If you ask me I’d tell you that, generally, gamers are selfish. They always ask more content and fan-service. They feel like their individual opinions have weight and will collectively bully anyone who disagrees. They expect developers and publishers to cater to their whims and when they don’t gamers meme and cry. Yes, gamers can be selfish and entitled, but gamers have a right and responsibility to ask developers for one thing: better representation.
We haven’t seen much effort recently for LGBT portrayals, but this year’s poster-child of developers falling short comes from the latest Mass Effect game. Male-male romantic options were oddly limited for the game leaving players who enjoy gay content feeling stiffed.
It culminated in Mass Effect: Andromeda’s male-male gay sex scene. It could have been a landmark moment for honest portrayals, showing a real, intimate moment between two men that cared for each other. It instead danced around the act and it came off as stiff and wooden. The game was a mess overall, but this lackluster representation left gay gamers blue. They recently patched the game so that Ja’al is now romanceable by both genders, so at least there’s progress.
Other developers have taken steps to be inclusive with what at best can be described as token representation, some cases even stooping to regressive stereotypes pulled from the 70s 80s. Nintendo’s Breath of the Wild shows that despite (very) small steps in Fire Emblem, they fall back on dated caricatures of gay men. Bolson, the dandy carpenter who’s flamboyant mannerism betray a traditionally masculine profession. The great fairies can be interpreted as drag queens preying on poor Link. And while some have given Nintendo credit for a Gerudo portrayal of Trans people, I’ve only ever seen it as complex-but-accidental inclusion punctuated by a bearded-lady joke.
Nintendo’s involvement in this is likely circumstantial here. Culturally Japan is very loose with representation of minorities in any of their media. But in the same way that we deride a theocratic nation’s use of religion to cripple feminist progression, we can’t be complacent to the micro-aggressions committed in the name of cultural differences. Cultural and religious freedom can only be maintained when all people, including the LGBT community, are treated humanely, as equals.
I’m not telling people to grab pitchforks. Missteps shouldn’t be demonized as long as they are used as learning experiences. The recent trend of liberal ‘purity tests’ detracts from conversation rather than fostering growth. The goal isn’t to destroy companies that put in an honest effort, but instead be sure to celebrate when publishers and developers do a minority community right.
While we saw many shortcomings with representation, I can’t talk about companies who strive to be representative without mentioning Blizzard. They went out of their way (despite wanting to appear non-partisan and despite the homophobic anger from some fans) to include LGBTQ characters along with women and characters of color. The representation wasn’t exclusive to LGBT people. All communities deserve educated and realistic characters and representation. It wasn’t perfect, but Blizzard provided characters that both embodied and expanded on their gender or ethnic identity.
So now that we’re in the thick of LGBT Pride Month (despite what 45 says) I think it’s time to ask some hard questions: Should it fall on the shoulders of big developers to blast through doors of discrimination or should we rely on indie developers to pioneer representation? Should the responsibility fall on gamers to seek out and consume gay content, “Vote with your wallet” as they say? Should we push developers to include minorities in larger roles throughout the game development process? Yes. All of the above.
Be sure to discuss in the comment section below! If I missed any games you thought did a good job of LGBT representation this past year just give them a shout-out! Remember to have a happy and safe Pride wherever you are!
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JpSr388 is a casual(ish) gaymer, hardcore Nintendo fan, designer & writer. He writes about what he cares about, and is always good for some opinions. Keep on the lookout for more of his editorial, QuickDraws, Hot Takes and reviews here. Or find him on Twitter.