line. These games are trying to surpass the (honestly) invisible boundaries that we pretend exist in gaming theming. As Brecht would say, they are not holding up a mirror to society, rather they are wielding a hammer with which to shape it.
Now more than ever do we need a lead character in a game of significance (AAA or bust, folks) that is LGBT.
Will this be controversial? Oh, yes. Will there be boycotts and game burnings and outraged parents throwing out their kids’ Wiis? You better believe it.
Will it be unforgettable? Hell. Yes.
And that is what every developer on Earth needs now more than ever.
The market is flooded with hundreds if not thousands of new games every year. The possibility of distinguishing yourself from the rest of the crowd diminishes rapidly every season. You wanna get people’s attention? Stir up some controversy. That’s some soup that always sells.
Now, let’s try to be a bit less businessman and a little more human, eh?
Let’s think legacy. Lincoln was a despised figure by so many in his time. I mean…come on…a dude fuckin’ shot him. Doesn’t get much worse than that. Well, maybe a bad Metacritic grade, but that’s another story.
He was hated for the same reason that fellow visionaries Galileo and Wilde and so many others were: he forced us out of our comfort zone because he knew what was to come and he was trying to prepare us for it. And sure, he was met with a river of ire and ultimately his death, but look at how he’s remembered.
His image is carved into stone.
What I’m suggesting would not just create the next Mario (though it totally would), it would create gaming’s Jane Eyre or Willy Loman or Atticus Finch.
History books, when speaking of these times and of the gay rights movement will point specifically at this character as an artistic icon that soared above his or her peers and actually stood for something, instead of just stood.
Master Chief’s fight will eventually end for good. Shepherd and co. will fade and go. Even Mario will probably someday retire the overalls. Or rather, time will do it for him. For all of them.
But this character will never be buried in dust. Their replay factor will be endless. Their game will never be over.
And maybe somewhere some little kid will press start and realize, finally, that they’re not alone.
And they’ll have games to thank.